Each week we get the inside scoop from writers of our opponent's website. This week, we caught up with Alex Rowsey of Hogs Haven to gather intel on the burgundy and gold, including his thoughts on Jay Gruden, Kirk Cousins, and the youth movement on the roster.
Washington and Chicago come into this one with matching records. However, Washington is currently leading the NFC East and in position to make the playoffs while Chicago...needs a lot of help to get a wildcard. Washington can't win on the road and the Bears can't win at home. Something has to give in a series most famous for the Bears 73-0 NFL Championship game of 1940 victory but the overall series sits at a 24-23-1 mark in favor of Washington. To read the other side of this chat, click HERE.
1. Washington is locked in an epic battle for a division that no one seemingly wants to win. At 5-7 and in 1st place, what needs to happen in the final quarter of the season for this team to win the division and, more importantly, have relevance in the playoffs?
Rowsey: Well the easiest answer is win their remaining games, but I'm sure you want more than that. Though there's a three-way tie atop the division right now, the Redskins are technically in first due to tie-breakers. What that means is at this moment, they control their own destiny and if they were to win out, they'd be assured the NFCE crown. They're not likely to win out. The biggest thing that has to happen is the Redskins really need to win the two division games that end their regular season schedule (@ Philly and then @ Dallas). The way the division has gone this year, I'd feel pretty confident about winning the division if they win both of those games regardless of how the other two go. Of course, it wouldn't hurt for our divisional foes to lose the rest of their games, too.
Being relevant in the playoffs is another thing altogether. The Redskins have been great at home this year and abysmal on the road. The nice thing about winning your division is you get to host a playoff game. If the Redskins are in the playoffs, it's because they won the division. Having that first playoff game at home would be a great help for this team. Still, to truthfully say they're relevant, we need to see the Redskins win a game on the road. Three of their final four are on the road and they're probably going to need to win 2-3 of those. It's hard to think a team might be relevant in the playoffs if they haven't won a single road game all year. Additionally, I'd like to see the Redskins win two games in a row... something else they haven't done this year.
2. Jay Gruden has compiled a 9-19 record, made a controversial decision at quarterback by sticking with Kirk Cousins (and benching RGIII), and has presided over two mediocre offenses. Is he in over his head or are there reasons to believe he will be good for this team moving forward?
Rowsey: Gruden's record while being the HC of the Redskins is garbage. It's no fun to look at. When judging the beginning of a man's career as a Head Coach, I think it's important to consider where the team was before their arrival. The Redskins previous coach was Mike Shanahan. His final year with the team, our record was 3-13. He was fired amidst one of the more toxic situations I can remember in Redskins history and the organization was really at its lowest point. They had no GM. They had no first-round pick. They had a garbage roster. So naturally, they went out and hired a rookie HC!
In his first season, the Redskins went 4-12. That's still terrible, but I guess we should note that it's a one-game improvement. He had a draft class with no first-rounder and our "GM" was Bruce Allen. Bruce Allen is not a GM. He's an executive. He's good at being the VP. He's good at organizational things that don't revolve around football personnel. Also note that Jay would like to have his team operate in a way that is drastically different from what Mike Shanahan wanted to build. Shanahan wanted zone running with small, quick OL. Jay wants power and size. Jay wants a QB who can play from the pocket and get rid of the ball fast to work well with his west-coast style. We have RGIII and just gave up everything to get him. Our owner loves him. Fans love him. He had an incredible rookie season. He is not a pocket passer and does not get rid of the ball quick. He's not a fit for the WCO. Jay likes big, tall WRs. We had none. So the cards were stacked against him.
Fast-forward to this season. We're 5-7. That's an obvious improvement. We've dealt with an unnatural amount of injuries (to very key players) and despite that, we're better than we were. I think Jay deserves a little credit for that. Both of our drafts since he's been here have been pretty good so far (despite no first-rounder last year). I'm not sure how much credit he deserves for that (if any). He seems more comfortable. Last year he was a bit too publicly honest about players and that rubbed just about everyone the wrong way. This year, he's handled the media very well and doesn't really call anyone out too much publicly. He made a huge decision to go with Kirk Cousins instead of RGIII and likely put his career on the line for it. I think so far, it's worked out pretty well for him. Knowing the owner's affinity for Robert, that's a huge deal.
He still has a lot of growing to do if he's to become a good HC, but I'm seeing levels of improvement that are encouraging. Our offense hasn't been great either year. In fact, it's been bad. That reflects poorly on him. Another year with a below average offense could cost him his job, in my opinion. Our OL is very young and inexperienced though and we've dealt with a number of important injuries on the offense this year. Those could be excuses, but they're also facts. I'd say he's been in over his head, but I think it's pretty rare for a rookie HC to step right into the job and not be. I've seen enough improvement that I don't want to give up on him yet, but not enough yet to say he'll definitely be good. The Redskins haven't had consistency or stability at HC or QB in decades. We desperately need it.
3. Washington is a team with a great history at QB - from Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen to Joe Theismann and Doug Williams so there is a certain high standard to live up to. Will Kirk Cousins get a contract extension at the end of the season or will Washington dip into the draft / free agent market in 2016?
Rowsey: I believe Kirk will get a contract from the Redskins. A lot of the same sentiment I wrote regarding Jay relates to Kirk, as well. He's clearly improving. He's inexperienced. We've lacked stability. I think it's important to hang on to him for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that he keeps improving. Considering his lack of experience, I'm not ready to say he's reached a ceiling yet, either. I don't know if he'll be really good, but I know he's improved enough for me to want to hang on to him.
Part of that obviously comes from considering the alternatives, too. Another rookie QB? We just did that. I don't think Jay can stand for it. I don't think it's smart. I think it'd set us back. It seems like the Redskins are eternally starting over with a new HC or a new QB and that requires time, patience, and learning. What might it look like for a team to work in the same offense for three years in a row?! How about a QB not having to learn a new offense every year?! It could be great. I don't know if it will be, but I've seen enough of the carousel to know that's not likely to work, either.
And have you seen the FA market for QBs next year? It's ugly. Kirk may very well be the best of the bunch. He's a Redskin. We drafted him. He's still young. He's clearly improving. I want to continue his development and focus on building a team around him... rather than looking for the next splash QB who can be our savior.
4. Jamison Crowder has enjoyed a nice rookie campaign (48 catches for 448 yards) and the hype on Matt Jones certainly appears justified despite the fumbling issues (672 yards from scrimmage, 4 TD, 4 fumbles lost). What are your long term expectations out of these guys and any other young players you'd like to highlight?
Rowsey: The future looks bright for this roster. It's incredible how many rookies and very young players contribute for us right now... many of which are playing above expectations. You highlighted two very good ones. Crowder is our top slot WR. He's good enough (as a fourth-round rookie) to be the main guy at that spot for a bunch of teams in this league. That's impressive. He also has ability as a punt returner, which is big. I expect him to be that guy for us for the foreseeable future and wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a guy who can start at any WR spot for us. He's not there yet, but he has some Antonio Brown and Brandin Cooks qualities/traits. It's very exciting. Jones has come in and done as good as could be expected. He was a bit of a surprise pick for us considering Alfred Morris' presence on the roster, but Morris is a FA and Jones already does a number of things better than him (blocking, receiving, bigger, faster...). Obviously the fumbles have been a major issue for him, but he's young. If he can correct that, I see no reason why he can't be one of the better backs in this league and a guy who can play on every down. Some others:
- DB Kyshoen Jarrett (22 years old) - The guy is a sixth-round rookie out of VT. He came in as a S. He can play either S spot. Due to injuries, he's been pressed into action as our nickel CB. He's been great there (arguably our best player at that spot). He's versatile. We've even had him lined up at ILB. He can really play everywhere and has a great history as a STs player at VT. Most people envisioned him being a leader on our STs unit as a rookie, but injuries have made him a major part of our defense. He has a bright future.
- CB Bashaud Breeland (23 years old) - He's been our top CB this year (his second season) and was probably our best rookie last year. Absolute stud and a gem found in the fourth round last year. He'll be a starter at CB for the foreseeable future.
- CB Quinton Dunbar (23 years old) - He was an UDFA rookie this year. Came in as one of the better WRs Florida has had. However, he wasn't going to make our team at WR and we had a bunch of injuries at CB, so they switched him. He made a crucial (possibly game-saving) INT a couple weeks ago and played through a broken finger last week. Diamond in the rough. Looks like he'll be a good one, especially considering he wasn't drafted and has only been playing his position for a few weeks now. Great size, length, and speed. Similarities to Richard Sherman (former WR, similar size and speed, better than draft status, etc.)
- OL Brandon Scherff (23 years old) - #5 overall pick last year. Starts at RG for us and has all year. Already a fine starter there and has a load of potential. Could probably play OT, as well.
- OT Morgan Moses (24 years old) - Third-rounder last year who had a forgettable rookie season and suffered a Lis Franc injury. People didn't know if he'd be ready to play in any way to start the season. Instead, he came in, took the starting RT job and has been one of the better ones in the league this year. Shocking and incredible.
- K Dustin Hopkins (25 years old) - He's been excellent for us.
- P Tress Way (25 years old) - Ditto.
5. Who on Chicago's roster would you love to see wear the burgundy and gold?
Rowsey: My top choice is easily Alshon Jeffery. He's young (only 25), huge (6'3", 216 lbs.), and exactly what the Redskins need amongst the set of undersized WRs on our roster. If he actually hits FA this year, don't be surprised at all if the Redskins make a serious run at him. Our offense could really reach the next level with a WR of his size and talent level.
A close second for me would be (a healthy) Martellus Bennett. The Redskins have an interesting situation at TE that both helps and hurts us significantly. First of all, we have Niles Paul, but he's been hurt all year. He's a converted WR who is decent as a receiver (despite his small hands) and who has never been a good blocker. He put on weight this past off-season to get up to ~250 lbs. (he's 6'1") in an attempt to be our main TE who can catch and block. We never got to really see that. Our current main TE is Jordan Reed. He's one of the best receivers at the TE spot in the league. The only bad thing about him is he's probably the worst blocking TE in the league, as well. So for as much as he's contributed there, his presence significantly hinders our ability to run the ball. He's quick, but too small (6'3", 237 lbs.) and has a serious problem with holding. Bennett would be that ideal, perfect TE that we need who's huge, has great height to be a significant factor in the red-zone/end-zone, has the size and strength to block, and can catch with the best of them.
So we'll take both, please.
5a. How does Washington get their first road win of the year and beat Chicago this weekend? Plus, give us a prediction.
Rowsey: The 'Skins could win if they get their abysmal running game going against your abysmal rushing defense. We need to be able to run to have success on offense. It's simple as that. We also need to capitalize on turnovers. I think we've had six in the past two games combined and scored a total of three points off of them. It's crazy bad.
My prediction is that the Redskins win 24-21.
Thanks Alex and Hogs Haven for the good stuff!