On Saturday, the Green Bay Packers make their first road trip of the 2017 preseason to take on Washington. Bill Horgan of Hogs Haven was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Washington and provide insight into the team's strengths and weaknesses.
APC: From the outside, it seems Washington went through considerable turmoil this offseason. What surprised you more -- the team's decision to part ways with general manager Scot McCloughan or the lack of a long-term deal for quarterback Kirk Cousins?
The answer to the question, “which was more surprising?” is easy. The long-term deal for Cousins was always in question, so it wasn’t particularly surprising that a deal didn’t get done. Meanwhile the whole Scot McCloughan thing rose up seemingly out of nowhere just prior to the combine, and quickly devolved.
Redskin fans almost universally welcomed the hiring of McCloughan in 2015, though there were reservations about his past issues with alcohol. There were always nervous comments being made about how good it was to have a football professional in charge of the organization… as long as the pressure didn’t get to him and he stayed away from the bottle.
The exact reasons why the Redskins parted ways with McCloughan have never been made truly public, though the Washington Post quoted an anonymous source who tried hard to assassinate Scot’s character and behavior immediately after the team announced the decision. Scot had been (and largely still is) very popular with the fan base, who gave him a lot of credit for apparent upgrades to the Redskins franchise over the past couple of years. His firing, and the odd way in which it unfolded, didn’t go down well with the Redskin fan base as a whole.
Bruce Allen was, and for the most part still is, seen as the villain in what transpired. For a while, #FireBruceAllen was a popular tag.
Still, with Doug Williams, a Redskins legend who has bona fides built from a lifetime in professional and college football, in charge of personnel, there’s a sense that the organization is at least stable, and not ready to crash and burn in the wake of the McCloughan drama.
At this point, fans have moved on. Scot has behaved professionally in public, and his few public comments about the franchise have been positive. In fact, I don’t know how much it was reported beyond the Redskins fan base, but Scot – who has never had much to do with social media – took to Twitter last week and spent considerable time answering questions about the NFL, draft, free agency, specific players and McCloughan’s thoughts on the current season. A lot of football fans, and probably Redskin fans in particular, were very pleased by that, and happy that Scot reached out publicly that way.
[Ed. note: McCloughan's social media presence is no secret. Earlier this week, we covered his Twitter comments regarding Aaron Rodgers.]
APC: The offense lost multiple weapons this offseason, mainly wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. However, 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson appears ready to take on a larger role in the passing game (recent hamstring injury notwithstanding) and the team signed Terrelle Pryor in free agency. In the aggregate, do you anticipate a drop-off for the receiving corps?
Well, there’s the $64 million question.
I can’t say that there’s a clear consensus from the fan base on what will happen this season with Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder leading the corps of wideouts, together with the Redskins talented tight ends, but I can say there’s a lot of hope and expectation.
The national media – ESPN, NFL.com and the like – lead every Redskins report with the fact that the team lost two 1,000 yard receivers this offseason; something that no other NFL team has ever done. They make it sound like the tank is empty in Washington.
Redskins fans know that the tank definitely isn’t empty.
Terrelle Pryor had a great training camp and generated a lot of buzz right up until the time he failed to catch his only target on the opening play against the Ravens -- a game in which our offense managed only 3 points, and the first string group with Cousins ran only 6 plays (a pair of 3 & outs for a combined -1 yard of total offense). We’ll be looking for Pryor to do a lot more in this week’s game, and there is a sense of excitement about his size and physical skills. You can hear it from the coaches and his teammates when they talk about him, from the journalists who cover the team, and from the fan base that has been paying very close attention to him in training camp. Great things are expected from Terrelle this season.
The slot receiver, Jamison Crowder is in his third season, and has amassed 126 catches, 1,451 yards, and 9 touchdowns so far. A lot of people feel like he could have done more last season if he hadn’t been playing in an offense so loaded with receiving weapons like Jackson and Garcon, so there’s a feeling that, with their departures, he’s going to have a truly great year in 2017.
Josh Doctson, whom you mentioned, was the Redskins 1st round draft choice in 2016, but due to issues with his Achilles tendons, was only on the field for a handful of plays in his rookie season. Redskins fans aren’t sure what to expect, since we’ve really never seen him play against NFL competition, however, Scot McCloughan said that Doctson was the highest rated receiver on the Redskins board in 2016, so we’re all hopeful. Aside from the hamstring strain that kept him out of the Ravens game and a few practices, he is reportedly healthy now, and having him in camp is generating a lot of “it’s like having an extra first round pick” comments.
And of course, the Redskins passing attack is actually powered by its tight ends, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, who combined for 110 catches and 1,269 yards last year. They add a dimension to the passing game that not many other NFL teams possess.
Reskins fans look at Reed & Davis at tight end, Crowder in the slot, Terrelle Pryor, who had over 1,000 yards himself with the Browns last season, and the now-healthy Doctson, and see a loaded wide receiver group that is younger and cheaper than it would have been with the two high-priced, 30-year-old veterans that the front office allowed to walk in free agency.
I think that most ‘Skins fans would not be surprised with a small drop off in the passing numbers, but no one really expects them to fall off a cliff. The running game was so anemic last season, that there’s also a feeling that a shift in the balance of the attack wouldn’t be a bad thing.
APC: Washington found a groove offensively over the past two seasons under the direction of Sean McVay. Now that McVay has departed to coach the Los Angeles Rams, but changes for the offense?
It’s really hard to say with certainty, but I think the general feeling in the fan base is that not much will change.
The offensive design has always been Gruden’s, and he plans to resume play-calling now that McVay is gone. He called plays in Cincinnati, and in his first season as head coach in Washington, so it’s nothing new for him.
McVay is young and Gruden is an offensive-minded coach with a good pedigree as a coordinator. When Gruden first took over as Head Coach of the Redskins in 2014, I think there was a bit of feeling that McVay was playing the role of ventriloquist dummy for Jay – a young kid who was coordinator in name, but really just Jay’s errand boy.
That perception, however, was short-lived. All reports from all knowledgeable sources were that McVay was a talented coordinator who had a great relationship with Kirk Cousins. But, while he was very popular with Redskin fans, he’s not viewed as irreplaceable by any means. Matt Cavanaugh, who has taken over as offensive coordinator, was the quarterbacks coach for the previous two seasons, so he has a relationship with Kirk Cousins, and his two years with the ‘Skins offense should add to the sense of continuity.
APC: Based on what you've seen across the NFC East thus far in 2017, which team do you see winning the division?
The NFC East has been one of the most competitive in the NFL for over a dozen years now, with no team winning back-to-back division titles since 2004. Most NFC East fans would say that – based on the history of our division – the surest bet you can make is that the Cowboys won’t repeat as division champs. Even without history to back that bet, the Cowboys’ salary cap issues forced them to allow a huge chunk of the defense to walk in free agency; they’ve been hit harder than any other team in the NFL with suspensions, with the latest 6-game punishment doled out to Elliott being just the most recent. They’re likely to be under-manned, especially on defense, when compared to the 13-3 squad that ran over everyone bar the Giants last year.
Personally, I think the division is too close to call, and I don’t think there’s any answer I could give that would be representative if the feelings of the Redskins fan base as a whole.
Predictions about NFC East division winners have been scattershot, though I’d say I’ve probably heard more people picking the Giants than the other three teams, and Philadelphia seems to be the most common 4th place prediction.
In addition, the Redskin fan base is schizophrenic in its ideas about how well the team will do this season, with predictions frequently ranging from 5 wins to 13 wins.
All I can say is, I expect another wild race that lasts until Week 17 before it is decided, and I’m counting on the Redskins to be there at the end. Our last trip to the playoffs ended in an ugly loss at home to the Packers, and we’re all keen for a chance at some payback.
APC: What under-the-radar offensive players from Washington do you recommend keeping an eye on during Saturday's game? On defense?
Offensively, I’d suggest that you watch the Redskins running backs. You might be familiar with Rob Kelley, who went for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Packers last year.
Mack Brown spent time on both the practice squad and the regular roster last season, and he looked very good against the Ravens in the pre-season opener.
The ‘Skins also drafted a running back in the 4th round – Samaje Perine from Oklahoma who is a 236 pound running back with a bruising style that has Redskins fans expecting big improvements in our running game.
Defensively, I’m gonna throw out a name that’s so under-the-radar that he’s flying at wavetop level outside of the ‘Skins fan base. Nico Marley is a linebacker out of Tulane. He came to the Redskins as a tryout player. Jay Gruden said that when they watched his college game tape, he just kept making tackles. Jay added that in tryouts Nico again kept making plays. They brought him in for OTAs and then training camp, and the story is the same – he kept making plays. In the Ravens game last week he flashed several times playing later in the second half. There’s a buzz about the kid, and he keeps passing every test.
The reason that’s such a big deal is that Nico Marley is 5’8” and 200 pounds – an under-sized over-achiever. Still, he’s fun to watch on the football field. Hopefully he’ll take the next step against the Packers this week and give you a reason to watch the second half.
Oh yeah. He’s also Bob Marley’s grandson, mon.
We'd like to thank Bill and Hogs Haven for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Washington football. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Saturday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packers vs. Washington.