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2018 NFL Divisional-Round Weekend Through A Redskins Prism

Observations and analysis from the divisional round of the NFL postseason via Redskins glasses

 

 

1. Just incredible how Minnesota’s 29-24 win over New Orleans ended.  The Vikings had a win probability of 2.6 percent when they snapped the ball on a third-and-10 at their 39 trailing 24-23 with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.  And then came the play of the season: a Case Keenum 61-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Maryland and Good Counsel High School product Stefon Diggs as time expired.  The whiff on an attempted tackle by Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams was abysmal.  And the play was a jaw-dropper.  This was the first fourth-quarter walk-off touchdown (no time remaining) in NFL postseason history.

Keenum had completed just one pass thrown 20 or more yards downfield in a fourth quarter during the regular season.  He completed three such passes in the fourth quarter of this game, including the walk-off bomb to Diggs.

I have to say that, as a Redskins fan, I took great joy in the Saints losing like this.  No loss was more painful this season for the Redskins than their choke job at the Saints in Week 11.  The Redskins blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead with less than three minutes left and then lost in overtime.  What happened to the Saints in this game wasn’t as bad as what happened to the Redskins in November, but this wasn’t that far off, either.  The Saints overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit, took a 21-20 lead with 3:01 left in the fourth quarter, then lost that lead on a 53-yard field goal by former Redskin Kai Forbath with 1:29 left, then got back the lead on a Wil Lutz 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds left and then gave up the Diggs walk-off 61-yard touchdown reception.  Ha ha.

 

2. As for Diggs, remember this: the Vikings took him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.  The Redskins took Jamison Crowder in the fourth round of that draft.  We have rightfully lauded that pick.  But who would you rather the Redskins have, Crowder or Diggs?  Consider the following:

  • Receiving touchdowns – Crowder has 12 in 47 career regular-season games (0.255 per game).  Diggs has 15 in 40 career regular-season games (0.375 per game).
  • Receiving yards – Crowder has 2,240 (47.66 per game).  Diggs has 2,472 (61.8 per game).
  • Yards per reception – Crowder’s is 11.7.  Diggs’ is 12.4.
  • Approximate Value – This is a Pro Football Reference stat that attempts to quantify a player’s season into a single number.  Crowder’s career AV is 19.  Diggs’ is 24.
  • DYAR – This is Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, a Football Outsiders metric that gives the value of the performance on plays where the receiver caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.  Crowder’s career DYAR is 251.  Diggs’ is 588.

Crowder has been more durable than Diggs.  Otherwise, this is a slam-dunk win for the Dirty Terp.  Crowder has been good.  But Diggs has been better.

 

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) looks back as he runs down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown Saints late in the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game against the New Orleans in Minneapolis. The Vikings defeated the Saints 29-24. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

 

3. Speaking of what could have been for the Redskins, what about defensive end and Maryland product Yannick Ngakoue?  He had a sack-strip of Ben Roethlisberger that was returned for a touchdown by Telvin Smith in Jacksonville’s 45-42 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.

Ngakoue, who went to high school at Friendship in D.C., was taken by the Jags in the third round of the 2016 draft.  He had eight sacks last season and 12 sacks this season.  He has totaled 10 forced fumbles over his two seasons.

Now, the Redskins did take Kendall Fuller in third round of the 2016 draft.  He had a terrific 2017 off an uneven 2016.  But Fuller was taken with the no. 84 overall pick; Ngakoue went at no. 69.  The closer pick was the Redskins’ second-round pick, which was no. 53.  Who did the Redskins take with that?  Su’a Cravens.

 

4. A lot has been made of three of the four remaining starting quarterbacks in this NFL postseason being Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum.  Well, here’s something else to consider.  Take a look at the 2017 cap hits for each of the NFL’s final four teams’ top two receivers in terms of receptions this season:

  • Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs ($671,928) and Adam Thielen ($3.746 million)
  • Philadelphia’s Alshon Jeffery ($10.75 million) and Nelson Agholor ($2.557 million)
  • New England’s Brandon Cooks ($1.563 million) and Danny Amendola ($3.041 million)
  • Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee ($1.646 million) and Keelan Cole ($466,333)

Only one of the eight receivers has a cap hit of more than $3.8 million.  So what does this mean?

Well, first of all, I should point out that Atlanta won the NFC Championship last season thanks in no small part to a receiver in Julio Jones with a 2016 cap hit of $15.9 million.  But he is a freak and a top-five receiver in the NFL.

The larger takeaway is that you don’t need to spend big on receivers to get big production.  The Patriots have made a living doing this for years.  And I bring this up because the Redskins need to upgrade their receiving corps no matter who their quarterback is in 2018.  Drops, lack of winning on routes and lack of play-making period were all problems for the Redskins in 2017.

Some of the improvement must come from within.  Jamison Crowder must play more as he did in 2015 and 2016 than he did in 2017.  Josh Doctson, obviously, must take a giant step forward.

But you have Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Brian Quick almost certainly gone via free agency.  Even if the Redskins re-sign Ryan Grant as expected, that’s still two spots that must be filled.  Big production doesn’t have to be the result of big money.

This is part of why allowing both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to leave via free agency last offseason made sense, though I advocated for re-signing Pierre.  But paying big money to retain receivers already in their 30s, including one who is so reliant on speed, is not a healthy philosophy.  The Redskins’ thought process in letting those guys leave was sound.  The team’s replacing of those receivers was a big flop.

Crowder and Doctson being better in 2018 than they were in 2017 is probably the biggest key to the receiving corps being better next season.  But Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden, Doug Williams, Alex Santos and the rest of the organization need to identify and develop cost-effective talent at a position at which there has been plenty of cost-effective talent over the years.

 

5. The greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady, was terrific in New England’s 35-14 win over Tennessee on Saturday night: 35-of-53 for 337 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and no sacks.  His fist pump after Brandon Bolden’s third-quarter two-yard touchdown run said it all.  At 40 years and 163 days old, Brady became the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game.  This was his 10th career postseason game with at least three touchdown passes, breaking a tie with Joe Montana for the most in the Super Bowl era.

Brady’s third touchdown pass was a four-yarder to Rob Gronkowski in the fourth quarter.  Brady and Gronk now have connected for 85 regular-season and postseason touchdowns.  Only three quarterback-pass-catcher tandems have more: Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison (114), Steve Young-Jerry Rice (92) and Phillip Rivers-Antonio Gates (87).

But in looking at that list, what struck me the most was how far down you have to go to find Redskins tandems.  Through Saturday, the highest-ranked Redskins tandem was Sonny Jurgensen-Charley Taylor tied at no. 23 with 53 touchdowns.  Next was Sonny-Jerry Smith tied at no. 58 with 43 touchdowns.  Then came Mark Rypien-Gary Clark tied at no. 78 with 38 touchdowns.  And then was Sonny-Bobby Mitchell and Rypien-Art Monk tied at no. 145 with 29 touchdowns.

 

6. This was Bill Belichick’s 27th career playoff win as a head coach, extending his NFL record.  To put that in perspective, Jay Gruden over four seasons as Redskins head coach has 28 wins.

 

7. How funny/aggravating was it seeing the former Redskin, Ricky Jean Francois, registering a third-quarter first-and-15 sack of Marcus Mariota?  The Patriots had a franchise-postseason-record eight sacks, and the Peanut Butter Jelly Man had one of them in playing on 34 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps.

Ricky Jean had a strange two-season run as a Redskin.  He and Vernon Davis are the only two veteran free-agent hits that Scot McCloughan had during his two years as Redskins general manager, and even calling Ricky Jean is a “hit” is iffy.

The Redskins signed Ricky Jean in Feb. 2015 off him being released by Indianapolis.  He was a McCloughan guy, having been drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft by San Francisco when McCloughan was the 49ers’ general manager.  Ricky Jean was good when he played for the Redskins in 2015, but he just didn’t play that much – 36.58 percent of the defensive snaps.  The next season was more of the same – 39.98 percent of the defensive snaps, though he didn’t flash as much in 2016 as he did in 2015.

It was during that 2016 season that Ricky Jean wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure.  He complained about a lack of adjustments after the Week 2 loss to Dallas.  He and Chris Baker complained about the decision to rush just three players on Anquan Boldin’s game-winning 18-yard touchdown reception after the gut-wrenching Week 7 loss at Detroit.

Then came Ricky Jean ripping the Redskins on SB Nation Radio in March 2017 off the McCloughan mess and the team losing Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker via free agency: “It just seems like we’re getting back to the norm, we’re getting back to the dysfunctional, we’re getting back to the drama.  It just feels like at no given time we’ve never had that period, where we were just comfortable with everything and everything was just running smooth.”

And then came the Redskins releasing Ricky Jean just a few days later.

Now, there was a lot of outrage regarding this at the time.  And, yes, it was impossible to ignore the timing of the release of Ricky Jean – just days after he ripped the team.  But there were a lot of convenient points that the Redskins bashers left out of their blind outrage regarding the release of Francois:

  • Releasing Francois saved the Redskins $3 million in cap space in 2017
  • Francois, as much as he flashed in 2015, still was part of a defense that per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric ranked no. 21 in the NFL in 2015 and no. 25 in 2016.
  • Francois was signed twice and released twice by Green Bay within a period of less than eight months this year and then was signed, released and signed back by the Patriots.  If he was such a good player who was done wrong by the Redskins, then why was he released three times by two other teams after the Redskins released him in March?

But I will always hold Francois’ “Peanut Butter Jelly” sack dance close to my heart.  That was one of the best Redskins sack dances in recent years, surpassed only by Barry Cofield’s taser dance.

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