Ask Boswell about the Redskins, Washington sports

Nov 14, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins' game, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

As soon as I read Rex would be starting I turned to my friend and said, "Bet he turns the ball over twice." God, I hate being right. Grossman may very well be better than Beck when he's "on" but his turnovers are simply unacceptable, and it doesn't look like he can be coached out of it. I'd rather ride the rest of the season out with Beck. At least he found the end zone last week.

To me, Grossman just looks more like an NFL quarterback than Beck who really doesn't seem to be able to throw the ball down field with authority. Grossman's problem __and it is a HUGE one__ is the one EXTRA pure-Rex turnover per game since he's been a Redskin. Any NFL stat person will tell you that this alone __one extra turnover__ just dooms you. I'm not sure Grossman could be this consistently bad if he tried. The law of averages might actually help him the next few games. And the Redskins -8 (I think) on turnovers is enough to kill a decent team much less one that might be 4-5 or 5-4 if it were "0" in turnover/takeways.

Yesterday was a perfect example. One interception came when Hankerson slipped as he cut, Rex threw exactly "on the break" as you should and it was an easy pick.

But No. 2 was as bad as it ever gets. There are a few cardinal rules for QB's and intercetpions. First, as I've mentioned, Norv Turner __remember him with Aikman in Dallas__ told me, "You should NEVER throw an interception on 1st down __b ecause it is FIRST down. You've got two more chances."  Then, try never to throw a pick in the Red Zone unless the game situation dictates you have to be ultra aggressive. And, finally, don't throw into heavy traffic is possible to avoid it.

Grossman threw a FIRST-DOWN pick in the RED ZONE into GRIDLOCK traffic where he himself said there were three Redskin receivers in the vacinity. Well, that brings at least four defenders.

I asked Shannhan, "How can a veteran QB throw a 1st-down interception in the red zone into traffic?" By the time he got rolling, he'd said it happened pretty often. Yeah, right. 

Rex is aggressive and can lead a drive. But the killer turnover is just part of his M.O. and always has been. I see no reason to think he'll change, though he's easy to root for. Again, the Shanahans sometimes seems to think that The Scheme fixes everything. It doesn't.

They need to RUN THE BALL MORE. Miami ran 33 times for 103 yards or 3.1 a carry. Not very good. But they stuck with it, established some sort of running game and Moore only had to throw 28 times.

The Skins ran only 17 times, but for a 3.6 average __half-ayard better than the Dolphins! But it was the Skins who, in a close game "abandoned the run." That's Kyle's fault. As Gibbs said countless times, you wear the other defense down __OVER TIME__ with the running gamee. You beat them up because O-linemen are huge while the defense;s front seven is merely very big. The runs that get stuffed early can set up the runs that bust free later, or it can set upo play actioin better or, and this is important, it can slow down the pass rush. Finally, young O-linemen almost always find run blocking easier than pass blocking.

One asterisk __the Shanahan streatch playrequires as much coordination and timing among big men __they look like they are almost holding hands and running laterally together__ than it does simple drive blocking.

Still, Shanny afterwards said that fixing the offense "starts with the running game."

Well, it starts with trusting the running game and sticking to it and the O-coordinator is, to my eyes, still pass happy. But 'll grant that the NFL is now a pass-happy league, except for team's that seee themselves as passing-challenged with poor QBs.

Which kind are the Skins?

Aaron Rodgers was available when the Redskins selected Carlos Rogers in the 2005 draft. The latter is no longer on the Redskins roster while the other is on his way to the NFL record books and very well may end up in Canton. Does this show how difficult it is to project QBs in the NFL or proof the Redskins have been horrible at drafting since, well, Mr. Cooke shuffled of his mortal coil?

The normal answer is that picking QBs, even in the first 50 overall picks, is a crap shoot. And that No. 1 overall picks are the spot where you see a lot of bigger winners, though even that produces flops.

However, the last four years have been different. Just at the time the Redskins haven't been using their No. 1 or No. 2 picks to draft QBs, those same picks __from ey have been working out well enough to very well for 10 teams! More bad Redskins luck?

Here is the (long) list of QB's in the '08 to '11 drafts __but not No. 1 or No. 2__ that have worked out fairly well or very well.

'08: Matt Ryan (No. 3 overall), Atlanta. Joe Flacco (18th), Baltimore.

'09: Mark Sanchez (5th) Jets, Josh Freeman (17th), Tampa Bay.

'10: Tim Tebow (25th), Denver. Colt McCoy (85th) Clev.

'11: Blaine Gabbert (10), Jax. Christian Ponder (12th), Minn. Andy Dalton (35th), Cinn.

So, maybe the trend is changing and the 2nd or 3rd best college QB this year __since Indy will probably get Luck from Stanford__ will still be available to the Redskins and will actually work out.

This list doesn't include 1/1 picks Cam Newton and Sam Bradford. The list of flops is very low. Some, like Clausen have held and lost jobs. It's always in flux. But an improved pattern __better scouting?__ is giving better results at QB on high, but not No. 2 or No. 3 picks.

If you want Redskin hope, you can hang on that a bit.

Tom, Good morning. Both teams have below average QBs and are not winning. But the Colts really prove the point as they have more pieces in place but are missing the great Peyton. Shanny just doesn't get it that he needs at least a B+ QB to win in this league and the Colts are a great example of that fact.

A friend mentioned to me that he thought Shanahan had probably rebuilt a pretty good defense and would turn to the offense next, but that the only mistakes you could charge him with __on things within his control__ were the poor decisions with (three) QBs AND the deepth of the O-line. That last point is a tough one. Come on, isn't there anybody "out there." It's not like, "Get me a couple of decent back up O-linemen" is like saying, "Get me a Cam Newton." But then, it seems, Shanny would just be asking that question of himself since he's No. 1 in personnel decisions. Perhaps another example of Too Much On His Plate with two hats.

Boz -- What are the chances the kidnapping was a screw-up? That the intended target was NOT Ramos but one of his male relatives (seeing as Wilson would be the guy with access to the real money)? The day before the rescue, there was a Venezuelan TV shot of his mom flanked by a guy in a Nats jersey who looked a lot like Wilson, only slightly bigger. What if the kidnappers -- all of them hoodlums -- thought it was Ramos' relative they were grabbing, and the brains of the operation (somebody else) realized the mistake within 24 hours and eventually either made an anonymous phone call to the police or called the guy on their payroll in the police and simply betrayed the kidnappers?

Interesting theory. I suspect this story is both important enough and flashy enough that it will be followed extensively, especially in Venezuela where baseball is very popular. Their Winter league depends on players feeling safe to play there. Kidnapping the player himself isn't the pattern __to date. 

Boz, I guess the tug of home is too strong for Ramos to do anything but go to Venezuela, but for the life of me I can't see why any MLB ballplayer would go there in the off season. I'm as thrilled as anyone he's OK - and his job as the Nats' catcher is the least of my concerns - but at the end of the day he got lucky.

When you come out of a firefight without a stratch, that's pretty lucky, even if you are under a bed. It'll be fascinating to see if the Venezuela winter ball league __with a very long tradition over 40 years old, at least__ can survive this if the pattern continues even a little more.

When can we stop blaming Vinny for leaving the cupboard bare and start blaming the Shanahans?

No, we should not stop blaming Cerrato or Snyder for keeping him in the picture for 10 years. That may have been the biggest of all the Redskins disasters. That pair destroyed the talent base of the organization. Partly with poor drafts, but just as much with the constant switching of coaches and satffs which meant that they blew up the roster __and always got rid of useful players from the past regime that, suddenly, didn't fit the new regime.

Also, Schottenheimer wanted to be GM as well as coach. Snyder picked Cerrato. That's a tough one. Back to the Two Hats theory. Could Marty have done an excellent job with both jobs? Doubtful, I have to concede.

How does Shanahan think that players will give him 100% effort when it is clear that no matter how you play, you could be benched the next week (see Helu, Roy)? Jason Reid has a great column today - at what point does Shanahan's dishonesty cross the line from just trying to keep your opponents on their toes to really hurting the team?

QBs like Grossman and Beck have to live with the reality that they are probably never going to be The Man. But players like Helu have to scratch their heads. Shanny said he started Perry Riley because he liked the way he had played in practice and on special teams. Soime players can cope with a short leash and still produce. Buty I'd say it hurts performance more often than it helps it.

The bigger and better the coach's reputation, the more he  can get away with flipping people around __because, well, he's a genius. But if you start losing (a lot) and the genius juice starts evaporating, more players may wonder if he's making moves because he's smart or because he's desperate to get a "W." For now, I'd say he's trying to figure out what he's holding and also pushing some motivational buttons. And we don't know who's "nicked."

When Mike Shanahan was brought on board a few years ago, I was a little disappointed. Not because I didn't think he was a decent head coach, or because I thought he was past his prime, but because it was such a typically short-sighted Dan Snyder move. Here you have a team, 4-12, coming off an absolutely dismal season, and in need of a total rebuild, with few answers on any side of the ball. Anyone with common sense could have seen this was going to be a project...a few years at least. So naturally, you'd want to bring in an older coach who probably wouldn't outlast his five year contract, meaning, best case scenario, the Redskins would start to contend in the last year or two of his contract...and then they'd be back to square one looking for a new coach, and that's if Jason Campbell worked out. If not, they'd be looking for a new quarterback, so it would take even longer. And on top of all that, because Shanahan's a "name" who's had success, he demands player personnel power, and gets it from Snyder, even though he got fired from his last job for being bad at personnel, making success an even longer shot. This Shanahan thing may yet work out, but even if it results in a few winning seasons, I think the franchise's future is still bleak.

A lot of solid points there. The day Shanahan was hired, I did not think he understood how big a problem he'd inherited. Or else he had such astronomical faith in himself that he thought he could fix anything __and fairly fast. Even if you assume he was talking more bravely than he really felt, I don't think he'd ever have believed that he'd now be 6-10, 3-6 and looking at a brutal end to this season with his own equivalent of Matthews and Wuerffel at QB. For the record, Spurrier's two ex-Gator guys both had QB ratings over 70.0 in '02 and combined for 14 TDs to `12 INTs in 329 passes on a 7-9 team.

Let's assume we won't sink so low as to be in position for Luck. But we do have a pretty strong chance, based on recent play, of getting the best QB in the draft not named Luck. Any chance that Shanahan would take a liking to Robert Griffin III? Or is he almost certain to go with a "safer" choice like Matt Barkley or Landry Jones (assuming all three are available where we pick)? Personally, I'm rooting for it to be RGIII, but something tells me Shanny might not favor his style of play.

Looks like a pick in the Top Five may be in the cards. So we'll probably only talk about this every week for the rest of the season. Start the Next QB brainstroms going.

BTW, this is the first Redskin QB Controversy in history that contained no controversy. Virtually everybody  votes for Somebody Else.

Mr. Boswell - At the beginning of the year, I had the Redskins going 8-8; I'm still rooting for this to happen of course. But I was convinced they would improve this year, if only slightly. I'm a fan of Shanahan and what he's trying to do. Organization transformations take a few years. However, with the recent 5 game slide - is there something larger going on here? I mean they seem to have taken a step back. You alluded to the fact that Shanahan may be losing touch, and credibility. I would like to chalk this skid to bad play and luck, and poor quarterbacks, but it seems like the team has taken a step back in their progress? Can I just chalk this up to - it only get worse before it gets better? Or are we seeing the beginning of something larger, and are then in for no improvement and an endemic failure for the next two to three seasons with Shanahan at the helm?

I strated the year thinking, and writing, 7-9, maybe 8-8, but don't dare talk playoffs. And that's with good health where they are thinnest. They didn't really get more than an average number of NFL injuries __the defense has stayed close to 100% all year. But the O-line killed 'em.

After they lost to Philly, the mood in the locker room was still what you'd expect of a confident 3-2 team that also had a promising exhibition season. Then I missed two games for the baseball post-season. When I saws the locker room after the 49er loss, I said, "Ut oh, a lot has changed." The confidence seemed to have gone far down. Yesterday was worse. Chemistry is just exactly that __a mixture. And to have good chemistry you need ENOUGH wins to keep the good thing going.

This losing streak will test everybody. But the Skins will run into teams that have just been hit by injuries, or are looking back at a recent defeat or looking past the Skins at a future foe. The defense alone is good enough to keep them in a few games. BUT the Redskins MUST be POSITIVE in turnover/takeaways to have a real chance. They were on the short end again Sunday.

It doesn't have to be that way. Even w Rex, they can have "+" weeks on TO/TA. 

I remember being so bummed when the Skins moved from RFK, but the one saving grace was that Jack Kent Cooke could have a stadium named after him. Then, the Snyder era began and he sold the naming rights to FedEx and nothing has gone right since then. I'm starting to believe in a Snyder curse (as many Six Flags investors are) and the only way to exorcise it, other than him selling the team, is to play a full season in RFK again. I may be nuts, but can you remember a time when everything the Redskins did went so badly?

The team Nickname Curse. The Nevere Shoulda Left RFK curse. The Danny Curse. Well, at least I hadn't heard the Six Flags Curse.

You really know a team is going badly when the fans are holding their own Pick a Curse Contest.

Tom: The Ravens, coming off a big win against the Steelers, once again managed to stink against a bad team, the Seahawks, who came in 2-6. How does a team get into this pattern of beating tough rivals, only to drop games to Jacksonville, Seattle and (almost) Arizona, and not only drop games, but look thoroughly mediocre doing it? Any ideas?

Hate to be simplistiuc, but that's just the NFL. If you come in flat or the other team guesses right a lot in its game-planning or a couple of huge calls or breaks go your way or you just get 3 or 4 turnovers, all the smart chalk talk is worthless.

That's why you __well, maybe not you, since you're asking about the Ravens__ will still watch Redskins games. If the coach doesn't "lose the team," and I don't think he will, you may win a couple of games just because "that's the nature of the league." (Or, ha, you may not.)

I would like to hear a reporter ask Mike Shanahan the following: in percentages, How would you divide the reasons for the Redskins being one of the five worse teams in the NFL? The categories being the talent of the players you selected, how innefective your scheme is, and the inability of you and your coaching staff to have the players ready to implement your scheme. I think Shanahan needs to take a long hard look at his ability to pick talent, and then coach them. Your thoughts?

Well, that would certainly clear things up. Because Shanahan would say, "We will do whatever we think gives us the best chan ce to win next week."

Once you're officially a genius, it's hard to get a new and modified act for a different period in your life/coaching career. Shanny still acts __not entirely, but pretty much__ like a guy who just won two Super Bowls, not like a coach who is 33-40 in his last >4 1/2 seasons.

I think he'll loosen up a knotch during the week at Redskins Park just so he doesn't come off as arrogant to the point of being out of touch with reality. He's smart. But it'll be a challenge. He has such a locked-in-stone public personna that it won't be easy.  

Boz, I've been a 'Skins fan since I was six years old and Billy Kilmer was quarterback. They won their first Super Bowl when I was in junior high school. I still wear Riggins jersey. In other words, I know excellence when I see it in burgundy and gold and am the last person to excuse what has transpired the last two decades, to say nothing of the two years. I have watched my beloved Redskins go from one of the most respected franchises in all of sports to being a laughing stock. A relative is a Dolphins fan said of yesterday, "a win's a win but it WAS only the Redskins." You'd NEVER have heard that about a Joe Gibbs-coached team. Having said that, I don't think we can judge Shanahan yet. Yes, he misjudged McNabb, but as for this year, what other options does he have? And with all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, there really isn't anybody good enough to "coach up." Bottom line is it takes a looooong time to make up for many years of draft and free-agent incompetence. I'm prepared to wait because I have no choice. If I decided such things with my head I'd have dropped the 'Skins long ago but I have a six-year-old's attachment to this damned team. My question is: How long, realistically, will it take to get the personnel necessary to be a good football team? And what options do we have at QB next year? Thanks as always.

One of the points of my column was to say that, even after five straight loses and three games of joke offense, it's still plausible that Shanahan is that 91-69 guy from the last 10 years in Denver after he did NOT have Elway. And the Redskins better hope so.

Shanny, I hate to say it, probably needs two more draft so that, by mid-'13, maybe you see whether his master-rebuilder skills exist.

The day he was hired, when the Nats were coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, who'd have through that today the town's Most Likely to Succeed list would be 1) Caps, 2) Nats, 3) Skins and 4) Wiz. And all the Wiz to do is get smart or lucky on one or two players to change the franchise. The Redskins have to do a lot of things right __even as they watch the aging of London Fletcher (eventually), Moss, Cooley. Over time, the Skins don't just have to add. They will also have to replace.

Can it be possible that an injury to Jamaal Brown was the reason for the QB switch? If anything, that should mean that Beck stayed in there since he can actually run a little bit.

Nobody shopuld ever believe anything a coach says about changes at his QB position. They (almost) all tell the truth __if it's convenient__ or create an alternative reality if it doesn't suit them. This happens at all levels.

A well-known local high school coach, Al (Sleepy) Thompson, who had 29 winning years in 32 seasons at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes High School, once kept it hush-hush that he was switching to a 15-year-old quarterback before playing rival Episcopal High School across Seminary Road in Alexandria. Way bck when, Episcopal was too ritzy to play then-named St. Stephen's in regular season (we thought that was their reason anyway), so a scrimmage the week before the opening game was a bragging rights big deal between two schools a mile apart.So, nobody knew “Boswell” was starting. We won. But I must have stunk. The other guy had the job back the next week. We had a losing year.

     As I said in the column, you can’t out-coach your own bad quarterbacks.


Couple of points: I thought Hankerson looked good yesterday (hopefully he's OK) and Riley had a fine game inside. The more I watch D. Hall, the more I'm convinced they should have kept Rogers and released Hall. The Kerrigan personal foul I thought was harsh. He was assuming the receiver was going to catch the ball and there was no way he could stop his momentum. It would have been a great hit if this had happened and wouldn't have been a penalty. I'm all for player safety, but sometimes I think the refs are too quick to throw a flag. As a Redskins fan for 30 years (living in the UK) it's hard watching the team dissolve in the space of five weeks, but then what's new? Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I believe the next couple of years (providing we have the stability) we will turn the corner.

Give or take a little, that could have been one of my answers on this chat. So, "question" or not, let the man have his say!

If the Skins, and their fans, can ever gets their minds completely around the word "rebuilding," then maybe progress __in two years__ is actually possible. Until you admit it internally, and the various forces outside the team finally internalize that "they really are their record," then you could see progress. Could.

what do you think the chances of Mike shanahan resiging after the end of the season? I do mean resigning not being fired. Given the way things are going he seams to be over his head with the job of rebuild the redskins.

No chance. He's not a quitter. He also wants to give his son the best chance to do well in his job, too. Come on, what great coach throws up his hands and walks away and also leaves his son to find his next job coming off a disaster season: Not one such total-loser coach exists anywhere on earth and it's certainly not Mike Shanahan.

But you might want to mention it to him just to see his eyes go into the death stare and motivate him even more for the next week. 

Forget the season, has Shanahan lost the locker room already?


He built this roster. Which means he built his own "room." They aren't leaving him. In many cases they came here because they NEEDED him or his system to do well or even to stay in the NFL.

so who is the worse owner - Daniel Snyder or Frank McCourt?

McCourt is worse, by a mile.

Snyder, very slowly, learns. You never know exactly how much. Sometimes his education seems to come in inches after being beaten over the head with the 2-by-4 of reality for years. McCourt is just a greedy incompetent  clown. And I'd add quite a few more words if this were not an off-the-cuff public chat. What a disgrace to baseball and the Dodgers.

Ask about the Redskins? When's the Nats chat?

Those may be starting pretty soon, even though it's the middle of Skins season! The hot stove should start warming up.

Interesting to see Pujols and reyes down here in Miami looking at their new and almost finished ballpark. The Miami Marlins are doing what almost every team does just before they open a new ballpark: Sign at least one really big free agewnt to please and draw fans. The Marlins WILL sign a very big name, though I doubt it'll be Pujols. As the Mets finances have slid, the Nats just picked up a new well-off competitor here in the south.

Still amazin' that the Nats, despite their baseball people telling them to do just what the Marlins are doing now, went right ahead and fielded a 205-loss team in a new park. But you never know: They stumbled into Strasburg and Harper.

Now that baseball post-season, the too-early death of Joe Frazier, the Penn State mega-scandal and the Ramos kidnapping are all over, as well as any Skins playoff chances, there will be a lot more time to look at the Nats off-season, the Caps regular season, Tiger in the President's Cup and more.

I absolutely have to leave this instant to catch a plane. Sorry. We'll chat more next week. Thanks again.

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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