Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jan 07, 2013

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

In light of RG3's injury does Rizzo's Strasburg shutdown look smarter? Also, any plans to improve the field condition prior to next season?

The Strasburg shutdown already looked smart. It didn't need a football injury to reinforce it. The two sports are so different that I'd question any comparison between in juries, protection of players, between the two. Many will make connections. And I may find an approach to it that seems valid.,

But one great young player's injury in one sport doesn't vindicate following "best medicval practices" with another yhoung star in another sport.

The field was awful. What the hell do the Skins say about that? It's been awful. Once you "lose" a grass field it's hard to get it back. But FedEx has been below NFL standards most of the season.

As Buck said on the broadcast, "If it weren't for paint" the whole thing would have "looked brown."

Also concern that it was slippery, sometimes, and hard. When Seattle's Wilson tried to slide, he looked like a wedge shot hitting a green and "biting" back. Lucky he didn't get hurt while trying to avoid getting hurt.

Sorry about slow start. tech issues. Honest.

WHY did Shanahan let RGIII keep playing? I know RGIII wanted to keep playing, but surely this is why we have coaches, so the players aren't making the decisions individually! Not only was RGIII not getting anything done there, but once he had finally been hurt for good, we send Cousins out there in a disastrous situation, after having spent two periods telling him that he's worse than a one-legged quarterback!

This will be debated for years regardless of what the MRI shows on RGIII. I've watcheed the tape again a couple of times. I hate to be complex when a simple answer gives so much emotional satisfaction at a time like this, but NFL ball is just different than MLB or NBA. The pain and maybe-injuries that are played through in biog games is just higher. That's why so many ex-NFL players are wrecks. The culture is: You've already sold us your body. Use it.

A rookie feels an extra need to prove himself to the Flecthers, to the linemen who are playing banged up in front of him. Whatever might be sane "good judgment" in a 5th year star QB may not FEEL th4e same to a 22-year-old star. RGIII is going to say, "I can go" unless he is not just injured but probably badly injured. You have to factor that in.

Even watching again, I didn't say, "Pull the plug. He can't do ANYTHING. He can't plant. He can't keep from throwing too high. Of course he can't run, scramble, protect himself, avoid the rush in any normal way" until the Skins drive with 13:18 in the FOURTH quarter and the Skins ahead 14-13.

When Griffin ran a called play for nine yards and limped OB, that's when I said, "What is he still doing out there?" Give Buck credit on that one. He used the right phrse in real time at 13:00. "He is a compromised player." 

However, even AFTER that, if Hankerson had not semi-dropped a slant over the middle on third down, the Redskins would have had a first down at the Seattle 48-yard line, a 14-13 lead and, perhaps, somehow still have won. So to say that "sticking with RGIII doomed them" isn't really correct. If Hankerson catches that ball, are they doomed? In Seattle terriory. 11:07 to play. First down. Maybe get a field goal for 17-13.

The issue is "compromised player." Some would say he was compromised too much to continue after the late-first quarter injury. I wouldn't. You decided to play him. You've crossed that bridge. Its a playoff game . He's molre limited, the play book is shrinking, but Seattle comes back to 14-10 in a hurry. You don't have a world of time to say, "Oh, we're up 14-3. Lets go to Cousins." It's happening fast. 

How about half time? Again, RGIII didn't look any worse moving around in the 3Q than Kilmer, with his career-long bad leg after an awful injury, and Jurgy, with his pot, did on their best day.

It wasn't until the 4Q that __even with hindsight__ that "get him out" screams at you. In real time, it's even harder.

The larger question of Proper Treatment of a Franchise Quarterback goes beyond just this one game, or any part of it. Was the Skins handling of Griffin appropriate by NFL standards, by sane standards, over the whole month? 

Sometimes, the result itself documents the true issue. How much risk are you willing to take? When you see RGIII go down, without contact (on Montgomery's 75th awful low snap of the day), you realize, "This shouldn't have been allowed to reach this point." It's a 2nd guess. But do you want to expose a compromised player to a potentially career changing injury when he's playing with a knee that he ALREADY tore the ACL in when he was at Baylor!?

I'd say, "No." You have to pick a spot. For me, it's sometime in late 3rd or early 4th quarter. I suspect even Shanahan thinks he went too far.

Holding breath on MRIU. "Decisions" and debates aside, the most important thing is that RGIII come out of this the best he can.


Boz, given the chance to play on a regular basis, do you think Cousins has the makeup to be an above average to excellent QB in the NFL?

Good backup for sure. Adequate starter, probably. More than that, absoilutely no way to tell. One game agaiknst the 5-11 Browns is a fine start but not nearly enough data. And coming in yesterday in a desperate spot, down 24-14, proves nothing one way or the other. And ANOTHER low-snap sack put him in a hole in the one drive he did try to start.

Does the final image of RG3 on the turf validate Rizzo's decision to bench Strasburg or are they too different to compare? The RG3 injury is a worst-case scenario of what might have happened had Stras been allowed to pitch in the playoffs and Stras has the same "leave me in, coach" mentality that RG3 has demonstrated. Shouldn't someone have looked at Griffin limping on a scramble in the third and told Cousins to get in the game?

The big difference is that the Nats NEVER thought that they made any decision at all. They followed the same team protocol with Strasburg that they did with Z'mann the year before. This is how they handle the recovery of young pitchers after TJ surgery. Once you've said, "We think this is the best way to do it for the long-term good of the franchise AND the player," how do you say, "Well, except if we have a 1-in-8 chance to win the Woirld Series. Then we change our mind." The adults were in charge. They did the right thing.

The Nats were on the extreme side of player safety and long-term thinking because that is their organizational mind set. It was consistent with who and what they are as a franchise and their owners' way of thinking.

The Skins were close to the extreme side of player risk and short-term focus on winning __which is their choice. That's always been the franchise mindset. RGIII buys into it completely. He threw his arm around Shanahan after he came off the field the last time. That whole scene yesterday was consistent with who the Redskins are, who Shanahan is and who RGIII is, too. We'll find out what the price is.

But RGIII can't keep playing this wrecklessly his whole career or it won't be the career it should be. He started 16 games, sat out one and was knocked out of THREE with the game in progress. As an elusive 22-year-old rookie. At 3 KO's a season __one concussion, two injuries to the same knee__ how long you last?

And a way __a complete theory of how HE plays the position__ has to be found so that he CAN last. If the Pistol has to be kept in the holster on all but 1-2-3-4 crucial plays a game, so be it. We'll find out.

Remember a couple years ago when Jay Cutler left the NFC Championship game against the Packers? He was criticized by some for lacking toughness...and then it came out he had a torn ACL (or something like that). Tere is no winning for these guys, or their head coaches in the current football culture. If Cousins comes in after the first quarter, and the Redskins lose, and RG3 says he could have played, Shanahan is still getting killed today. Just look at the Strasburg debate.

All good points. EVERY Redskin that I talked to or heard after the game circled the wagons for the Redskins POV __Shanahan, Fletcher (talking about RGIII's toughness) and RGIII as well as others in the locker room. They will keep those wagons circled no matter what the injury, or non-injury report. That's the NFL culture.

What did Joe Gibbs say 100 times: "The most important attribute in a quarterback is toughness."

This is NOT intended to apply to this specific situation.  But it is one of the great general truths, imo. Socrates was asked: What is the greatest virtue. Socrates answered: Courage. Because it makes all the other virtues possible.

Don't tell me field position and circumstances dictated throwing the ball. Your QB is re-injured and now his throwing is affected. I was screaming at the TV "Run the ball on 1st and 2nd down. RG3 can limp or throw 3 yards for a conversion!" You're leading for 90% of the game and your back is averaging 5 yards a carry. You should be the one dictating the play. Why did 8 in the box make you stop even ATTEMPTING to run?

The Redskin play book got smaller any smaller, especially after two deep throws didn't work and one resulted in an easy interception.

The mark of how desperate they were on offense is that they CALLED that run for Griffin on which he hobbled to the sideline for nine yards. I told the Post editor beside me, "The Redskins just became the first team in the history of football to decide that they couldn't throw the ball effectively until after they had ESTABLISHED THE LIMP."

Somehow I doubt that the sight of that run altered the 'hawks defense. RGIII actually told Shanahan (at least according to Shanahan) that, "I could have run faster if I'd had to. I got 9 yards. That's pretty good isn't it?" (Paraphrase).

He could NOT have run faster. THAT was the problem. That play exposed how bad he really was.

Easy to say now: "Morris got 80 on 16 carries. Keep giving it to him." And that may be correct. But Seattle gave up the fewest pts in NFL. You need multiple interlocking features to move the ball against them. But, no, the Skins never totally committed to #46. I doubt it would have worked. (We don't know. The Cowboys never stopped it and RGIII only threw for 100 yds.)  

BTW: RGIII tweeted within the last hour: "Many may question, criticize & think they have all the right answers. But few have been in the line of fire in battle."

That was part of my column this a.m. The NFL culture is unique __in violence but also in the demands it makes. Yes, like boxing, to some degree. Get a group of NFL player, boxers, downhill skiers and race car drivers together, then ask about issues of risk and personal responsibility. I've talked to all of them at one time or another. You will get a set of answers that you will not hear anywhere else (in sports). I suspect they understand each other.

That still doesn't touch the main question: What should the veteran COACH do, with a decent but barely-tested backup available, when RGIII's words and his restricted acts seem to contradict each other. He thinks he can still help the team, but it doesn't look like he can.

Again, only decisions in real-time count. And those were tough ones.


Boz, In watching both the Redskins and Ravens games yesterday, it was hard not to notice how different the fields looked. The field at M&T Bank stadium was greeen and plush and the field at FedEx was brown and worn. Can you add any insight?

By NFL standards, M&T Bank has always been a model, top to bottom, all aspects. FedEx has often been a pit __in different ways at different times. This year it was the field that reached "F."

Can't believe I'm saying this, but would RG3 benefit from an agent like Scott Boras, who wants his players to have long, lucrative careers, and will at times cross the line to protect them?

You made Scott's day.

Agents ARE supposed to stand up for their players in ALL aspects of the game.

Do you think Gibbs would have left RG III in? What do you think he would have done differently if he had been the coach?

Gibbs wanted Tough Guy QB's. But he made some mid-game switches when QB's were getting the hell beaten out of them. Seem to remember a glazed Jay Schroeder coming out. Sorry I can't do chapter and verse on that from the n'80's.

I wonder if Gibbs will ever tell anybody __including Snyder__ what he really thinks. I'd love to know. There are ways to give an opinion without giving all of your opion __Joe is a master of it. I'd like to know ALL of his opinion.

Of course everyone hoped that the Redskins would win yesterday, but I feel like the reactions of the "man on the street" as included the following sentiments: It was an amazing season., Who would have thought that they would have gone from 3-6 to winning the NFC East (at 10-6)?, and Now RGIII's knee will be able to heal properly. Yes, folks are sad that they loss but the warm feeling of the season seems to be overriding this. Although I have hated all the Strasburg-Griffin comparisons in the past 18 hours (it's like comparing apples and tomatoes, both fruit but very different!), I do have a Nats-Redskins comparison. The win over Dallas was like the Werth walk-off home run in Game 4. The loss yesterday was like Game 5. (Except Game 5 was far more soul crushing--I still can't watch the top of the 9th inning).

Thanks. Good points.

Nats won the N.L. East which established them in their division as a power. And they won 98 which established them as a power in the N.L., at least.

The Skins won the NFC East, which established them as a power in the division __which is really important. They are not an NFL or NFC power yet. I checked one good stat site for NFL team power rankings at the end of the regular season: Redskins were tied with Vikes as 7th best team in NFC and 10th-best team in NFL out of 32. That's probably about right. If it has them too low, then they aren't toio low by more than a spot or two. Their improvement (and heart) were enormous. But they have a lot more work to do. However, this season was far more than light in the tunnel. With a healthy RGIII, they seem like the strongest team in the NFC East right now. That's what the 7-0 run really showed.

Just as the Nats ability to win the NL East, without Strasburg in September, showed where they stood.  

I don't want to replicate Robert McCartney's column and its hundreds of comments, but can't the Redskins do something about this? I moved here from Cleveland, site of the notorious Dawg Pound, but that was only a small section of the stadium and the Browns have pretty much shut it down. I've taken my kids, now 15, 14 and 12, to two Super Bowls and games all around the country, including the Meadowlands and Philly, with few if any of these kinds of problems. We enjoy a couple Ravens games a year, but I won't let them within miles of Fed Ex Field on game days. I think this nmay already be hurting attendance. Some day a drunk driver is going to kill someone on his way home from a game, and if they can prove he was served alcohol at the stadium the Redskins are going to be in a heap of trouble.

Haven't seen that column yet.

Near the end of the game, about 45 feet in front of the press box, a whole bunch of Redskins (gear) fans were trying to goad a half-dozen Seahawks (gear) fans __who didn't seem to be doing anything except existing and wearing the wrong jkerseys__ into a big fight. No fight started. Security came. But it was ugly and yet another example of how you better show some street smarts before you go to an NFL game. But then the 6-plus Seahawks fans probably thought they had some secutiry in numbers. Not close. 

For at least 20 years, I have always checked what color clothes I am wearing to any NFL game in any city. I don't mean a jersey! I just mean what color coat or short or anything. I grew up "interacting" with groups of guys from other DC neighborhoods and explaining myself, quickly, before the challenges or the "fun" of bullying could start.

So, I don't have to be told. "Hey, guys, I don't hate your team. I'm just a reporter" may not get out of your mouth in time. Or it may not matter. Don't wear it to any kind of ballgame unless you are prepared to WEAR it. That's not how it SHOULD be. But that is how it IS. Maybe nothing will happen 99 times out of 100. Or maybe 999 out of 1,000. But if you think, "Aw, nothing will (or can) happen to me just because I'm weareing X," you're crazy. It probably won't. But it could.

Boz, The thing that kept going through my mind last night after the game (which yeah a healthy RGIII wins in a walkover, and yeah Kirk Cousins has a fighting shot at if he's brought on in the second quarter/half/even 4th quarter), was of RGIII as Bill Buckner, and Shanahan as John McNamara. As with RGIII and the 'Skins, there was no way the Sox would've been in the playoffs without Buckner - bum knees and all. And sure, he "earned" being out there. But it's not his to earn, and as you noted in your column, there's one person who makes that call: the coach. McNamara should've pulled Buckner for a defensive replacement. Ultimately that ball between his legs was on the manager, just as the ball between RGIII's legs is on the coach. And if Buckner had been pulled, well - he probably has his own statue outside Fenway, and Mookie Wilson doesn't have the same meaning. And Davey Johnson's still looking for his ring. Which reminds me, in this year that I promised I'd give up following football - for all the brutal reasons nicely summed up yesterday (mercifully, no terrible concussions): 41 days until pitchers and catchers report.

All good stuff. Yes, I wrote a column the morning of Game Six '86 __BEFORE the game__ that the game would "find" Buckner in some disastrous way because he was trying to be noble and play hurt when he was far from 100%. I guessed it might "find" him on the bases and talked about how players (and managers) have such a tough time deciding when they are hurt and when injured, when they are still helping the team and when, maybe, their own egos have gotten in the picture. If I remember correctly, in Boston they STILL wants to know why Stapleton wasn't in at 1st base as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning. (Hey, Billy helped get us here; he deserves to be out on the field the celebrate. What can go wrong?)

We know what happened to the offense. What happened with the defense? It seemed as if there were lots of blown coverages resulting in big plays for Seattle. At times, there wasn't a Redskin defender on the TV screen -- the Seattle receivers were that open.

The Seahawks are one of the NFL's best offensive teams, especially as the season progressed. These are their point totals in their last four games: 58, 50, 42 (49ers) and 20. They still only had 13 points well into the 4th quarter. The defense did just fine. They eventually wore down, in part because the offense could barely get a first down to keep them off the field.

BTW, who is the NFL Rookie of the Year ifr we picked TODAY? Russell Wilson __from Richmond and every bit as remarkable a person in a dozen ways as RGIII (read the Rick Mease story Sunday)__ finished 15-for-26 for 187 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers with 67 yards on eight carries.

And twice he was so fast that he got down field to lead the blocking for Lynch (132 yards on 20 carries).

Wilson is still healthy, in large part, because he leanred to protect his body LONG ago (5-11, 206). He was about 98% as good as RGIII in the whole regular season and he ended the 16th game in great shape for the playoffs while Griffin's style didn't allow him to equal that accomplishment __and durability IS one in the NFL.

Right now, with Luck and RGIII out of the playoffs and Wilson in, I'd say Seattle has the ROY. Best future? Don't know. But right now, no matter what happened to Seattle the rest of the way, I'd say, by a narrow margin, that Wilson has had the best rookie year in the NFL.

Baseball's loss. Wilson played second base for two summers in the minors for the Rockies __Tri-City Dust Devils (.230) and Asheville Tourists (.228). Total of 317 at bats, .710 OPS. Knew you'd want to know!

Like so many forced to choose between football and baseball, Wilson quit baseball because he found it the harder sport __for him. As always, there is a Bull Durham reference in everything. The Asheville Tourists (SALLY League) play against Crash Davis and the Bulls.

That is what we call a "transition," sort of. We'll start talking more baseball, Caps, etc., next week. But for now, the Redskins season doesn't FEEL over until the final game is fully digested and the endless, impossible RGIII Decision screaming at least pauses. I don't think there is any simple answer to this debate. I think it's legit and has a dozen angles. And it also illuminates the NFL world __which is a strange and VERY extreme place. It connects to a very extreme part of ourselves. (Or many of us.)

See you next week. Thanks agin. 


It should be pretty obvious by now the coach cares more about himself than the welfare of his young players. Snyder should lower the boom and clean house.

That is the extreme view. You're entitled to it. But I don't agree.

Could you tell me what is the relationship of Dr. James Andrews to the Redskins. I did not even know that he was on the sidelines until the Baltimore game. Is he the team physician or one of the team physicians with a contract with the team? When did he first start appearing on the Redskin sidelines? Does he have an office in the D.C. area? I never thought that a surgeon of his renown would have a regular role with a team on the field.

Yesterday he appeared to function as a kind of seasonal tree ornament.

That story isn't over either.


What do you think about a quarterback running downfield and being a lead blocker?

Like everybody's mother always said, "Oh, it's always fun....until SOMEBODY GETS HURT."

Over the years, when there have been local deaths in high school football, I have interviewed local coaches, once even my own old coach, to ask about football, danger and risk. How do they feel about teaching such a sport? What is it's value? Does it outweigh the risks? Big subject. Not going to try to put my arms around it in a chat. One coach said, again a paraphrase, that football is different than other sports played in U.S. schools and that it teaches things other sports can't teach because it IS dangerous and it does take team sacrifice, pain and facing significant fear. Even at lower levels, like HS, if you run through the goal posts and you aren't "ready to play," you have already put yourself in danger by NOT being in a combative state. Other games are competiitve. Football is competitive AND combative. It's not alone. But it's one of the few.

So, when we start talking about what players should do, what's smart, what's the proper stargetgy, etc., you have to remember that, with football __and especially it's most intense and almost insane version (the NFL)__ the sport brings it's own world and codes with it. I sometimes wonder whether pro football, at the point it has now reached, is close to going "a bridge too far." That's another reason there is so much discussion of concussions, bounties, head hits, fines, etc.

The sport existed "on the edge" in Dick Butkus time __and at all times. I think society is starting to SEE the game more accurately __and have studies, like concussions, suicides, crippling injuries__ that make a larger number of people cringe.But I don't think the people who played it ever had many illusions about it. Football is for people who WANT to play football. (And when they play quarterback in the playoffs in the NFL, they are NEVER going to want to come out. And their coaches are always going to be in the same brutal dilemma. But that is the coach's JOB.)


Boz, as much as I love RGIII and what he's done for this franchise, some of his post-game comments struck me as odd. He said that he "deserved" to be in the game and that he was the best option at QB, that's why he's the starter. But it was clear he wasn't himself and the offense did nothing of consequence after the first quarter. And we've seen Kirk Cousins perform well when called upon. So is he really the best option? He clearly seems to chafe when he isn't playing, and offered only tepid support for Cousins when he finished the game in Baltimore and won the game at Cleveland. Clearly he loves being "RGIII" the man, the myth, the legend. I kinda feel like he wanted to pull off the win on one wheel and grow his legend. At what point does he, and the coaching staff, have to realize that he's NOT the best option at QB in that situation?

My view is that everything RGIII said came straight from the NFL QB cliche playbook of "Things You Say to Take Responsibility on Yourself as the Team Leader and Get Your Coach Off The Hook For Leaving You In."

Shanahn, RGIII, Flecther, etc., all stuck straight to the NFL script for such disasters when the coach sticks with the hobbled quarterback, the team loses a game it might have won otherwise AND __the worst case scenario__ the quarterback gets hurt again, too!

Mr. Boswell, do you feel the buzz the Nats garnered this season was wiped out by the football team's rise from the grave?


Somehow Boston was able to cope with championships by the Red Sox, Pats, Celtics and Bruins, all within a short space of years.

Washington can learn to cope with the time-management agony of dealing with the NFC East champs and the N.L. East champs simulataneously. And, now, we'll see what the Caps can do. 

Some people have to find that line the hard way: by experiencing the consequences as they cross it, like RGIII did yesterday.

Good point.

When the screaming stops __and that's going to take a while__ there will be a lot of potential for LEARNING out of this. Will RGIII learn? Or even want to? Can Shanahan, after all these NFL years, change even an iota?

You hope so.

How long can this go on? It seems to me that LaRoche isn't going to get an offer for any longer than two years from any MLB team, so shouldn't he just resign himself to the fact that he is 32 and sign somewhere already?

Time to get this resolved, one way or the other. I'll write about it soon, I assume. 

Hi Tom, Do you happen to know if Roman gladiators had a better 'players association' than the NFLPA?

Give me Spartacus, the Thracians (and the points) in the Third Servile War against Rome. (I'm a sucker for underdogs.)

That's it for this week.

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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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