Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Sep 18, 2017

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

The game on Saturday with no-name pitchers drew a 95 percent full stadium. But the Sunday game with Strasburg pitching and the scoreless inning streak on the line drew only a 70 percent full stadium. How much did the late start and Metro's early closing affect the gate? I know that's why we did not go.

I assume many people wanted to watch one of the Skins best chances to beat somebody this year, plus the Sean McVay-Jay Gruden coaching match-up. Also, Metro's a factor.

What is shows is that D.C. is still very much an NFL/Skins town. For that to change will require two Nats trips to the World Series and 10 more years of 6-10 from Snyder's team. I think it's really a waste of energy to debate what team/s people should watch and care about. Just enjoy what you enjoy in the proportions that you enjoy it. I was certainly more interested in watching the Skins game than the Nats game, even though I thought Strasburg-vs-Dodgers would give good info on how he'd match up against them.

Short version: The Rams continue to look better than they did last year while the Skins continue to look worse, especially in the passing game, which is their core identity.

When you are 20-20 deep in the 4Q against a team that was outscored by 170 points last year in a stadium that is half empty and, among those who are there, half pro-Skins, that just reinforced that we are probably discussing a team that wins 5, 6 or 7 games, but will be reasonably entertaining because it will have a lot of close games. In the next two weeks, if the Skins beat either the Raiders or the Chiefs (who looked strong yesterday in an excellent game with the Eagles), then we can reevaluate. At least we are spared the 15 weeks of screaming about who'll be fired if they'd started 0-2. Now there may be some sanity. The defense under Manusky looks better, more engaged, more aggressive and more fun to watch. But the receiving group, especially with Reed so prone to injuries or dings, just doesn't impress me at all. Somebody will catch 1,000-yards worth of balls, but that's just because somebody on any pass-oriented team will do it. Pryor's OK, but he's being measured against a high standard -- No. 1 WR in the NFL. Almost every team the Skins play will have a better, more polished No. 1. His athleticism may emerge as the season goes on.

As for the Nats, I came away from watching the Dodgers series hoping that they get to meet LA again, not Arizona, because I like the match-up quite a bit. The Dodgers can't hit. They are 26th in runs since the ASG. And they have no big excuse, like the major Nat injuries to Harper and Turner that have crimped their second-half offense. The Nats pen held LA scoreless for 13 2/3 innings using nine different relievers, all of whole seemed in control of LA. Solis and Romero looked quite good, as well as the back-end five. On an off night, Strasburg only gave up one run.

If the Nats meet LA in the NLCS, it will be very low-scoring. I doubt LA can sniff Scherzer or Strasburg or the Nats pen. Maybe they can get to Gio. Roark has had a nice second-half with a 3.15 ERA. But the Nats look mystified by any LA lefty. Howe couyld you look worse against Wood, Hill and Rye? Or how could they look better -- one run allowed in three starts.

The Nats gave away the first two games by hiding Gio and Roark and starting EJaxk, whose been helpful (thanks) but is now back to normal form, and sixth starter Cole, who wasn't bad, but bed enough to lose. So, it's close to meaningless that the Dodgers won the series vs No. 5-6 starters. For the year, they were 3-3 against each other with 16 runs apiece.

That's probably how close they'd be in an NLCS -- about 5.5 runs a game between them and every game a nail-biter. BUT we're talking about a dead-even match against the World Beating Dodgers. I like the Nats chances a LOT more after the last three weeks post-LA 1-16 and after seeing them head-to-head. I thought I'd feel LA was a clear favorite by now. Instead, I'd slightly favor the Nats if Harper's back and OK.

But I doubt that BOTH the Dodgers and Nats will get to the NLCS. The D'backs are tough and the Cubs are hitting.

So, nice that the Skins may have 10-to-12 fun games and maybe only a few where they get blown out and also nice that, to me, nobody in the NL looks better than the Nats, thought the Dodgers, Cubs, D'backs and Nats can all beat each other. It'll be a wild October.      

So far, the NFL's return to Los Angeles has been an embarrassing disaster. More people went to the USC-Texas game than to the two NFL games on Sunday. It appears the NFL has taken two teams that had either mediocre (St. Louis) or good (San Diego) fan support and allowed them to go somewhere where no one cares. It allowed the 49'ers to move to Santa Clara where no one seems to care. It put a franchise in Jacksonville that nobody seems to care about instead of Baltimore, which led to Baltimore stealing the Browns, which led to the NFL putting a new team in Cleveland that stinks. It does have a successful new franchise in Houston, but that's because they allowed the old franchise to move to Nashville, where they're a nonentity. Next, they're going to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, where their games are likely to become neutral site affairs with fans of opposing teams grabbing tickets as part of a weekend in Vegas. Can you screw up franchise moves/expansion/new stadiums any more than that? (Oh, BTW, a certain local team replaced an outdated but fan-friendly stadium that gave them a powerful home field advantage with a mediocre stadium in a lousy location with a terrible fan experience, and saw their home field advantage disappear) (One other BTW: MLB has made on franchise move in recent memory. Seems to have worked well. Just sayin'.)

You left out the rumors that Roger Goodell doesn't know which one is the salad fork.

Last week's column about whether we should root for the Nats to catch the Dodgers for the best record in the NL didn't address how big of a factor home field advantage is in the NLCS and World Series. Did you look at that and decide it wasn't significant?

I decided its about time the Nats focused on actually winning one post-season series and not always be distracted by talk of what will happen in their second and third rounds, which haven't arrived yet.

The current format is an annual set-up for the No. 1 seed to be upset by the WC/WC winner, especially (this year) in the NL which is the league that punishes the team with the best regular-season record with a FOUR-DAY break before its first playoff game.

If Arizona meets the Dodgers, I'd flat pick the D'backs. The Dodgers better root for the Rockies, who'd be tough enough.

In the AL, I really like Cleveland and pull for them, but they are probably going to end up with a three-day break before playing (maybe) the Yankees in a short made-for-upsets Division Series. That smells like Awful Upset, too.

In a year with potential WC/WC winners are powerful as the D'backs and Yankees, there's a good chance that one of the two No. 1 seeds gets knocked off the first week. That's exciting. But is it "good for ball?"

This is a year when I'd REALLY like to see the chalk hold so we could SEE a fabulous post-season with nothing but powerhouse-vs-powerhouse match-ups where every team has outscored its foes by a run-a-game (or close). Cubs-Nats, Dodgers-D'backs, Cleveland-Yanks, Boston-Houston with the Nats, Dodgers, Cleveland and Houston advancing, then the Dodgers and Cleveland -- both with over 100 wins -- in the World Series.

Just a reminder, the best teams in each league in regular season do NOT tend to end up in the World Series.

To answer your question, home field is a nice edge in a seven-game series in the post-season. But it seems to have had more impact in the World Series. In '87, the World Series went to its current rules on use of the DH -- the home team gets to use its own rules. So, if you get back home for Game 6, you not only have homefield advantage, you have home-league-rules advantage. It's been a BIG factor for the last 30 years. Luckily, for MLB, we've had a couple of recent WS (like last year and '14) when a road team won a sixth or seventh game to clinch.

IMO, home field matters in the LCS but not a lot. In the WS, it's often huge. If you think the Nats are going to the WS this year, and if they're healthy and clicking I love to see what the heck THAT team actually looks like, then the "race" you should be watching now is NOT for NLCS home field but for World Series home field. Right now it's:

Cleveland 93-57-.620

Houston 91-58-.611. 1/2 games behind

Washington 90-59-.601 2 1/2 games behind Clev.

Boston 85-64 (out of the picture, probably).

You could have six teams this year with 95 wins, four of them with 100. Nats and Red Sox would have to get hot for that to happen. But this is a loaded-with-gaudy-teams post-season coming up. And the Nats fit right in -- their best team yet, but probably life-and-death in every round they might play. 

I can't believe they have not reversed the "double" off of Michael A. Taylor's glove to an error. It would have preserved Strasburg's scoreless inning streak which would now stand at a record 40 innings. Is it too late for the official scorer to come to his/her senses?

It was the correct call and certainly should not be overturned. In addition to being the wrong call -- it was a double -- it would seem (and probably be) retroactive homer-ism.

Scoring on that is simple: It was a very tough play, a running catch going face-first at the wall. Should the play have been made? Yes. Taylor would certainly think so. But was it an error? No way. "Tough play" means it's a hit.

BTW, in regular season particularly, I try -- with modest success -- to view each game the way the best managers do: Don't judge too much by the final score. Instead, ask, "Which team played better?" Or, put another way, it that game had been played 100 times, which team would have won the majority of the games with luck and plays decided by inches evening out over the 100 games.

The Nats outplayed the Dodgers on Saturday -- by a bit, not a lot -- they just didn't happen to win. Puig robbed Murphy with a diving catch of a ball to end the eighth that would have tied the game, 3-3. Turner and Zimmerman both had long balls caught at the track. As soon as Rich Hill left, the Nats hit the ball hard and didn't get much for it. (Yes, emphasis on "after.") The Dodgers stranded runners in scoring position four times -- that's been their MO for weeks.

How did you feel about be referenced by the Fox TV crew during the Saturday game? They seemed to use your column's identification of playoff disadvantages to the best teams to generate an interesting discussion. What did you think about their proposals to fix the playoff problems?

I was glad to see they brought it up. It's a pretty big problem. In the five years of the current format, the WC/WC winner actually has a 23-18 lead in games over the No. 1 seed in the Division Series. You'd want it to be at least 23-18 the OTHER way.

John Smoltz, smart man, suggested that the DS be played with Game 1 at the home of the WC/WC winner, then all remaining games at the home of the No. 1 seed. I guess that would help a little.

BUT maybe the biggest "problem with this problem" is that they may be stuck with it for a long time -- without a real solution. Letting 10 teams into the playoffs has been fabulous for late-season interest, attendance, TV and has juiced up interest in the trade deadline enormously. You can't go back. You don't want to go back.

BUT in the NFL, the Wildcard Weekend works perfectly because EVERYBODY wants the advanatge of a bye week.

In MLB, NOBODY ever wants three or four off days before a playoff series. One, yes. Two, we can live with it. But three is a difficulty and four is enough to get in your head (as well as into your timing.) So just flipping an extra home game to the "better" team may no reverse the Iced Team issue. 

In hindsight, the Nstss hit .164 in the DS against the Giants and could do anything with three absolutely mediocre SF starters -- Hudson, Peavy and Vogelsong, none of them sharp at the time or having even decent seasons. How much was their own choking under pressure? How much did the layoff help them gag?

Also, imagine that the '17 Nats were in the WC/WC game and started Scherzer in that game. What would their rotation look like in the DS -- all on full rest? Strasburg, Gio, Scherzer, Roark and Strasburg! How is that any different than what they'd have used if they'd been the No. 1 seed? then they have gone Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark and Scherzer. Maybe it's BETTER, if you have strong No. 2, like Robbie Ray or Stras, to have your "ace" going in the PIVOTAL Game 3.

(Oh, and I was glad that when they showed me on TV for a second that I wasn't spilling ice cream down my shirt, yawning, but actually working. I can't help how I look. At least I wasn't doing anything ridiculous -- which would be in character.)

I am writing this right after the last chat, in response to the question of blackballing. You have mentioned multiple times that you think he was blackballed. I have a different perspective and I wonder what you think about it. 1. I think, and you seem to agree that he is a backup, maybe a starter for a bad team that is not expecting much, at best 2. There have been some very good, Hof good players that have been distractions. They have been moved even when it obviously affects the teams talent as they damaged the team chemistry, or because they were distracting enough to bother the organization. Think Randy moss, Terrell Owens I am sure you know about even more than I do. 3. Why would someone in charge of constructing a team, which as you have discussed in the past also includes chemistry, want to take a backup that makes those distractions. I don't consider that a blackball, even though they do not want him due to his stance. With everything we talk about off the field issues, if I remember correctly a player dropped in the draft due to that, you can not just look at a players playing potential when thinking to sign them. To conclude, I just think teams are not interested in having to deal with the media circus of what having him on their team would bring. I am very interested in what you have to say about this perspective. Thank you

That IS the other perspective -- in its strongest form.

I'd only add that, on most NFL teams, Kaep would probably not be a distraction INSIDE the team. You have to put up with a lot of different personalities, and some extreme personalities, in football. They get used to lining up next to some real whack jobs. (Have you looked at this league's criminal record.) So, someone takes a knee as a political protest would, imo, be unlikely to caused internal trouble on most teams. And he might be respected for it by plenty of teammates. But, there would be a circus. How long? Depends on whether he gets on the field much or at all.

Since I had my say last week, I'll let you have the lion's share of the space on the topic this week.

I'm not a big football fan. If it disappeared tomorrow I wouldn't care. But to keep it from disappearing eventually (or going the way of boxing, into irrelevance) why not de-weaponize the game? That is, GET RID OF pads and helmets. The helmets clearly are insufficient to prevent debilitating head trauma. And they are, equally clearly, used as weapons by defensive players. Same with shoulder pads. They enable defensive players to launch themselves into ball-carriers and qb's (with head injuries resulting for all parties, depending on points of contact). Without them, linemen would not bash their faces into each other on every play. I don't know anything about rugby or Aussie rules football, but aren't those sports pretty successful (and presumably with at least somewhat less head trauma?)? The gladiatorial spectacle of football would diminish, for sure. But perhaps football could recover those losses by gaining international popularity by being closer to the aforementioned two other sports that are beloved elsewhere in the world.

Does any rugby league have a multi-billion-dollar TV contract?

The NFL has always sold gladiatorial combat, they just don't use the words. But half the promotional TV clips for the last 60 years have been mega-contact or danger plays. The other half are long TDs. The NFL knows what it is selling and, while they are making obscene amounts of money, they aren't going to change it.

The only difference in the last ~10 years -- and it is a BIG difference -- is that we now know a LOT more about CTE.

When we "just" thought these guys might not be able to get out of bed unaided when they were 50 or would have incredibly bad arthritis at earlier ages, or whatever, we could -- if we chose -- say, "They know what they are getting into. They have a shot at money, glory and the satisfaction of being successful at something really hard (and scary).  

We didn't know some were going to be going insane, losing their cognitive faculties, their basic sense of their own personalities, nor than some would be committing suicide by shooting themselves through the heart so their brains could be studied.

I just realized: If, somehow, a few years ago, it had been discovered that baseball was fundamentally FAR more dangerous than we thought -- to EVERYBODY (potentially) who played it at any level -- and with the same catastrophe consequences as the NFL, I suspect I would have retired (and been very sad) by now. 

Every sport you cover in a career isn't going to have clean hands. I covered boxing for years, knowing what it was. I covered hydroplane racing (on the Potomac). In the '70's, I remember -- I think it was a driver named Don Dunnington, but I might be wrong -- showing me a group picture of the hydroplane racers who were his peers from 15 or 20 years earlier. Then he pointed all of the ones who had died in crashes since then. It was a staggering percentage.

Many sports writers have two or three sports that they find most interesting and write about the most often. You want to act in accordance with your conscience on what you cover most. Jerry Brewer wrote a VERY good column a week ago about how he wouldn't want his son to play football when he grew up and about his ambivalent feelings upon discovering -- after loving and writing about the NFL for years -- that the sport was different in a basic way from what he'd believed when he chose and shaped his career. It's a tough deal. Thought it was a very honest, painful column.

Because I am one of those former Redskin fanatics (about your age) who is getting more and more fed up with the league (CTE, morals, etc etc) and especially Danny Boy (greed, treats his team like a fantasy team instead of a real one), I tend to DVR the games instead of watch them live and also suffer through all those ads. But yesterday took the cake: even fast forwarding through I noticed that the refs somehow couldn't get their act straight on those offsetting calls that ended up with the ball at the 2-yard line. While they apparently got the call right, it must have taken (at least it seemed this way) 10 minutes. Both coaches were screaming to just move on, with Gruden noticeably yelling "Let's go!!" And this wasn't even one of those ridiculous reviews that do so much to take the momentum out of a game. I believe it is delays like this that are really pushing people away from the game (or to their DVRs rather than live) as opposed to the NFL's "morals" or CTE stance. Baseball is actually getting more exciting than the NFL; although baseball is in danger of slowing things down just as much if they keep reviewing every 1/8-inch call. Wasn't replay in baseball supposed to decide obvious umpiring mistakes, not dissect every close play within an inch of our lives?

My cable system is FiOS. When you tape a game you can fast-forward at 2x, 4x or 8x. Or you can "jump" ahead in 30-second clicks. I actually wonder if they designed this around NFL viewing because it is so perfect.

I've never had a lower opinion of the NFL ethically, although I always thought it was the pits, but I've never enjoyed the games as much -- because I can now watch every play, and some replays, in 45 minutes. (And never hear the (mostly) dim bulb announcers.) This morning, I'd already seen the Skins game twice, but I had a free 40 minutes, so I watched every play (except most special teams) again. I watched the Eagles-Chiefs this way on Sunday and will watch the Ravens game in a little while.

The ONLY speed at which anybody could get me to watch an NFL game -- on my own time -- would be with this system or something like it. The NFL, in real time, is just a laborious, brain-cell-killing waste of 3 1/2 hours. It gets worse (longer) every year.

If MLB would speed up, it could steal a decent number of fans. On this subject, I just want to say two words: MOUND VISITS.

The Dodgers had their pitching coach go to the mound for a discussion EVERY TIME that Nats sent up a little-known pinch-hitter like Sanchez, Bautista, etc.

Limit a team's visits to the mound for a full game to -- pick a number, maybe four or five -- BY ANYBODY, including the catcher or infielders. Do your damn homework on your own time, not mine. Work out hand signals. Hold back one or two trips -- when you need to get a reliever warm or the game is REALLY on the line. But make that a new part of strategy -- like when to use your replay challenges.

How much times would it save? Maybe only five minutes a game. But it could be more. The point isn't "how much," it's that you have to speed up or eliminate everything that is inessential. I wonder how many times John McGraw went to the mound to talk to Christy Mathewson (Bucknell University) in those 1:45 games 110 years ago? 

You said no one should worry about whether he could return until Sept. 20. Its Sept. 18. What do you think about whether he'll return and how effective he can be after 7 weeks off?

Gee, I was right. It's September 18 and now we know know there really WAS no reason to worry. He hit some 450-to-475 foot BP homers at Nats Park on Sunday before the game. He's running, not full speed, but enough.

Barring something very unexpected (which applies to all of us!), I expect him to be playing full-speed games, or simulated games, in about week. At a minimum, I'd think he'd be back in the lineup for the last three home games of the season (Sept 29-30, Oct 1). But my GUESS is that he will actually find a way to PLAY in seven of the Nats last 13 games if it is at all possible. Why?

1) They have clinched so why does he have to run hard AT ANY TIME. Just hit (which doesn't seem to bother him) and jog, or jog quickly, around the bases. He can't be slower than Matt Wieters! Would teammates mind? Are you kidding, of course not, they want him back and sharp. And they don't care if they win 99 games or 96 games. If he can't get to a fly ball, or doesn't even try, who cares? They've CLINCHED. Have Dusty tell the fans, "Bryce has been ORDERED not to run hard by ME. We need his hitting to be sharp. I don't give a damn what he does on the bases or in RF (or LF)." 

2) Get Harper 30 plate appearances. It's a decent number to get timing back. So, that helps the team. Also, Harper needs 30 more plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Right now, he's second at .326, just six points behind Blackmon of the Rox. By rule, you need 502 plate appearances to qualify. (Okay, 502 or a big enough percentage lead that you be changed a hypothetical 0-fer up to 502 and STILL have a lead.) 

Right now, Harper still qualifies (3.1 PA x the number of games your team has played.) But he'll be off the lists if he doesn't start playing again by sometime next week. He's one point behind Votto for the MLB lead in OPS (1.035 to 1.034) and 15 points behind Stanton for the MLB slugging title(.629 to .614).

What the heck. If he doesn't feel ready, don't do it. But he says he's OK, just tell him to jog out those home runs. You can't keep 'em in bubble wrap forever. A Harper that goes 2-for-18 versus the Cubs is no help. Take a LITTLE risk and get him some ABs.

I attended the game yesterday; just a staggering number of Skins fans in the Coliseum. Heard many Angelenos talking about it. I think L.A. fans are waiting quietly for the new stadium.

Fascinating. Which raises the question: "Why?"

Hasn't word of the Skins last 25 years reached California by Pony Express yet?

Is it written in law somewhere that the Redskins must attempt this play several times per game?

Gruden gets credit for identifying the running game during the  week as the game-plan key to having a decent offense on Sunday. And he did a really good job of sticking to it in the fourth quarter.

But the biggest reason the Skins went from 13-0 and 20-10 leads to 20-20 in a scary 4Q was because Jay had that back-to-back "fade happy" moment in the red zone and didn't stay with his hot running game to blast in for a score and a 17-0 lead. When they had to settle for a FG, the MO swung and the Rams had it until their 4Q drive into the Skins red zone only resulted in a FG for 20-20, not a TD to take the lead.

Living with a balanced attack is going to be tough for the Skins. I don't think they have a Top 20 running back in the league, maybe not even Top 25. Thompson is a fine scat back. But that's it. Once teams realize that the '17 Skins are not as pass-focused as the '16 Skins, they'll scheme the run tougher and probably hold it down. That may free up the passing game -- some. But, net-net, it won't be a good trade for the Skins offense.

There's going to be a good "book" on the Skins offense very soon. No deep threat. Receivers with poor hands. Unfamiliarity between Cousins and some receivers. Josh Doctson, man of mystery; the first rule of LIFE is "show up." Decent but not special running backs, with the exception of Thompson's explosiveness.

We'll know a LOT of the truth about this team in two weeks. Can they play with the Raiders at FedEx or the Chiefs in KC. Or do they get blown out. If it's blown out, you're looking at 5-11 or 6-10. If they are competitive, 7-9, 8-8. If they win one of them -- pause. I'll just wait and see if that happens.

For all the Scot lovers out there---this guy comes as part of the deal. A No 1 draft pick WR who can't even get in the box score in 2 games Ever seen a higher drafted decoy?

It's his ability to stay healthy enough to PRACTICE that is really worrisome. This isn't like practice in the NBA where, to some degree, basketball is basketball. "Practice? We're talking about PRACTICE?" In the NFL, practice is a religion. So far, Doctson has been agnostic.

I had tickets for that, which we put up on stub hub as soon as it was announced that the time would be changed for ESPN. Can't get home on the metro, and those games always run longer due to the TV stuff. I'm worried about the playoffs...Have tickets, but really want the games not to go forever and REALLY want to be able to get home in a reasonable amount of time.

You are absolutely right about the problem.

However, one of the misconceptions about Nationals Park is that it lacks enough parking within reasonable distance by MLB standards. I will look into it again, but my experience/observation is that there is adequate parking.

The park was DESIGNED specifically so people could use Metro, which is much cheaper and, for many people, just better altogether.

However, if you HAVE TICKETS to a post-season game, I wouldn't cut off my nose to spite my face by saying, "I won't explore a more expensive parking option. THEY are screwing up and doing a lousy job of providing the public what it deserves to have, so I will deny myself a really special live-sports experience to make my point."

You're RIGHT.

But I don't think, in 10 years, you'll want to look back and say, "I gave away my tickets to a World Series game (or whatever) because the team and the town didn't figure out how to make sure I could use my preferred method of transportation." 

I CAN promise you that if the Nats go to the NLCS and/or World Series, the games WILL NOT end in a "reasonable amount of time." They don't care about blowing up my night deadlines for decades. And they don't much  care how you get home. That's who "they" are.

But the Metro fight still needs to be fought. Just don't dream that the games will end at friendly times. Game 7 of the '16 World Series, a game that is on the short list of Greatest Games in history, started at 8:02 and had a "duration" of 4:28. And soon after the game ended, the rain got serious.

THAT is what to expect and make provision for, to the degree you can.

That's it for this week. Thanks again for all the fine Q's. See you next week Monday at 11 a.m. 

After seeing Kirk take a few big hits yesterday, is there any chance that he decides $44 million for last season and this season is enough to live on and just walks away? I say this as a father with a son about the age of Kirk and that's the advice I would give him if he could have $44 million and still remember his name when he gets old.

He's getting hit more, that's for sure. He's mobile, but he's not invisible.

I mean its two games now where he has had easy passes right in his hands that he's dropped. You don't see that from Grant or Reid of course. Wondering if Kirk and Pryor are putting in extra time. I'm sure they are but he needs as many reps as possible. You can see the talent and speed Pryor has when he actually catches the ball but he literally probably cost us the game against the Eagles and did not fair to well yesterday. I'm assuming they will be patient with him.

I, on the other hand, assume that a 28-year-old man who has been catching footballs for at least the last 20 years, will never get significantly better at such a fundamental skill.

Last year Pryor only caught 55 percent of his 140 targets for 1007 yards and four TDs. That's 13.1 yards-per-catch.

Garcon had an almost identical 13.2 yds-per-catch for 1041 yards. But he was only targeted 114 times. He caught 69.3 percent of them! Same type job description, widely different results. Cousins accuracy no doubt helped. But... 

Also, DeSean Jackson also had 1,005 yards receiving -- the same as Prior in Cleveland -- but Jackson, who had 56 catches, only had to be targeted 100 times for those yards because he got open deep so often.

I think it's a fair operating assumption, for now, that Pryor is mostly a possession receiver, like Garcon, but has some problems "possessing" thrown objects. He's going to catch quite a few, but probably always drop too many for a guy who isn't going to get great gobs of yardage when he DOES catch them.

I noticed a lot of check downs and quick passes yesterday and I was wondering what your thoughts are on Cousins so far. To an amateur eye like myself, it looks like he's lost a bit of confidence from last year. He doesn't seem comfortable and from the designed throws yesterday, it also looks like Gruden may have lost a bit of confidence in Kirks decisions after the first game. What are your thoughts? I know Kirk is a streaky QB but to me, he looks pretty average if not below average so far. I don't think it's all on the receivers. Thank you - John

He's got less help around him. He's looked decent, but not like a $125M QB yet, not by any stretch.

I think the stats are telling a fair story right now. The Eagles and Rams are hardly the toughest parts of the schedule, but they have good pass rushes. Here are Cousins progressions the last two years and so far this year after a small sample.

Yards per game: 260, 307, 210.

Completion percentage: 69.8, 67.0, 61.2.

QB rating: 101.6, 07.2, 82.9 (Did I hear someone say "Jason Campbell.")

Sack percentage: 4.6, 3.7, 8.2.

He's lost two fumbles and fumbled on Sunday. But he also led the game-winning drive and threw the game-winning TD pass on third-and-goal from the seven with 1:49 left.

I agree with last week's assessment that Dusty should be extended by now. What is it about sports owners that they don't get what doing the right thing is? Or is it just DC owners?

It's the nature of owners, as a group.

And money, in general.

If the Skins go 7-9 or worse this year, is Gruden done? I don't see this team winning more than 6 or 7 games because the Rams are not a good team and they struggled to pull that one out...

I'd take 7-9 right now off what I've seen of the Skins, and what their future opponents have done so far this year.

But my name isn't "Dan."

With the starting rotation of Scherzer Strasbourg Gonzalez and Roark you would think the Nats have a great chance to go all the way. I'm pesseimistic is that unreasonable of me

If all goes well, I think they'll lose the World Series to the Indians.

If much goes poorly, they'll lose to the Cubs.

If all goes almost perfectly __very good won't be good enough against the bunch of bruisers in this tough post-season __ they'll win the Series. But, of the last six years, this is the TOUGHEST bunch of contenders at the top.

The only thing I DO know is that this is a REALLY good team, with 2 1/2 top starters, an above average bullpen in both quality and depth (!!), a very tough 1-through-6 in the batting order, fine speed and bench, a good-enough manager to win and a lot of experience. But if they have to go through the Cubs, Dodgers and either Cleveland or Houston, their chances of winning are probably about 15%. That's what Vegas thinks. Me, too. Buckle up. Just hope it'dsds a longer road than in the past. The Nats talk among themselves about how they think a seven-game series will suit them better than the first-round five-gamer. Analytically, that's probably true. But I wish that idea wasn't in their heads.

The reality is that almost nothing we can analyze beforehand is as important as players understanding that it is "how you play" on those days, in those moments, not "how good you are" over a year or career, that decides post-season games. That's not so much fair as thrilling __or terrifying. You have to embrace it. In the past, at various post-season points, quite a few Nats have shown that they do: Murphy, Werth, Harper, Rendon, Zimmerman, Scherzer (though not at regular-season levels), Madson. Strasburg, Gio and Roark (0-2) haven't yet. If Starsburg looks in October like he's looked in August and September, that would be major.

But, entering post-season in baseball, pessimism is ALWAYS reasonable. It is, by far, the more-likely outcome. But you (or at least players) have to resist it because, to achieve anything truly difficult, optimism is essential.

Do you see any NL East team offering a real challenge to the Nats in the next two years? Not the Marlins. I see Jeter moving on after he gets his piddling $25 million repaid as salary, after a complete rebuild starting this offseason. Mets can't get healthy and have holes throughout the roster. Phillies are at least two years away from being decent. Braves have too many holes and too many what-if prospects to contend for another two years. Agree or disagree? Thoughts? Thanks.

With hindsight, it seems like the Nats have broken the competitive will of the Phils ('12), Braves ('14) and Mets ('16) in sequence. Each then went into a rebuild which, to date, doesn't look too good for any of them. The Jose Fernandez tragedy, and ownership incompetence, has dragged the Marlins down. One of them, at least, HAS to get better because, right now, they are all poor to awful.

But the Nats, who'll get Eaton back next year and only lose EWerth (and his $21M salary), should be even stronger in '18.

(Remember, something along those lines was what was said about the Nats in '13 and '15, too.)

In reply to the original poster about teams not wanting the "distraction" of Kaepernick as a backup: at this point the distraction only exists because the all white owners (31/32) (and a portion of it's fan base) don't agree with a black man protesting racial injustice. You yourself say that it would not by itself affect team chemistry. There are other players making similar protests, not all starters, and they still have jobs. How much of a distraction is it really, it's not like they players can't practice and study film because he takes a knee for 3 minutes on a Sunday. I call BS, it's blackballing plain and simple, and the owners have only made the 'distraction' worse by their own actions, not Kaepernick's.

Strong points. Sometimes our chats could almost pass for civil debates. Thanks.

Enjoyed your thought provoking column on today's outstanding shortstops, especially the comparison to Honus Wagner. Amazing how his numbers still stand up. How do the new ones compare to the previous Golden Age of Nomar, ARod and Jeter?

Talked to Mike Rizzo, since scouting and projecting careers, is so central to his job. He said the A-Rod, Nomar, Jeter group was the obvious measuring stick. A high hurdle. BUT the main point of my column was the DEPTH of truly remarkable, and very young shortstops.

If the playoffs started today, 9 of the 10 teams would have starting shortstops who are 22, 23 or 24. The grandpa of the group would be Didi Gregorius, 27, having a fine year, including 23 homers.

Also, Brewers (Arcia) and Cards (Paul DeJong’s really good) are 23. It’s ridiculous. Jean Segura (AS) 27, Andrelton Simmons, all-time defender, 28, Brandon Crawford, EAndrus & AEscobar, all 30, have started on 2 World Series teams apiece. Tulo, 32, is almost forgotten.

Right now, eight starting shortstops have a better OPS this year than Ripken’s career .788 and six others are close to that level. In 10 yrs, we’ll have to listen to people dissing Derek & Cal as “good by the standards of their time.” I will not be pleased!


What your impressions of the Dodgers and their strange season? They seem to have few weaknesses aside from questionable middle relief pitching.

Their strengths are obvious. Their weaknesses more subtle, but clear to those around the team. Within the last week, manager Dave Roberts publicly discussed the decisions he will have to make about who will play, and how much at various spots in October. The list: second base (Utley, Forsythe), first (Is Adrian Gonzalez, who looks awful, part of it), LF (Granderson has been atrocious, hitting under .100 in LA), setup man (Baez looks broken), third and fourth starters behind Kershaw and Darvish (this is a complete muddle) and even catcher! What is this, spring training?

Some say "It's a good problem to have." No, it's not. It means you have too many platoons, not enough stars and have to count on advanced metrics to work in a short series, when their best function is to help you win over 162 games. It's also backwards to say that 1-16 is a "toughening up" process that is ultimately good. No, it isn't. It just plants doubt about how you play under pressure. 

My take: The Dodgers can beat any one team they face. But I don't think they will win three rounds. Their hitting has been  too bad for too long -- 26th in runs since the ASG. Kershaw has had 12 post-season starts. The team is 6-6, his ERA 4.34. Many in MLB think, and some have said to me, that Darvish just isn't the same pitcher since he missed so much time with injury. He has good games. But he's inconsistent. I almost feel like the Dodgers are being "set up to fail" in a way that feels kind of cruel, much as it's felt like the Nats had the fates playing tricks on them to set them up as over-dog a couple of times.

On the other hand, not much beats a World Series in Chavez Ravine.

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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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