Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 22, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Was twice as much fun watching the Cowboys home team broadcast on CBS. Seems like Tony Romo could not help himself. He shamelessly promoted the Cowboys throughout the game and even said "we" on a couple of occasions in the fourth quarter. His grudging admission that there might have been holding when Allen got body slammed on the play before the Smith TD and constant paeans of praise for everything Dallas made the victory that much sweeter. Aren't analysts on national TV supposed to be neutral? Took away a good deal from the fact that the Skins dominated both lines of scrimmage for 55 minutes.

As Ryan Kerrigan said after the game: "Our fans hate Dallas. And we hate Dallas."

Good to see you're keeping up the noble tradition of finding anything and everything, including Boys announcers, to pick on after the Skins win.

It is annoying that Washington has had to listen to decades of announcers who played QB for "America's Team" for decades (Don Meredith, Aikman, Romo). The ratio of ex-Boys to ex-Skins announcers on national games (like Theismann) probably reflects the excellent Dallas propaganda that they have always been America's Team, even though, from '97 through '15 they were exactly .500. They've improved since (25-14). 

BTW, the holding call was clear. It was close to a tackle.

Several, including Dungy and Boomer Esiason have ripped the "snapper" call as bogus. My view: The only reason they called it is because the Skins jumped offsides the INSTANT that he moved his hand. That FORCED the refs to make a call . . . SOME call. It either has to be offsides vs. Washington and a 42-yard FG attempt or it has to be "drawn offsides" by the snapper moving his hand (which he clearly did.) I'd say it was the correct call, resulting in a 52-yard attempt. A huge DIFFERENCE. I'm sure many will weigh in on "the call" . . . and I'm listening. 

Good morning, Boz. Of course I was elated when the Redskins went up 20-10 with 4:33 left in the game. But then they did what I knew they'd do. Being up by two scores late in the game they went into some sort of soft, prevent-like defense which allowed the Cowboys to move downfield much more easily than they were able to most of the game. I told myself that before I knew it the Cowboys would be in the red zone. And if they score a touchdown with enough time and timeouts remaining (they had all three), the game could go into overtime or the Redskins could lose in regulation. Boy, was I right. The 'Boys had so much time left that they actually went conservative with their play calling. And were it not for an incorrect penalty (by the league's own admission) that backed the Cowboys up five yards, the game goes into overtime. Why do teams let up like that instead of sticking with the defense that was dominant for most of the game? Maybe Bob Knight was right when he told Bill Parcells that the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.

It is very hard psychologically for coaches to play their normal defense when versions of the "prevent defense" are available. It just leaves them SO open to career-altering second guesses. In the Skins case, consider the EASY 49-yard TD bomb by the Cowboys when Gallup (great name for a Cowboys receiver) was open by 20 feet deep against rookie DB Greg Stroman on a simple stop-and-go. (He didn't even stop, just 'fake and go.') And two weeks ago Norman bit and gave up a TD bomb on the record-breaking pass by Brees.

In general, I hate the prevent defense for exactly your reasons. BUT the current defensive backfield of the Skins has one weakness: blown assignments on passes that go for long gains. So, they were between a rock and a hard place on Sunday but escaped.

BTW, I have NOT seen any info on the NFL taking any position on whether the "snapper infraction" was right or wrong. And I just checked again. If anyone sees anything, let me know so I can include discussion of it in the chat. Thanks.

With the highest payroll playing the third highest payroll, this version of “Moneyball” works for the TV networks and ratings. Just difficult to beat the high rollers in a best of seven.

You make a good point. But I think that recent MLB postseasons show that low-budget teams CAN make the playoffs (like Oakland this year, as well as small-market teams) like Milwaukee, which is the 39th biggest U.S. city by metro-area population. And Cleveland reached the '16 WS.

But I think you make a good point that it is hard for low-budget teams to go all the way, in part because THREE series, especially two seven-game series force teams to show their depth of talent. And money really can buy depth. Witness all the Dodgers platoons, especially after their in-season additions of Machado and Dozier, which allow they much more flexibility, in part because Chris Taylor can play so many defensive positions like LEFT FIELD on Saturday in Game 7!

Many will say this is a lopsided WS because the Red Sox won 108 games and the Dodgers went 92-71 (including one win in the NL West division tiebreaker game). That is very deceptive. According to Pythagorean W-L (Bill James), the Red Sox were one of the luckier teams in MLB while the Dodgers were extremely unlucky. 

The "expected" W-L for Boston (five wins lucky) is 103 wins with a huge run differential of +229.

But the "expected" for the Dodgers (10 loses UNLUCKY) is 102 wins with an almost as huge run differential of +194.

I've talked to Dodger fans who don't think their team was as good as those stats say. My only point is that 108-54, with wins over 100-win (Yanks) and 103-win (Houston) teams already in the playoffs, against a 92-71 team that had to play an extra game just to win the NL West, APPEARS to be almost a mismatch. 

It isn't.

I'd still pick "Boston in six."  The Red Sox are playing with incredible confidence and just beat two very fine teams with only one loss to each. And all the October off-days seem to be strengthening the Boston bullpen which now gets help from starters like Porcello and Eovaldi.

But the Dodgers have a much better underdog chance than many believe. Ryu had a wonderful season (1.97 ERA in 15 starts) and blanked the Braves for seven almost-perfect innings. The Brewers hit him. So, he's an X Factor . . .  And his breaking stuff could play on the nerves of Boston hitters if his command is sharp. Also, those three games in L.A. will start at times of day with bad light in SoCal. It's unfair to hitters and often leads to fluke results.

Can Kershaw have another quality start like his last one where he threw 66 off-speed pitches to 33 fastballs? That's putting a lot of weight on guile, plus a great curveball. The Claw is symbolic to the Dodgers. If he has a big game, it'll be a big psychological lift. 

Both teams will go to their bullpens more in the WS than they did in regular season, as everybody does. But this is still a Series where starting pitching figures to be central. Walker Buehler is a beast (2.62 ERA) but the Sox are going to see a lot of fine starting pitchers who will be used in multiple roles and throw a lot of off-speed stuff. Houston manager A.J. Hinch praised the Red Sox for "staying on our fastball" against Houston, even though the Astros plan was to use plenty of breaking balls. Boston will have to be just as disciplined, maybe even more so, against L.A.

Remember, Ross Stripling had a 3.02 ERA in 21 starts and Hill's rainbow curves tend to drive people batty in October (3.66 ERA). The Dodgers' tough choices will be who to pitch and where (with Fenway still tough on lefties). But look at the choices! Buehler, Kershaw, Ryu, Hill, Stripling and Maeda out of the bullpen. And Kenley Jansen, though not as overpowering as he once was, is far better (and faster) than he was in his awful spring. Jansen touched 96 in his last outing.

Everybody has overlooked or undersold the Red Sox all year. I'm NOT going to be one of them. They have a great lineup, wonderful chemistry and toughness. Playing the Yankees 23 times, including playoffs, will toughen you up. 


Just got a helpful link from today's producer, Jake Russell. Apparently, the NFL has said the "snapper infraction" was a correct call. Correct.

“The illegal ball movement by the center in Dal-vs-Was causes the defense to come across the neutral zone and contact a lineman.” From NFL officiating tweet.

As I said, if nobody jumps off side, I don't think it gets called. But once somebody jumped, the refs had to do SOMETHING. Given their choices, I'd say they did the right thing.

It appears that taking a knee during the national anthem has gone away as an issue, of controversy based on the dearth of stories I see. In your view, has the issue gone away? That is, have football players abandoned it has a means of protest? Do you think the issue will resurface?

It's amazing to me how we demand, and praise, true "accountability" in sports. We base many of our evaluations of people in sports on it. The facts in sports are respected and players/coaches have to deal with them and face up to reality, not some fabricated reality that they dream up then repeat ad infinitum. But we, as a nation, act like it means very little, or nothing, in politics that those in power be required to cope with obvious facts. Yet the implications of political lack of accountability are vastly greater.

On Sunday, the Ravens lost, rather then going to overtime, because Justin Tucker missed an extra point for the first time in the NFL. He had been 222-for-222. He also never missed an extra point in college. Wind may have contributed to blowing his kick to the right. He said, "I cost us the game."

He also said, "More importantly, I just wanted to be here (at the post-loss press conference). If I was ever going to teach my son, or any young person about accountability, I felt like it was really important that I stand up here and answer whatever questions you might have."

This is relevant, IMO, to the knee "controversy" where we have a POTUS who, at least 100 times, has misrepresented WHY the players chose to take a knee. He wants to feed controversy that he thinks is to his political advantage. And he may be right in that it may help him with his base and some others who are especially sensitive to "symbol" issues. 

But it is an example of NOT being "accountable" for your words. 

You can, IMO, say that the NFL players are protesting as part of the "Black Lives Matter" movement, BUT that you, as President, think that they have chosen a disrespectful way to do it. (Of course, peaceful protests tend NOT to be respectful.)

The last series was terrible play calling. You need a first down there and should try something other than two direct runs. A play action or even a bubble screen, something to move the ball and not just take 20 seconds off the clock, which accomplished nothing. The game should have been tied and going to overtime. This seems to be an old pattern of very conservative play calling when playing with a lead from Gruden. I get that the Redskins should not fire him or look to someone else when they finally have some stability. However, if I am another team and Gruden is available as a head coach in a few years with this not changing then I do not see how he gets hired as I do not trust his play calling when he sometimes needs to be aggressive instead of just basically giving the ball back to the other team.

There are a lot of attacks on Gruden's play calling this a.m.

Where have all you folks been the last three years?! There are many games when I would have agreed.

This may be the WORSE day to rip him. On the last series, Smith should not have run out of bounds.

The larger point is that Gruden faced a huge play-calling challenge of Sunday with two WRs out (Crowder and Richardson) as well as his best pass-catching third-down back (Thompson).

How do you evaluate? One way is to judge the effectiveness of the scripted plays early in the game. And then look at the plays called early in the second half on the first drive of the third quarter.

Gruden did VERY well on both those tests. The opening drive in the 1Q for a TD on six plays had plays that broke open by wide margins, which is usually the sign of a good call or a fresh idea.

The opening drive of the 3Q, 72 yards on 10 plays, was even better. It should have been an easy TD to TE Sprinkle on a nine-yard sprint right play that any high school QB in the D.C. area thinks should be completed. Smith butchered it and they had to settle for a FG. 

But those were two successful drives for 10 points that have Gruden's fingerprints on them.

As for the last drive, a million teams have run twice to burn clock or burn their foe's time outs. Smith should have stayed in bounds on his third-down run. But, with such a depleted offense, that was no time to be aggressive in play calls. Put the weight on the almost-healthy defense. Gruden managed that correctly. Smith didn't.

I would not, in general, praise Jay a great deal for play-calling since the standard in the league is high. But it's not a weakness, certainly not with the pathetic receiving corps that they have to work with this year.

I think you'd agree that the Boston/L.A. World Series will be an interesting one, but that we'd all prefer to see the Brewers and Craig Counsell's modern analytics go up against the Red Sox juggernaut. But what I really wonder is will anyone watch the games? Every single World Series game is scheduled to begin at 8:09 Eastern time. That means that every single game will end around midnight . . . If we're lucky! Who can stay up/awake/conscious for the games? Certainly not seniors like myself. Certainly not next-generation fans who are 10 years old and have school the next day. And certainly not their parents, who presumably have to go to work the next day. I fully embrace the new analytics era of the game. It's wonderful how the game is now changing, dramatically. But for postseason games, it does a tremendous disservice to the fans. Scads of pitching changes, additional commercial times by the TV networks, a too-late start dictated by the Lords of Television. It all adds half an hour or 45 minutes to each game. Sixty years ago the seven games of the Braves/Yankees World Series were played in these times: 3:09 (10 innings), 2:43, 2:42, 2:17, 2:19, 3:07 (10 innings), 2:31. The Dodgers/Brewers seven games this year: 4:02, 3:32, 3:25, 5:15 (13 innings), 3:35, 3:34, 3:15. The fastest Dodgers/Brewers game was six minutes slower than the longest Braves/Yankees game in 1958! The World Series used to be a communal thing among the fans. "Come on over to my place and watch the game." A festive event, men and women. No more. Now I fear that we have only old men, sitting alone on their sofas, trying to stay awake at 11:45, as the seventh pitcher of the game is brought in to attempt the close-out. Is it hopeless?

Nice facts. Thanks!

I sympathize.

Postseason games are too long . . . period.

MLB made a good adjustment by moving times up to 8:09, not 8:39, where they were for years. That means that a 3:50 baseball game, which is long even for postseason, still ends before midnight (barely). 

You can never prevent the "ends late on the East Coast" problem because A LOT of people live in the rest of the country. Even a city in a time zone ONE hour toward the middle of the country can see the whole game by 11 p.m. And on the West Coast games almost end too soon for many fans who get home from work in the middle of the game that started at 5:09 p.m. their time.

The issue, or at least the issue that can be addressed, is pace of play.

I'm not going to apologize for baseball on this issue. Slow, boring pace of play is a huge problem which the game seems unable or unwilling to solve. It is an intractable and major flaw in the sport. It has cost MLB many fans and will cost them more. And the analytics movement, which is fascinating (and correct on many points) just adds to "more moves" and more pitchers and more delays. It is not the FAULT of the analytics movement. It's just the current reality of the impact it has had on the game. It gives more teams more options in how to try to build a winning team. That's good. But it lengthens games and slows any sense of pace, and, man, that is the last thing baseball needed.

The NFL is probably going to trend down (somewhat) in popularity because of CTE and other problems. Even though the glut of excellent games this year certainly shows how appealing football still is. So, which sports will pick up interest?

MLB should be one that does. But lugubrious games in October are toxic to the sport. 

There isn't a great deal that you can do to fix it. And the things that MLB might do it seldom pursues seriously, in part because it wants to save its powder for arguments with the players union that involve MONEY, in the present, not the health of baseball in the FUTURE.

Red Sox-Dodgers is a glamour match that should have most of its games finished by midnight ("Ha!" he says).

That should be a good ratings test of how much the excessive length and pace of game is alienating fans.

See you all next Monday at 11 a.m.

Got to go now to catch a plane to Boston. Thanks for all the fine questions.

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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