Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Nov 16, 2020

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

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We've got a nice concise interesting set of subjects this morning, plus whatever subjects you fine folks want to add. 

Dustin Johnson's Masters' win. That was fun. But that was not the Masters. All the things that make Augusta National difficult were missing. That event was a test of nothing --slow, soft conditions, little rough, no pressure from patrons roaring, etc. BUT when the world No. 1 runs away from the field, that's still Green Jacket worthy. Just don't make the mistake of talking about that 20-under-par as a serious "all-time scoring record." 

It was a fluke. 

BUT there have been others --like Rory McIlroy going record low at the U.S. Open at Congressional when conditions were horribly easy. 

As with this week at Augusta, it was nobody's fault. Sometimes you just don't get the course and weather conditions for a Great Test, but you still have to hold the Great Event and have a winner. 

Man, the WFT sure knows how to lose 'em. I'd have thought it was impossible to tie a game with 16 seconds left, have the other team at its own 25-yard line and still lose in regulation. This one is on Chase Young for his undisciplined 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. This continues a disappointing season for Young. 

He did NOTHING on Sunday. 

I rewatched the Giants game --just watched him on every play. He was involved --sort of-- on ONE positive play. Otherwise, he might as well not have been out there. He gets handled, routinely, by average NFL tackles --one-on-one. His 3.5 sacks is not the BIG problem. The issue is that he is simply not a FORCE in games. 

His 22 tackles are ranked t17 on the WFT --that's right, 17th. He's forced one fumble. As Herbert & Tua flourish at QB, how bad does the Chase Young pick look? As a DE, he looks small and plays small. How does that change. Wonderful athlete, but where is the IMPACT in any phase? 

Alex Smith goes for Comeback Player of his generation! Quiz: Rank the WFT QB's this season by QB rating. No one will get this correct --I sure didn't. No. 1 Kyle Allen (99.3) then Haskins and Smith TIED at 80.3 --which is 33rd in the NFL among passers with 500 yards. Smith has been tough and inspiring. But he's not dink-and-dunk answer. 

FWIW, ESPN's QBR ratings are probably a better judge: Allen No. 1 at 71.8, then Smith at 49.1 and Haskins at a lowly 27.6. 

Also, the hiring of Kim Ng as GM of the Marlins is a long-overdue but wonder moment --the first female to run a team in a major male pro sports league in North America. --Yes! 

Also, Kyler-to-Hop miracle for Arizona Cards. 

Let's hit it!

Doesn't it seem like what Trump is doing to Biden, seem like what the O's (Angelos) have been doing to the Nats (Learners) for years? Stall, stall, stall, don't admit the inevitable, stall, stall, stall.....


I'll give you a million-to-one odds that  the Trump situation is resolved, and he's gone, before the MASN law suits are finished.

There IS one similarity. Both legal conflicts are based on non-existent (real) issues, just using the law as a weapon, not aas a tool to seek justice. See: Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, the (fictional) legal battle that still wasn't solved after 100 years in Dickens' Bleak House, published in 1852. The grotesque misuse of the law is hardly a new subject.

Watching Jordan Spieth yesterday made me wonder. How much did his 2016 meltdown change the trajectory of his career?

Meltdown's can really hurt. Francesco Molinari's career has gone from its high point to total collapse --almost instantly-- after his disaster at the 12th hole when he was in the lead at the '19 Masters. He's lost him game. Said it took him quite a while to understand how profoundly that one shot in the water --and that one day-- damaged his confidence. He's had other issues --moving to the U.S. and a positive Covid test, I think. But he was still a shadow of himself as a player at the '20 Masters, almost finishing last.

Spieth sems more like paralysis from analysis to me. His swing is inconsistent. He was never long. And he just keeps messing with his swing constantly --practice ball to practice ball, almost. With his fabulous putting and short game he doesn't NEED a perfect swing or an elite driver game. He just needs ANYTHING that doesn't destroy his chances to show off his putting and short game. It's true his putting hasn't been as great as it once was. But I bet if he could hit an average number of fairways with an average Tour distance, he'd start re-discovering his putting gift.

There are once-great golfers, like Jarry Pate, after he won the U.S. Open, or Ian Baker-Finch after he won the British Open, who win early then disappear as major players --forever. I don't think Spieth will be one of them. I certainly hope not.

But right now, especially with the driver, he's lost. Time to forget loyalty and focus on survival: Step One --get a new coach. Step Two --hit a million balls, but without thinking about every one. Like his hero --fellow Texan Ben Hogan-- Spieth needs to "find his game in the dirt."

Why do you think he’s going to retire?

If the Nats have a decent off-season in free agency, I wouldn't offer him a contract. The last thing he needed in '20 was to get a year older and not play at all. I assume he's as good as retired right now. He had an excellent career and one of my favorite Nats. But I think he'll look good over the years by bowing out with a HR in the WS, as well as a huge HR vs Dodgers and clutch PH vs Milw in wildcard game. Tough to know when to hang it up, but I'd say this one is obvious. BUT if Nats swing and miss on lots of FAs this winter, then things can change. But Zim's more like Plan Z than Plan A-B-C I'd assume.


What should we expect from him next year? The Nats seem to believe he’s going to grow into the player they want him to be any year now, but the guy seems to have had some huge growing pains last year and like many, I’m a bit nervous he won’t pan out.

Put him at 3rd for 90% of the game. Leave him alone. If he hits .240 with 15 homers, live with it. If he hits .255 with 18 homers, be happy --he's still young. If it's a bit more, I wouldn't be surprised. He'll probably continue to develop for 2-3 more years after that. Remember, he doesn't project as a Rendon, Harper, Turner, Soto level star. You also need Good Major League Players (who don't cost $100M) to maintain a quality franchise. Kieboom and Luis Garcia, still just 20, need that as a baseline. If they become better than Good Players, that's a bonus. It feels good to talk about MLB, and the off-season, because with progress in vaccines it seems like a safe assumption that there WILL BE a '21 MLB season. The only question may be when it starts --April 1, May 1, June 1 and when fans --and how many-- can attend. That probably can't be said of (shameful) college football, which is exploiting its unpaid players, or the NFL, which is (imo) probably going to get hit hard by the virus explosion after Thanksgiving. If the NFL is still playing at Xmas, I will be surprised --and pleased-- because it may mean that the exponential explosion of the virus isn't as bad as many scientists now fear.

Boz, yesterday FP Santagelo wrote on Twitter that Dustin Johnson and Stephen Strasburg have identical "gaits" and walking styles, sometimes described as "languid," "syrupy" or some other vivid word. You've been around both and (presumably) have seen both walk up close. What do you think? P.S. DJ is very tall for a golfer, and Bryson DeC has famously put on a lot of weight recently. Both would probably look like high schoolers standing next to someone like Stras, IMO. P.P.S. If the bet is DJ vs Stras in a 90-foot race, I pick DJ despite never having seen him run.

MLBers are usually VERY good observers of physical mannerisms, so I hesitate to second-guess F.P. on such a minor thing.

But I'd say that Johnson's gait defines "fluid and athletic" while Strasburg, in everything he does, is a bit mechanical.

IOW, I see little if ANY similarity. I'd enjoy seeing side-by-sides just to find out if I've missed something. As I said, athletes CONSTANTLY look for stuff like that --and are usually right.

As big as DeChabeau looks, I'd pick Strasburg for Terrifying Physique. As powerful as he is, Harper still looked like a two-inches-shorter and somewhat-smaller version of Strasburg. That "big furry, hairy, scary animal" quote of Werrth's about Starsburg still holds. 

Do NFL football players ever watch any other NFL games on TV? How could someone so talented not know that it is really dumb to still take 3 steps towards the QB after he has released the ball and then shove him down? Sometimes teams lose because they are unlucky. But much of the time they just lose because they are really dumb. I just didn't think Chase Young was that dumb, or is it just contagious on this awful football team?

I'd say it was more like a step-and-a-half. And I'd call it a lack of NFL-level discipline, not a "dumb" mistake.

Superstar athletes, as they come through HS and college, don't always have to do --or avoid-- all the little things that merely average or good players must master to keep their jobs. Young, at this point, isn't anywhere near good enough to make little mistakes, with big consequences, like that one.

I suspect that he's frustrated that he isn't the next coming of Julius Peppers or Reggie White. He needs to forget that and work on every aspect of his craft --like finding out how to disengage from a normal 325-pound NFL tackle. Right now, he looks like a teenager trying to get past his large father. When Young bull rushes, the tackles barely budge. At 265 pounds, he's not scaring 'em --at all. When he speed rushes, he doesn't quite get around the corner and  the tackle is good enough, and agile enough that he is still engaged with Young and just drives him 10-to-12 yard deep as the QB steps up --and Young is completely out of the play. As for Young's "moves" as a rusher, he MUST have some --right? I haven't seen any --and I've looked. Run some stunts so he can get loose, lopp around and penetrate up the middle and show his athleticism. Also, Young is so eager to "do something good" that he overpusues and teams run counter-action plays right through the spaces he has vacated. They do that to all rookies. But they're doing it to him, too.

In general, it is UNFAIR to nit-pick rookies like this --watching them on every play. And I wouldn't do it. But he is a No. 2 overall pick --and the WFT passed up two very good rookie QBs because they thought he would be a T-Rex --so the microscope has to come out. I assume he will get better. I'm hoping for a LOT better. It's like they drafted a fast 265-pounder who might be dangerous as an outside LB in a 3-4, then switched to a 4-3 defense where he just wasn't dominant enough to raise havoc.

Sometimes I'm right, like spotting quickly that the Haskins benching was really about getting to Alex Smith before thr soft part of the sked was finished. Sometimes I;m wrong --and I out Young because he was a BIG investment. I'm STILL assuming that the DeMatha Stag will prevail! Young is smart, high motor, very quick --but he has a lot to learn about the pro game. Or else the WFL isn't putting him in the best spots to succeed because this year --as one example-- Young only has four QB Hits. Montez Sweat, on the other side, has 12 QB Hits, five sacks, 6 Tackled For Loss and two Forced Fumbles --all team highs.

Maybe we SHOULD be talking about Montez! Sometimes it takes a season to figure it out --Sweat was the 16th overall pick in the NFL draft in '19.


Mr. B: Trust your vision is improving. The WFT view seems cloudy. Last two games, win statistically, lose on the scoreboard. Can the WFT get up to high mediocre and take the abominable NFC East?

As long as Smith stays vertical --all fingers and toes crossed-- he makes them a 6-10 type team.

Injuries, especially at QB, like Dak in Dallas, have made ALL of the rest of the WFT's schedule seem manageable --in the sense of being competitive, whether they win or not-- except the 9-0 Steelers and 6-3 Seattle.

Otherwise, it's Bengals (2-6-1), at Dallas (2-7), SF (4-6), Carolina (3-7) and Eagles (3-5-1).


Thr WFT has already played four 6-3 teams. Maybe they only have two really tough games left. I keep saying they'll go 5-11 --since before the season. And even at 2-7 that still looks like what they'll be.

You predicted that you'd watch every minute of The Masters. Did the prediction come true? Apart from your analysis of Dustin Johnson's win, what did you make of the crowd-less, azalea-less Masters? All you hoped it would be as a distraction from

In addition to all the national TV coverage (ESPN and CBS), I LIVED on the site where the Featured Groups option turned out to be fairly close to complete coverage of the best players. Michelle Wie West is a good, insightful announcer, but not intrusive.

I hope everyone enjoyed the sweeping scenes of the Masters without Patrons. It's MUCH more beautiful than it is with 80,000 people cluttering it up! Yes, I want the "Patrons" back --but one of the very few nice things about the pandemic was seeing the terrain in its purest visual form. Maybe now millions more golf fans will have a feel for why players say that the Masters requires more "imagination" and "creativity" than almost any other course anywhere. Except for the tee boxes, you can't find a 6-inch-by-6-inch spot on the entire property that is flat. OK, joking --but not much.

Too bad is rained (poured) for four straight days, including early on Thursday. That ruined any chance of a "real" Masters. And the lack of wind, until Sunday, subtracted that crucial factor/test. When I saw an approach shot spin back off the front of the 9th green, going at a good clip, and only roll 6 yards back off the green --not 60 or 70 yards back down the fairway-- I said, "Damn! They are going to eat this place alive. For all the difficulty this presents, it might as well be a Rocket Mortgage Open."

Ritght now, golf seems to have several players at the Very Top of the World Rankings who often come with their own personal choke switch at vital points in majors --including Justin Thomas, McIlroy and, though it's too soon to judge, Rahm. "Here he comes! No, no, there he goes."

I'm glad we had ONE November Masters.

When will they play it NEXT year? Everybody wants ALL the patrons back. Will that really be possible by mid-April? Seems unlilely. My two cents: the PGA Tour, the PGA, the R&A and the Masters need to find a way to do WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to get all four majors played before Full Houses. Whatever other events need to be jerked around for one year, let 'em deal with it. If that means the Players or the Memorial or the Tour Championship or whatever has to swallow a "bad date" --and a financial hit-- then SO WHAT. The health and popularity of the sport IS the four majors. Make them the sole true priority for '21 --WITH crowds, even if that means all the majors are late-May through mid-October-- and, for the rest, let the Devil take the hindmost.

Bos: I've been looking for stats to compare Covid percentages for college athletes vs. those for college students in general - trying to feel better about myself for enjoying college football. It seems they may fare better in a more controlled environment, no? Have you seen any?

I haven't seen stats. Sorry.

But I'd say: Just go ahead and feel guilty about watching.

I refuse to watch college football this year. Not a minute. The hell with 'em. Eveerybody's got a different gag reflex. This hit mine. Yes, I know: Money, money, money. And the damage of No Money.

If somebody has a quality story on reasons why college football SHOULD be playing --why it is justified despite the pandemic-- please e-mail it to me. I want to keep an open ind open --well, open at least a crack.

I don't necessarily disagree that the Nats shouldn't sign him, but if anyone's body would benefit from a year off, it's his. He seems to have perpetually nagging injuries.

That would be the counter argument.

However, we once asked Jim Palmer what it would take for his always-aching pitching arm and shoulder to get back to feeling 100%. He said, "Take a year off....Then retire." 

So how do we rank/judge/enjoy the records that may be set during this Covid era? 20 under at the Masters is the real deal no matter what. However, as you said it's not done under the pressure of the full tournament, crowds, etc. Do records like what we saw yesterday get the asterisk treatment - both Johnson and the other chap who was the first to record 4 days of under 70 during the tourney.

I just take 'em for what they're worth --even realizing it's impossible to know EXACTLY what they are worth --and enjoy the distraction from everything else.

I promise to take this more seriously if both my wife and I and many of our friends --we're obviously senior citizens-- are still above the grass in six months. I want to thank the POTUS for doing everything he can --or, rather, for not doing one damn thing as he delays the Biden administration from trying to save lives-- to improve the chances that we'll be above ground to watch our '21 seasons.

Sorry, I just don't have warm feelings toward people who don't give a damn if me-and-mine get sick or die because they are incompetent and too busy being petulant about losing.

Most recent stats/projections on Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. by Washington University in St. Louis which has nailed this since the beginning.

By March 1, 2021, their "current projections," which assume that 66% of the public wears masks (that's the present rate of mask-wearing in the U.S.) and a similar 66% observes social distancing and avoids crowds, then Covid-19 death total will be 438,940. (It's now 252,026 deaths.)

With "universal masks" their estimate is only 370,701 total Covid deaths in the U.S. by March 1.

So, how much do masks --just masks-- matter? Probably more than 68,000 unnecessary deathes in the next few months if we don't adopt universal mask wearing, which Washington U defines as 95% compliance.

What if "mandates ease?" Then th estimated deaths by March 1 would be 586,878.

Right now, the fight against Covid-19, and the subsequent economic recovery, is EVERY story. But it is ALSO the story of sports in '21. So, it belongs in this chat.



I thought Dustin Johnson shot par for the tournament. At least, that's what Bryson DeChambeau told us.


I bet about 100 Tour pros have figured out, and used that line after his comment that par at the Masters --for him-- was 67.

When golf resumed, I'll admit it was disconcerting to watch sans fans. But now? I'm loving it. Yeah, roars at Augusta and all of that but it was fantastic to see the place with no grandstands, no patrons, etc. I've hit the ticket lottery twice in the last 5 years so had an idea of how open the course is when compared to what they show on TV. But with nobody there and no infrastructure, wow. And the morning starts and sticking with dual starts on 1/10, great stuff. Probably nothing they'll continue doing but it worked really well.

Absolutely agree.

No question (as the father of 2 daughters, one having trouble breaking into her chosen career path - journalism). Just wanted to get your feelings on these developments - me as a dad - I'm over the moon as they say, no goal that can't be reached. Side note, if you have tips I can pass along to my youngest....THANKS!!

Progress in job equality for women seems to vary greatly from occupation to occupation --with MLB scoring very poorly until now-- but also from business to business within an industry.

For example, the Post sports department started to take hiring women sports journalists seriously in the '70's --probably mid-'70's, We had a woman sports columnist --Joan Ryan, the wife of Browns NFL champ QB Frank Ryan-- in the early '70.s. And no sports section did more to cover Title IX from the very beginning.

But, on hiring, we got serious decades before many (most) other papers. A couple of years ago, somebody noticed that our beat writers on all four of the major pro sports beats in Washington --Nats, Caps, Wiz and WFT-- were all women. 

Nobody had noticed. It made a nice feel-good story. But to me, the far better story was all the fine women sports writers who began or prospered at the Post for so many years that the 4-fot-4 could happen without anyone trying to make it happen. George Solomon, the sports editor for 28 years, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and now Matt Vita have continued the pattern. 

I will say that it was "amusing" to see much of the rest of the Post scrambling for many years to address this problem. What you often heard in other departments was: If the damn SPORTS department got a handle on this long ago, WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?

Eternal vigilance still required!

That's it for this week. Good luck to Kim Ng with the Marlins --she's worked here way up through every stop and has an excellent reputation --including a rep for being tough when she needs to be, always a requirement in an MLB GM. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. 


Out of ten times, how often would that shove of the QB be called? And what if the QB had just twisted around instead of falling? Would that have affected the call?

100% of QBs would have been smart enough to fall.

I'd say that play gets called roughing 70% of the time or more. It's just so out in the open and obvious. You barely give the ref a chance NOT to throw a flag.

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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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