Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 NFC East Champions: Pleasant Surprise

The Washington Redskins surprised the football world by winning the NFC East.  When the season began I made a decision to limit my social media comments and let the season play out.  Like most fans, I was frustrated with the constant drama surrounding the team.  The most exciting offseason move the team made was hiring general manager Scot McCloughan.  Fans of other teams did not understand why there was so much excitement about the hire.  

I’ve viewed the ‘Skins as an organization that would have a hard time landing a top coach or executive with options.  The only reason they were able to hire McCloughan is because he had some issues in his personal life and other teams strayed from him.  Since Dan Snyder has owned the team the checks and balances in the football operation have not been in place.  We wanted to see how football decisions were made.  The less buzz about them the better.  The decision to make Kirk Cousins the starter generated a variety of responses.   I took issue with how the organization handled and communicated the decision, but agreed it was the correct one. 

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The dysfunction of the past helped the organization this season.   In the 2012 draft the ‘Skins did something which is almost unprecedented.  The quarterback position had to be addressed.  The team mortgaged future picks to draft Robert Griffin III and in the fourth round drafted Kirk Cousins.  Both of these quarterback were considered to be future starting quarterbacks.  Why would they draft two highly touted quarterbacks in the same draft? My thoughts were that former coach Mike Shanahan wasn’t crazy about Griffin, that was the owner's preference.  Cousins fit more of the mold of what he wanted in a quarterback in a rare deep draft for the position and would be a safety net if Griffin did not pan out.  Griffin did not have a playbook in college and his learning curve would be longer when there were other options.

After Griffin’s knee injury at the end of 2012 and what has took place after is well documented.  My biggest issue with Shanahan and current coach Jay Gruden’s handling of Griffin is how public they were with their frustration with him.  Their issues with him as a football player have merit.  But I can’t recall a quarterback publicly being reprimanded by a former and current coach as much as Griffin was.  As a fan there are certain things we should not know even with all the access we love to have.  A head coach is the spokesperson for the team and should keep certain things in house and protect their players.  But when an organization forces a player on a coach when they have made it clear how they feel about them, the player will get the short end regardless if the reasons are justified are not.  It usually doesn't end well, this was no exception.

Players are not easily fooled.  They're in meetings and on the practice field and witness who is playing better and have feelings of who should be on the field and who should not.  When the New England Patriots practiced with the 'Skins during the 2014 preseason many Patriots players and staff walked away more impressed with Cousins than Griffin from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand.

Griffin and Cousins were put in a difficult situation from day one.  If Griffin ever struggled there would be temptation to go to Cousins.  When Cousins played his first three years he knew he was just keeping the seat warm for Griffin.  There was probably some mutual insecurity.   With both quarterbacks entering their contract year head coach Jay Gruden made a decision to go with Cousins and demote Griffin to third string, meaning he would be inactive and not dress for games.

Cousins has improved as the season progressed.  It has been refreshing to see how the offseason acquisitions through the draft and free agency have contributed to the team.  Also, new hires on the coaching staff with a new offensive line coach, quarterback coach, and entire defensive coaching staff.  

So excuse us ‘Skins fans for our excitement.   We have witnessed foolishness for a long time.  It appears to be some order to running the team.   It is only one season and another game vs. Dallas before the playoffs.  In the the NFL things can change quickly week to week and year to year.  I just hope they stay the course through the good and bad in the future.