Objectivity is always a goal of mine when discussing just about everything, but there are two unassailable exceptions: sports and music. In those stratospheres, my subjective takes can be swayed, but rarely altered. I believe most fans conduct their opinion-giving in this manner, even if they struggle to admit it. For example, I believe JAY-Z is the greatest rapper of all-time. There are those that disagree and that's fine, my mind is made up. When it comes to the Skins and Kirk Cousins, I'm (slowly) attempting to turn my subjectivity into objectivity, because a resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not the only divisive entity in Washington right now.
Monday night's game featured a matchup of the league's best team record-wise and the league's most confusing team, also reflected in their record. The Skins have lost three games to two teams with a combined record of 11-3; the sky is not falling. However, the schedule allows little time to for introspection and "big picture" ideals. So who contributed to the loss, exactly? I'm glad you asked! Welcome to the sixth of sixteen #SundaySlices recaps, where we cut up the game to assign fame and blame, based on the outcome, into delicious pie chart form. Try not to make a mess.
(These are the players/coaches/etc. who are not in the pie, because they did not contribute to the loss)
-Jordan Reed/Vernon Davis. I was very confused when I witnessed a white #86 jersey repeatedly get into the endzone, until I realized, "wait a minute, Reed is still on the team!" Meanwhile, Vernon Davis is an ageless wonder who inexplicably runs the same route every week and is wide open. While these two are still dreadful blockers, they were tremendous in the pass game.
-Bashaud Breeland. He took his usual "penalty across the field that didn't affect the play," but Breeland balled out once again. The Skins cap situation is gonna be very intriguing in the spring.
-The linebackers. Speaking of paying players in the offseason, Zach Brown should be a top priority. The defense would simply be lost without him. Mason Foster had one of the top weeks of any inside linebacker in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Ryan Kerrigan was a disruptive force, as usual. Preston Smith lost containment on Wentz once in the third quarter that was back-breaking, but was otherwise solid.
Kirk Cousins: 1%
"If he does have a weakness, it's that he's too much of a perfectionist," Gruden says. "He wants everything to be perfect. Unfortunately, I can't get guys 30 f---ing yards open all the time. There are going to be some tight-window throws he's going to have to throw some days. I'll call some of these in practice, and if it doesn't look exactly the way I drew it up, he'll [say], 'I don't know if I like that. I can't call it in a game.' I'm like, 'Bud, c'mon.'"
I think Kirk was solid Monday night and injuries on the offensive line, combined with some questionable playcalling, contributed far more to the loss. He gets a slice here mostly so I can direct you to read this detailed and interesting column from ESPN, where the above quotation was taken from.
Terrelle Pryor Sr.: 2%
He only took 30 snaps, had a drop (of course) and only four targets, but Pryor makes the pie because quite frankly, I'm not sure how much longer he'll be on the field for us to get mad at.
Jamison Crowder: 4%
Death, taxes and Jamison Crowder putting a punt on the turf. "Maybe he contributed in the pass game," one might ask. He had six targets...he caught two for 28 yards. He has become the most disappointing #80 in a Skins jersey since David Patten.
The Defensive Line: 5%
Not having your best player on the unit available for the remainder of the season is a tough spot, but the defensive line was very subpar. The linebackers generated all of the pressure and while the line did well versus the run, they had trouble getting pressure up the middle consistently to affect Carson Wentz.
Greg Manusky: 10%
ESPN provided a telling statistic during the telecast: the Eagles have seven players on their defensive line who have taken at least 150 snaps this season. More succinctly, they do a great job of rotating players to keep them fresh and have the depth to get contributions across the board. Manusky did not have the luxury of that depth Monday night, but he also seemed reluctant to make adjustments. Rather than force Wentz to make throws from the pocket where many young QBs struggle, he sent constant blitzes which allowed the Philly slinger to roll out and destroy the defense with his legs or impromptu throws. The Eagles continually tested the secondary with deep passes and Manusky appeared to be unwilling to drop more defenders back, opting for many one-on-one scenarios that ended poorly for the visiting team.
D.J. Swearinger: 18%
The celebrations and swagger were apparently on a bye week for the Skins safety. Swearinger was torched like an alt-right rally in Charlottesville all night by Philly. His tackling was subpar, his pursuit angles were unsure and his pass defending was inept. Swearinger has honestly only had two poor performances all season, unfortunately both were at the hands of the Eagles.
For some unreasonable and self-unaware Skins fans, this slice could be 100%. The fact is every team in the league gets battered with injuries throughout the gladiator pit on steroids course of a season. Hell, the Eagles lost their Pro Bowl left tackle and a starting linebacker during this very game! So while it seems petulant to point out the myriad of maladies for our team, it is difficult to deny the fact that our outcomes are being affected. The offensive line, the secondary, the tight ends, the defensive line; nearly every facet and unit of the team has been affected and until some semblance of health is restored, winning will prove to be difficult. Like the aforementioned JAY-Z said on his 1999 smash single, "Jigga My N***a,": Leave players on injured reserve, hurt the game/The best way to describe [this] in a word: insane.
Jay Gruden: 40%
During a five minute period of the second quarter, the Skins faced two separate 3rd down & 1 situations. These are the down and distances that every decent NFL team is able to convert and keep drives alive with. Washington failed to convert both, punting away on fourth down both times and leading to subsequent Philadelphia touchdowns both times. The problem is not so much with the result of the two plays in question, but more so the process. Both plays were pass plays, which in a vacuum is fine. Kirk is one of the best and most-accurate short passers in the game (a smart-ass blogger might snarkily drop-in here with "that's because he has so much practice at it," but I digress), so Gruden calling for a pass to move the chains seems fine. But, let's look deeper.
First, "the NFL is a passing league" narrative is worn out, but very applicable. Every advantage through the rules and officiating is tilted to offenses that go vertical. So in a sense, Gruden's obsession with the pass game is necessary in the current league ecosystem. However, the most-effective offenses, Kansas City, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New England, etc. ALL realize that the pass game must be complimented with an effective run game. The balance is delicate, but extremely necessary, especially when you have a quarterback in Cousins who is the top play action passer in the game.
Score and game flow can always affect a coach's playcalling, but the Skins were never more than two scores down until late in the fourth quarter. Washington ran only 18 times during the game. In the week 1 matchup against Philly, also a close game until the end, Gruden called only 17 run plays. Now, Philly has one of the top-ranked rush defenses in the league, but they've also seen some of the fewest attempts. Abandoning the run/pass balance voluntarily is beyond frustrating to watch as a fan. Especially on third down situations where they can be effective.
Washington had six of their twelve third down attempts with five yards or less needed to convert. See if you can spot a trend:
3rd & 2- sack
3rd & 1- pass completion for no gain
3rd & 1- incomplete pass
3rd & 4- complete pass, first down
3rd & 5- incomplete pass
3rd & 5- complete pass, first down (garbage time vs prevent D)
Six opportunities to pick up a first down from short distance, six pass plays. In Gruden's defense, he called pass plays on first down more this game than any other this season and the results were mostly positive. But, the balance...the balance will be essential moving forward.
#SundaySlices will return following Sunday's bloodbath versus the Dallas Cowboys. If you have any slice suggestions, send them to @slimceeVA on Twitter.