At the end of the 1997 masterpiece, "Imaginary Players," American hip-hop legend, JAY-Z, posited mockingly, "What's the difference between a 4.0 and 4.6?" He was referring to models of Range Rovers, but a version of that question was asked by Washington fans prior to the 2017 season: what's the difference between this year's defense and last year's? That hypothetical was answered with force on Sunday night.
In front of a bewildered and stunned FedEx crowd, painted by large swaths of Raider black team gear, the Skins pulled off their most impressive, improbable and dominant win, in what feels like a lifetime. So who exactly deserves the praise? I'm glad you asked! Welcome to the third 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.
-Jordan Reed. It sucks when one of your best players is a human Operation board game. This isn't a shot at his toughness or his abilities, but it's problematic when one of the focal points of the offense simply can't get on the field.
-Marshawn Lynch's dance moves. Beast Mode had the Oakland crowd hype last week versus the Jets...Washington was not the Jets.
Scot McCloughan: 1%
The Cravens pick and subsequent retirement, injuries and inconsistent production of recent draft picks had many in Skins nation besmirching the name of the former GM, but his picks showed up Sunday. Especially...
Josh Doctson: 2%
Doctson played in his fifth game ever making only his third start. He received two targets, which were the eighth and ninth of his career. The first one he dropped. The second, he reminded everyone "oh yeah, maybe the blazing fast, 6'2" freak athlete might be worth getting some playing time" with a Mossian reception and score.
Vernon Davis: 2%
In a testament to depth, Davis "next man up"ped his way into an extremely productive evening. He showed cuts and bursts that 33 year old tight ends don't typically exhibit. Monster game.
Hogs 2.0: 5%
On a recent Fifty Gut podcast following the Eagles game, Paul Williams quipped: "if this is supposed to be The Hogs 2.0, they need to send them back to beta testing." Since that game, the offensive line has responded with back-to-back dominant performances. Not only did they keep things clean for Cousins all night, but they pulled, kicked out and showed freak athleticism down the field. Thompson's explosions in the screen game were aided by 300-pounders reaching the second level. Moses had problems with Khalil Mack, but that's the reigning DPOY. Scherff was tremendous, Long was a dog and Trent was Trent: the best left tackle in football.
Jay Gruden: 10%
When a team looks this prepared, poised and game-ready, you know that coaching did their job. Gruden again called an amazing offensive game, giving Kirk every opportunity to shine and despite its relative ineffectiveness, committed to the run once again. I did take exception with the decision to punt at the end of the first half instead of going for it in Oakland territory and really putting the clamps down, but it wound up being trivial. Jay has the pulse of this team and their production is the proof.
Chris Thompson: 15%
56 total yards, 1 TD. 106 total yards, 2 TD. 188 total yards, 1 TD. Is it just me, or has Thompson been pretty good this season? There is no way to downplay the importance of the "third down back," who is now Washington's most explosive weapon. Every game he finds a way to make an impact, regardless of how many times he touches the ball. His niche is now carved into stone in the Skins offense.
Kirk Cousins: 15%
#KirkHive rejoice! Cousins played arguably the best game of his career on Sunday night and there is not one aspect that can be criticized. From the opening drive onward he looked confident, decisive and poised. He checked into the screen pass TD to Thompson, diagnosing Oakland's blitz and finding the weakness. He threw a laser to Davis for his score with perfect anticipation of the route. But, most impressively, he gave a wide receiver the chance to make a huge play and he was rewarded handsomely on Doctson's grab. This game was the culmination of everything fans have come to love about Cousins. The trick is building consistency from it and doing it weekly. He does that? Show him the bag.
The Defense: 50%
0/11. ZERO THIRD DOWNS CONVERTED IN ELEVEN TRIES. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky probably slept well last night, because you know he was putting in work during the week. Nearly every player from every position on the defense made a play Sunday night. What made it all the more impressive/improbable was that it was against a Raiders offense who were top 5 in both rushing AND passing prior to the game. Oakland was buoyed by arguably the best offensive line in football and Washington's defense went full demolition mode for sixty minutes. At no point in the contest were the Raiders able to sustain a drive. Their only scores were the results of short fields on Skins turnovers and the score did not come close to showing the disparity between the two teams.
The line- Ioannidis (Scot pick) continues to get push up the middle in the run and pass game. Allen had another sack. The tackle rotation continues to generate rushes with little blitzing needed.
The linebackers- Dogs. All of them. Spaight stepped in for an injured Mason Foster and there was little drop off. Zach Brown continues his Fletcher 2.0 impersonation. Galette and Kerrigan again were harassing the QB, but Preston Smith? He's taken his game to the next level this season.
The secondary- Nicholson. Swearinger. Everett. The safeties were great in coverage and laid hit stick collisions all night. Breeland and Norman were their usual selves: elite. Fuller had a pick and a forced fumble. This unit went from being one of the biggest question marks to one of the greatest strengths.
The Raiders were held to 128 total yards, a quarter of which came on the last, meaningless drive. They did not convert a third down. They were sacked four times, threw two interceptions and fumbled once. It is not hyperbole at all to call Sunday night the best performance a Washington defense has had since the Super Bowl season of 1991.
#SundaySlices will be served following Monday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. If you have slice suggestions, send them to @slimceeVA on twitter.