Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.
-thespian, warrior poet and philosopher, Mike Tyson
There is little doubt that Washington's plan on Sunday was the same two-fold plan of attack deployed the previous seven contests: run the ball and stop the other team from running the ball. Allow me to inform you of the outcome: they failed. Brutally.
A 5-3 record halfway through a NFL season should bring more joy than pain, yet after getting pummeled 38-14 by an Atlanta team that flew in with a losing record, the 30th-ranked rushing attack and a putrid pass defense, let's just say the bitter outweighs the sweet. So which vessels, exactly, should our collective angst be torpedoed towards? I'm glad you asked. Welcome to the eighth 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...they were very difficult to find this week).
-Adrian Peterson. Tough to blame the alien for the loss when he only touched the rock ten times. The M.A.S.H. unit blocking for him may have had something to do with the entire running game's lack of success, but maybe mixing in some first down pass plays could keep defenses honest and open things up later in the game?
Belittle Maurice Harris' 10-catch, 124-yard game as "garbage stats" if you want to. The fact is, he still had to get open and catch the football.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) November 5, 2018
Career 10-catch, 100-yard games:
Maurice Harris, 1.
Josh Doctson, 0.
Jamison Crowder, 0.
-Maurice Harris. Lucky jersey #13 had 10 grabs and over 100 yards on the afternoon. And yes, most of it was in garbage time, but still...
-Quinton Dunbar. Not sure if it's even debatable at this point--and it certainly isn't seen paycheck wise-- but, Dunbar is the best cornerback on the roster. He was gifted an interception early in the game (you still have to catch it) and led the team in pass deflections, despite missing time with an injury...he was not alone.
Injuries & The Referees: 1%
All of these OL injuries are frustrating and somewhat unpredictable, but:— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) November 4, 2018
* Redskins chose to open year with the injury-prone Lauvao at LG
* Didn't add viable G backup/ drafted OT in 3rd
* Kept an inexperienced center as final depth chart option
* Activated only 7 OL today
In week 9 of the NFL, every team has injuries. Some more than others, some to more important players, some that will linger, some that will be quick fixes, but all teams face challenges. How a coaching staff and front office react and adapt afterwards is what separates the 2017 Washington season from the 2017 Philadelphia season (they lost their damn MVP-nominee QB and still won the chip).
Similar to injuries, every team faces bad refereeing at some (or many) points during a season. And again, how that adversity is dealt with goes a long way toward the final destination of a club. It would be very easy to blame injuries and the refs for having a hand in Sunday's demolition, but it was also be lazy and not taking inventory of what the team's actual skill level is or will be. That said, I may or may not have screamed every George Carlin-listed obscenity in the book for this play:
Josh Doctson: 2%
Josh Dropson..my bad...Doctson, gets two percentage points of the pie to account for his two brutal dropped passes. As the newly re-elected President of the Doctson Stan Club (though we're always looking for new members), I was pleased to see Smith continue to look for him later in the game, even connecting on the first successful fade route since the Clinton Administration in the second quarter for a touchdown.
The OFFensive Line: 2%
Not going to give them too much slice blame since I honestly just found out who half of them were this week. R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" must have been on blast in the locker room as rookie tackle, Geron Christian, faced an inquisition and was almost forced to convert, while oft-injured tackle, Morgan Moses, was parted by a sea of black, white and red uniforms. Nsekhe, Roullier and Bergstrom get spared the bad puns, as their names don't fit, but just know, they were suspect.
Alex Smith: 10%
By yards (which means A LOT to a certain cross-section of radio hosts in DC), this was actually Smith's best game in a Washington jersey, so that's good. He's on pace for only six interceptions for the entire season, so that's good. HE DID THIS:
The Alex Smith 22-yard scramble play is even more incredible from this angle. Rush arrives almost instantly, somehow stays on his feet and runs for 1st down. The hit at the end looks more and more brutal every time I watch it. #Redskins pic.twitter.com/wWUDdRyGS9— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) November 5, 2018
...so that's good.
So why do fans feel so bad about QB1? Simple: we're halfway through the year and we've yet to get a consistent vertical attack. That's it. Of course, no Thompson, Crowder, Richardson or Reed--wait, Reed is still playing? Huh, who knew?--don't make things very easy, even for a veteran signal-caller in a new offense. I really don't know how much to blame Smith, how much to blame his protection, how much to blame the skill position players and ultimately, how much to blame:
Jay Gruden...and Greg Manusky: 19%
Out played, out coached..... all the hype was too much for this team... all the interviews and trash talking about what they were and they didn’t show up today— Robert Henson (@Mr_Henson51) November 4, 2018
Are these the words of an ex-player who is perhaps a little salty? Well, yes...but, he's not wrong. Games like Sunday will occur from time-to-time. You run into a desperate team, in a must-win game, fresh off a bye week, who execute in every facet. OK. That's understandable. What is not really understandable is when viewing the game, albeit with drunken, discerning eyes, you feel like you know the exact plays your team's offense is going to run. If my Washington bar at the beach in San Diego knows what's coming (shoutout Winston's OB), then you can be pretty sure Atlanta's head coach, Dan Quinn, knows as well.
Injuries absolutely played a part, but Gruden and Manusky were Alicia Silverstone-levels of clueless on how to adjust later in the game. Whether it was the glutton of backbreaking penalties or the transforming of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith into a 2018 Jamal Anderson, the dirty birds defecated all over FedEx Field.
(Wise Ass Suggestions Segment That No One Asked For: Gruden- STOP MAKING ALEX SMITH DO 5-7 STEP DROPS. He kills it in play action, RPOs and rollouts. Do more of those. Thanks. Manusky- we can get home with four. Stop blitzing so damn much against QBs like Ryan who get rid of it in three steps. Thanks.)
(The Editor-In-Chief's Suggestions):
We have to figure something out offensively despite these injuries. This sucks, but we can’t just flush this 5-3 season b/c of injury. Adjustments need to be made by the coaching staff. If they can’t, they shouldn’t have jobs.— Fifty Gut Blog (@FiftyGutBlog) November 5, 2018
Third Downs: 66%
Washington's moribund pass attack and constipated run game (that's an oxy moron, right?) was able to convert five of thirteen third downs. Add in a neat two-for-two on fourth down and you have a decent afternoon. We'll just conveniently omit the part that most of those were attained in the fourth quarter when Atlanta was just trying to put the game away, but I digress. They currently convert 38% of third downs into first downs, which is good enough to be ranked 21 in the league...that's not Savage.
Now, I could tell you how bad Washington was on defense, or I could just show you this:
Wow. That's really shitty. Maybe there's a silver lining. Maybe this was just an aberration. A fluky misstep on the journey to defensive dominance. Sure, they torched the D on third and long Sunday, but I bet if we looked at third and short for the entire season, that would tell a much different story, right?
GOOD GRIEF. That's a half-season sample size. That's not a fluke. It's also confusing as hell. The defense is relatively healthy. IPA is up front. The edge rushers have been somewhat consistent applying pressure. Foster and Brown have been excellent. We already know Swearinger eats when he drops down into the box. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Well, I don't have the answers. This is a snarky recap column, not Pro Football Focus. All I can do is assign the slices and pray for future pies to not be laced with poison.
AFTER HOURS SLICE New segment alert! From time to time I will be adding some additional info outside of the pie. A little something extra, if you will. This week’s additional slice:
If you're reading this, it's too late: Washington's offensive line will be down AT LEAST three starters next week, with Moses still a question mark. It goes without saying that...
...oh, you're still here? I thought we agreed this goes without saying? This team is cursed, screwed and in a dark place. That is all.
#SundaySlices will return following Sunday’s damn near must-win versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you have any slice suggestions, critiques, complaints or questions send them to @slimceeVA on Twitter. Should you feel the need to add snarky commentary about pop culture, sports or politics into your life, you can also follow @slimceeVA—and you should.