"The season is over." I told my close friends this. I told the NSFW, slander-flying Fifty Gut group chat this. I told my barber, my father, my girlfriend, my Lyft driver, my bartender and my pet fish, Maui this. "The season is over." On Thursday, August 9th, 2018, on his sixth carry of week 1 in the (meaningless) preseason, second-round rookie RB sensation, Derrius Guice, got hit and was slow to get up. 18 hours later a torn ACL was announced, his season was over and my rational fandom disappeared. I may have overstated the situation, just a bit...
In front of a newly-rebranded State Farm Stadium (I was unable to locate "hideous"-sounding Jake wearing his khakis in the stands), the Arizona Cardinals were beat down by a more talented and better-coached outfit from the nation's capital. The game was never in doubt after the second quarter, as Washington played bully ball with some actual bullies. So who contributed to the winning, exactly? I'm glad you asked! Welcome back to the first of sixteen #SundaySlices recaps! For the new or uninitiated, this is a weekly segment, 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.
MISSING INGREDIENTS(These are the players/coaches/etc. who are not in the pie, because they did not contribute to the win).
-The Wide Receivers. The appearance here of this unit isn't necessarily a slight as much as they were just not very necessary. The run game was clicking and like a cowardly basketball team, Arizona seemed completely contempt to play zone defense, leaving the middle and short routes open. Doctson, Richardson and Crowder combined for only 13 targets. There will come a time when they will see volume, but Sunday was mute when the game became moot.
-Special Teams. Again, it's not so much that the unit was bad, they were just not leaned upon or all that special. A late punt return by Arizona for over 40 yards may have raised an eyebrow, but then I realized I simply had missed last call in my section of the stadium and got over it.
-The NFL Network. Keep sleeping.
The Fans: 1%
FedEx Field is often maligned for producing a nearly non-existent homefield advantage and being flooded with scores of the opposing team's fans. Yeah, that's true. It's also not a problem that solely afflicts Washington. For the colorblind, the scores of burgundy-clad screaming maniacs may have blended with the sea of Cardinal red, but trust, I was not alone on the road trip.
The Front Office: 4%
"How could you cut Lanier and Spaight?!" " How could you trade Fuller?!" "How could you let Breeland walk?!" "How could you not sign Dez?!" "A.P. is old and washed up!" Ok, that last one may have been me. The echo chamber of Skins twitter had the hot takes flying all offseason, but maybe Bruce & Co. might have lucked into a pretty decent roster.
Jordan Reed: 5%
He's more than just the most-talented tight end in team history, an essential linchpin in the offense, or even Alex Smith's new Travis Kelce. He is the master of the newest and purest form of spiritual, dare I say, sensual yoga. NamasTE.
Adrian Peterson: 10%
Can you appreciate the art even if the artist is problematic? For some fans, no amount of time or contrition will change their opinion on Peterson and his past transgressions, but from a football perspective, he is a 33-year old marvel of modern physicality. He is currently sixth in the entire league in yards from scrimmage, which is remarkable considering four weeks ago he wasn't even on the team.
Chris Thompson: 10%
He had as many touches in the preseason as I did. I was concerned. Then he casually threw up 11 touches for 128 yards and a touchdown. I am less concerned now. The criminally slept-on CT might be the most valuable weapon on an offense that appears to have a few.
Quinton Dunbar: 10%
Josh Norman went untested (again) and the safeties, specifically Swearinger, were solid when called upon, but the standout was the guy in the Deangelo Hall throwback jersey. Dunbar has a new number, but the same displays of brilliance that made it possible for the front office to send off Kendall Fuller and politely tell Bashaud Breeland to kick rocks. #23 was the definition of lockdown CB and as was noted in last season's columns: if you get a pick, you get a #slice. Them's the rules.
Alex Smith: 15%
The 2017 NFL leader in passer rating is the 2018 QB for Washington. This is a good thing. Despite playing a mere two quarters in August while digesting a new offense and coaching, QB1 was pointed and precise on Sunday. He set protections, shifted skill position players and audibled like he had been with Jay Gruden for years, not months. Most importantly, he danced out of sacks, safeties and committed zero turnovers. #SundaySlices has a strict policy of not bringing up the previous signal-caller, but I'll leave you with this: in the previous three season-openers, the Washington QB was responsible for two turnovers...in each game. Washington went 0-3 in those contests.
The Front 7: 20%
Raise your hand if last April you wanted the Skins to take FSU safety Derwin James instead of Da'ron Payne. Hello? Anyone? Oh, so y'all just gonna leave me here alone looking foolish? Fair enough.
The aforementioned front office should be praised for their commitment to the trenches in the past two drafts. The formula is simple, yet brilliant: find monsters from Bama. Pick them. Payne and his ex-Crimson Tide teammate, Jonathan Allen, along with Greek god, Matt Ioannidis, absolutely feasted on a young and non-cohesive Cardinal offensive line. Whoever had David Johnson in your fantasy league let out the lightest of halfhearted claps when he crossed the goal line in garbage time, as there was simply nowhere for him to go during the afternoon.
There were some Twitter analysts who believed Washington lacked a solid pass rush, but the truth is Sam Bradford lacked taking more than three steps in his dropbacks to pass. Arizona clearly game-planned a barrage of short-range passes to offset their o-line concerns, it just wasn't effective. Zach Brown picked up from last year as the tackling machine in the middle. Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan did not have their names blare over the loudspeakers much, but again, Bradford didn't really let them.
Any perceived lack of depth or talent in the secondary can easily be masked throughout the season by this unit.
Jay Gruden: 25%
I saw a team this week with spotty quarterback play. A team who inexplicably let their best player go in the offseason. A team that looked overmatched, unmotivated and outcoached. A team that was going to produce a very difficult season for their long-suffering fans. I saw the Oakland Raiders and thought: THANK GOD WE HAVE THE BETTER GRUDEN.
Leading into week 1, the Jay slander was reaching a fever pitch. The Kevin Sheehans of the world podcasted their dismal views of Washington's longest-tenured coach since Gibbs 1.0 and turned Sunday into an instant referendum on perhaps if Gruden could even survive the entire season. His preseason lineups were discussed. His depth chart was discussed. His playcalling was discussed. The idea that Jay was fighting for his job in D.C. this season was by no means unfair, but the final grade was simply incomplete.
What Skins fans and Gruden-detractors everywhere witnessed on Sunday was a coaching clinic. If new Cardinals head coach, Steve Wilks, had been playing Madden, he would've turned his console off and claimed his controller died and he couldn't find the charging cord. The entire arsenal of Jay's playcalling expertise was on full display and he could do little wrong. It was a thing of beauty to watch.
Admittedly, it was also week 1. The gameplan seemed to mirror that of an impressive win over the LA Rams in week 2 of last season, a contest in which the Skins ran for over 200 yards and took care of the ball, also. Gruden has been slighted in the past for being entranced by the pass, but the truth is, he's either 1- never had the backs to run as effective as he'd like and 2- never had a QB as smart as Smith to audible out of bad looks and keep the offense moving. They won't always look this pretty, but I think Jay will be more than content to leave the Child's Play coaching to his older brother.
#SundaySlices will return following Sunday's (hurricane??) contest against the Indianapolis Colts. If you have any slice suggestions, send them to @slimceeVA on Twitter.