Every time the Redskins play during the regular season, we post a “Best and Worst” round-up soon after the game. My editors asked whether I could contribute some “Best and Worst” items for our Redskins preview section, which comes out in Sunday’s paper. Since no keystrokes should go un-blogged, here’s what I sent them. It’s kind of about the offseason, and the preseason, and the RGIIIseason.
Best Offseason Move: Nil. The last time a Super Bowl-winning coach finally got the Redskins into the playoffs, Joe Gibbs responded with that ill-fated offensive overhaul, leading to the disappointment of 2006. An offseason of optimism quickly turned sour, and players still talk about what could have been without that shift. The 2013 Redskins look remarkably similar to the division-winning 2012 Redskins, except a lot healthier. Why mess with success?
Worst Offseason Move: Look, I don’t know exactly why the Redskins have four quarterbacks on their roster. I do know that Pat White is single-handedly responsible for ruining at least an hour of local sports-radio content every single day. If there’s one thing this town goes crazy about, it’s third-string quarterbacks. A fourth-string quarterback has prompted sheer lunacy.
Best Exposure: You heard of this RGIII kid? Plays quarterback. Long hair. Funny socks. If you hadn’t heard, the offseason brought an ESPN the Magazine cover, a Sports Illustrated cover, a Washington Post magazine cover, a GQ cover, an ESPN documentary and two full-length books. That’s likely more national publicity than all previous Redskins quarterbacks garnered over the past two decades.
Worst Exposure: And yet, this exposure brought with it a backlash, causing RGIII fatigue among a significant number of national NFL fans who have no reason to dislike the effervescent QB other than oversaturation. Griffin has filled the insta-headline role once occupied by Tim Tebow, where every action brings 23 unequal reactions. “They’ve just taken something great and turned it into something terrible,” Griffin told Chris Cooley about the reaction to his comeback this month, and that goes for just about everything he does.
Best Home Game: Fans have understandably focused on the Monday night opener for months, but if the Redskins are going anywhere this season, that game should be a gimme. The next Monday nighter – in late November, against the defending NFC champion 49ers, pitting Griffin against the NFL’s next most exciting quarterback in Colin Kaepernick – is the true jewel of this schedule.
Worst Road Game: Washington will visit Denver on the last Sunday of October. Sure, it’s a tough venue, and yes, the Broncos are an AFC favorite with a deadly quarterback. But the real scourge will be seven straight days of Mike Shanahan Denver retrospectives. I’d rather hear about Donovan McNabb’s advice for RGIII.
Best Preseason Play: With the punt return position surrounded by question marks, rookie Chris Thompson provided a few answers, knocking off a 69-yard return for a touchdown during the preseason finale in Tampa. Not a lot of questions after that one. It isn’t often that the most memorable preseason play comes in a team’s fourth game, but if Thompson sticks around here for a few years, that play will be remembered.
Worst Preseason Play: That seemingly innocent-looking tackle against Pittsburgh that hurt Kirk Cousins’s foot. Yes, he appears to be 100 percent, but there were many hours there where Washington minds were haunted by visions of Rex Grossman.
Best Quote: “It was a fun wedding,” Dan Snyder told ESPN 980’s Chris Cooley, when asked about Griffin’s nuptials. “A lot of dancing. A lot of dancing. He made me dance all night.”
Worst Stat: The Redskins have had eight players suspended without pay by the NFL for substance infractions since the beginning of the 2011 season. Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins will miss this season’s first four games for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse or performance-enhancing substance policies. And no, it isn’t something in the water in Ashburn.
Best Reason for Optimism: Without question, the last few months have been filled with he-said he-said soap drama. But despite the media circus, this team has clearly opted for continuity in the front office. And historically, that choice has paid off. Mike Shanahan is, of course, set to begin his fourth season. In the fourth season of Gibbs II, the Redskins went 9-7 and made the playoffs. In Norv Turner’s fourth season, Washington was 8-7-1. In the fourth season of Gibbs I, the Redskins went 11-5. George Allen’s fourth season ended with a 10-4 mark. That means it’s been 49 years since a Redskins coach finished his fourth season without a winning record.
Worst injury (Non-RGIII category): Washington avoided many of the serious injuries to stars that blighted this NFL preseason, but the season-ending left knee injury suffered by Richard Crawford late last month was a downer. The second-year cornerback showed flashes on defense, but more importantly, was a reliable and dangerous punt returner, who may have saved last season with a long punt return against the Ravens.
Best Preseason Stat Line: No, the preseason doesn’t matter. But you’d guess that preseason conditions for place kickers – who operate almost independently of the opposition – are nearly the same as in the regular season. And Kai Forbath continued to perform like a genius. After setting an NFL record for consecutive field goals made to start a career last season, Forbath was perfect on seven field-goal attempts this preseason, including one from 47 yards and another from 53. He isn’t human, basically.
Worst Communication: Mike Shanahan, Dr. James Andrews, Robert Griffin III and Robert Griffin II should play a game of telephone sometime, just for fun. They could start with Cicero’s First Oration Against Verres, and within 10 minutes, someone would excitedly be whispering the lyrics to “Blurred Lines.”
Best Sight: Have you seen the green, lush, velvety, pillow-soft grass playing surface that was installed at FedEx Field over the summer? It surely won’t look that pristine in December, but for appearance’s sake, that field has gone from rusty decrepit prison cot to hand-tufted, king-size Palais Royale mattress. No, I’m not sure what that means. I read it in the Wall Street Journal.
Worst controversy: So many choices, from the endless debate about the team name to the endless debate about that famous knee to the ridiculous debate about wedding gift registries. Still, I’ll choose the one-man back-and-forth between Donovan McNabb and himself, on whether Griffin should seek his advice. Go mentor quarterbacks in Philadelphia, sir.
Best Offensive Weapon (besides RGIII): I believe Pierre Garcon will set career highs in everything this season.
Best Defensive Weapon (besides Ryan Kerrigan): I believe David Amerson will make at least two spectacular interceptions.
Worst Division: I believe the NFC East will be the worst division in the NFC.
Best-Case Scenario: Griffin is reborn, Alfred Morris proves his rookie season wasn’t a fluke, Pierre Garcon and Brian Orakpo play 16 games apiece, a pair of rookies rejuvenate the secondary, the offensive line continues to avoid injury, and Washington wins a second straight division title for the first time since 1984. This time, though, the Redskins enter the playoffs without a hobbling quarterback, and without a playing surface made of painted dirt and baling wire.
Worst Case Scenario: The knee isn’t right. Forced to play far more than expected, Kirk Cousins fails to lead Washington back to the playoffs, in the process ending those sports-radio dreams of a blockbuster trade for 13 first-round draft picks. Instead, sports radio focuses on whether Mike Shanahan deserves an extension. For six months. Plus, age finally catches up to London Fletcher and Santana Moss, and the two respected veterans end their careers out of the postseason. Bonus “worst-case” points every time James Andrews uses the word “concerns.”