The successful television sports debate panelist must specialize in taking a drab, humdrum sports story and converting it into a strong and provocative opinion — one that is clear and compelling enough to spawn many little droplets of derivative debates, plus outraged athlete responses and maybe a few “Well, actually” blog posts.
The current Redskins appear hyper-resistant to this approach. They repel hot takes. They prohibit provocative opinions. They are so flavorless at the moment that they battered poor Stephen A. Smith into an extremely sensible, rational and noncontroversial opinion.
“You know what the Redskins are? BLAH,” he said this week. “That’s the word. They’re so blah I can’t even come up with an adjective to describe it. I mean, they’re just blah. Everything about em. They’re okay.”
They are. They’re okay. Who could disagree? They’re so blah they forced a hot-take assembly line into spitting out an opinion with all the heat of a rice cake.
Seasons turn, and maybe this one will, in a happy direction or in a sad direction or in a super spicy direction. But this week? This week is blah. The most interesting story line involves a radio interview with a former quarterback who hasn’t played here in three years. The most interesting trade deadline transaction — during the most interesting trade deadline in years — involved a player, Arthur Jones, who’s most relevant because of his famous brothers. The strongest national insult came from Skip Bayless, who very cuttingly called Kirk Cousins “Curt” — the same thing his own team president calls him. The most vital personnel updates from practice will involve the center and the right guard. I’m not saying any of this is bad. But it’s blah.
“Everything is just average,” Smith went on, continuing to sort of make sense. “You got the quarterback, you got the receivers, you got a suspect running game, you got a suspect offensive line [even though that’s due to injuries]. Their defense: suspect. … And then you got Jay Gruden. I don’t know about this guy. He’s not terrible. But there’s nothing special about this man.”
That’s probably a bit unfair. Gruden appears to have a special talent for programming an offense. He certainly has a gift of navigating Washington’s thorny front-office dramas unscathed. He’s a prohibitive favorite to become the first Snyder-era head coach to last five years; that is special.
And yet Gruden’s record since installing Cousins as the starting quarterback is 20-18-1. Washington’s point differential since Gruden gave the job to Cousins? Try +2, the closest to pure and perfect averageness of any NFL team in that span. That means, over those 39 games, the average Redskins score is 24.21 to 24.15. Again, it’s way better than being embarrassing. It’s definitely not bad, especially compared to what we’ve seen. But it’s kind of blah.
The Redskins’ best offensive play this season is the screen pass. (Blah.) Their most surprising player is an interior defensive lineman. (Blah.) They love throwing the ball to Ryan Grant. (Blah — sorry Ryan.) Even Cousins’s biggest boosters typically call him a top 10 to 15 quarterback. (Blah.)
The offense and the defense both seem to rank near the midpoint of the league in virtually every category. The offense is 14th in yards per game, 17th in rushing, 16th in third-down percentage, 10th in time of possession, 12th in points per game, 21st in first downs per game. The defense is 12th in yards per game, 17th in yards per play, 13th in rushing, 13th in passing, 23rd in third-down percentage, 14th in first downs per game.
They ended last season 3-4-1. They started this season 3-4. ESPN’s FPI gives them a 6 percent chance to make the playoffs. From a distance, it all seems sort of blah.
“I’m not saying that Jay Gruden can’t coach,” Smith said. “I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m not saying he’s not competent. I’m just saying: When you’re a National Football League coach and almost no one thinks about you and instead they think about your brother, there’s something missing. And that’s all I’m saying. No disrespect; no disrespect whatsoever. But that’s what it is. And that’s the problem with the Redskins: BLAH.”
Again, I’m not sure any of this is a problem, especially if the alternative is to be worse than blah. Being worse than blah is worse than being blah, except if you’re in the camp that the Redskins need high draft picks to fix whatever ails them, in which case I suppose being worse than blah might be appealing, although we’ve seen plenty of worse than blah and it’s rarely led to greater than blah, and anyhow, for a few moments last month — before everyone got hurt — they sure appeared greater than blah.
I guess what it comes down to is this: Through seven games, the absolute lousiest record for producing fan interest and sports-radio callers and web traffic has to be 3-4. If you’re 6-1 or 5-2, you’re thinking about a division title. If you’re 4-3, you’re still playing out playoff scenarios. If you’re 2-5 or 1-6, you’re filled with righteous indignation. If you’re 0-7, you’re the Browns.
Well, this is the fourth time in seven seasons the Redskins have been 3-4. (They’ve also been 2-5 twice, and 4-3 once.)
All is not lost. Two of those 3-4 starts ultimately led to division championships. There’s no one to blame for an injury epidemic, or for playing two games against the suddenly great Eagles in the first half of the year. I’m not saying the Redskins should be concerned about my web traffic (although if they were, a trade this week might have been nice, or Bruce Allen could reveal that he went as Kurt Cousins for Halloween).
I’m just saying: This Redskins team reduced Stephen A. Smith to a monologue about drabness — and reduced me to publicly agreeing with him. There’s a word for that: blah.