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ONE Burning Question

ONE Burning Question

It seems that an article or a talk show segment addressing an NFL team’s 10 burning questions going into training camp is in vogue these days. I’m certainly not one who avoids latching on to such trends, but I usually tailor them to give some guise of originally (thus ESPN’s “Four Downs” becomes Warpath Insiders’ “Three and Out”). Surgery that is a bit more radical is performed on the 10 questions here. There is only one such question for the 2005 Washington Redskins:

In Joe Gibbs’ first year back, the passing offense could be best be described as horizontal. That’s partly because it featured a lot of wide receiver screens and hitch patterns. Mostly however, it was horizontal as in prone, like a dead man. They were 30th in the league in total yardage and 31st in scoring. So here’s the one burning question:

Can Joe Gibbs and the Redskins successfully transform the passing game from an ineffective, dink and dunk, horizontal one into abig-play, vertically oriented air attack?

Sure, there are some other fairly important matters out there such as who will start at middle linebacker, can Sean Taylor get his act together, will LaVar Arrington’s knee be completely healed and some others. But even if all of those things fall into place, the Redskins won’t be successful in 2005 if they can’t score more points. And we are defining success here as making the playoffs.

Make no mistake about it, that’s what this team’s goal is for this year and that is what the expectation for them is here. Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach and should be able to add three or four wins to last year’s total and that should be good enough to be playing in January. A win or two in the playoffs would be a nice bonus, but anything less than making the field will be adisappointment. It says here that’s where the bar is in 2005.

The Redskins had a playoff-caliber defense last year. That’s not just a defense that could get a team to the playoffs; it was one that could get a team deep into the playoffs. If you take the worst-case scenario and say that the losses of Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce hurt considerably, it’s still an upper-echelon, if not elite, defense. The burden of making the playoffs falls on the offense.

A great offense can both pound the ball on the ground when the situation calls for it and air it out deep when that’s what’s needed. You can count the NFL offenses that have the talent to do both on your index fingers and big toes, if you need that many digits. The Redskins aren’t one of
them.

All of the eggs on offense have been placed in the big-play basket. Clinton Portis is not a grind-it-out type of runner. While the offensive line isn’t bad blocking for the power running game, its strength, individually and collectively, is pass blocking. They are not going to grind out a bunch of 15-play drives and pound it in on third down from the two. They’rejust not, as much as Joe Bugel and Gibbs might want it to be so.

Certainly, Joe and Joe realize this and that’s why they are going to air it out. Patrick Ramsey has a big arm and he can find the receivers forty yards downfield. Santana Moss and David Patten have demonstrated their abilities to get open deep and all indications are that Taylor Jacobs will be able to do the same.

Of course, you can’t go bombs away on every play, but the Redskins will have to demonstrate their ability to do so in order to open up the other elements of the offense. An effective deep passing game will let Patrick Ramsey throw the quick hitch to a wideout with reasonable hopes that it will be second and three after the play. If the defense has to deal with the credible threat
of quick score via the air, that will give Portis more room to operate on draws and sweeps. And should the Redskins stretch the field that will give H-back Chris Cooley some space to operate in underneath the deep patterns.

It’s not all about the offense. The defense needs to maintain and it would help if they got more than the 29 takeaways they got in 2004. Improved special teams play might help steal a game if the offense and defense are substandard and teams can’t cost them a game. But any substantial improvement in the Redskins’ 6-10 record will have to come from the offensiveside of the ball. That means it’s bombs away and hope for the best.

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Where does Stefon Diggs' remarkable catch rank among some of the best NFL playoff walk-offs?

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Where does Stefon Diggs' remarkable catch rank among some of the best NFL playoff walk-offs?

There is nothing quite like January playoff football and Sunday night's Vikings vs. Saints game further proved this point.

In case you have been off the grid the past 12 hours, the Minnesota Vikings literally got a last second win against the New Orleans Saints.

With 10 seconds left in the fourth and facing a 3rd and 10, quarterback Case Keenum heaved the football near the sideline to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who dodged two defenders while managing to stay inbounds for a 61-yard touchdown as the clock expired. 

It was one of the most remarkable playoff walk-off wins, if not the most remarkable one, in football.

So, where does it stand among the others?

RELATED: FORMER TERP PLAYS HERO IN VIKINGS' MIRACLE PLAYOFF WIN

Broncos vs. Steelers 2011 AFC Wild Card game: Remember Tim Tebow's 80-yard overtime touchdown to Demaryius Thomas during the 2011 Broncos vs. Steelers AFC Wild Card game? It was the first and last snap of overtime and it was wild.

Mile High Miracle: On third and three with 43 seconds left in the game, Ravens' Joe Flacco launched one towards wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who got in front of the Broncos receiver and ran the ball in for a 70-yard game-tying touchdown. The Ravens would eventually go on to win the game in double overtime. Some could argue it was the defining moment in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. 

Cardinals vs. Steelers Super Bowl XLIII: Under the brightest lights of all, Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds in the fourth in the back of the end zone for a toe-dragging, Super Bowl-winning catch. 

RELATED: WHAT REDSKINS CAN LEARN FROM THIS WEEKEND'S PLAYOFF GAMES

Saints vs. 49ers 2012 NFC Divisional game: Sunday's loss wasn't the first time the Saints have experienced a fourth quarter letdown. Back in 2012, Alex Smith threw one to the endzone on 3rd-and-three with 14 seconds left that sealed a win.

While these are only a few, we can't wait to add more to the list in years to come.

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Redskins can't base Kirk Cousins decision on the makeup of the final four

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USA Today Sports Images

Redskins can't base Kirk Cousins decision on the makeup of the final four

For many fans who would like to see the Redskins move on from Kirk Cousins, the case was closed by the results of the divisional playoff round.

When the dust settled from the weekend, three of the four winning quarterbacks were Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum. In Foles and Keenum, two journeymen who were free agents last March, available to any team that had a million bucks or so of salary cap space. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 draft but he was widely viewed as a big-time bust.

MORE REDSKINS: WHAT CAN THE REDSKINS LEARN FROM THE PLAYOFFS?

So, to some the lesson was that you can roll any random quarterback out there and if you have some other pieces in place you can get to the final four.

Not so fast, my friend. Such thinking is based on a small sample size. This year is very much an outlier in terms of the quarterbacks who make the conference championship games. Let’s expand the sample size and look at the final four QBs standing in the previous six seasons.

2016: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger

2015: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Brady

2014: Russell Wilson, Rodgers, Brady, Andrew Luck

2013: Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, P. Manning, Brady

2012: Kaepernick, Ryan, Joe Flacco, Brady

2011: Brady, Flacco, Eli Manning, Alex Smith

There are 13 different quarterbacks here. Ten of those, Ryan, Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, Newton, Palmer, Wilson, the two Mannings, and Luck, are true franchise type quarterbacks. Of those, five were first overall picks in the draft, Ryan was the third pick, and Roethlisberger was the 11th, and Rodgers went later in the first round. Only Wilson and Brady were late-round finds.

Of the three others, Smith (1st overall) and Flacco (18th) were first-round picks. Kaepernick was a high second-rounder.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

At the time of their playoff games, all of the 13 quarterbacks were on the teams that drafted them. None of them were looking for work the previous March, or at any time, for that matter.

As the Redskins decide if they should make a desperation attempt to retain Cousins or let him walk and start over at the most important position on the field, which data point should they consider? The most recent season in front of them, or the six prior years (and many more before that)?

Let’s say you’re looking to sell your house and you want to figure out a fair price. One comparable house down the street recently had sold for $200,000. But the previous six houses that sold in the last couple of months all went for around $300,000, Are you going to price your house based on the most recent sale? Or are you going to factor that in but pay much more attention to the six previous sales?

You have to step back and look at the larger sample size before using a particular set of facts as even a partial basis for a major decision with far-reaching ramifications.

With all that said, there are other factors at play besides what other teams have been able to accomplish. There are plenty of valid reasons for moving on from Cousins and those may outweigh the case for keeping him. But pointing to three quarterbacks on four teams and saying, “case closed” is way too simplistic an approach.

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