Redskins

Rocky start has Packers feeling sense of urgency

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Rocky start has Packers feeling sense of urgency

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The defense is giving up big chunks of yardage - again. Injuries are piling up. Even the offense, which has carried the Green Bay Packers the last two years, is suspect.

A year after opening the season 13-0, the Packers are in danger of letting the season get away from them. At 2-3 (yes, that includes that loss in Seattle that wasn't really a loss), they face something of a must-win game Sunday night when they play the unbeaten Houston Texans.

``It's a bit too early'' to say that, defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. ``A lot of the talk - people are used to seeing us win, and they're never used to seeing us in this position. It's just human for most people to think it's a must-win game.

``It's a big one,'' Raji added. ``We want to have it, and hopefully we can come out with something good.''

The Packers' early struggles may seem like a shock, coming just two years after their Super Bowl run and on the heels of last year's 15-1 regular-season record. But Green Bay has lost five of its last nine games dating back to last season and, if you look closely, signs were there that trouble was coming.

Though the Packers had an NFL-best 31 interceptions last year and tied for the league lead with 38 total takeaways, they also gave up an NFL-high 6,585 yards of offense, more than 410 yards per game. They're somewhat improved this year, but the 344 yards a game they're allowing still put them in the bottom half of the NFC.

They gave up 464 yards last weekend alone, including 362 yards passing to Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck. Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in the final 4 minutes before connecting with Reggie Wayne on the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds left. The Colts scored 27 points in the second half after trailing 21-3 at halftime.

Clay Matthews leads the NFC in sacks with eight, and the Packers have five takeaways. But that figure could probably be doubled if not for dropped interceptions, penalties and, yes, better officiating.

The larger problem, however, is the offense.

Unlike last year, when Green Bay could count on Aaron Rodgers and Co. making up for any defensive flaws, the Packers have yet to find their groove. They're averaging just 5.2 yards per play. They haven't had a 100-yard receiver or rusher yet. The 21 sacks allowed are more than any NFL team besides Arizona.

``We've been inconsistent,'' offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga said. ``I don't think you can pinpoint one thing. We just haven't played to our capability, I think that's evident.''

Even Rodgers acknowledges he's not playing as well as he could or should be.

``I just have to do things I know I'm capable of doing on Sundays,'' he said.

It might have been too much to expect Rodgers to maintain that NFL-record 122.5 quarterback rating he had last year. But the reigning MVP isn't even in triple digits, ranking eighth in the NFL with a 97 rating. He's thrown four interceptions, two fewer than he threw all last season.

Rodgers does have the NFL's third-best completion rate at 68.8 percent, and is fifth with 10 touchdowns.

``It's on everybody, man. We've got to get better,'' receiver James Jones said. ``We're losing, so everything is zoomed in that much more. Everybody's under a microscope when you lose. If we was winning right now, 5-0, and we were still playing the way we're playing, it'd probably be a whole different story. But we've got to win.''

Injuries haven't helped matters. Receiver Greg Jennings has missed two games with a groin problem, and has said he won't play until he is 100 percent healthy so it doesn't slow him down the rest of the season. Running back Cedric Benson, who has had 71 of the team's 111 carries, is out at least eight weeks with a sprained left foot. Tight end Jermichael Finley is nursing a bum right shoulder, though he insists he'll play Sunday. D.J. Williams tweaked his hamstring in practice Wednesday.

Raji is a game-time decision after he hurt his ankle against the Colts, and cornerback Davon House has a nagging shoulder injury.

But all teams are dealing with injuries. The Texans lost linebacker Brian Cushing, their top tackler, to a torn left ACL in Monday night's game.

And, really, injuries aren't the main source of the Packers' problems. It's a bunch of little things here and there that, when taken together, add up to a rough start.

``It's just the little details, being brutally honest,'' coach Mike McCarthy said.

While the Packers aren't panicking - ``It's a punk mentality, frankly,'' McCarthy said. ``I think it's a loser mentality'' - there is a sense of urgency. Chicago, off this week, and Minnesota have a two-game lead on Green Bay, and the Packers can't afford to let that gap widen much more.

``I really don't want to just sit here and say it's a must win and all that stuff. We just need to go out there and play well,'' Jones said. ``Stack success and go onto the next game and play well. We've got too many ups and downs right now where, at times, we play well and then we're inconsistent.

``We just need to go out there and play a complete game and look up at the scoreboard when it's all said and done.''

Besides, the Packers better than anyone know it's not too late. After all, they started the 2010 season 3-3 and were 8-6, needing to win the last two games just to make the playoffs.

Look how that turned out.

Green Bay ripped off six straight wins, capping the run with a victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

``It's really how you finish a season that matters,'' Rodgers said. ``I think we all know that.''

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Drafting a first round QB outside of the top two picks has largely backfired

Drafting a first round QB outside of the top two picks has largely backfired

Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are two quarterbacks who were taken in the middle of the 2017 NFL Draft's first round, and they serve as two recent examples that you don't have to have a pick at the top of that round to land a star passer.

Problem is, they're basically the only recent examples, too.

In the past decade, teams who've tried to find their franchise signal-caller in the first round outside of either the first or second pick have failed time and time again. Since 2009, those prized QBs have mostly been selected No. 1 or No. 2 overall or mined beyond the first round. 

The following list, compiled by Redskins Talk co-host Mitch Tischler, shows how many mediocre to straight-up bad options franchises have found using picks 3-32:

  • Mark Sanchez — 2009 pick No. 5 — 37-36 career record
  • Josh Freeman — 2009 pick No. 17 — 25-36 career record
  • Tim Tebow — 2010 pick No. 25 — 8-6 career record
  • Jake Locker — 2011 pick No. 8 — 9-14 career record
  • Blaine Gabbert — 2011 pick No. 10 — 13-35 career record
  • Christian Ponder — 2011 pick No. 12 — 14-21-1 career record
  • Ryan Tannehill — 2012 pick No. 8 —42-46 career record
  • Brandon Weeden — 2012 pick No. 22 — 6-19 career record
  • EJ Manuel — 2013 pick No. 16 — 6-12 career record
  • Blake Bortles — 2014 pick No. 3 — 24-49 career record
  • Johnny Manziel — 2014 pick No. 22 — 2-6 career record
  • Paxton Lynch — 2016 pick No. 26 — 1-3 career record
  • Patrick Mahomes — 2017 pick No. 10 — 13-4 career record
  • Deshaun Watson — 2017 pick No. 12 — 14-8 career record
  • Sam Darnold — 2018 pick No. 3 — 4-9 career record
  • Josh Allen — 2018 pick No. 7 — 5-6 career record
  • Josh Rosen — 2018 pick No. 10 — 3-10 career record
  • Lamar Jackson — 2018 pick No. 32 — 6-1 career record
     

That list is one the Redskins — who own the 15th pick in the 2019 draft and who are beginning to be linked heavily to Kyler Murray — should pay close attention to.

The 2018 class is too young to judge, and as mentioned earlier, the 2017 class is providing quality returns. But none of the other names on that list have turned into anything useful, not to mention anything resembling special.

Of course, if you go back farther into the past, you'll find that QBs like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were snagged during the meat of the first round, so it's not impossible. However, the last 10 years have shown it can be very difficult to nail a pick in that range.

The logic feels simple: The truly elite talents, such as Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, are snatched up immediately. The QBs who are found in the mid- to late rounds, meanwhile, are given more time to develop and/or find themselves on rosters that have been built up more.

Those non-elite first-rounders, on the other hand, are generally caught in between: not skilled enough to help turn around a team singlehandedly but, because they're high investments, they're forced into those tough situations and end up floundering.

There's no doubt that the 'Skins need a new hope under center. Where they should commit to that hope, though, is something that must be considered.  

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Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

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USA Today Sports

Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

Brian Dozier came to a realization following his rookie season in 2012. Why not hit the ball more often in the air and accentuate a strength? Instead of drilling to fix a weakness -- like opposite-field hitting or even ground ball rate -- choose to club away, in the air, to the pull side, as often as possible.

No en vogue terminology explained Dozier’s pursuit of six years ago. Omnipotent terms like “launch angle” remained shrouded and in development. Dozier didn’t need a phrase. He just needed to do what worked more often.

The idea took with career-altering results. Dozier hit 18 home runs, then 23, then 28, then 42. Pull-side fly balls turned him into an All-Star and commodity at second base. His new one-year deal with the Nationals brings him a hitting coach who is elated by the idea of hitting up and over.

Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long is the effervescent patriarch of launch angle. “We want to hit it over the shift,” Long will tell anyone willing to listen. Do damage, hit bombs, whatever slang term is preferred. Just hit the ball in the air. On the ground equals outs. In the air produces runs.

Melding a second baseman in search of a reboot after a down year with a hitting coach who is going to trumpet a cause the infielder already backed could be a powerful formula.

“When I changed my approach at the end of 2012 going into 2013, there was no launch angle, any of that stuff, but looking back at it now that’s kind of exactly what it was,” Dozier said Tuesday on a conference call. “We just didn’t have a name for it. “[It’s] recognizing your strength and doing everything you can to be really good at your strength rather than try to tweak weaknesses and stuff. And one of those strengths for me is hitting the ball in the air to left field, left-center field. Once I kind of got that part of it, I really enjoyed doing that. It’s going to be a fun year with a hitting coach that kind of sees the same thing, whether your strength is hitting the ball in the air or hitting the ball the other way, I believe in really honing into your strength and really running with that. Some guys’ strengths aren’t hitting the ball in the air, which is fine.”

The numbers coinciding with Dozier’s rise from eighth-round pick to among the league leaders in homers from 2014-2017 are stark. His fly ball rate increased year after year until peaking in 2016 at 47.7 percent, the same season he hit 42 home runs. His 120 OPS-plus in that span showed what kind of work he performed in Minnesota’s cool and spacious Target Field.

However, 2018 brought a significant recession when an April bone bruise in his left knee hindered him throughout the season. Tuesday, Dozier explained the importance of load bearing and stability from his front leg in order to execute his upward swing. Instead of landing on the front of his foot, the knee bruise pushed him back to his heel, opening his hips early. Grizzly results followed: 21 homers, a .215 average, sub-.700 OPS.

Dozier said Tuesday his knee is healed. Finally receiving a break from baseball following the World Series allowed him to recover. That’s also when he had to decide his future. Dozier wasn’t sure how the market would react to his down season following years of being one of the heaviest second base bats in baseball. He said he received multiple offers -- some providing more years and money than the Nationals’ one-year, $9 million deal he settled on -- before selecting Washington. Conversations with his ex-Minnesota teammate Kurt Suzuki, in his second stint with the Nationals, and former Washington outfielder Josh Willingham, who played with Dozier in Minnesota, too, helped sway his decision.

“It just seemed like a really good fit,” Dozier said.

That is applicable to this coming partnership between Dozier and Long. In the air, often and to the pull side. It’s a subtle pairing that could help Dozier return to the 30-home run mark, and the Nationals to receive inexpensive bop from an infield spot.

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