Nationals

Shanahan: Redskins have reached 'must-win' stage

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Shanahan: Redskins have reached 'must-win' stage

WASHINGTON (AP) Mike Shanahan called the next game a ``must-win'' and swore at himself for putting Robert Griffin III in harm's way on a trick play. The coach said injuries were largely to blame for having the worst pass defense in the NFL and gave reasons why the outlook for the Washington Redskins should improve.

Shanahan was in a more candid mood than usual on Monday.

Maybe it was because Hurricane Sandy forced Shanahan to hold his news conference over the telephone instead of in an auditorium. Or possibly because his team is 3-5 and seemingly can't stop anybody. Then again, it could have possibly been because a loss to the bottom-of-the-NFC Carolina Panthers would indeed signal that the Redskins are destined to be out of the running early once again.

``Everybody knows it's a must-win game when you're 3-5. ... If you have any chance at the playoffs, everybody understands at the midway point that you've got to start playing your best football or you're eliminated awful quick,'' Shanahan said.

The struggling Panthers (1-6) are good to have as a ``must-win'' opponent, assuming the Redskins players aren't looking ahead to the bye week that follows. The schedule gets tough afterward, with three consecutive NFC East games and the Baltimore Ravens next on the docket.

Whether the Redskins can break their playoff drought - and a string of four straight last-place division finishes - will depend largely on the 52 players who aren't nicknamed RG3. Rookie quarterback Griffin has been disproportionately responsible for whatever success the team has had this season, but, as Shanahan said after Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers: ``He's got to have some help.''

Against the Steelers, the Redskins dropped some 10 passes, committed seven penalties and allowed Pittsburgh to score on five of its first six possessions in Washington's first lopsided defeat of the season. Griffin has his worst statistical day so far - 16 for 34 for 177 yards - but he was playing catch-up all afternoon and lost his NFL lead in completion percentage because of all those drops.

The defense bears much of the responsibility and remains on pace to become the first team in NFL history to allow 5,000 yards passing. Shanahan said he thought the defense was going to be the strength of the team, but it's not the same unit he expected because of injuries to starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Brandon Meriweather and some backups, as well as Tanard Jackson's season-long suspension for failing a drug test.

``That doesn't mean that we're not going to improve in the second half of the season,'' Shanahan said. ``I think we've got some guys playing in a couple of positions that hadn't played there, and we'll work as hard as we can to change it up for the positive. When you do change six, seven people that would normally be dressing, you're not the same team.''

Despite Shanahan's vow that the Redskins would be among the NFL's disciplined teams, they instead remain one of the most penalized - third in the league in both penalties and penalty yards. Sunday marked the third time this season they have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the final minutes of a loss. Shanahan has cited mitigating circumstances each time.

This week's culprit was cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was ejected after taking off his helmet and berating an official. Hall is scheduled to meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell and could possibly be suspended. Shanahan said the episode wouldn't have escalated if officials had flagged Pittsburgh receiver Emmanuel Sanders for what the coach said was a ``full nelson'' wrestling move that put Hall on the ground.

``There's no question about it being a foul'' on Sanders, the coach said.

Still, Shanahan didn't rule out some kind of team punishment for Hall, pending whatever the commissioner does.

``If there is something that occurs, you've got to be strong enough to stay away from it,'' Shanahan said. ``That's part of being a good leader and a very smart football player.''

Shanahan declared himself not very smart on another matter, using an unprintable word to describe how he felt when he watched the replay of the hard hit on Griffin after the quarterback went out to try to catch a pass from receiver Joshua Morgan. He said it's a play he has run successfully with John Elway and Steve Young, but the Steelers had the correct defense called to stop it and that he should have told Morgan to throw the ball only if Griffin was ``wide open.''

Despite all that happened, the Redskins might have had a chance against the Steelers had it not been for the dropped passes, which were spread among the receivers and running backs.

``I think everybody can count on having a bad day,'' Shanahan said. ``But not everybody together.''

Notes: Shanahan revealed that P Sav Rocca, who shanked a 12-yard punt Sunday, is playing with a torn meniscus in the right knee, Rocca's kicking leg. ``Doctors told him it couldn't get any worse, and he decided to keep on punting,'' the coach said. ... Shanahan said K Kai Forbath was to blame for the blocked extra point in the first half because the kick was too low. ... Shanahan said he cut the usual Monday player meetings ``a little short'' because of the hurricane. He was also asked whether the team's new practice bubble can withstand the storm. ``I'm hoping that when I come to work tomorrow morning, that it's still up,'' he said.

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Washington Nationals second half preview

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Washington Nationals second half preview

The second half of the 2018 MLB season gets underway tonight, and the Nats find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture right now

In order for them to get past the Braves, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, etc., a number of things will have to go right in D.C. over the next 65-ish games.

A few questions will be hanging over the franchise these next few months, so to help break down what to look for during the Nats’ second half, I enlisted some fellow NBC Sports Washington writers to help me out, roundtable-style.

Without further ado, here are some second-half predictions.

Contributors:

Ryan Wormeli - @RyanWarmly
Cam Ellis - @KingsleyEllis
Michaela Johnson - @mjohnson262
Tyler Byrum - @theTylerByrum

Most important player in the second half:

Ryan Wormeli: Stephen Strasburg.

Everyone knows Max Scherzer is going to dominate as the Nats’ ace, and everyone knows Bryce Harper will hit home runs. In fact, assuming health, everyone knows the team will be pretty good at most spots. Strasburg, however, is the one that can take the Nats, to quote former Maryland coach Randy Edsall, from “good to great.” If he’s elite as their number two starter, this team is making the playoffs. Book it.

Cam Ellis: Bryce Harper.

Michaela Johnson: Bryce Harper, in the sense that it’s critical he gets hot again. Hopefully, his Home Run Derby win sparks something.

Tyler Byrum: Gio Gonzalez. 

There are a couple of ways to look at this. Of course, Bryce Harper needs to be better and Stephen Strasburg has to come back fully healthy from the disabled list for them to even have a chance. Even if those two do that though, it probably will not be enough to make a climb in the division. 

Last year Gonzalez had easily the second-best season of his career. With a 15-9 record and a 2.96 ERA in 2017, Gonzalez could easily be a No. 2 pitcher on half of the teams in the major. This season his ERA is sitting at 3.72 and has only won six of the 19 games he started. More than just looking at his stats, his outings are short too, making it to the seventh inning only three times this year. Additionally, the two-time All-Star is on pace to strike out the fewest batters this season than in the past decade.

Max Scherzer will get the Nationals a win once a week, hopefully Strasburg will get it done too, but Gonzalez is the Wild Card.

Nationals X-factor:

Ryan: An X-factor is someone whose play can dramatically impact the team’s success. If they’re successful, the team wins. If they play poorly, the team suffers.

This can apply to a number of players on the Nats, but I’m going to go with Juan Soto. He’s already exceeded expectations all season long, and helped keep the team afloat. They probably wouldn’t be within shouting distance of the postseason without the young phenom.

If Soto maintains his abnormally strong play while the rest of the team gets it going, the ceiling on this team is higher than any in the National League besides maybe the Dodgers and Cubs. If not, then they can still be okay, but probably not good enough.

Cam: Stephen Strasburg.

Michaela: Daniel Murphy. Since returning from injury he’s been solid, batting .324 in July. Davey Martinez has good discretion when it comes to resting vs. playing guys coming off injury, and I foresee a strong comeback for Murphy.

Tyler: Bryce Harper.

This is Harper’s team and it always will be with him on the roster. Yes, that .214 batting average is not going to win him a pennant, but Harper is so much more to this team. The 2018 Home Run Derby champion has to bring the fire to the Nationals night-in and night-out, whether or not he is able to get hits on the board. 

Some people want to question his leadership ability (we’re not going to touch that topic), but he needs to inspire his guys in the clubhouse.

Show us the Harper that we saw at the derby, even with a poor batting average, and we’ll see a different team out on the field in the second half.

Will the Nationals make the playoffs?

Ryan: I’m actually very on the fence about this question. I’m going to say yes, but it’s like 51-49. I just am too impressed with the Braves and Phillies, and the latter especially seems keen on making an aggressive move at the trade deadline.

Cam: Yes, BUT it'll be the wild card game at Nats Park and extremely stressful.

Michaela: If I was making a call based on what we’ve seen in the first half, obviously not. But I have high expectations for the second half based on a Harper resurgence and Murph recovery, so I’m going to say yes.

Tyler: Yes. There is too much talent on this roster for them not to. With Strasburg coming back it will be more than just Scherzer dealing out there. The Philadelphia Phillies should cool down at some point too and it will be a two-headed race between the Nats and the Atlanta Braves for the division.

More likely scenario: Bryce Harper is traded at the deadline OR he signs a long term extension in D.C.

Ryan: I figure everyone will say he signs a long term extension, and I’m not going to swim against the current here. It’s highly, highly unlikely that he’s traded at the deadline, but given the national conversation surrounding his future in the nation’s capital, I thought it was at least worth asking.

Cam: Signs an extension this offseason.

Michaela: He signs an extension, based solely on this quote.

Tyler: Signs extension. There is no way the Nationals will trade the leader of the team and the guy that just won the Home Run Derby on his own field. Sure it is fun to debate but that is the last thing that this clubhouse needs at this moment. 

On Monday night he showed his power and just why he is worth the lucrative extension.

However, trading Harper would be a typical case of #DCSports.

Who leads the Nats in batting average in the second half?

Ryan: Daniel Murphy. If he was never hurt entering the season, he could very well have been the betting favorite to lead the team in average all season long. He’s far enough removed from the Disabled List at this point to feel comfortable taking a shot on his pure hitting talent.

Cam: Anthony Rendon

Michaela: Juan Soto

Tyler: Trea Turner. He is due for a turnaround and none of the pressure is on him. There might also be some extra juice after his All-Star team snubbing. 

Biggest/most important trade deadline acquisition

Ryan: Going to go out on a limb here and say the Nats in a bit of a panic move but one that’s completely defensible, do what it takes to pry JT Realmuto away from the woeful Marlins.

Cam: Another starting pitcher. It's Matt Harvey Time!

Michaela: *fingers crossed* Starting pitching.

Tyler: Manny Machado, Dodgers. This is a no-brainer. Once written off a decimated by injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back to being a World Series contender once again. Sitting at the top of the division, with no one in the National League pulling away, Machado will put the Dodgers back as the team to chance.

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, July 20, six days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the cornerbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Pro Football Focus’ coverage metrics, although I did some juggling based on interception totals and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, running backspass rushers, and quarterbacks

1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals—The athletic Peterson has been All-Pro three times and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven years in the league. He hasn’t had a big interception total since he got seven in 2012, but that is mostly because quarterbacks only throw his way about once every ten snaps he is in coverage. 

2. Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—I could easily have ranked Ramsey over Peterson. I went with Peterson because he’s been doing it for longer and he’s only 28. Ramsey has justified his No. 5 selection in the 2016 draft. His long arms and ball skills serve him well. He has the size to defend the bigger receivers and the athleticism to be effective against shifty and speedy receivers. 

3. A.J. Bouye, Jaguars—If Alex Smith tries to throw away from Ramsey he will encounter trouble on the other side. It’s been trendy to say that Bouye is underrated for so long he’s in danger of becoming overrated. But he’s not there yet. Bouye was one of four full-time (played at least 60% of snaps) cornerbacks who did not allow a touchdown pass last year and he had by far the most plays in coverage. 

4. Malcolm Butler, Titans—If the Brady-Belichick Patriots don’t win another Super Bowl, the coach’s decision to keep Butler on the bench as Nick Foles shredded the New England secondary will be marked as the end of that era. Maybe Butler isn’t good enough to have made a difference, but it would have been interesting to see. He’s with the Titans now and he will give Smith problems in December. 

5. Marshon Lattimore, Saints—Last year’s defensive rookie of the year plays an aggressive style both in press man coverage and when tackling receivers who have caught the ball. An ankle injury sent him out of the game against the Redskins early, perhaps one of the reasons why Kirk Cousins was able to light them up for 322 yards and three touchdowns. 

Best of the rest: Desmond Trufant, Falcons; Brent Grimes, Bucs; Logan Ryan, Titans;k Jaire Alexander (rookie), Packers

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

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 6
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 20
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 43

The Redskins last played a game 201 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 51 days. 

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