Nationals

Teams get pass-happy vs. Redskins porous defense

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Teams get pass-happy vs. Redskins porous defense

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Passing yards are easy to come by when playing the Washington Redskins, to the point where other teams have figured out they don't need to run the ball nearly as much.

On first-and-10, the opposition is throwing 58.8 percent of the time, gaining a heel-rocking 8.4 yards per pass. It's pretty easy to keep a drive going when faced with a second-and-1 or second-and-2.

That's a lot through the air even in the pass-happy modern-era NFL. Overall, teams this year have passed 48.6 percent of the time on first-and-10. They're passing the most against Chicago (60), Miami (59.1), San Diego (58) and Washington.

Those numbers were relevant Thursday when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he wanted to talk about the ``positive side'' of a defense that ranks last in the NFL in pass defense. He pointed out, for example, that his players have done a decent job of stopping the run.

It doesn't take ``rocket science'' - to use a popular term of the week - to figure out why. Running against the Redskins might as well be a chance to take a breather in between any of the 29 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed by the defense the season. Every quarterback Washington has faced this season has thrown for 300 yards except for Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, who settled for 299.

``We're doing a great job on the run game. We're getting turnovers. We're scoring points on defense,'' Haslett said. ``We've got the fix the back end part of it. It's not just the back end - it's everybody, the coaches, we've got to get on the same page, make sure we're doing the right thing.''

Nothing has looked much uglier than the 77-yard pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz that decided the game in the final moments of the 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. The defense had the right call: Cruz was supposed to be double-covered as he raced down the field, but he ran past cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Madieu Williams as if they were part of his trailing entourage, not two people employed to stop him.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall caught some flak from the Giants for saying Manning didn't have to employ ``rocket science'' to complete the pass because the Redskins played it ``as bad as possible.'' Given how open Cruz was, there seems to be quite a bit of truth to Hall's words.

Four weeks ago, coach Mike Shanahan openly challenged the secondary following a 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. There's been scant, if any, improvement since. Coaches and players say it's not a matter of changing scheme or personnel; the players simply need to play better. To that end, Haslett used the word ``execute'' or ``execution'' eight times during his 12-minute session with reporters.

To be fair, the defense has played short-handed all season. The starting safeties were supposed to be Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather, but Jackson is suspended for the season after failing a drug test and Meriweather has yet to play because of a knee injury.

``I haven't really played with them to know what I'm missing,'' Hall said, ``but it definitely would have been a different ballgame so far this season with those two guys out there.''

In addition, linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker were lost for the season in Week 2 with injuries - taking a bite out of the pass rush - and captain London Fletcher's status for this week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is very much in question because of head and hamstring injuries.

With just an average performance by the secondary, the Redskins (3-4) could be leading the NFC East with an explosive offense led by rookie Robert Griffin III. Recent history says they don't have to improve but so much: Last year's Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots allowed the first- and second-most yards passing in NFL history, yet both coasted into the playoffs.

``We'll get all this fixed the best we can,'' Haslett said. ``Because as good as our offense is playing right now, it's exciting to watch. We've just got to do our part and not give up big chunks of yardage.''

Notes: Despite the return of Chris Cooley following a season-ending injury to Fred Davis, Shanahan said Thursday that Logan Paulsen is the No. 1 tight end. Paulsen set career highs with four catches for 76 yards against the Giants. ... Griffin's musical taste was on full display Thursday. The Heisman Trophy winner put on a sultry Usher tune at high volume as reporters entered the locker room.

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Nationals trade Tanner Roark to Reds for reliever Tanner Rainey

Nationals trade Tanner Roark to Reds for reliever Tanner Rainey

LAS VEGAS -- In a surprise, pro-active thinning of their rotation, the Nationals traded reliable starter Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday for a reliever who played in Triple-A Louisville last season, Tanner Rainey.

Less than two hours after general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters nothing was imminent, the team announced a deal to send a key rotation piece to Cincinnati.

The move immediately opens a hole among the Nationals’ starting pitchers. Roark could be counted on for 180 innings of work per year. He was mediocre last season, finishing with a 4.34 ERA. Roark delivered a 4.67 ERA the season prior to that.

But, Roark was a quality pitcher for multiple seasons despite being miscast in the bullpen in 2015 before returning to the rotation.

The Nationals have little to replace him. Joe Ross and Erick Fedde were expected to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Extracting Roark opens two spots for two pitchers the Nationals can not rely on.

Ross still has to be monitored following his return from Tommy John surgery. Fedde’s results haven’t shown he is ready for a regular rotation spot at the major-league level. There are few to no options in the minor leagues.

Roark was expected to earn around $10 million following salary arbitration this season. Sending him to the Reds puts the Nationals on the hunt for another starter, perhaps a younger one near the same price but with more years of control.

Adding to the oddity of the trade are Rizzo’s recent comments about the importance of pitching depth, as well as a statement that he would need to receive a starting pitcher in return for Roark.

What general managers say in public at the Winter Meetings always comes with a caveat as far as the truth is concerned, but both those points fit here, and yet neither were followed.

The right-handed Rainey has been clocked as high as 102 mph during his time in the minor leagues. He was 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 44 games last season out of the bullpen for Louisville. He could slot into the Nationals’ bullpen as soon as this season. He surely will be invited to spring training at West Palm Beach to receive a look. Command is his main issue.

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'Where is the humanity?': Chris Thompson opens up on the negative side of social media

'Where is the humanity?': Chris Thompson opens up on the negative side of social media

There are a ton of positives, from specific examples like what Derrius Guice has been able to do with Redskins supporters since being drafted or more general things like getting the chance to see what your favorite 'Skin is up to on an off day, that have resulted from the growing relationship between players and fans through social media. 

But with that increased connection comes increased volatility. Now, you don't have to be within earshot at a stadium to get on someone wearing Burgundy and Gold for a mistake they made or a loss they participated in. 

It's that second part — the constant criticism that largely goes unseen — that upsets Chris Thompson.

So, while he was responding to a question about Mason Foster's leaked Instagram messages, the running back made sure to comment on life as an athlete on social media overall.

"Dealing with the fans, it's hard because we're all human," Thompson said. "It's real tough when people keep coming at you and saying negative stuff towards you like we're not human beings and we're not supposed to say something at some point."

The veteran, who has distanced himself from things like Instagram and Twitter and has noticed how his mental state has improved because of that distancing, knows that ignoring the negativity is the proper route to take. It's far from the easiest route, though.

"Once you say something back to them it's like, 'Oh, you're not supposed to say anything,'" Thompson explained. "No, we're all human. If you say something, sometimes you should expect a response. And then on the flip side, there are some times we just gotta hold our tongue, and it's really, really, really, really hard sometimes. You don't know how hard it is."

Jonathan Allen is another Redskin who tries to limit his exposure to certain apps and sites these days. The fan interaction is something he enjoys, but in the end, it doesn't take much for those interactions to sour.

"The way I look at it, 99-percent of fans are great," Allen said. "They're supportive of what you do, they're always gonna love the Redskins. But there's gonna be that 1-percent of fans who aren't like that, and those are the fans that are gonna ruin it for everybody and give players the bad image of all the fans."

Thompson told one story of a recent message he got online from someone who blamed him for ruining his fantasy season by missing games due to injury. The 28-year-old couldn't comprehend how someone could write that to him while he's battling through broken ribs on both sides and an ankle issue.

Sadly, it was just one example that stood out among countless others, all of which make up the uglier side of technology in 2018.

"Where is the humanity?" Thompson said. "It sucks because we're not really looked at as humans. We're kind of robots. We're not supposed to have feelings, we're only supposed to show emotion on the field and everything should be about football, football, football."

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