1. Yes, RG3 looked phenomenal. The heralded rookie had a near-flawless debut in one of the toughest venues in the NFL. The Saints’ defense was decimated (and frankly, played terribly) and the offseason drama undoubtedly affected the team, but Griffin did what a good quarterback does – he took advantage of what was given to him.
And looking past the stats, there was even more to love. After losing his number one target, Pierre Garcon, for the last three quarters, Griffin didn’t shy away. He started 7/7 for 123 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, and kept it up for the rest of the game as well. He went 12/19 the rest of the way, for 197 yards and a touchdown. Entering the second half with a six-point lead after the Saints returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, Griffin refused to let the team cave and promptly led the offense on a touchdown drive for a 27-14 lead.
He ran when he had to, not when he wanted to, and made throws that defied imagination, particularly this gem to Fred Davis.
The most important thing? RG3 had zero turnovers. On a day when rookie quarterbacks generally stunk, Griffin put on a sterling performance that could have a ripple effect as the season continues.
Another interesting stat: the Redskins offense wasn’t that great on third down, but they had far fewer than they could have. RG3 went a ridiculous 6/6 with 111 yards on second and long (6+ yards).
2. The defense put together a game for the ages. When you allow 32 points, it’s tough to assume a good defensive performance. But as good as RG3 was yesterday, the Redskins’ defense was just as impressive. Matching up against one of the best offenses in NFL history from a year ago, the front seven got pressure all day and the maligned secondary played superb man-to-man coverage for most of the game.
The Redskins held the Saints to 358 yards of offense, the Saints’ lowest yardage output since compiling 283 yards at St. Louis on Oct. 30, 2011. Drew Brees, who set an NFL record with a 71.2 completion percentage last season, was held to a shocking 46.2%.
The high-powered Saints never go in a rhythm and ran for a grand total of 32 yards on ten carries. It may have been one of the best defensive performances on the Mike Shanahan era. The Saints came back at the end, but it was mostly junk time.
3. The Shanahans drew up a beautiful gameplan. Where to start? The Shanahans simply outcoached the Saints, and worked a beautiful game. They smartly got Griffin into a rhythm with screens and dump-offs at the beginning, and utilized play action fakes to maximum efficiency. They stuck with the running game from start to finish and generally had the Saints’ number all afternoon. The most telling statistics of a well-coached game are turnover differential and time of possession. The Redskins won the turnover battle 2-0, and simply dominated possession, holding the ball for a shade under 20 minutes more than New Orleans.
4. Billy Cundiff could be a godsend. Graham Gano had a couple of four-field goal games as a Redskin, but none came in a win. Against the Saints, Cundiff went 4/4, with two 37-yarders and a pair of 41-yarders – only the first of which was even remotely in doubt. Not only did Cundiff put a very important 16 points on the board (including extra points), he did something even more critical – by making the long field goals, he never gave the Saints great field position. If he had missed even one, it’s hard to imagine Drew Brees failing to take advantage of the short field. In a game where every cog of the team seemed to contribute, Cundiff put together a superb game that was just as good as performance as any other on the afternoon.
5. This should have been a good, old-fashioned blowout. Think about it. The Redskins were winning 20-7 with 40 seconds left in the first half, primed to receive the ball in the third quarter and perhaps drive for a touchdown and a 20-point lead. As it happened, the Saints blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, making it 20-14 at halftime.
The Saints also scored on a long touchdown pass on fourth-and-10 late in the game. And then they scored again on a fourth down with only a few minutes left. So put it this way: if the Redskins had not allowed the punt block, and had held just a play longer on two drives, we’re talking about a score somewhere in the range of 40-21.
But of course, they won the game – so we’re just nitpicking here.
3 Things on San Francisco
The Nationals played some of the best baseball we’ve seen them play all year in a thoroughly entertaining 3-game demolition of the San Francisco Giants, formerly the No. 2 team in the N.L. Here are five things to take away from the sweep:
1. The Back End
The Nats beat a very good team with the back end of their rotation. The Giants have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball, but even their top three starters couldn’t hang with the Nats. The combination of Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, and another stellar series by the bullpen allowed the Nats to post a very respectable 3.66 ERA in the three games.
2. Hitting the Best
When the Nats plated 35 runs in four games at Coors Field, it was easy to suggest that the notoriously thin air of Colorado was to blame. Not so, apparently. The Nats scored 24 runs against the Giants – good for an even eight runs per game – something that just doesn’t happen. San Fran came in to the series with a 3.37 team ERA, and left with an ERA 15 points higher.
3. No Fluke
Perhaps the most amazing stat of the series? In the last 2 years, the Giants were 74-1 in games in which they led by three or more runs. The Nats somehow managed to grab two such wins in two nights, an accomplishment that speaks to something very important: we may be beyond the point where we simply think the Nats’ bats are hot. Perhaps it’s just the potential finally coming through.
3 Things on Colorado
1. Home Cookin’
The Nats entered Colorado a few weeks ago with a 2.95 team ERA. In the four games at Coors Field, that pristine ERA, which had been under 3.00 for 63 of 70 games, shot up to 3.11, thus proving that no pitching staff escapes Colorado with good stats. What does that mean for the Nats? It means they get to face the Rockies at home, where the pitching staff is decidedly better. Sweep?
2. The Matchups
There really isn’t much to say here, except this:
Strasburg (2.81) vs Pomeranz (3.72)
Gonzalez (3.01) vs Francis (5.16)
Zimmermann (2.70) vs Guthrie (6.28)
3. Heading to the break on fire.
If the Nats manage to sweep the Rockies, as they are entirely capable of doing, they will be riding a 7-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. Since you never know how a team will perform in the week or so after the break, going into the break with such confidence is critical. The Nats can’t get overconfident – falling in a series to the Rockies could be very detrimental to the rest of the season.
The Washington Nationals are like autumn leaves – they look pretty good, but are fragile to even the slightest touch. I know that’s an awful comparison (I’ve never been one for similes, and I never will be), but it’s a pretty good personification of a baseball team that simply can’t catch a single break.
That the Nationals are 21-13 is almost hard to believe. They’ve lost so many players to injuries, it’s entirely conceivable that they could field a winning team with their DL (tune in later for an interesting perspective on that). Among the names gracing the list of the fallen are C Wilson Ramos (torn ACL, out for the year), OF Jayson Werth (broken left wrist, 6-12 weeks), OF/1B Michael Morse (strained right lat), Closer Drew Storen (elbow), and SP Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring, close to return).
One can only imagine how good this baseball team could end up being when it’s entirely healthy. But until that glorious day arrives, we are faced with the question: Will this season turn into a “what if” year?
How depressing would it be to see a Nationals team done in at the end of the year by one injury too many? In a game of inches, one injury could be the difference between making the playoffs and failing to do so. For all we know, Jesus Flores could be at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two on and two out in a 4-3 game – the 162nd game to be precise, a win-or-go-home situation – and strike out in a situation where Wilson Ramos could have brought home the winning runs. What if Drew Storen re-injures his elbow in September and Henry Rodriguez blows the save that could have won the division?
Injuries are something that every team has to deal with, but a team like the Nationals really can’t afford to have too many. Even with Werth, Ramos and Morse in the lineup last season, this was a below average offense at best. Without those players, the Nats have to be thankful for guys like Adam LaRoche, who has basically put the team on his back and is carrying it offensively.
One thing the Nationals have going for them is that their pitching is so dominant, they will be in almost every game no matter how banged up the batting order is. A heavily injured lineup should still be able to score 3 runs in a game (ironically, about what a healthy Nats lineup might average), and the pitching is so good that the Nats could probably get a win in a game like that.
But the fact remains: injuries are heavily impacting the Nats through 34 games. There are 127 games left. That’s plenty of time to either get healthy or to crowd the D.L. even more. At the end of the year, we will be faced with two possibilities – a team that used all it had to make the playoffs, or a team that missed the postseason simply because it was too banged up to be consistently competitive.