NFC East: matt flynn

Giants actually add Josh Freeman

April, 16, 2014
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Even after we spent the past couple of days discussing it here, and even after Matt Flynn went back to Green Bay and left Josh Freeman as the last man standing in the New York Giants' search for an extra quarterback for the offseason, it was still hard to believe it would happen. Freeman washed out of two organizations last year, and the one game he played for the Vikings after the Buccaneers cut him was hardly a helpful audition. You'll remember that "Monday Night Football" fiasco as the Giants' first victory of the season, and the fact Freeman obviously wasn't at all prepared to play in the game was the main reason they were able to stop their losing streak.

Freeman
But they did it. The Giants have in fact agreed to terms with Freeman on a one-year deal, which means he'll likely be in the building next week when they start their offseason program and will be a candidate to take some of the snaps in OTAs and minicamp if starting quarterback Eli Manning's recovery from ankle surgery takes longer than expected.

I guess, if he shows something, Freeman could beat out Curtis Painter for the backup quarterback job. That assumes second-year project Ryan Nassib can't get into that mix, but given the level of his competition I don't know why he couldn't.

I know there isn't much out there on the quarterback market, and that Freeman was the best and most experienced of the candidates once Manning had surgery last week, and the Giants decided they needed to add a reserve quarterback. But if Freeman is on the 2014 Giants, I can't see how that helps them. Nothing we've heard about Freeman over the past year has indicated he'd be a useful backup. And while I'm willing to give him a pass for his ugly exit from Tampa Bay because I believe loony former Bucs coach Greg Schiano to have been at least as much at fault for their conflict as Freeman, it says a lot that he couldn't beat out Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder for playing time after the Vikings signed him in October. It also says a lot that this week was the first time any sort of market materialized for Freeman this offseason, given the state of the quarterback market.

So if you think Freeman is going to be some sort of diamond-in-the-rough signing for the Giants, or that having him on the team makes them better prepared to weather a potential Manning absence than they were yesterday, I'm going to take the opposite point of view. The best thing you can say about this move is that it probably can't hurt. But if the addition of Freeman has any impact on the Giants' 2014 season, they're in trouble.
In the wake of the surgery quarterback Eli Manning had on his ankle last week, the New York Giants are bringing in some veteran quarterbacks to have a look at them. Manning is hoping to be able to run by the end of May, and if that's the case he should be fine for the start of the team's offseason practices. But in case his recovery takes longer than expected -- or in case he's not able to participate in May and June drills to the extent he normally does -- the Giants know they may need a quarterback who can take some of the reps he has to miss.

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To that end, the Giants will host former Buccaneers and Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman and former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn for visits Tuesday. There's a chance they could sign one of them. There's also a chance they could send them both home and either keep looking or just decide to stick with their current backups, Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib. The Giants' preference would be that this all ends up unnecessary -- that Manning is fine in time for OTAs and they don't need Freeman, Flynn or any other outside help at quarterback. But there's no harm in looking, and there is plenty of potential harm in bring unprepared.

If I had to guess, I'd predict they sign Flynn. Freeman is the better player, the better athlete and the more accomplished NFL player, but Flynn worked with new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo in Green Bay from 2008-11 and again last year. And Freeman is coming off a bad year in which questions surfaced about his off-field preparation habits. If the Giants were looking for someone to play games at quarterback for them, Freeman might make more sense. But if all they're looking for is a willing backup who'll take whatever reps come his way for however long Manning has to sit out, Flynn is probably the safer play. But we'll see. You might have an answer by this time Tuesday.

Eagles should be in win-now mode

January, 31, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- It is a word the Eagles hated using for years and it's a word that doesn't really apply to the franchise now, just one year into Chip Kelly's tenure.

Rebuilding.

In evaluating the decline of the team in Andy Reid's final years, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman have said the big mistake was thinking the team was always one move away from a championship. In trying to make that one decisive win-now move, the Eagles instead made mistakes that weakened their infrastructure.

[+] EnlargeHowie Roseman
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsGM Howie Roseman has said the Eagles will avoid lavish free-agent deals.
But it would also be a mistake to go too far the other way. The Eagles are not a rebuilding team right now. They were 10-6 and are defending NFC East champions. They have an offensive team with key skill players in the prime of their careers: LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. The offensive line, which is vital to the team's success, has three starters over the age of 30.

The goal should be simple: Keep adding talent around those core players until the Eagles are at the elite level of the teams that will play in the Super Bowl Sunday. That means using every tool available, including spending money on free agents when it is warranted.

The Denver Broncos weren't exactly thinking about a five-year plan when they signed Peyton Manning two years ago. The Seattle Seahawks splurged on a quarterback in free agency that same offseason. They signed Green Bay's Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract.

Manning had one of the great seasons ever and will start for the Broncos Sunday. Flynn is back in Green Bay as a backup. Russell Wilson became Seattle's starter and quickly emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.

If the Broncos had ruled out high-priced, quick-fix free agents, the Patriots would be in the Super Bowl. If the Seahawks had avoided drafting a quarterback that high after signing Flynn, San Francisco or New Orleans would be preparing for Tom Brady.

This isn't to say the Eagles should go crazy and throw big money at every flavor-of-the-month free agent on the market. But they also shouldn't rule out the occasional bold move. Yes, they were burned by Nnamdi Asomugha a few years back, but Reid's era of success was made possible partly by acquisitions like Hugh Douglas (in a trade, with a new contract included), Jon Runyan and, well, let's just admit it, Terrell Owens.

Roseman has said repeatedly that the Eagles will avoid huge free-agent deals. That would seem to rule out difference-making players like Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and safeties Jairus Byrd of Buffalo and T.J. Ward of Cleveland.

And that's fine, provided the Eagles are able to obtain high-quality players in other ways. Seattle got 16-1/2 sacks in the 2013 season from free-agent pickups Cliff Avril (two years, $13 million) and Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million). Smart shopping is the key, whatever the price tag.

The key point is that the Eagles didn't make a mistake by signing marquee free agents. They made mistakes in player evaluation in both free agency and the draft. You don't stop drafting because you selected Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett, so you shouldn't rule out free agency because you signed Asomugha and Vince Young.

The Eagles made huge strides in one year because Kelly made excellent use of the considerable offensive talent he inherited, and because his overall approach in all phases reinvigorated a stale franchise. To make those next steps toward a championship-caliber team will require better players in a few key spots.

If Byrd, Orakpo or some other elite player can further that process, the Eagles shouldn't hesitate to go after him. There is no rebuilding, only building, and that process should be constant. The well-run organizations of the last decade understand that. The Eagles should know -- a few missteps aside, they're one of them.

Cowboys playing catch-up with Cousins

December, 20, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – With only one start under his belt this season, the Dallas Cowboys have done more research than normal in studying Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.

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They mostly studied the Redskins’ scheme even when Robert Griffin III was the quarterback, but spent time on Cousins' work last week against the Atlanta Falcons as well as some of his backup work this year and last year and some preseason work, too.

“You just get a feel for how he plays and how he fits within the scheme,” coach Jason Garrett said.

Cousins threw for 381 yards on 29-of-45 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss to the Falcons. He also lost a fumble.

He will be the fourth straight backup quarterback the Cowboys have seen, joining Matt McGloin of the Oakland Raiders, Josh McCown of the Chicago Bears and Matt Flynn of the Green Bay Packers. McCown and Flynn had four touchdown passes apiece against the Cowboys.

While not immobile, Cousins is not the runner that Griffin is.

“We’ve watched enough film to know that there is a difference,” safety Barry Church said. “With RG III, the running attack is a lot more opened up than it is with Cousins, but the passing attack, there’s no limitations on him. They go through the whole playbook. We’re definitely leaning more to the pass this week than in the past when RG3 was running all over people. This week there’s more emphasis on the pass, but we’ve also got to be aware of Alfred Morris because he’s a dog out there.”

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeBoyd_Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray and the Cowboys are focusing on winning out and attempting to make the playoffs.
Recuperative powers: If the Cowboys win their final two games, they will make the playoffs. If there is a message Jason Garrett is looking to sell as the team looks to rebound, that's it. The Cowboys' final two games are against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, teams they outscored 48-19 in meetings earlier this season. It's not the message a lot of fans want to hear, but it is what matters most as the Cowboys look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I feel good that we have a chance to beat the Redskins, and if we do that, we'll get a chance to play Philadelphia with an opportunity to get in the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I know when I see us lose a game after having a lead like we had at halftime, anything can happen one way or the other."

Pathetic work: On a day in which the offense gained 466 yards and 27 first downs, you would think everything worked well. It didn't. The third-down offense continued its season-long struggles as the Cowboys converting on just 2 of 9 chances. It was the third time this season the Cowboys converted on less than 30 percent of their third-down tries in a game. They are 56-of-159 on the season. Tony Romo said he has to be better on third downs, the receivers have to win in man-to-man situations and the blocking has to be better.

"We haven't done that well," Romo said of the third-down woes. "We have to do a better job."

No chance on D: At one point, the Cowboys fielded a defense that had three players who were not with the team when training camp started (George Selvie, Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin), two undrafted free agents (Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence), a sixth-round pick (DeVonte Holloman) and a cornerback (Sterling Moore) who was out of football until Nov. 25. Matt Flynn became the fifth quarterback to throw four touchdown passes against Monte Kiffin's defense, joining Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Josh McCown. Flynn and McCown are backup quarterbacks, and the Cowboys will see another backup next week at Washington with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking the Redskins.

Still producing: Jason Witten caught 110 passes last year, an NFL record for tight ends in a season, but he had only three touchdowns. He has 59 catches this year and eight touchdowns. Witten needs one TD in the final two games to equal his career high. His eight from Romo this season are the most the duo has combined for in a season together. With 59 catches for 703 yards, Witten is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, which equals his career best so far. He might not have the starry numbers of the past, but at 31, Witten is not slowing down yet, either.

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

December, 15, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys hope to keep their playoff destiny in their hands with a win against the Green Bay Packers.

At 7-6, the Cowboys trail the Philadelphia Eagles by a game in the standings, and a loss would mean the Cowboys would need the Eagles to lose in Week 16 to even make the Dec. 29 regular-season finale mean something.

Before the Cowboys can win three in a row, they must win one in a row.

Better at home: It took some time but the Cowboys might have figured out how to make AT&T Stadium something of a home-field advantage.

The Cowboys are 5-1 at home and the only loss was to then-undefeated Denver, 51-48, in October. But it’s not like the Cowboys have been dominant in their last two home wins. They needed a 90-yard drive in the final minute to beat the Minnesota Vikings and overcame a sluggish start to beat the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving.

The Cowboys are averaging 34 points per game at home and the defense, which has been bad, is a field goal better at home than on the road. The Cowboys have also had 15 of their 25 takeaways at home.

Overall the Cowboys are 21-16 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium.

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Another backup: The Cowboys will face a backup quarterback for the third straight week with Matt Flynn starting for Aaron Rodgers. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the last backup quarterback they saw, Chicago’s Josh McCown, tore them up in the Bears’ 45-28 victory. McCown threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and had a 141.9 passer rating. He also ran for a score.

Flynn threw for 258 yards on 24-of-32 passing with a touchdown and interception in the Packers’ 22-21 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Time to get going: With the defense almost in a complete disrepair, the Cowboys’ offense will have to carry the day.

But can it?

The running game has improved greatly. DeMarco Murray is averaging 96 yards a game on the ground in the past four games.

The passing game has been ineffective. Tony Romo has not thrown for more than 234 yards in his past four games. Dez Bryant is coming off a two-catch, 12-yard game. Jason Witten has 10 catches in his last four games. Miles Austin has four catches in his three games since returning from a hamstring injury.

The Packers are allowing 369.4 yards and 25.1 points per game.

Five Wonders: Tagging Jason Hatcher?

December, 3, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have had some time to wonder some things after their win on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders.

Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
  • Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
  • I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
  • I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.

Double Coverage: Raiders at Cowboys

November, 27, 2013
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Romo-RoachAP PhotoTony Romo's Cowboys host Nick Roach and the Raiders in a Thanksgiving Day duel.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders meet on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.

ESPN.com's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.

Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?

Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.

Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?

Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.

No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?

Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.

This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?

Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.

Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?

Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.

Redskins' season is on life support

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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Kevin Williams, Robert Griffin IIIHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe Redskins were 3-6 last year before storming into the playoffs. Such a run this season is unlikely.
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MINNEAPOLIS – They’ve been here before. They were 3-6 a year ago, the same record they have now. But it’s not the same. The only similarity is the record. Any talk of going on a seven-game win streak to close the season would be outlandish.

If you can’t beat a 1-7 team that is missing five starters and playing with an inconsistent quarterback, you don’t dare dream of the postseason. And if you can’t hang onto a 13-point lead against that team? Against the inconsistent quarterback’s backup? Then your season is over. Welcome to the Washington Redskins’ reality after their 34-27 loss Thursday night to the Minnesota Vikings.

Mathematically the Redskins are alive, and, sure, things change in a hurry in this league. But two years in a row? That's asking a lot, which is why they’re on life support. That’s the harsh reality for a team that entered 2013 with visions of going deep into the postseason. The goal now is to build momentum for 2014; otherwise, Washington will face much tougher questions than simply, “What went wrong?”

Yes, the Redskins had a chance to reach 4-5. They could have entered a game at Philadelphia with a legitimate chance to climb back into contention in the NFC East. But here’s the thing: Through nine games they have yet to show that they can play a complete game, let alone repeat it multiple times in a row. Their defense shows signs of life but remains bad. The only quarterback they’ve fared well against this season is Matt Flynn, who is currently looking for work.

They played well for a half against Chicago’s Jay Cutler, only to be carved up by his backup Josh McCown in the second half. They’ve played the run better and on Thursday did a nice job, save for a few runs, against Adrian Peterson. They wanted to make Minnesota one-dimensional, but that one dimension hurt. Too many receivers were open. Too many big plays were made at crucial times. And too little pressure was applied. Yeah, there was some tough field position at times. Make a stop. They did it a week ago at the goal line; the momentum did not carry over.

“Can’t let a team like that score that many points,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “That’s totally on us. We were sleepwalking at times.”

That’s not good.

But this isn’t about one game, it’s about how a team that reached the playoffs last season and returned 21 of 22 starters has fallen so hard, rarely -- if ever -- looking like a good all-around team this season. Don’t just blame quarterback Robert Griffin III’s knee. It hurt the offense, no doubt, early in the season, and there’s a trickle-down effect from his play -- good and bad. But Griffin has been running well enough lately to power the offense, like he did Thursday night. If there’s a positive it’s that Griffin is starting to reassert himself, playing his second strong game in a row. The Redskins need him to develop as a passer if they ever want to take that next step, so they don’t have to rely on his legs to make part of the offense go.

And if Griffin plays well down the stretch, then at least the Redskins can look forward with optimism. By forward, I mean to 2014. They can point to Griffin and running back Alfred Morris and receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed and feel good about that side of the ball. But those weapons failed on four shots inside the 10-yard line in the final minute against the Vikings.

Defensively? They don’t have the same building blocks and have more questions regarding players’ futures. Four years into this regime and the defense might need to be rebuilt again. It will be an interesting offseason on that side of the ball. The Redskins will be flush with cash but don't have a first-round pick.

Another obvious question: Will coach Mike Shanahan get a contract extension? He has one year left, and would be owed $7 million if he were fired. A strong finish, even without a playoff berth, would be enough. But about that extension -- you have to wait and see how these next seven games go. The character was evident last season, and it’s mostly the same players. But it’s not the same.

For this season, it’s just not enough, because the Redskins haven’t played winning football. It's botched special-teams play. It's costly 15-yard penalties, the sort they could overcome last year when they were rolling. It’s the lack of a legitimate return game. Details, man.

“Thought we’d do a lot better this year,” Morris said. “We haven’t been able to get it done. Lack of execution or whatever it is, been hurting us all season.”

When they were 3-6 a year ago, the Redskins were coming off three straight losses, but they had shown an explosive offense from the start of the season. They didn’t turn the ball over. When players said they could do something special, you weren’t expecting seven straight wins. But the belief they had then was real. A strong finish wasn’t unlikely. Is there that same sense now?

“Doesn’t matter, man, I don’t care about that,” Orakpo said. “We can’t keep relying on the past. We let this one slip. This is right there for the taking. It would have been the perfect situation.”

The Redskins cling to hope. By a thread.

“We still control our own destiny,” tackle Trent Williams said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

What they needed, though, was a win against a banged-up, one-win Minnesota team. They didn’t get it. The next seven games are about showing improvement, regardless of where it takes them. What they're showing now isn't taking them anywhere.

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Jim Haslett encouraged by defense

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Their first two games were atrocious, putting the Washington Redskins' defense in a position where it could go only one way: up.

Statistically, it has done just that in its past two games, which is why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is optimistic coming out of the bye. You can attribute part of that improvement to Oakland needing to start backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who has since been released, two weeks ago.

But Haslett points to other factors.

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports Coordinator Jim Haslett is pleased with the recent improvement of his defense.
“We did much better in the run, we created turnovers, we did a better job rushing the passer,” Haslett said. “We got better and better as we played, and as we get into what we do. We improved [dramatically] the last couple weeks.”

The numbers are much better from their past two games, against Detroit and Oakland, than the first two, against Philadelphia and Green Bay. After two weeks, the Redskins were last in yards allowed at 511.5 and were 22nd on third downs (44 percent). They also were last in yards per carry at 5.51.

In weeks 3 and 4 combined, they were 18th overall in total yards (369.5) and yards per play (5.64), and were 11th on third downs (30.0).

For the season, they’re still last in total yards (440.5) and 31st in yards per play (6.34), but 11th on third downs (36.4). The win against Oakland helped lower the total yards per game by 44 yards.

“We’re doing a much better job rushing the quarterback all the way around, even the back end when we blitz,” Haslett said. “That’s one area we’re doing well with, even from the first game. We’ve done a good job the last couple week stopping the run. ... The first game [against Philadelphia] we kind of got stuck in a situation where we weren't sure what we were going to get. I'll take the blame for that first game. We've gotten better."

The improvement on third down has been a major help. Since allowing a touchdown pass against Detroit early in the second quarter, the Redskins have held on 20 of the past 25 third downs. One problem against Oakland: The Raiders still managed 17 third-down opportunities, nine of which were for third-and-5 or less. If the Raiders had a better passing game that day, it might have gone different. But against the Lions, with quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, they stopped the last eight third-down attempts -- stopping the run made a difference here as four of those situations called for nine yards or more.

“We’ve gotten better at making them one-dimensional,” Haslett said, “and getting in situations where we can rush the quarterback. Stopping the run is No. 1.”

Nose tackle Barry Cofield said, "We're going to try to make them one-dimensional. But if the one dimension [is] they can throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns, it's not ideal."

Some teams, such as Dallas, don’t mind being one-dimensional. The Cowboys were just that in the Redskins’ 38-31 win against them last Thanksgiving. Quarterback Tony Romo threw for 441 yards on 62 attempts (his yards per attempt of 7.1 was below his season average of 7.6). They ran only 11 times for 35 yards, a result of falling behind by 25 points.

The Redskins intercepted Romo twice in that game.

“Did they win the game? That’s the most important thing,” Haslett said. “I don’t care if you throw 70 times. But if someone’s running the ball and you don’t have an answer for it, it’s a long day. If they’re doing both, it’s a long day. At least in the passing game we got turnovers. That’s the big thing.”

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
2:10
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins' 24-14 win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezRoy Helu showed he could be a solid replacement for injured starting running back Alfred Morris.
Sudden change: After three weeks of Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Redskins weren't about to complain. Oakland's Matt Flynn was not going to threaten them downfield as much as those quarterbacks, nor did he have the mobility to give them fits as Terrelle Pryor would have. So the Redskins caught a break. However, the defense deserves credit for how it played, holding the Raiders’ offense to one touchdown. Also, the defense handled the sudden-change situations well. The Redskins allowed a fake punt to be converted, giving the Raiders a first down at their own 47-yard line. The defense forced a punt three plays later. In the third quarter, the Redskins turned it over at their own 42. But the defense again held, forcing a missed 52-yard field goal attempt. How big was that? Washington’s offense then drove for the go-ahead touchdown.

Healthy Helu: During the summer, it was clear that running back Roy Helu, finally healthy, could become a weapon on offense. But, because of the lopsided nature of games -- and the inability to keep defenses guessing -- it has been tough to showcase Helu at all. But the Redskins saw what he could do Sunday, particularly in the open field. If running back Alfred Morris (ribs) has to miss any time -- the bye week comes at a good time for him -- the Redskins can still be effective running the ball with Helu. He’s not as patient as Morris and doesn't set up blocks as well, which leads to a lot more 1- and 2-yard gains, but he’ll hit some big ones because of his quick feet and speed. He’s more dangerous in the passing game and his pass protection was solid Sunday, too.

Turnaround game: The big question will be whether or not Sunday’s win signaled the start of something or was a fluke. Both sides of the ball continued to have some issues: third-down passing for the offense and consistency on defense (can they handle a good offense?) They’re fortunate the NFC East is struggling, which buys them some time. Still, they were tested Sunday and passed. Now they just need to win in Dallas after the bye.

Play-action success: Because the Redskins stuck with the ground game and eventually gained control of the game, they were able to use more play-action passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins used play-action on 24 percent of their throws in the first three games compared to 42 percent Sunday. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 10-of-13 play-action passes for 119 yards. Their offense works best this way.

Redskins 24, Raiders 14: Ten Observations

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:15
PM ET
OAKLAND -- Thoughts from the Washington Redskins' 24-14 victory against the Oakland Raiders:
  1. Santana Moss offered the best way to look at this game. He knows it’s hard to win in the NFL. He’s not beating his chest over just one win when you already have three losses. “Honestly, you’re not gonna sit here and be like ‘We’re world beaters,’ “ Moss said. “We won one game. I’m not gonna get geeked off one win. I understand this game. I’ve played it too long to know that this one game ain’t gonna make us great. We still have to go out there and be better."
  2. The Redskins deserve credit but the point is: We still don’t know what this one win will do, though they could be playing at the Dallas Cowboys for a share of first place in two weeks. It’s also true that the Redskins faced a team with its backup quarterback and with its starting running back exiting the game early. So, yeah, they should have done well against this offense. However, when you’re on the road and you go down 14-0, with a blocked punt for a touchdown, you can’t dismiss any victory by just saying it was against inferior backups. They still needed to make plays and they did. The Raiders’ defense isn’t bad.
  3. Even teammate Barry Cofield, who continues to be the best player on this defense as we saw again Sunday, knows to take this game for what it is. “It’ll be a tougher task [going forward],” Cofield said. “It won’t be the backup quarterback. Just like we didn’t get too down when we were struggling, we’re not going to get too high when we have a good performance.” We need more proof to think they’ve turned their season around. But they did what they were supposed to do and that’s a start. People worried during the week that even Flynn could pick this defense apart. He did not.
  4. One positive part for the defense was the lack of blown coverages that hurt them in the first couple games, often by rookie corner David Amerson. His big mistake Sunday was failing to get a jam on receiver Denarius Moore, leading to a 34-yard gain. Amerson also forgot to tackle Moore on one play in which the receiver went to the ground without being touched. A rookie mistake that Amerson has made twice this season. It didn’t hurt Washington, but it did allow Moore to get an extra three or four yards.
  5. But Amerson more than made up for it. He did so by knowing what the offense was doing and how he should play it. The Redskins applied pressure with Stephen Bowen coming off his man after a stunt with linebacker Perry Riley. The downfield coverage was sound and Amerson knew his man was the likely second read on the play, with Flynn looking high to low. When his first option, Rod Streater, wasn’t open thanks to DeAngelo Hall's coverage, Flynn looked to his second option, Moore running a shallow cross. But Amerson played it perfectly, undercutting Moore after his cut. With Bowen racing at Flynn, perhaps he didn’t see Amerson. Regardless, it was a game-changing play.
  6. I love the touchdown to Pierre Garcon. He simply beat his man off the line and also received a bit of a screen from tight end Logan Paulsen. That ploy works well against man coverage, which is what the Raiders played. However, Garcon really didn’t need the help on this one. He had his man beat.
  7. The hurry-up attack was a fantastic twist to the Redskins’ offensive attack, one they knew during the week that they would use. It wasn’t just about changing tempo, though that was a huge benefit. It also was a way to force the Raiders into a more simplified scheme. The Raiders present so many looks that they cause offenses to think a little too much, taking away from the ability to make plays. Especially an offense that has been as inconsistent as Washington’s. But when the Redskins went into the no-huddle, the Raiders could not change up their looks and it helped the offense generate momentum. They managed 92 yards on that second-quarter drive, ending in a field goal. “It was a spark for us,” Griffin said. “It caught them off-guard.”
  8. Linebacker Brian Orakpo needed this game. It wasn’t so much that he was terrible in the first three games – his pass rush last week wasn’t bad at times, but the short passes killed chances to finish. I also think people still expect him to be an elite rusher. He’s not; he’s a good one. There’s no way he can do this every game -- two sacks, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and two passes defended. He also had a big-time stop on a third-and-1 in the third quarter, leading to a missed 52-yard field goal. Orakpo needed to remind everyone he can still be a big-time threat. They need him to play that way for this season really to turn around.
  9. Playing on a dirt infield was a little different for the players. You could see players taking different steps when trying to cut on the dirt -- Alfred Morris slipped on the dirt when he had a chance for a nice run. Griffin tightened his footwork when running bootlegs on the dirt, just to make sure he had his footing.
  10. Linebacker Perry Riley admitted what seemed obvious: He blew it on the blocked punt. The Raider ran a little stunt on his side and he lost his man. “We worked on that,” Riley said. “Good call by them, bad play by me. No excuse for it. My fault.” It’s yet another breakdown by the special teams units that were criticized roundly for such plays the past couple years. The Redskins need to start getting more from this unit under first-year coach Keith Burns.

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 24, Raiders 14

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
7:26
PM ET
OAKLAND -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 24-14 victory against the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: Washington can exhale for at least another game. After an ugly 0-3 start, Washington's victory at Oakland enables them to enter their bye week feeling a little better about themselves. Yes, Oakland's offense is not that great when quarterback Matt Flynn is starting. But the Redskins needed a boost and Oakland provided one. The Redskins will not spend two weeks answering as many tough questions as they would have had they suffered their fourth straight loss. The Redskins showed a little more swagger in the second half on offense, with flashes of the old Robert Griffin III -- and a heck of a hurdle by running back Roy Helu.

Hurry up: The Redskins’ offense started to find its rhythm when they went to a no-huddle attack in the second quarter. They did not get a touchdown out of that look, but it sped the tempo and provided them with a little surge. It also seemed to provide some confidence. The Redskins do not like to use that strategy for an entire game because they feel it changes too much of what they like to do. But they favor it as a change-up approach, and it did its job Sunday. But perhaps the play that really turned their momentum around was a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie corner David Amerson.

Stock watch: Rising: Nose tackle Barry Cofield. The past two weeks Cofield has been the Redskins’ best defensive player. His quickness in the middle, plus his ability to handle -- and occasionally beat -- double teams has been huge. He recorded two sacks in a game for the first time in his career. The Redskins’ defense recorded seven sacks and made one stop after another in the second half. Cofield recovered a fumble caused by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan's sack.

Falling: Special teams. They continue to make mistakes each game and put the Redskins in an early hole when Perry Riley allowed a stunt to get past him for a blocked punt and touchdown. They’re not atoning for their mistakes.

Fortunate bounce: The Redskins received a number of good bounces a year ago when they’d turn their fumbles into touchdowns. That hasn’t been the case this season. But they received one huge break in the fourth quarter when Helu fumbled a third-down reception. The Raiders would have had the ball inside the Redskins’ 30. But an offside penalty negated the play. The Redskins ended up punting on the play; it could have been worse.

What’s next: The Redskins have a bye on Sunday before traveling to face the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 13.

Redskins Game Day: Ten Thoughts

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
9:00
AM ET
1. Running back Alfred Morris is running the ball well and his 2.10 average yards after contact is second among running backs with at least 40 carries. Last year, he averaged 1.92 yards after contact (per ESPN Stats & Information). Yes, that’s a hint to get him the ball more. I know the coaches understand this (I can hear you disagreeing, but trust me on this, last week notwithstanding). I’d like to see at least 10 first-half carries for him. As Robert Griffin III returns to form, rely on the guy who already is in form.

2. The issues that Griffin is having as a passer are similar to last season. He missed some guys, leaving the pocket a little early at times. He locked on receivers (saw it a few times last week, allowing corners to break hard on the ball) and he was a little off on some throws. But that’s where Griffin’s at as a passer and it’s why his legs were so important to his game last season (and simply why they’re important early in his career). But when you aren’t making big plays with your legs, the rest of your game gets a harsher look.

3. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Oakland Raiders' quarterback situation. Terrelle Pryor, who suffered a concussion Monday, does an awful lot to bail out their offense because of his legs. But is that because he’s too indecisive throwing the ball or because of breakdowns in the offense? Pryor is a legitimate threat on the zone-read option and, because of his size, will eventually run up the middle instead of taking it wide. He’s a long strider who runs more like a big running back than a quarterback -- and he will stiff-arm defenders. Pryor also has improved as a passer; less pushing the ball, stepping into it better. He’s not polished, but is throwing better.

4. One thing to watch: If Matt Flynn plays -- and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning that he will start -- what will be the impact on the receivers? Denarius Moore is the Raiders’ deep threat, but Flynn does not have as strong an arm as Pryor. Yes, he hit some deep balls with Green Bay in his start against Detroit once upon a time. But he also was throwing to a better group of receivers and had been in that system for much longer than he’s been in Oakland’s. However, this could increase the chances for possession receiver Rod Streater.

5. The real key, of course, is the Redskins’ defense. They continue to suffer from numerous mistakes, missed tackles and breakdowns. It shows the state they’re in that a game in which they allow 441 yards of offense and 27 points to an offense missing one of its playmakers is considered progress. I’m guessing the Lions didn’t care that the Redskins stopped the run; they kept stressing the secondary by putting them in spots where they had to make a play or get burned.

6. It’s a mistake to think the Redskins would be much better if they just played press coverage all game. They were burned on several occasions in that look against the Lions. This secondary is just not good enough to play one style.

7. The three-corner alignment suggests what we already knew: The Redskins have issues at safety. They just wanted their best defensive backs on the field and Bacarri Rambo has to prove he belongs in that group. However, with that you get occasional lapses by Brandon Meriweather. I’m still not sure why he drifted left on the touchdown pass to tight end Joseph Fauria last week. He should have stayed behind to double with Brian Orakpo, and Matthew Stafford was eyeing him the whole way. Meriweather’s reputation in the past was that of a gambler who guessed wrong too often. He does add energy and is Washington's best safety, but it’s something to continue watching. It’s why other teams let him leave.

8. Eventually David Amerson might become a top corner; opinions are mixed. But, for now, his “rookie mistakes” have hurt the Redskins in the past two games, whether from guessing wrong or not making the proper reads or adjustments. And when he does it’s often a play that goes for 30-plus yards. Can you blame that on coaching? Not sure how when you look at some of his mistakes and the fact that 10 other defenders played it right. Amerson is learning how much responsibilities can change week to week and he’ll have to adjust. It will take a lot of studying and effort; will he put in that time? He will if he wants to succeed. In the meantime, there’s no way every offensive coordinator won’t test him. Or anyone else in the secondary for that matter.

9. A key to disrupting those quick passes? Interior pressure. That’s why it was a good sign for the Redskins with how well nose tackle Barry Cofield played last week. He’s beating double teams, something no one else up front has been doing. It was the best performance by a Redskins defender this season. If the Redskins stick with their base front, they should have good success against the Raiders’ ground game -- especially with Flynn at quarterback, removing the zone-read option.

10. How good is the Raiders’ defense? It was picked apart by Peyton Manning, but that’s no disgrace. The Raiders will blitz; they like to use movement in the middle. But they’ll also send corners off the edge. Corner Tracy Porter’s presence is vital to this secondary. And Charles Woodson still has something left. Wish I could show you this, but instead I’ll tell you: Against the Jaguars, Woodson ran to his right in pursuit of running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the red zone. Jones-Drew was cutting to the outside of his tackle, engaged in a block but falling. Woodson dived over the tackle, grabbed Jones-Drew by the pads and pulled him down. Just an unreal play.
Alfred Morris and Darren McFaddenUSA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris and Darren McFadden combined to account for three touchdowns in Week 3.
The Washington Redskins, with their still-healing franchise quarterback seemingly rounding back into shape, are 0-3 for the first time since 2001.

The Oakland Raiders, with their young quarterback in question after a concussion, are coming off a spanking on national television.

Something has to give Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET in Oakland, right?

Washington team reporter John Keim and Raiders team reporter Paul Gutierrez break down this week’s rematch of Super Bowl XVIII.

Paul Gutierrez: John, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the heart of Silver and Blackdom, what with Terrelle Pryor’s first-ever concussion putting his availability to play Sunday in serious doubt. Many critics of running quarterbacks say this is the risk they take -- more hits. From afar, it seems the shine is off Robert Griffin III a bit, and not just because his team is winless and the catcalls have the young QB being called RG0-3. Is he already at a career crossroads, or are we simply seeing a young signal-caller dealing with adversity after a devastating injury?

John Keim: I think it’s a combination of both, Paul. Griffin does not want to rely on his legs as a quarterback, using them only as an occasional weapon. Eventually I think he’ll get there, but he’s not a refined passer just yet. So he still needs to evolve and that’s where the injury comes in: He still needs his legs to be a dynamic player and because of the injury he’s still not quite himself. When he was at Baylor they used a rather elementary passing game. I think he’ll eventually blossom as a passer because he throws the ball well, is smart and works hard. But he’s not at that point yet. Paul, along those lines, the Raiders’ defense does not have good stats against the pass. Is that just because they’ve faced Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning in two of the first three weeks? Or are there real issues here?

Gutierrez: True, the Raiders have faced Luck and Manning in two of their first three games and lost both. Yet stats-wise, Oakland is a middle-of-the-pack defense when it comes to defending the pass, ranking 16th in passing yards allowed per game. And really, at this stage, the Raiders will take it, especially after beginning the season with nine new starters on defense and then losing strong safety Tyvon Branch in Week 2 against Jacksonville on a blitz. What’s really sticking in their craw is the lack of interceptions by the Raiders. As in zero. No picks. None. As Charles Woodson put it after the clinic Manning put on against them on "Monday Night Football," it’s something the secondary especially has to make a concerted effort on this week. So I’d expect the Raiders to take a page out of Denver’s defensive playbook by stacking the box and daring RG III to beat them through the air, rather than on the ground. If that is Oakland’s strategy, might that backfire on the Raiders? Or does the threat of RG III turning the corner on a zone read actually open up the play-action pass?

Keim: That’s definitely the strategy I would take right now. Detroit did it last week, daring Griffin to beat them with his arm and not his legs. Actually, they weren’t afraid of his legs. On one of the zone read runs he made Sunday, Detroit sent both the end and the linebacker at Alfred Morris. They were more worried about him running. It will be this way until Griffin shows that he not only can run, but can hurt a team while doing so. I will say that Griffin was really close to having a good game against Detroit. They were using more play-action -- and a 57-yarder off this play-action was dropped in the end zone. If not for that play and Griffin’s late fumble off a 21-yard scramble, his game would look different. But even if the Raiders use eight in the box the Redskins will try to run. Everything works better when that’s their focus and it sets up what was a lethal play-action game a year ago. What does your gut tell you about who will play quarterback this week for the Raiders? And could you break down where Pryor’s game is, as well as Matt Flynn’s? Obviously their offense would look much different with Pryor than with Flynn.

Gutierrez: The gut, especially with Pryor having yet to be cleared to practice as of Wednesday, tells me that Matt Flynn will get the call. And the locals will not be happy. Pryor has become a huge fan favorite and his skills are as raw as he is electrifying. His pocket presence has improved as has his downfield passing. He simply does not look like the same scattershot guy who was a dark-horse favorite to be the Raiders’ No. 3 quarterback after the draft. He has a presence about him that did not exist a few months ago and he is improving every week in this small sample size. Flynn, meanwhile, is the prototypical West Coast offense quarterback. He's accurate and mobile enough but needs time to let plays develop. He didn't get that in the exhibition season. He had a sore elbow and was under constant assault by the defense and had no time to pass. So the $6.5 million man was beaten out for the second summer in a row after signing a big-money deal. He admitted he was down but said it did not affect his preparation. And with Washington’s defense giving up record-level points thus far, maybe the stars are lining up for the chosen quarterback, or the guy who was supposed to be the franchise quarterback. Then again, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Like Mike Shanahan and the Raiders. Hard to believe it’s been a quarter of a century since he was hired by Al Davis in Los Angeles. Not so hard to think he still harbors resentment toward the Raiders. Has that come up at all during Raiders week? After all, he says Al Davis still owed him money.

Keim: Mike talked about that today and says he had a lot of respect for Al, even though they had their differences. Knowing Mike, he’d still like to stick it to that franchise. He’s a competitive guy who loves beating people or teams that he has a grudge with. He used to save articles when he was with Denver and then bring them out after the Super Bowl to remind the writers that they were wrong. And we all know the story about the time he was on the field before the game and one of his players threw a ball at Al (Steve Young, I believe). This is also the first time Shanahan has played an AFC West team since he left Denver. I’m sure those old feelings are still there; after all, he spent a brief time there and then spent a number of years wanting to beat them twice a year. Those feelings don’t just fade away, especially in a guy like Shanahan. But right now, he has bigger things to worry about than any money Al Davis might have owed him. It seems like the Raiders have been without hope for a while. Where is the hope now -- and what should the Redskins be concerned with?

Gutierrez: The hope, from the fans’ perspective, resides in Pryor’s arm and legs. Realistically, it’s in the Raiders having some semblance of continuity. Consider: Since Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season, the Raiders have had seven coaches in 11-plus seasons in Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson and now Dennis Allen. The message from general manager Reggie McKenzie is that he’s getting closer to putting a product on the field that resembles his vision. The Raiders will have a lot of money to spend in free agency next year but McKenzie said he will not be shopping at Macy’s. Hope and change -- you being in the District should be familiar with such talk, no? -- come with gradual improvement, and continuity being allowed to foster, so to speak.

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