Saturday, January 21, 2017

Washington’s 2015-16 Season: A Cornerstone Or An Anomaly

Appeared on

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Well that was fun: nine wins (roughly three clear of Vegas’s preseason over/under line), an unexpected division title, a home playoff game (just the third in FedEx Field’s abysmal 19-year history), clarity at the quarterback position, stability at head coach and in the front office and an obvious off-ramp to exit the harrowing Robert Griffin III business. By any measure, Washington’s 2015-16 season was a resounding success.

Still, there were warts. Washington didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record all year and didn’t record a road win until December 13. Further, in the team’s only games against elite quarterbacks – Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers – Washington finished 0-3 and was outscored 106-44, including a season-ending 35-18 drubbing courtesy the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

But in a town sadly accustomed to frivolous free agent purchases, embarrassing acts by the owner and unimaginable losing on the field, these are not significant problems. It is only the quiet contemplation of long-suffering Cleveland Browns fans that cuts through the self-loathing of Washington’s faithful supporters. So no, a winning season and a home playoff game is nothing to feel bad about. Truth is, Washington was playing with house money after winning its eighth game of the season and securing a division crown with a victory over Philadelphia in week 16.
While Washingtontonians continue to gorge on the fatted calf and consume uninhibiting portions of the finest wine in wild, reckless celebration of football competence, there is this lingering question: 

Now what?

Prior to 2015, Washington’s only four playoff appearances under Dan Snyder’s ownership occurred in 10, 10, 9 and 10-win seasons in 1999, 2005, 2007 and 2012, respectively. What happened in the subsequent seasons tells a gloomy tale. In 2000, Washington won eight games. In 2006? Five. 2008? 
Eight. 2013? Three.

Notice the trend? It’s called undeniable regression…like bet your kids’ 529 accounts and your home on it regression.

The challenge for 2016 is clear: Break the cycle and prove that 2015’s success was a cornerstone to a meaningful run of quality seasons and not just another one-year anomaly managed by a self-destructive franchise’s oblivious capitalization on a league system that makes mediocrity the norm.
The pessimist’s argument starts and ends with the common denominator: Snyder. He’ll screw this up. It’s what he does. His impulsiveness will lead to inaccurate conclusions and impatient action. Good football people will be fired; head-scratching acquisitions will be executed. He’ll be polishing up those inherited Lombardi Trophies for another introductory press conference with another head coach before another president takes the oath of office. Just wait for it. Snyder the owner will condemn Snyder the fan.

Or not?

There are two reasons for optimism, two reasons why 2016 might not be like 2000, 2006, 2008 and 2013: General Manager Scot McCloughan and Kirk Cousins.

Snyder’s Washington teams have never had an empowered General Manger of McCloughan’s pedigree with cognizance over the roster.  One could argue that Joe Gibbs met those standards in the mid-2000s, but Gibbs’s Act 2 personnel decisions seemed more collaborative than dictatorial and, if we are being honest, GM Gibbs was far inferior to Coach Gibbs. In McCloughan’s first year, he exponentially increased the importance of the draft, made it clear he wanted to create a culture of toughness and rewarded hard work and production, not unsupported reputation and hype…you know, the substantive stuff that successful NFL organizations do.

Kirk Cousins is the second to testify on behalf of the optimists.  None of those previous Washington playoff teams were commanded by a 27-year-old quarterback with an un-set NFL ceiling. Brad Johnson was closest, but he was 31 in 1999 and more of a known, dependable, unspectacular commodity. The 2005 and 2007 squads were quarterbacked by a 35-year-old Mark Brunell and a 36-year-old Todd Collins. Snooze. As for 2012…well…there will be books and short films about it. Griffin had the franchise and city in his hands until his insulted knee collapsed under the weight of his pride and the unconscionable mishandling by his coach, Mike Shanahan, and renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

But now there’s Cousins - the once curious and criticized fourth round pick and endlessly polite Griffin backup - leading the franchise between the lines. The jury is still out, mind you, but he blew away expectations in 2015 and deserves a shot to lead this team long-term. At worst he looks like a competent NFL quarterback; at best, he’s probably above average. Regardless, that assessment makes him a rare NFL commodity and something Washington hasn’t had, except for the pre-injury Griffin, since perhaps Trent Green in the late 1990s.

What 2016 ultimately holds for Washington cannot be seen. Yoda senses no disturbance in the force. Professor Marvel’s crystal ball is dark. The channeled spirit of Nostradamus is stumped. NFL football, riveting but brutally unfair game that it is, offers no guarantees. Washington could do everything right this offseason and still be undone by injuries or the whims of a bouncing football. But at least Washington has McCloughan running football operations and a capable, 20-something quarterback with some growing still to do. Those two gentlemen invite legitimate hope that 2016 will deliver something that hasn’t happened in the nation’s capital since 1997: a second consecutive winning season.   

No comments:

Post a Comment