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How It Should Be Remembered: The Redskins' Win Over Tennessee In Week 7
by Al Galdi
Oct 23, 2014 -- 1:56pm
ESPN 980

The Redskins improved to 2-5 with a 19-17 win over Tennessee on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 19, 2014).  Here were the 10 most important items from the game:


ESPN 980 Galleries 1. Overly impressive this was not


It was great to see the Redskins snap their four-game losing streak and win the annual Alumni Homecoming Game, and who knows how many more victories we’ll have to talk about this season.  But there was little from this game that has you feeling better about this season.  

The Redskins won despite going 0-for-4 in the red zone and 3-for-11 on third downs and totaling just 19 points and 16 first downs.  The Redskins now are 9-for-41 on third downs over the last four games.

The Titans, who fell to 2-5 with this loss, had three key players inactive: quarterback Jake Locker, running back Shonn Greene and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua.


2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was benched at halftime

Cousins committed two first-half turnovers and now has 23 turnovers, including 19 picks, over 14 career regular-season games.
     •    First-quarter lost fumble on a third-and-10 sack-strip by linebacker Derrick Morgan off working out of the shotgun but then displaying poor pocket awareness

     •    Late-second-quarter first-and-10 pick to linebacker Wesley Woodyard.  Cousins, operating out of the pistol, stared down his intended receiver, Andre Roberts.  Roberts did make a bad choice to go inside the defender, but, still, that’s a throw that Cousins shouldn’t have made.  Head coach Jay Gruden on this pick after the game: “That was a standard pass play that we’ve run for a long, long time.”  The worst part about this play was that it was the very first play off rookie corner Bashaud Breeland’s second-quarter second-and-20 pick.

Cousins had an early-second-quarter second-and-five offset-I-formation completion to running back Roy Helu Jr. for minus-three yards, leading Helu right into fullback Darrel Young and Morgan.  The drive did result in Kai Forbath’s second-quarter 31-yard field goal.
 
Cousins also committed three first-half penalties.
     •    First-quarter third-and-five five-yard delay-of-game penalty on the snap right before his lost fumble

     •    Second-quarter first-and-10 five-yard delay-of-game penalty on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s second-quarter 31-yard field goal

     •    Third-and-five 15-yard intentional-grounding penalty on the final play of the second quarter, concluding a hideous first-half-ending drive for the Redskins

Cousins wasn’t all bad in the first half, connecting on a second-and-nine 50-yard under-center play-action completion with tight end Niles Paul on the game’s opening drive (which resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 31-yard field goal) and finishing 10-of-16 for 139 yards.  

But Cousins’ confidence looked shot by the end of the half, and Gruden said as much after the game: “He’s been tentative a little bit here and there, a little bit more tentative than you would like him to, and sometimes he takes poor plays a little bit too hard.”

I am a fan of Cousins.  I supported spending a fourth-round pick on him in the 2012 NFL Draft.  I did not want him traded last offseason because of 1) quarterback Robert Griffin III’s injury history 2) Griffin’s poor 2013 season and 3) Cousins’ potential (which was certainly on display in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville and the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia).  

But I had no problem with the benching.  Cousins has proven to be a turnover machine, with too many of his turnovers being straight giveaways.  The goal for Gruden should be to win until the team is mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.  And benching Cousins, while obviously not an endorsement of him, doesn’t doom him as a Redskin, either, especially if Griffin gets hurt again. 


3. Colt McCoy was the Redskins’ quarterback in the second half, and he came through

McCoy went 11-for-12 for 128 yards, including a third-quarter second-and-nine 70-yard pistol touchdown pass to receiver Pierre Garcon on McCoy’s first pass as a Redskin.        

McCoy delivered on the Redskins’ game-winning drive that resulted in Forbath’s 22-yard field goal as time expired, going 5-for-5 for 38 yards.

Was McCoy spectacular in relief?  No.  Did he get lucky on the touchdown pass to Garcon, who literally ran by safety Michael Griffin after making the catch?  Yes.  But McCoy took what was given to him and, most significantly, didn’t commit a turnover.


4. Linebacker Brian Orakpo is done for the season

Orakpo suffered a torn right pectoral muscle and was placed on the reserve/injured list on Tuesday (Oct. 21), when the Redskins signed linebacker Everette Brown.  Orakpo also had been dealing with an injured left middle finger and an ankle injury.

Orakpo’s season ended with him having totaled ½ sack over seven games this season, during which he was playing on a one-year, $11.455 million franchise tender.  He has been good against the run, a point that was made by Gruden on Monday (Oct. 20).  

Orakpo did have his moments in this game, including pressuring quarterback Charlie Whitehurst on his second-quarter second-and-20 pick to Breeland.  But Orakpo had a missed tackle on rookie running back Bishop Sankey’s early-fourth-quarter second-and-one two-yard run on the drive that resulted in receiver Derek Hagan’s first-and-10 38-yard touchdown reception that helped to give the Titans a 17-16 lead.

This is the fourth time that Orakpo has suffered a pec injury over the last three calendar years.
     •    Jan. 1, 2012 – Week 17 34-10 loss at Philadelphia - torn left pectoral muscle in the season finale

     •    Aug. 18, 2012 – Preseason Week 2 33-31 loss at Chicago – left pectoral injury that wasn’t a tear

     •    Sept. 16, 2012 – Week 2 31-28 loss at St. Louis – season-ending torn left pectoral muscle


5. Redskins special teams, thanks in part some good luck, had their first net-positive game since the 2012 season

Forbath went 4-for-4 on field goals: first-quarter 31-yarder, second-quarter 31-yarder, early-fourth-quarter 27-yarder and the game-winning 22-yarder as time expired.  He is now 11-for-12 on field goals this season and 46-for-52 on field goals over his two-plus seasons with the Redskins.

Paul had a late-third-quarter fumble recovery off a muffed catch of a punt by running back Dexter McCluster, who made a mistake in fielding what was a terrible punt by Tress Way (just 28 yards).  The ensuing Redskins drive resulted in Forbath’s early-fourth-quarter 27-yard field goal.

Way had mixed game punting
     •    late-first-quarter 44-yard punt that was downed at the Titans’ 13-yard line

     •    late-third-quarter 28-yard punt that resulted in Paul’s fumble recovery

     •     fourth-quarter 52-yard punt that was downed at the Titans’ 33-yard line.

There were two major negatives for Redskins special teams:
     •    rookie linebacker Trent Murphy had a second-quarter fourth-and-five five-yard offside penalty on a Brett Kern punt, extending a Titans drive that did ultimately result in the second-and-20 pick to Breeland

     •    Roberts was underwhelming on returns, including an early-second-quarter one-yard punt return and a late-second-quarter 20-yard kickoff return


6. The Redskins’ defense, overall, did its job well

The Redskins held the Titans to 17 points, just 236 total net yards of offense, 14 first downs, 3-for-11 on third downs and 3.5 yards per carry on 22 rushes.  Hard to complain about any of those numbers.

Breeland had the second-quarter second-and-20 pick and two tackles for loss.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson led the Redskins with 14 tackles, more than doubling the team’s next-best total (linebacker Will Compton’s six).  Robinson was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday (Oct. 22).

Defensive end Stephen Bowen made his season debut off missing the first six games due to being on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list, which he was placed on this past Aug. 30 due to microfracture surgery on his right knee last Dec. 3.  He played on just nine defensive snaps and two special-teams snaps.


7. But the Redskins’ defense remained lacking in impact plays and was guilty of some key lapses

The Redskins totaled just one sack and three quarterback hits.  Whitehurst, a backup quarterback not exactly known for his mobility, evaded the Redskins’ pass rush on multiple occasions, including on a fourth-quarter third-and-six five-yard completion to tight end Delanie Walker on the drive that resulted in Hagan’s first-and-10 38-yard touchdown reception that helped to give the Titans a 17-16 lead.

The Redskins officially totaled two takeaways, but one of them was Paul’s late-third-quarter fumble recovery on special teams.  Breeland’s second-quarter second-and-20 pick was the Redskins’ first takeaway since the Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants.  The Redskins now have six takeaways over seven games this season.

Corner E.J. Biggers got beat on Hagan’s fourth-quarter first-and-10 38-yard touchdown reception that helped to give the Titans a 17-16 lead, getting fooled by Whitehurst’s shotgun play-action.

Receiver Kendall Wright ran right between safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather on a late-second-quarter second-and-10 14-yard touchdown reception.  Clark really struggled in this game when it came to tackling.
 

8. Redskins play makers largely delivered

Receiver DeSean Jackson drew a fourth-quarter third-and-two 22-yard pass-interference penalty on corner Jason McCourty on the game-winning drive, which resulted in Forbath’s 22-yard field goal as time expired.

The Redskins had two more receptions of at least 50 yards and now have seven receptions of at least 50 yards this season, exceeding the team’s output from the 2013 (three) and matching the team’s output from 2012 (seven).
     •    Garcon’s early-third-quarter 70-yard touchdown reception featured him beating corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson to make the catch and then literally running by Griffin.  Garcon finished with five receptions for 87 yards and the touchdown on six targets.

     •    Paul had a second-and-nine 50-yard reception on which he ran through safety George Wilson and stiff-armed McCourty.  The drive resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 31-yard field goal.

Young had two impressive plays on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s early-fourth-quarter 27-yard field goal: a third-quarter third-and-one 14-yard I-formation-handoff run and a nice catch on a high throw by McCoy off I-formation play-action boot on the final play of the third quarter, a first-and-10 10-yard reception.

Tight end Jordan Reed had three receptions for 25 yards on the game-winning drive and finished with five receptions for 54 yards on six targets.

A negative: Roberts failed to make the reception on what was a catchable ball on a second-quarter second-and-five Cousins shotgun deep incompletion on the Redskins’ hideous-looking drive that ended with the conclusion of the first half.  Roberts now multiple times this season has failed to make receptions on catchable balls.

Another negative: tight end Logan Paulsen initially was ruled to have committed a lost fumble on a first-quarter second-and-nine reception from Cousins off an under-center play-action boot on the game’s opening drive, but the play was reviewed and ruled an incompletion.  The drive resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 31-yard field goal.  It is worth noting that Paulsen had by far his best blocking game of the season so far.    


9. The Redskins’ running game was underwhelming for a fourth straight game

Running back Alfred Morris had 18 carries for just 54 yards.  He had seven carries for just 17 yards in the second half.  Gruden said on Monday (Oct. 20) that Morris missed several cuts in the game, and our own Chris Cooley said on Tuesday (Oct. 21) on The Drive on ESPN 980 that Morris had a chance for a 100-yard game had he properly read his keys and found the right fits.

Morris did injure his ankle on a first-quarter second-and-seven five-yard under-center-handoff run on a drive that resulted in a punt, but he soon returned to the game.

Morris also had another near-fumble, losing the ball off hitting the grass on a second-and-13 under-center-handoff eight-yard run on the game’s opening drive (which resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 31-yard field goal).  The Titans challenged that Morris was down before the fumble, but the ruling was upheld.  Morris has two official fumbles over seven games this season but also had two near-fumbles in the Week 1 loss at Houston (one was officially a fumble on Griffin; the other was ruled to have happened after Morris was tackled).  

As is always the case, the running-game struggles weren’t just on one player.  This game saw center Kory Lichtensteiger have his worst game of the season, although he, left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Chris Chester have been overall positives this season.  

Helu did have five carries for 29 yards, but 15 of those yards came on a late-second-quarter first-and-20 shotgun draw-play-handoff run on the Redskins’ hideous-looking drive that ended with the conclusion of the first half.  Helu also had three receptions that totaled minus-nine yards.

The Redskins exited Week 7 21st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (99.4) and tied for 16th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.1)


10. Miscellaneous notes:    

Cousins wasn’t the only Redskins starter who got benched.  Tyler Polumbus and Tom Compton split time at right tackle in the second half, though Polumbus has been dealing with a right knee injury.  Still, Polumbus was easily bull-rushed and had essentially zero punch when it came to his pass blocking according to Cooley.

The Titans hae 11 accepted penalties.  Redskins opponents now have totaled 38 accepted penalties over the last three games.

Inactives for the Redskins were:
     •    Griffin for a fifth straight game due to the dislocated left ankle he suffered in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville

     •    linebacker Perry Riley Jr. for a second straight game due to a sprained left MCL suffered in the Week 5 loss to Seattle

     •    receiver Aldrick Robinson for a second straight game

     •    corner Tracy Porter, who re-injured his hamstring in the Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants off missing the first three games of the season

     •    rookie tackle Morgan Moses

     •    rookie guard Spencer Long

     •    defensive end Clifton Geathers

The Redskins also played this game without:    
     •    corner DeAngelo Hall, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a torn left Achilles injury suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    nose tackle Barry Cofield, who was placed on the reserve/injured list (designated to return) on Sept. 9 due to a high-ankle sprain suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston

     •    safety Duke Ihenacho, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a fractured heal bone suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to season-ending surgery to repair ACL and LCL tears in his left knee last Nov. 21

     •    linebacker Akeem Jordan, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Oct. 18 due to a sprained left MCL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28 and then re-aggravated in the Week 6 loss at Arizona

     •    nose tackle Chris Neild, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Aug. 30 due to a torn right ACL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28


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10 Takeaways From The Orioles Getting Swept By Kansas City In The ALCS
by Al Galdi
Oct 16, 2014 -- 7:24pm
ESPN 980

The O’s were swept in a postseason series for the first time in franchise history.  The Royals became the first Major-League team to start a postseason with eight straight wins (something only possible since 1985 when the LCS expanded to a best-of-seven format).  Here’s what happened and why.


Game 1: 8-6 10-inning loss at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 10

Game 2: 6-4 loss at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 11

Game 3: 2-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 14

Game 4: 2-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 15
    

1. Neither team's starting pitching was very good


This was the first-ever postseason series in which no starting pitcher, for either team, threw at least six complete innings.

The Orioles’ starting pitching was terrible in Games 1 and 2 and just so-so in Games 3 and 4

Chris Tillman allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1, giving up seven hits and two walks.  The fact that manager Buck Showalter didn’t start Tillman on regular rest in Game 4 despite the opportunity to do so off the postponement of Game 3 on Oct. 13 said a lot about the confidence Buck had in his “ace,” who, remember, struggled in Game 1 of the Orioles’ three-game sweep of Detroit in the ALDS (threw 105 pitches and gave up two homers in lasting just five innings).

Bud Norris allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2, giving up nine hits.

Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings in Game 3, giving up seven hits and a walk on 80 pitches.

Miguel Gonzalez allowed two runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings in Game 4, giving up four hits, four walks, two hit-by-pitches and a wild pitch on 85 pitches.

The Royals’ starting pitching followed a similar script to the Orioles’.  James Shields and rookie Yordano Ventura combined to allow eight runs in 10 2/3 innings on 15 hits in Games 1 and 2, but Jeremy Guthrie (one run in five innings) and Jason Vargas (one run in 5 1/3 innings, six strikeouts) were better in Games 3 and 4, respectively.  


2. The Orioles’ offense was good in Games 1 and 2 but bad in Games 3 and 4 and overall was lacking its biggest weapon

The O’s batted .291 (23-for-79) over Games 1 and 2 but just .119 (7-for-59) over Games 3 and 4.

The O’s totaled just two homers in the series off leading the majors with 211 homers.  The Royals, who finished last in the majors with just 95 homers, actually out-homered the O’s in the series, 4-2.

First baseman Steve Pearce went just 1-for-17 with a walk in the series.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop went just 1-for-11 with two walks in the series.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy went just 3-for-15 with a walk in the series.


3. Nelson Cruz cooled off

The DH/left fielder began this postseason with two hits in each of the first five games (during which he went 10-for-21 with two homers and seven RBI), but he went 0-for-7 with a walk over the final two games of this series.


4. The Orioles’ most productive batter in the series was a surprise

Flaherty, who has been a bad offensive player over his three seasons with the O’s, blasted a solo homer in Game 4 and finished the series 4-for-12 with three walks.


5. Zach Britton and Darren O’Day struggled mightily in Games 1 and 2, but the Orioles’ bullpen ultimately delivered

Britton and O’Day combined to allow four runs in 2 2/3 innings on four hits and four walks in Games 1 and 2.  

Still, Orioles relievers combined to allow five runs in 15 1/3 innings (2.93 ERA) in the series.  

Andrew Miller tossed four scoreless innings over three games, recording five strikeouts.  

Kevin Gausman tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings over two games.


6. The Royals’ bullpen was terrific

Royals relievers allowed just two runs in 16 innings in the series, recording 15 strikeouts and holding the Orioles to a .172 batting average.

The Royals’ top three relievers (seventh-inning man Kelvin Herrera, eighth-inning man Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland) each pitched in all four games and combined to allow one run in 14 2/3 innings, recording 15 strikeouts.

Holland became the third pitcher to record four saves in a postseason series.  Dennis Eckersley (1988 Oakland Athletics, ALCS) and John Wetteland (1996 New York Yankees, World Series) are the other two.


7. The Royals’ defense was excellent

The O’s and Royals were arguably the two best defensive teams in the majors during the regular season.  And while the Orioles’ defense in the series wasn’t bad (though catcher Caleb Joseph did commit a catching error in the Royals’ two-run first in Game 4), it was the Royals who made one great play after another.

Left fielder Alex Gordon made a sliding-forward catch of a Pearce fly ball in deep left-center with two outs in the bottom of the third in Game 1.

Center fielder/right fielder Lorenzo Cain, who went 8-for-15 with two walks and won series MVP, robbed Hardy of two hits in Game 2:
     •    diving catch while running to his left on a fly out in right-center while playing center field in the bottom of the sixth

     •    running catch on a bases-loaded two-out fly ball as it sliced toward the right-field line while playing right field in the bottom of the seventh

Third baseman Mike Moustakas made two excellent grabs in Game 3:
     •    diving catch to his left of a Pearce line drive in the top of the fourth

     •    diving and backhanded catch over the railing atop the bullpen suite of a pop out by center fielder Adam Jones in the top of the sixth

Gordon made a running catch with the sun in his eyes while running into the right-field wall to rob Hardy of a hit in the top of the fifth of Game 4.


8. Game 3 provided two mini-controversies

Guthrie caused a stir by wearing a t-shirt that read, “These O’s ain’t Royal” after Game 3 (the line is in reference to the Chris Brown song “Loyal”), but he apologized on Twitter that night and in front of reporters the next day.

Pinch runner/center fielder Jarrod Dyson, who scored the winning run in Game 3 on a sacrifice fly, told CBSSports.com after the game that third baseman Ryan Flaherty “put the knee down” on him on a pickoff try of Dyson at third base.  Showalter the next day: “It's funny how imagination runs rampant this time of year."


9. The Orioles' TV ratings in D.C. were quite good

The following is courtesy of Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post and SportsMediaWatch.com.

Orioles-Royals ratings in the D.C. market:

Game 1 – 5.7

Game 2 – 4.5

Game 3 – 6.3

Game 4 – 3.8

(By comparison, Games 1 and 4 of the Wizards-Bulls first-round playoff series last spring received D.C. ratings of 5.34 and 5.7.)

Nationals-Giants ratings in the D.C. market:

Game 1 – 6.9

Game 2 – 9.5

Game 3 – 5.9

Game 4 – 8.8

O's-Royals Game 3 aired on a Tuesday night on TBS and had an 8:07 p.m. start time.  Nats-Giants Game 3 aired on a Monday afternoon on MLB Network and had a 5:07 p.m. start time, taking place hours before Redskins-Seattle on Monday Night Football.  Still, even when you consider all of that, the fact that O's-Royals Game 3 out-did Nats-Giants Game in the D.C. market says all you need to know regarding whether there exists a substantial Orioles fanbase in the D.C.-area.  


10. The Orioles on Oct. 9 announced the re-signing of Hardy

The biggest long-term item regarding the O’s may have been what they announced the day before Game 1: the re-signing of Hardy to a three-year contract extension with an option for 2018.  The deal is worth a reported $40 million.  

2015 will be Hardy’s age-32 season.  His biggest strength is his defense, which is excellent.  Since Hardy joined the Orioles in Dec. 2010, he is third among all major-league shortstops with 44 Defensive Runs Saved (Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons is first with 88).  Hardy this season led A.L. shortstops with a 13.9 Ultimate Zone Rating and was seventh among all A.L. players with 2.1 Defensive bWAR.

The Orioles’ re-signing of Hardy to a three-year deal despite him being in his 30s communicates two things to me:
     a.    The O’s see Hardy’s defense as so good that it overrides his offensive struggles.  He has been a below-league-average offensive player over his last three seasons.  Hardy’s OPS+ in each of the last three seasons working backwards (100 is average): 93, 99, 81.   

     b.    The O’s don’t trust third baseman Manny Machado’s knees to move him to shortstop, which is the position he primarily played in the minors.


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How It Should Be Remembered: The Redskins' Loss At Arizona In Week 6
by Al Galdi
Oct 15, 2014 -- 7:01pm
ESPN 980

The Redskins fell to 1-5 with a 30-20 loss at Arizona on Sunday (Oct. 12, 2014).  Here were the 10 most important items from the game:


1. Quarterback Kirk Cousins fell apart in the second half for the second time in three games


ESPN 980 Galleries Two games after throwing four second-half picks, including three third-quarter picks, in a loss to the Giants, Cousins tossed three picks in what proved a four-turnover fourth quarter for the Redskins, who entered the period trailing by just four points (17-13).
     •    Pick no. 1: first-and-10 at the Cardinals’ 47…Cousins working out of the shotgun…overthrows receiver Andre Roberts…safety Rashad Johnson with the interception…and a 30-yard return.

     •    Pick no. 2: third-and-three at the Cardinals’ 42…Cousins working out of the shotgun…Redskins inexplicably have three pass catchers in the same area, thanks to receiver DeSean Jackson giving up on his route and Roberts setting a weak pick on corner Jerraud Powers…Cousins still makes the throw…Powers with the interception…and a six-yard return.

     •    Pick no. 3: first-and-10 for the Redskins at their 14…Cousins working out of the shotgun…throws the ball into an area containing only Johnson…he makes a 28-yard pick-six that helps to give the Cardinals a 30-20 lead…  Cousins says after the game that he didn’t see Johnson on this play.

Cousins now has 18 picks over 13 career regular-season games.  Quarterback Robert Griffin III has 17 picks over 30 career regular-season games.  

Another negative for Cousins were the two sacks he took.
     •    The first play of the second quarter featured Cousins getting sacked by linebacker Alex Okafor for a 10-yard loss on a first-and-10 off I-formation play-action.  Okafor did push right tackle Tyler Polumbus back into Cousins, but Cousins failed to climb the pocket and was too locked in on receiver Pierre Garcon, as Jackson was open.  The next play, though, was Cousins’ second-and-20 64-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Jackson.

     •    The fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Cousins’ first pick included a second-and-one sack by Okafor for a nine-yard loss.  Cousins was in the shotgun, the Cardinals blitzed, tight end Jordan Reed could have been thrown to, but Cousins instead took the sack.

The Redskins ran at least one read-option play in this game: a second-and-15 one-yard run by running back Alfred Morris out of the shotgun on a first-quarter three-and-out.  Cousins should have kept the ball on this play, which would have resulted in a run for a significant gain.  Cousins admitted on Wednesday (Oct. 15), “I do believe that there are times where I probably don’t give myself enough credit as an athlete.  And I probably could…do a little bit more athletically than maybe what I give myself credit for...”      

The positives for Cousins:
     •    Cousins made a nice throw on a short-middle pass on the second-and-20 64-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Jackson on the second play of the second quarter.        

     •    The drive that resulted in Kai Forbath’s second-quarter 28-yard field goal included a fourth-and-one play-action-boot seven-yard completion to tight end Niles Paul.  Cousins displayed beautiful touch on a jump-throw.

     •    Cousins connected on four straight shotgun completions on the fourth-quarter four-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a first-and-goal five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Pierre Garcon.  That scored helped to cut the Redskins’ deficit to 23-20 with 2:17 left.
    

2. The Redskins’ running game was essentially a non-factor for a second straight game

Running back Roy Helu Jr. had a meaningless 16-yard shotgun-handoff run on the final play of the game.  If you take that play out of the mix, the Redskins totaled 16 carries for just 56 yards (3.5 yards per carry).

Morris had just 13 carries for 41 yards (3.2 yards per carry).  He now has registered 14 or fewer carries in four of six games this season.  While at no point during the game did I feel like the Redskins weren’t running Morris enough, I do think the notion that Morris needs to get into more of a flow before he truly becomes effective is valid.  Morris hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since the loss at Minnesota on Nov. 7, 2013.  

The reasons for the lack of success for the running game were many.  Fullback Darrel Young played for just four plays due to a hamstring injury.  The Redskins had a bunch of missed assignments in the running game, as blocking from pass catchers like Jackson and tight end Niles Paul was poor and the offensive line certainly wasn’t blameless.  Morris himself isn’t blameless.  And I would argue not having read-option as a major threat is a factor as well.

Interestingly, Helu played more than Morris for a second straight game.


3. Three Redskins skill-position players stood out

Jackson had three receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown on five targets.  He had excellent catch-and-runs on his early-second-quarter second-and-20 64-yard touchdown reception and a second-quarter second-and-eight 42-yard reception on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s 28-yard field goal. 

Reed returned from a four-game absence caused by a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston.  He had eight receptions for 92 yards on 11 targets, continuing to shine on stick and slant routes and to display a knack for YAC.

Helu was a stud on an impressive late-second-quarter four-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in Forbath’s 43-yard field goal and consumed just 29 seconds off the clock.  Helu had a first-and-10 eight-yard pistol-handoff run and a second-and-two 33-yard reception on which he made an impressive catch on a low screen pass from Cousins and then produced a terrific run after the catch.  But Helu also missed three blocks in the backfield.


4. But Redskins pass catchers still were guilty of too many errors

Roberts had a lost fumble on a first-and-10 14-yard reception on the first play of a Redskins drive early in the fourth quarter.  He appeared as if he was down, but the play was reviewed and upheld (referee Ed Hochuli: “It is not clear when the ball starts to come loose compared to when the knee hits the ground…”).  Roberts also had what you could consider a drop on a late-first-quarter first-and-10 incompletion.  The drive, though, resulted in Jackson’s early-second-quarter second-and-20 64-yard touchdown reception.  And Roberts failed to make a catch on a high throw on a third-and-six incompletion on a second-quarter drive that resulted in a punt.

Jackson gave up on his route on Cousins’ second fourth-quarter pick.  And Jackson continued to be woeful when it came to blocking, particularly on an early-third-quarter third-and-one reception by Roberts for minus-two yards.  The next play was a punt.  

The Redskins’ second first-quarter drive, which resulted in a three-and-out, included a first-and-10 drop by Morris, a second-and-10 five-yard false-start penalty on tight end Logan Paulsen and a third-and-14 incompletion intended for Reed, who failed to make the catch on a ball that was behind him but catchable..

Reed also made a bad choice in going inside of his defender on a second-quarter third-and-goal end zone incompletion.  The drive resulted in Forbath’s 28-yard field goal.

Garcon had the fourth-quarter first-and-goal five-yard touchdown reception but finished with just four receptions for 31 yards on six targets.  He now has just eight receptions over the last three games and 21 of his 30 receptions this season have come in two games: the Week 1 loss at Houston and the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia.  


5. Cousins, the lack of an impactful running game and the struggles of various pass catchers contributed to another woeful performance on third downs

The Redskins went 2-for-10 on third downs and now are 6-for-30 on third downs over the last three games.

The Redskins exited Week 6 31st out of 32 NFL teams in third-down conversion rate (23-for-71 or 32.4 percent).


6. The Redskins’ defense gave the team nothing in the play-making department

The Redskins’ defense in some respects played well enough to win, holding the Cardinals to 23 true points (the final seven came on Johnson’s late-fourth-quarter 28-yard pick-six), 0-for-2 in the red zone, just 317 total net yards of offense and just 3.2 yards per carry on 23 rushing attempts.
    
But the Redskins totaled no takeaways and now have just four takeaways over six games this season.  No moment epitomized this more than linebacker Brian Orakpo’s dropped pick on an early-fourth-quarter first-and-10 incompletion on a play at the Redskins’ 17.  Orakpo is dealing with an injured left middle finger and an ankle injury, but that’s a play that a guy who wants a long-term, big-money contract makes.  The drive resulted in rookie Chandler Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal that gave the Cardinals a 23-13 lead.  

The Redskins totaled just one sack, and that was essentially a fluke sack, coming off a dropped shotgun snap by Palmer (linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and defensive end Jason Hatcher were credited with the sack).  The Redskins did finish with seven quarterback hits (two apiece for Kerrigan and Orakpo), and the pass rush was decent at times, but it wasn’t good enough.  The final play of the third quarter was a third-and-two seven-yard completion to running back Robert Hughes on a play on which Palmer, a 34-year-old who hadn’t played since suffering a nerve injury in his shoulder in Week 1, made the throw while being taken down being taken down by Orakpo and Hatcher and being hit by nose tackle Chris Baker (though Orakpo was credited with the quarterback hit).   

Safety Ryan Clark and corner E.J. Biggers had missed tackles on receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s late-second-quarter second-and-10 24-yard touchdown reception.


7. The Redskins were hurt by two bad calls

The Roberts early-fourth-quarter lost fumble should have been reversed, as Roberts’ left knee was on the ground before the ball came out.  Instead, the ensuing Cardinals drive resulted in Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal that gave the Cardinals a 23-13 lead.

Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland was called for a second-quarter third-and-eight 36-yard pass-interference penalty that was iffy at best.  The eight-play, 85-yard drive resulted in Fitzgerald’s second-and-10 24-yard touchdown reception and the Cardinals taking a 14-10 lead.
    
It’s worth noting, though, that the Redskins benefited from Jackson not being called for a personal-foul penalty for slamming Johnson to the ground on the Cardinals’ sideline after his 30-yard return of Cousins’ first pick.

    
8. Redskins special teams were mixed

Forbath went 2-for-2 on second-quarter field goals of 28 and 43 yards and produced three touchbacks on kickoffs (his late second-quarter kickoff went just 56 yards, but the idea was for a return to end the half (and that’s what happened)).  But Forbath produced a bad attempt at an onside kick late in the fourth quarter after Garcon’s first-and-goal five-yard touchdown reception.

Tress Way had first-quarter punts of just 41 and 42 yards and a third-quarter 43-yard punt but also a second-quarter 58-yard punt and a third-quarter 53-yard punt.  

Cardinals receiver Ted Ginn Jr. averaged 12.3 yards on three punt returns.

Linebacker Akeem Jordan committed a second-quarter six-hard holding penalty on a punt that resulted in a fair catch by Roberts.

Roberts had a first-quarter 12-yard punt return but then later in the first quarter returned a kickoff for just 23 yards from five yards deep in the Redskins’ end zone.
    

9. Have the Redskins fixed their penalty problem?
    
The Redskins had just six accepted penalties and now have totaled just nine accepted penalties over the last two games off having 39 accepted penalties over the first four games of the season.

The Cardinals won despite totaling 14 accepted penalties.  Seattle won at the Redskins in Week 5 despite recording 13 accepted penalties, including three that negated touchdowns by receiver Percy Harvin.
    
    
10. Miscellaneous notes:    

The Cardinals displayed curious clock management in the second half, calling two of their three timeouts while on offense and by the 12:59 mark of the fourth quarter and having Palmer pass on three straight downs (all incompletions) on a mid-fourth-quarter drive while leading, 23-13.
    
Inactives for the Redskins were:
     •    Griffin for a fourth straight game due to the dislocated left ankle he suffered in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville

     •    linebacker Perry Riley Jr. due to a sprained left MCL suffered in the Week 5 loss to Seattle

     •    receiver Aldrick Robinson

     •    corner Tracy Porter, who re-injured his hamstring in the Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants off missing the first three games of the season

     •    rookie tackle Morgan Moses

     •    rookie guard Spencer Long

     •    linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat, who was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Oct. 8

The Redskins also played this game without:    
     •    corner DeAngelo Hall, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a torn left Achilles injury suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    nose tackle Barry Cofield, who was placed on the reserve/injured list (designated to return) on Sept. 9 due to a high-ankle sprain suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston

     •    safety Duke Ihenacho, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a fractured heal bone suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    defensive end Stephen Bowen, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to microfracture surgery on his right knee last Dec. 3

     •    receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to season-ending surgery to repair ACL and LCL tears in his left knee last Nov. 21

     •    nose tackle Chris Neild, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Aug. 30 due to a torn right ACL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28


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How It Should Be Remembered: The Redskins' Loss To Seattle In Week 5
by Al Galdi
Oct 10, 2014 -- 1:49pm

The Redskins fell to 1-4 with a 27-17 loss to Seattle on Monday Night Football (Oct. 6, 2014).  Here were the 10 most important items from the game:


ESPN 980 Galleries 1. The night time is not the right time


The Redskins now have lost seven straight primetime games and now are 3-17 in primetime games since the start of the 2008 season, including 3-12 at FedEx Field.

The Seahawks improved to 11-1 in primetime games under head coach Pete Carroll.


2. The Redskins’ defense struggled for a third straight game, getting scorched by quarterback Russell Wilson
    
Wilson had 11 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown and went 18-of-24 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.  

The 122 rushing yards were the most by a quarterback in the history of Monday Night Football.  85 of the rushing yards came off scrambles.  Wilson had three read-option runs for 25 yards and a touchdown.
    
Wilson had five carries for 80 yards in just the first quarter, during which the Seahawks totaled 108 rushing yards.  
     •    The game’s opening drive, which resulted in a first-and-10 15-yard shotgun touchdown pass to receiver Jermaine Kearse, included a third-and-five 16-yard shotgun scramble and a second-and-10 29-yard I-formation play-action-boot scramble on which linebacker Ryan Kerrigan bit badly on the fake.

     •    The Seahawks’ second first-quarter drive, which resulted in a punt, included a first-and-10 13-yard shotgun read-option run on which linebacker Brian Orakpo bit badly and a second-and-20 22-yard under-center play-action scramble on which corner E.J. Biggers had a missed tackle.
    
Wilson had a second-quarter first-and-goal nine-yard shotgun read-option run for a touchdown on which rookie linebacker Trent Murphy got fooled badly.  The play before that was a first-and-10 36-yard shotgun completion on which Wilson ran right and then left before finding tight end Cooper Helfet, who beat linebacker Perry Riley Jr.

Wilson had a fourth-quarter second-and-goal nine-yard shotgun touchdown pass to running back Marshawn Lynch on a play on which Riley had a missed tackle.  Riley earlier in the drive had a third-and-three five-yard holding penalty.  Also from Wilson on the drive were:
     •    A second-and-20 19-yard shotgun play-action completion to tight end Luke Wilson off Wilson doing an amazing job of running around to extend the play and a missed tackle by rookie corner Bashaud Breeland.

     •    A third-and-one offset-I-formation play-action-boot zero-yard completion to Lynch off safety Brandon Meriweather failing to sack Wilson

     •    A first-and-10 12-yard I-formation play-action-boot scramble on which Orakpo bit badly on the fake

The Seahawks’ game-clinching fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Steven Hauschka’s 43-yard field goal included a third-and-four 30-yard shotgun play-action completion to Lynch off Wilson eluding pressure from Kerrigan and then getting blasted by nose tackle Chris Baker.

The Redskins did total three sacks and five quarterback hits, and the defense was better in a third quarter that included three Seahawks punts.  But the Redskins had zero takeaways and now have just four takeaways over five games this season.

Riley suffered a sprained left MCL.


3. The Redskins got walloped in the field-position battle

The Redskins’ average starting field position was their own 17-yard line.  The Seahawks’ average starting field position was their own 35-yard line.

The Redskins had a stretch of three consecutive second-half drives in which the starting field position was the team’s 1-, 8- and 9-yard lines.
    
    
4. Quarterback Kirk Cousins rebounded nicely from his five-turnover performance in the Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants

Cousins went 21-of-36 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.

Cousins connected on three big pass plays with receiver DeSean Jackson, who finished with five receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets:
     •    Late second-quarter second-and-six 60-yard shotgun touchdown completion.  Cousins was running forward and to his right while making a terrific throw, hitting Jackson in stride.  Jackson made a nice catch with his arms extended.

     •    The first offensive play of the second half was a first-and-10 57-yard I-formation play-action completion.  The drive, though, resulted in Kai Forbath’s third-quarter 27-yard field goal.

     •    Third-quarter first-and-10 22-yard I-formation play-action completion.  The drive, though, resulted in a punt.

Cousins’ performance was even more impressive considering that the Redskins were guilty of four drops in the first half.    
     •    The Redskins’ first first-quarter drive, which resulted in a punt, included a first-and-10 drop by tight end Logan Paulsen on the Redskins’ first offensive play (though the ball may have been deflected) of the game and a second-and-five drop by Jackson on a play on which safety Earl Thomas may have impeded Jackson’s vision of the ball.

     •    The Redskins’ second first-quarter drive, which resulted in a three-and-out, included a second-and-10 pass on which the ball went off Jackson’s hands and was nearly picked off by Thomas, who dropped the ball.  Also on the play was rookie right tackle Morgan Moses (in the game for a briefly-banged-up Tyler Polumbus) whiffing on defensive end Cliff Avril, who blasted Cousins.

     •    The Redskins’ final drive of the second quarter included a second-and-10 drop by receiver Andre Roberts.  The ball was behind him but essentially went through his hands.  It should also be noted that receiver Pierre Garcon was open on this play and perhaps should have been the target.

The negatives for Cousins included him continuing to at times throw short too early and just an overall lack of production from the offense: 17 points, 3-for-12 on third downs, just 307 total net yards and a loss in the time-of-possession battle by 9:52.  But the next item bears a sizable chunk of the responsibility.


5. The Redskins’ running game was essentially a non-factor

The Redskins totaled 17 carries for just 32 yards.  The decisions by running back Alfred Morris and the blocking of Paulsen and fellow tight end Niles Paul were mostly to blame.

Morris had just 13 carries for 29 yards.  20 of those yards came on three straight carries on the second-quarter four-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in Jackson’s second-and-six 60-yard touchdown reception.    

Morris had a first-quarter fumble on a second-and-six I-formation handoff run for minus-two yards.  The ball was recovered by fullback Darrel Young.  Morris’ knee appeared to be down before the fumble, but the Redskins opted not to challenge the play.  The drive resulted in a punt.  Morris has two official fumbles over five games this season but also had two near-fumbles in the Week 1 loss at Houston (one was officially a fumble on quarterback Robert Griffin III; the other was ruled to have happened after Morris was tackled).

Morris also whiffed horribly in pass pro on a third-quarter second-and-15 sack by linebacker Bobby Wagner for an eight-yard loss.  The drive resulted in a punt.


6. Redskins special teams had another bad game

Head coach Jay Gruden had his Redskins attempt a surprise onside kick after Forbath’s third-quarter 27-yard field goal, but the Seahawks recovered the ball.  The ensuing Seahawks drive did result in a three-and-out, but the punt off that drive was downed at the Redskins’ 1-yard line.

The Seahawks’ fourth-quarter drive that consumed 7:33 off the clock and resulted in Lynch’s second-and-goal nine-yard touchdown reception included a fourth-and-one five-yard run by punter/holder Jon Ryan on a fake field goal.

Seahawks receiver Bryan Walters had a 21-yard punt return in the first quarter and a 20-yard punt return in the third quarter.

Tress Way averaged just 40.6 net yards on eight punts.    

Biggers committed a 10-yard holding penalty on the second quarter’s first play, which was a 46-yard punt that resulted in a touchback.  The Redskins got the ball at their own 10-yard line, and the ensuing drive resulted in a three-and-out.


7. The Redskins did dominate the Seahawks in one category

The Redskins, who entered this game with 39 accepted penalties over four games, had just three accepted penalties.

The Seahawks had 13 accepted penalties, including three that negated touchdowns by receiver Percy Harvin.  
     •    The second-quarter drive that resulted in Hauschka’s 40-yard field goal included touchdown-negating penalties on back-to-back snaps: guard James Carpenter’s second-and-seven 10-yard holding penalty nullified Harvin’s a 16-yard touchdown run and Harvin’s second-and-17 five-yard false-start penalty nullified his 26-yard touchdown reception.

     •    The fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Lynch’s nine-yard touchdown reception included a first-and-10 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty by Carpenter, negating a 41-yard touchdown reception by Harvin.


8. Gruden fell to 0-for-5 on challenges this season    

The fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Lynch’s nine-yard touchdown reception included a second-and-20 19-yard shotgun play-action reception by tight end Luke Wilson off Russell Wilson doing an amazing job of running around to extend the play.  Gruden challenged that Wilson had in fact crossed the line of scrimmage before going back behind it and making the throw, but replays showed that Wilson’s entire body did not cross the line of scrimmage (his left shoulder stayed behind).

A play the Redskins should have challeneged was Morris’ first-quarter fumble on a second-and-six I-formation handoff run for minus-two yards.  Morris’ knee appeared to be down before the fumble.  Young recovered the ball, but the drive resulted in a punt.


9. Redskins players reportedly weren’t exactly crushed by this latest loss    

Multiple reporters, including our own John Keim of ESPN.com, noted a surprisingly loud and-or upbeat mood in the Redskins’ locker room after the game.  Wrote Keim: “The Redskins’ locker room was a lively place, even in defeat.  There was loud chatter emanating from the shower area.  There were players joking.  Whether this is good or bad usually will be determined by how they respond throughout the week and in the following game.  But, yes, they felt good that they weren’t embarrassed for a second straight prime-time game.  ‘We’re 1-4 and disappointed, but it was the defending Super Bowl champions and we went toe-to-toe with those guys,’ linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “That’s something to hang our heads high on.”

Safety Ryan Clark sounded off to reporters on Wednesday (Oct. 8), poking fun at the fact that they didn’t play in the NFL and also saying, “Guys were excited that they fought.”

Judging whether the Redskins’ locker room was too loud or happy after a loss is pointless for a number of reasons.  But the comments from Orakpo and Clark suggesting that just competing with the Seahawks was a positive come across as loser talk.  The goal is to win.  As Pat Riley famously said, “There is winning, and there is misery.”  That’s obviously an exaggeration, but you get the idea.   


10. Miscellaneous notes:
    
Neither team committed a turnover.    

Garcon had just two receptions on three targets.  21 of his 26 receptions this season have come in two games: the Week 1 loss at Houston and the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia.

Inactives for the Redskins were:
     •    Griffin for a third straight game due to the dislocated left ankle he suffered in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville

     •    tight end Jordan Reed for a fourth straight game due to the hamstring injury he suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston

     •    corner Tracy Porter, who re-injured his hamstring in the Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants off missing the first three games of the season

     •    receiver Santana Moss for a fifth straight game

     •    corner Richard Crawford, who was re-signed by the Redskins on Sept. 29 off being released from the practice squad on Sept. 9.  Crawford was waived on Wednesday (Oct. 8).

     •    safety Trenton Robinson

     •    rookie guard Spencer Long

The Redskins also played this game without:    
     •    corner DeAngelo Hall, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a torn left Achilles injury suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    nose tackle Barry Cofield, who was placed on the reserve/injured list (designated to return) on Sept. 9 due to a high-ankle sprain suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston

     •    safety Duke Ihenacho, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a fractured heal bone suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    defensive end Stephen Bowen, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to microfracture surgery on his right knee last Dec. 3

     •    receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to season-ending surgery to repair ACL and LCL tears in his left knee last Nov. 21

     •    nose tackle Chris Neild, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Aug. 30 due to a torn right ACL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28


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10 Takeaways From The Nationals' Four-Game NLDS Loss To San Francisco
by Al Galdi
Oct 08, 2014 -- 2:18pm
ESPN 980

For the second time in three seasons, the Nats had the best record in the National League.  But for the second time in three seasons, the Nats lost their National League Division Series.  Here's what happened and why.


Game 1: 3-2 loss at Nationals Park on Oct. 3

Game 2: 2-1 18-inning loss at Nationals Park on Oct. 4

Game 3: 4-1 win at AT&T Park on Oct. 6
    
Game 4: 3-2 loss at AT&T Park on Oct. 7
    

1. The Nats’ offense, with the exception of two players, was awful


There was a lot to this series, but ultimately the biggest reason for the Nats loss was their atrocious batting.  The Nats had a .164 batting average, a .222 on-base percentage and a .258 slugging percentage in the series.

The Nats totaled 39 strikeouts and just 12 walks.

The Nats went just 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position.

Right fielder Jayson Werth went 1-for-17 and did not talk to reporters after Game 4.  I hated that.  Werth is a very good offensive player, is lauded for his leadership and is in the midst of a seven-year, $126 million contract.  Him not talking was bush league, especially considering that rookie reliever Aaron Barrett answered every question asked of him after his disastrous Game 4 performance.

First baseman Adam LaRoche went 1-for-18.

Center fielder Denard Span went 2-for-19.

Shortstop Ian Desmond went 3-for-18.

Catcher Wilson Ramos went 2-for-17.


2. The Nats' bats made a mediocre Giants staff look great

Giants starters had a 1.40 ERA in the series off finishing the regular season just 10th in the National League with a 3.74 ERA.

Giants relievers in Game 2 combined for 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 scoreless innings.  Yusmeiro Petit, a journeyman pitcher in his age-29 season, recorded seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings.


3. Why not more of Ryan Zimmerman?

Zimmerman did not start a single game in the series, during which he totaled just four plate appearances.  Maybe his right hamstring was still a major problem.  Maybe manager Matt Williams felt that Zimmerman couldn't be trusted in the field.  Whatever the case, given the offensive struggles, couldn't the Nats have used more than four plate appearances from a guy with a career OPS+ of 120?


4. The two Nats who delivered offensively were third baseman Anthony Rendon and left fielder Bryce Harper

Rendon and Harper went a combined 12-for-36. The rest of the Nats went a combined 14-for-123.

Rendon went 7-for-19 with a walk.      

Harper went 5-for-17 with two walks, blasting solo homers in Games 1, 3 and 4.  He also had an RBI double in Game 4.  Harper had three homers and four RBI in the series, during which the rest of the Nats had just one homer and three RBI.  


5. Harper also produced three great defensive plays

Harper was credited with an outfield assist in providing the initial throw in getting catcher Buster Posey out at home in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2 (Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged the play, but the call was upheld).  And Harper made two terrific catches in Game 3: leaping catch against the wall while battling a bright, low sun in the bottom of the second and a running and then sliding-forward grab of a sinking liner in the bottom of the seventh.


6. An inning that will haunt Williams: the top of the ninth of Game 2

Williams pulled starter Jordan Zimmermann after he walked second baseman Joe Panik in a plate appearance that featured multiple close calls by home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza.  Closer Drew Storen then came in and allowed a single to Posey and then a game-tying double to third baseman Pablo Sandoval.  

The removal of Zimmermann came despite him having allowed just three hits and a walk and having thrown just 100 pitches.  Zimmermann became the only pitcher ever pulled from a postseason game one out shy of a shutout.  He had retired 57 of the previous 62 batters he had faced dating back to Sept. 20 (that stretch included a no-hitter of Miami in the Nats’ final game of the regular season).

The decision to remove Zimmermann wasn’t the egregious crime that it’s been made out to be.  Storen had a great regular season, and asking him to get one out wasn’t asking for the impossible.  But the decision to put him into the game clearly didn’t work and justifably brought up memories of Game 5 of the Nats' 2012 NLDS.


7. Another inning that will haunt Williams: the bottom of the seventh of Game 4

Williams allowed Matt Thornton to face Posey despite him having crushed left-handed pitching throughout his career.  Posey lined a single to center field.

Williams then inserted the rookie Barrett into the game with runners on first and second and one out.  Barrett was the only reliever warming up, even though a) he’s a rookie and b) he threw only 45 percent of his pitches this season in the strike zone.  Barrett walked right fielder Hunter Pence, then issued a run-scoring wild pitch and then, on the very next pitch while intentionally walking Sandoval, threw the ball over Ramos’ head.  The play, though, resulted in Ramos firing the ball back to Barrett and Posey being tagged out at home (it appeared as if Barrett blocked the plate, violating, ironically, the so-called Buster Posey rule; the play was reviewed and upheld because Barrett set up in front of home plate early enough).

Unlike the Zimmermann-Storen decision, there’s not a lot of statistical backup for how Williams handled this inning.  A better option than either Thornton or Barrett would have been Tyler Clippard, who held right-handed batters to a .130/.197/.226 slash line this season.  But Clippard never even warmed up in the inning.

Williams after Game 4 indicated that he used Thornton and Barrett because they were two of the Nats' seventh-inning guys.  You can't manage a bullpen in a postseason elimination game the way you manage a bullpen during the regular season (and Williams largely handled his bullpen quite well during the regular season).  Consider what Orioles manager Buck Showalter did in Game 1 of his team's three-game ALDS sweep of Detroit: inserted reliever Andrew Miller into the game in the top of the sixth inning, the earliest usage of Miller this season by either the O's or Boston.  The reason?  The Tigers' big bats were coming up: first baseman Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez and left fielder J.D. Martinez.  The result?  Millers tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, recording three strikeouts.  The lesson: your best relievers should be used in high-leverage situations in postseasons, period.  Disregard what inning it is or what regular-season roles were.  A playoff game is always on the line.  Use your weapons.


8. The Nats’ pitching was good enough to win the series

Unlike in the 2012 NLDS, Nats starters and relievers, overall, were just fine.  

Nats starters allowed two earned runs in 24 2/3 innings, registering a WHIP of 1.01.  Zimmermann allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings in Game 2.  Doug Fister tossed seven scoreless innings in Game 3.

Nats relievers allowed four earned runs in 19 1/3 innings.  Arguably the two biggest concerns for the bullpen entering the series, Rafael Soriano and Jerry Blevins, combined for 5 2/3 scoreless and walk-less innings.


9. That said, the major complaints regarding the Nats' pitching in the series:  
a.    Storen had the blown save in Game 2 and allowed a run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3.  

b.    Barrett and Matt Thornton combined to allow a run on two hits, two walks and a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh of Game 4.

c.    Gio Gonzalez lasted just four innings in Game 4.  He allowed two unearned runs in the bottom of the second on a single, a fielding error by Gonzalez, a bunt single on which neither Gonzalez nor Rendon fielded the ball, a bases-loaded walk to left-handed batting center fielder Gregor Blanco and an RBI groundout.

d.    Stephen Strasburg lasted just five innings in Game 1, giving up two runs (one earned) on eight hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.


10. An important clarification from Game 2

The notion that Zimmermann got jobbed by Carapazza in the plate appearance that resulted in Panik’s two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth is technically wrong.  The strike-zone plot from BrooksBaseball.net shows that all four of the balls that Zimmermann threw to Panik in the five-pitch plate appearance were in fact outside the strike zone.  Fangraphs chronicled that Carapazza had been calling some of those pitch locations strikes during the evening, so it is correct to say that Zimmermann got unfair treatment given the established strike zone of the game.  But a home-plate umpire isn't supposed to establish his own zone.  Carapazza’s calls in the plate appearance were, according to the rulebook, the right ones. 

Where Carapazza was wrong was in the bottom of the 10th, during which second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and Williams were ejected by Carapazza after Cabrera struck out on three straight called strikes off three balls to begin the plate appearance.  The strike-zone plot from BrooksBaseball.net did indeed show that the final two called strikes were high and out of the strike zone.  So the anger was justified.  But that doesn’t excuse Cabrera or Williams for not better controlling their anger, and all they have to do is look at Harper.  He was mad about a called strike in the bottom of the ninth and let Carapazza know, but did so in a low-key manner and remained in the game.


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Five Takeaways From The Orioles' Three-Game Sweep Of Detroit In Their ALDS
by Al Galdi
Oct 06, 2014 -- 6:49pm
ESPN 980

It was the Orioles' first postseason sweep since the 1971 American League Championship Series.  It was the first postseason series victory in manager Buck Showalter's 16-season career.  And it put the O's in an ALCS for the first time since 1997.  Here's what happened and why.


Game 1: 12-3 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 2

Game 2: 7-6 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 3

Game 3: 2-1 win at Comerica Park on Oct. 5


1. A tale of two bullpens


We knew that the Orioles’ bullpen was a strength and that the Tigers’ bullpen was a weakness entering the series.  Still, the extent to which those two principles held true was stunning.

Orioles relievers combined to allow three runs in 12 innings in the series, totaling 11 strikeouts.  Andrew Miller threw 3 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings in the series.

Tigers relievers combined to 11 runs (10 earned) in just 4 2/3 innings in the series.  Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria combined to allow 10 runs (nine earned) in 1 1/3 innings in the series.

The Orioles went 8-for-23 with three walks off Tigers relievers in the series.

    
2. Two magical eighth innings

This is of course tied to the Tigers’ bullpen.  But credit the O’s for exploding for 12 runs in the eighth innings of Games 1 and 2.

The O’s scored eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 1, totaling six hits and benefiting from two errors.  Second baseman Jonathan Schoop and left fielder Alejandro De Aza each had a two-run double in the inning.

The O’s then scored four runs in the eighth inning of Game 2, getting an RBI single from first baseman Steve Pearce and a go-ahead three-run pinch double from Delmon Young in the inning.


3. Nelson Cruz was a monster

He served as the DH in all three games and went 6-for-12 in the series, totaling two homers, four singles, five RBI and four runs.  Cruz had a two-run homer and an RBI single in Game 1, two singles in Game 2 and a two-run homer in Game 3.  The one major negative from him was getting picked off at first base to end the top of the eighth in Game 3.

The success of the Cruz signing is well-documented: MLB-leading 40 homers and team highs in OPS (.859), slugging percentage (.525) and RBI (108) this past regular season on a one-year deal reportedly worth just $8 million.  Throw in his performance in this series, and how is this not one of the best one-year deals in MLB history?

Another thing with Cruz: he’s a Tigers killer.  He now has 16 career postseason homers, eight of which have come against the Tigers.  


4. Seemingly every move by Buck worked

There’s no such thing as a perfect series, but consider the many decisions by Buck that worked out beautifully:
     •    Ryan Flaherty started all three games at third base, presumably due to his defensive skills (the O’s struggled defensively at third base late in the regular season).  Flaherty made maybe the play of the series in the top of the fifth in Game 2, diving to his left and then throwing from his knees to second base for a double play.  And Flaherty, who has been a bad offensive player over his three seasons with the O’s, didn’t embarrass himself offensively in the series, providing an RBI single in the eight-run eighth in Game 1 and finishing 2-for-9 with a walk.

     •    Batting De Aza in the no. 2 spot in Games 1 and 2 (he did not play in Game 3) resulted in him going 3-for-8 with two doubles in the series.

     •    Pinch-hitting Young for Flaherty in the eighth inning of Game 2 resulted in Young’s go-ahead three-run double.

     •    Starting Bud Norris in Game 3 instead of Miguel Gonzalez resulted in Norris tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings on six strikeouts versus two hits, two walks and a wild pitch.  Buck’s decision to remove Norris from a game in which he was tossing a shutout also worked, as Miller came in and provided 1 2/3 perfect innings.

     •    Intentionally walking third baseman Nick Castellanos in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 with two outs and a runner on second and the Tigers having already scored a run off closer Zach Britton yielded the next batter, pinch hitter Hernan Perez, grounding into a series-ending double play.


5. The O’s swept this series despite…

…their starting pitching being mediocre in Game 1 (Chris Tillman threw 105 pitches and gave up two homers in lasting just five innings) and terrible in Game 2 (Wei-Yin Chen allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings on seven hits, including two homers).

…three of the Tigers' big bats producing.  First baseman Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez and left fielder J.D. Martinez went a combined 11-for-35 with four homers.


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