October 31, 2014

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden discusses defense’s success against Jaguars

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden spoke about the team’s excellent defensive performance last Sunday against Jacksonville. “You know, my first year coaching with my brother in 2002, the Buccaneers had a pretty good defense with [Warren] Sapp and Simeon [Rice] and all those guys, so we saw a few of those. Firsthand, I mean, 10 sacks and just the whole defense in general flying around to the football, the energy that they played with, I haven’t seen it in a long time.

So, [I’m] just impressed with the whole energy in general and people talk about the sacks, but the coverage was outstanding by the defensive backs and the linebackers – Keenan [Robinson] and Perry [Riley, Jr.] – they were flying all over the joint, and they don’t get any credit as far as the stat people are concerned, but they had a lot to do with the success of the defense also. So very impressed with the whole unit. Coach [Jim] Haslett called a great game, obviously, and the defensive coaches had those guys ready to play and it showed.”

Asked about Chris Baker’s performance at nose tackle, Gruden said, “Chris Baker had an outstanding game, also, and Jarvis [Jenkins] did good, too. And Perry [Riley, Jr.] did well. But, like I said, the key was stopping them on first down. I don’t know what the average per carry or play was on first down but they were in a lot of second-and-longs and then third-and-longs, which really let us get going.

We stopped the run extremely well. I think [Toby] Gerhart had seven or eight carries for nine yards or something like that, and he’s a darn good running back, so it’s very impressive that our front not only rushed the passer extremely well, but we stopped the run.

When you do both, it means good days for your defense and I think we have the front that can do both, which is exciting. We’ve got the athleticism, we’ve got the size to stop the run, we’ve got the athleticism to rush the passer. That’s why I feel like our future is so bright here this year because I think defensively we can play with anybody.”

Gruden was pleased with Jason Hatcher’s contributions as delivering exactly what he wanted. “That’s why he was one of our focal points as far as signing a pass rusher. He was one of the guys we wanted and targeted and we are lucky to have him. He is a great guy, not only on the field with his production but off the field he is a great motivator, keeps the guys up on the sidelines and keeps everybody accountable to playing hard and you can feel everybody feeding off of it.

When you get the push up the middle, it opens it up for everybody else and you saw [Ryan] Kerrigan get four and [Brian] Orakpo had one and a half or two and it gets everybody involved. The key is to obviously get teams in third down and long which we did yesterday and then let him go after it. He has been everything we hoped for and more, so far.”

Asked about safety Trenton Robinson’s game on Sunday, Gruden said, “Trenton has had a couple good weeks of practice. He’s been a special team demon for us, and after the play at the end of the half, we thought we needed a look at Trenton, give him a chance, see what he could do. And he didn’t disappoint. He got an interception and was in on a few tackles and did some good things. He was part of the big play we gave up in the second half, but overall, I thought Trenton did a nice job.”

Gruden is anticipating Brandon Meriweather’s return from suspension at safety.

“He’s back, he’s ready to go and he’s excited. I saw him today, he’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and fired up to get back on the field. It was an unfortunate incident what happened to him, missing two games, but he’s raring to go. He’s champing at the bit and we’ll have to make a decision tomorrow on what we do with the roster spot.”

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part IX: Cornerbacks

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.
In Part VII, Joe Miller previewed the inside linebackers.
In Part VIII Joe Z had our preview of the outside linebackers.

Here is our preview of the cornerbacks.


[Read more...]

Washington Redskins sign safety Duke Ihenacho

AKEEM DAVIS, SPECIAL TEAMS CONTRIBUTOR, WAIVED TO MAKE ROOM

Over the weekend, the Washington Redskins picked up safety Duke Ihenacho off waivers from the Denver Broncos. Ihenacho will immediately provide support for the suspended Brandon Meriweather, but will also strengthen the defensive backfield for the long run.

Head coach Jay Gruden addressed the move during his routine Monday press conference at Redskins Park.

“I think he brings some experience to the table,” Gruden said of the three-year veteran. “He started a lot of games last year for Denver. He’s a tough guy and became available. We didn’t know who was going to come available. We saw that he was there, we put a claim into him because of the experience level and special teams experience. We thought he could be an immediate help for us and luckily we got him.”

Ihenacho started 17 games for the Broncos last season, but apparently became expendable after Denver signed T.J. Ward and had Quinton Carter return from injury.

Asked if Ihenacho would start immediately, Gruden was coy but optimistic.

“It depends on how quickly he picks it up mentally. I envision him participating in some level, some capacity, we’ll see what that is. It’s too early to tell. This is the first time we met him, today. So, we have got to get him acclimated to the defense, the calls, see how much he can pick up, see how much he can help Ben [Kotwica] and special teams and go from there. Whether he is activated or not, we’ll see.”

Ihenacho, for his part, embraces the special teams aspect. As he told ESPN.com, “I think kickoff is the easiest thing in the world. If you’ve got that mentality then they put you on kickoff because you like doing it.”

What does Ihenacho expect to bring the Redskins defense?

“I just bring some physicality, man, and playmaking ability,” Ihenacho said. “A little more excitement, a little more passion to the game.”

Gruden praised the organization for making a move like this so close to the start of the regular season.

“Thank your scouts and your [Director of Pro Personnel] Alex Santos and those guys,” Gruden said. “They’re watching very closely all positions, not just safety but all positions. We’re looking at who’s available and if somebody can help our football team right now we’re going to make a run at them. Obviously, you have to make room on your roster and those decisions become tougher and tougher once you make your 53, like it was with Akeem [Davis]. But, you’re always looking to upgrade your team and if somebody can help you then you have to make that move and we thought that Duke could help us.”

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part II: Rate the defense

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RochTheRed.com.

Part II: Rate the defense (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: F. The defense was an unmitigated disaster. Karl Alzner and John Carlson are a good second pairing, but nowhere near a top defensive pair in the NHL. After that, the Caps defensive corps was a crapshoot. Mike Green still has some offensive skill, and he drives play, but his allergy to defense leads to odd-man breakdowns and a large number of embarrassing goals. Dmitry Orlov has skill but very little discipline. After that, the players the Caps lined up on defense were either over the hill or much too young to be counted on for any meaningful contribution.

This team is in need of 2-3 legitimate NHL caliber defensemen. There’s no muscle. There too much undisciplined play. There’s not enough attention to their own end of the ice. Offense starts in your own end and the Caps had too hard of a time gathering the puck, let alone start breakouts the other way. Here’s hoping the new coach recognizes the strengths of his defensive corps and allows the defensemen to carry the puck again instead of passing within seconds of gaining possession of it.

KATIE: C-. The problem with the Capitals’ defense was less because of the defensemen and more about what was being asked of the defensemen. It doesn’t make sense to take puck-moving defensemen (Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, Connor Carrick) and ask them to play in a way that contradicts their strength. The defensemen were asked to skate only five feet with the puck before passing it or dumping it into the offensive zone. That doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re asking a player to NOT do something they do very well. During Green’s career, one of his strengths was carrying the puck into the offensive zone – Carrick and Orlov have potential to be the same type of player as Green. Why not tailor your systems to suit players’ strengths rather than ask them to do things that contradict that? Why even have those players on the roster, then?

All that aside, the Capitals did have a bit of rotten luck with injuries to Jack Hillen, John Erskine, and Mike Green that necessitated a good bit of AHL recalls. Part of that was Adam Oates’ insistence that all defense pairings consist of a right and left hand shot. An interesting thought in theory, but not so much in execution. Oates was so intent on this that there were several nightmare D pairings throughout the season. There was simply an overall lack of chemistry on the blue line.

J.J.: D+. When you look at the Caps’ roster heading into the season, it’s no surprise they struggled. The team actually planned for John Erskine to be in the top four and they pretty much got what they deserved.

Karl Alzner and John Carlson were an adequate top pair. Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green, however, both had a disappointing season frequently contributing awful turnovers and head-scratching penalties. The AHL players played like…well, AHL players. Their inclusion on the roster was more an indictment on management than it was on them, but you don’t get points in the standings for effort.

The bottom line is that the Caps just did not get it done defensively.

SKY: F.  This was the biggest issue with the team this season.  Too many puck moving defenseman, Karl Alzner was the only real defensive defenseman and he took a little step back.  They don’t have a number one defensive pairing and of course Mike Green had a very rough season, but a lot of that had to do with him not having a consistent partner and someone who really compliments him.  Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green do the same things for the most part.

HARRY: I give the defense a D-.  I find it hard to give an F to a unit that wasn’t the worst in the league, but Washington’s defense was its primary
undoing this year.  For long stretches, only three NHL-caliber defensemen dressed every night in Mike Green, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner.  When Dmitry Orlov was finally freed from the AHL, the D looked better but Dima was prone to the spectacular miscues and bad reads that young blueliners often are.  The bottom pairing, no matter who it was, was a disaster all season.

Washington was 24th in the NHL in shots allowed per game at 5v5 with the score close at 31 per 60 minutes, which contributed to their bad possession numbers.  Aside from just the volume of shots allowed, an almost comical number of defensive breakdowns and missed assignments on a nightly basis meant that the goaltenders were forced to do too much too often.  It was not a banner year for the Capitals defense.

Nats defensive woes not so much mental as physical

The Washington Nationals lead the National League in errors. It’s as simple as that. Ian Desmond leads all players with eight errors himself. Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and even Bryce Harper in the outfield have multiple errors in 21 games. These errors are extending innings, creating more of a burden for the pitchers, and directly contributing to runs.

The Nats like to look at themselves as true contenders. But a championship caliber team does not give away base runners for free. The primary indicator for wins and losses is total baserunners for and against. The defensive lapses we’re seeing from the Nats, primarily on ground balls, are leading to more baserunners against, which of course leads to more runs against.

Manager Matt Williams placed an emphasis on defense and accountability during spring training, as if attention to detail was the reason for the Nats lack of performance in the field. The problem isn’t as much mental as it is physical.

Tuesday night after the Nats’ 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, a game in which the normally sure-handed Rendon committed two throwing errors — one of which lead to Albert Pujols three-run home run in the first inning — Williams was perplexed on the poor start defensively for the Nats.

“I’m baffled,” Williams said when asked how concerned he was about the defense and what he could do to stem the poor play. “What do you do? You just keep doing what we do. You keep working at it. We work on it every day. And we do extra. And we do all those things. It’s not what we want, for sure. But we can’t do anything but do what we’re doing, and that’s work at it.”

William has to take that attitude. He has no other option, really. But in reality, the Nats defense suffers from specific physical limitations that are difficult to overcome. Only Harper and Rendon are still a young players. They don’t seem to be part of the long-term problem. But the rest?

Desmond is 28 years old. We’ve seen this for several seasons now. He has tremendous range and a strong throwing arm. His range allows him to get to balls others watch go past, but as we saw in Monday’s game, that can be a curse as much as a blessing. He ranged far to his left to get his glove on the ball, only to have it clang off for a tough error. The ball bounced off the back of the mound, changing the spin on it and making it a much tougher play than it was going to be already.

Then there’s the matter of his arm. It’s a cannon. But it’s a loose cannon. They used to call guys like that “scattershot”, like the pattern of shotgun pellets spreading out in every direction at a high rate of speed. Last season, widely hailed as his best defensive season, he committed 12 throwing and seven fielding errors. This year, it’s an equal 4-4 so far. Desmond started slowly last season in the field too, so it may be a temperature thing with him. But the bottom line is this is who he is. At 28, he’s not going to get magically better throwing the ball.

Zimmerman’s problems have been well documented, in this space and throughout the Natosphere. His shoulder is compromised through injury to the point of curtailing any pregame throwing and altering his throwing mechanics to the point of being indistinguishable form how a human is supposed to throw overhanded. His broken thumb after 15 games allowed him to be DL’d for a actual broken bone as opposed to being sat down to allow the inflammation in the join to calm down. At this point, the Nats are trying to downplay this, saying they don’t feel the injury is a chronic thing. But realistically, Zimmerman needs to move to first base as soon as possible, if only to keep the inflammation out of the joint allowing him to him at a maximum, pain-free condition.

Espinosa is a good fielder, at both second base and shortstop. He gets a touch overrated in this market considering his teammates. But his health issues the past two seasons have taken a toll on his efficiency as well. He shouldn’t be part of the long-term problem either, but two errors in 17 games isn’t a great thing. Also, he’s 27, so he’s at his physical peak and won’t get better either.

Jayson Werth doesn’t have any errors in the outfield yet, but we’ve seen several balls fall in front of him or past him that he would have gotten to even at the start of his stint with the Nats. His range has drastically dropped each season he’s been here. It’ snot surprising, as his is 35 years old and being asked to man one of the more rigorous defensive positions. But it’s another point of data: Werth’s outfield defense is sub-par at this point in his career, and there’s very little the Nats can do about it for the next 3 1/2 years other than move him to left field and hope Harper can handle right.

As for Harper’s not-so-great fielding, we have to remember two things: 1) He was a catcher 2 1/2 years ago; 2) He’s learning to play outfield at the Major League level. There may be some “attention” problems attributed to Harper’s bungles, as he mostly has trouble with charging and picking up the ball. But for all his speed and effort (notice I didn’t say “hustle”) in the outfield, he still has trouble tracking line drives, both to his right and his left. Someone on Twitter casually remarked on a ball to the left field gap earlier this week that it seemed like a ball Harper could have made a play on, or at least cut off from going to the wall. If a casual fan can notice that, you can be sure the Nats are aware of it.

This all might seem like gloom and doom. Maybe it is. It’s certainly mostly anecdotal. But the takeaway here is that the Nats realistically aren’t a great fielding team, despite their pitching staff’s proclivity for being ground ball pitchers. And except for Rendon and Harper, the players they have are no longer in a growth mode — they are who they are, or getting worse (some significantly, and some very quickly). They can put as much work into it as they want, but in reality, the Nats are going to have to pitch and hit to make up for their defensive shortcomings.

Washington Redskins jump in with both feet on day two of free agency

The Washington Redskins, fairly quiet in the first day of the free agent signing period, were quite a bit more active in day two.

The Skins added four players, including former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher.

The team also added defensive end Clifton Geathers, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and cornerback Tracy Porter.

Hatcher, 31, enjoyed his best year in the league last season, recording 11 sacks. He spent the first five seasons of his career as a backup and broke the starting lineup in 2011. He played right defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 system that year before switching to tackle last season in a 4-3. He’s expected to play end for the Skins.

Hatcher represents a huge upgrade along the defensive front for the Skins. Not only did Hatcher have more sacks than the entirety of the Skins defensive line last season, he’s also adept at putting pressure on the offense in the running game.

Geathers, a massive 6’8″, 340-pound fourth year defensive lineman, appeared in 16 games with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, recording 13 tackles.

Sharpton recorded 87 tackles for Houston, starting the final eight games of the season. He should compete for a starting inside spot next to Perry Riley Jr., re-signed by Washington on Wednesday.

Porter started 16 games for Oakland last season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and a touchdown. Porter has had injury troubles in his seven-year career, playing just one full season as a pro. He can play against both wide and slot receivers.

OPINION: Haslett has to prove he’s capable in last chance

With the announcement by Washington Redskins new head coach Jay Gruden of the return and possible contract extension of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, those third-and-longs and fourth-and-shorts next NFL season may be more subject to hopes and prayers than the accustomed chant of “Defense!” heard from the upper deck of FedEx Field on Sundays.  

Jim Haslett, who has been the defensive coordinator since 2010, should by now be very accustomed to being a hot topic on Washington sports talk radio and at the office water cooler.  

Most fans were shocked when they heard the news that the Redskins were retaining Haslett, feeling there should have been a change in leadership on the defensive side of the ball. But if you step back and assess the situation, it’s understandable why they are going to keep him at least at the present time.  

It might not be the right idea, but you can see the team’s logic in it. 

With a new head coach coming in, whose background is obviously on the offensive side of the ball (and with the majority of a new staff), some consistency at one phase of the game might be the smart approach. You just can’t fix every problem at once. For example, most companies and managers in business world recognize that it’s better to be really good at one thing rather than being mediocre in everything.

Haslett has to prove this season that he’s capable of leading a competent defense.

Haslett has a long resume of coaching defenses in the NFL, so experience isn’t the issue here. The problem is his track record – of his past 12 defenses, none have ranked higher than 14th in points allowed, and that was the only time his defense ranked higher than 21st. Finishing in the lower third of the league in points allowed generally isn’t a way a guy accumulates 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator, but here we are. 

The issue during Haslett’s Redskins tenure is one of talent. Because of the salary cap penalties levied by the league, the Skins the past two seasons have concentrated on making the offense better at the expense of the defense and special teams.   

Let’s take a look at the talent Haslett has had at his disposal during his Redskins tenure. One can easily argue that the salary cap penalty and restrictions have more than merely handicapped the team the past two years – they’ve has nearly crippled it.  

There have been some promising additions on the offensive side of the ball recently, notably Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon, with little added to the defense during the reign of Mike Shanahan. Where are the Griffin and Morris-type additions to the defense?  

Even with their 3-13 record this year, the Redskins defense ranked in the middle of the league I yardage allowed – 18th overall. They were, however, 30th in points allowed. Why the disparity? 

The Redskins’ special teams were horrendous this past season. They gave up several touchdowns and yielded short field opportunities for the opposing team too many times. They were dead last in all aspects of that phase of the game, and it’s an aspect of this team that has been hit particularly hard by the salary cap penalties. 

If the Skins couldn’t address adding playmakers to the starting defense, how on Earth could they address depth signings as quality backups and special teamers?  

This offseason, many of last season’s starters on defense will become free agents.  With Haslett’s retention and the salary cap penalties being lifted, it will be interesting to watch who gets new contracts and where the team will look to improve from the outside. 

The past few seasons, the Skins and their apologists have claimed over and over that they haven’t had the right pieces and talent needed to run the 3-4 defense. They should have some flexibility to in that regard this offseason.  

With the retirement of 4-time pro bowler London Fletcher, who will step up and become the true leader of this group? His heir apparent, Perry Riley, Jr., is a free agent. So is the entire starting defensive backfield, though not many will miss those guys. And so is top sacker Brian Orakpo. 

Haslett has to decide who will replace Fletcher’s production in addition to leadership. Fletcher led the league in tackling on multiple occasions. He’ll be missed on the field as much as in the locker room.  

They need depth along the defensive line. Barry Cofield has been rock solid in the nose tackle role, but the rushing defense was porous in 2013, a huge step back from the previous season when they limited teams to 95.8 ypg, fifth in the NFL.  

The team addressed the secondary some in last year’s draft, bringing in CB David Amerson and S Baccari Rambo. Both had growing pains this season, but look to be pieces to build upon, especially Amerson. 

It will be interesting to see if they draft to build depth here. This group for the past two seasons have made so many mediocre quarterbacks look good – let alone what the actual good one do to it. The Redskins should go after a true shut-down corner this year – either via free agency or trade. They should look for someone who has been a solid citizen and that can set an example and mentor the young defensive backs they drafted last year.  

If they retain CB DeAngelo Hall, they need to stress with the veteran ballhawk that he needs to be more of a leader and eliminate the unnecessary unsportsmanlike penalties he accumulates as much as – if not more than – his interceptions. 

The team also retained defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, another of the former Tampa Bay staff that Bruce Allen has imported to D.C. They brought back inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and brought in outside linebackers coach Brian Baker from Cleveland to work specifically within the 3-4 system. 

This year’s defense will have Jim Haslett’s entire fingerprints all over it. We will have no other person to point our finger at. They have some holes to fill but they have the money to spend. With so many defensive players testing the free market this year it will be interesting to see how it all takes shape by training camp.  

Maybe with all the needed changes that are going to happen to the team this year, coach Gruden, Bruce Allen and the ownership decided to stay with at least one part of what they knew, for better or worse.  

Changing everything at once is a dicey proposition. Obviously the special teams’ poor performance cannot continue. They have a new coordinator there as well, with Ben Kotwica coming over from the Jets. Adding personnel on the defensive side of the ball can’t help but make the personnel for the special teams that much better. 

Maybe Haslett hasn’t had all the materials necessary at his disposal to be successful. If that is the case, maybe he deserves shot with a roster stocked with difference-makers on defense.  

But he needs to take ownership and accountability, with no more excuses this time around. We shouldn’t expect a championship defense this coming season. But it is reasonable to expect a consistent and competitive one though.

It should prove interesting how Haslett, Bruce Allen and the talent evaluators approach the restocking of defensive personnel during the offseason. We gave Mike Shanahan four years. Why not see what Haslett can bring and accomplish in his fourth with appropriate personnel and no limitations.
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Staff intern Wayne Hess contributed to this report.

Ovechkin delivering; rest of Caps — including management — need to pick up the slack

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

On Friday night, with the greatest player in the history of team sport in attendance, the Washington Capitals’ captain, The Great Eight, scored both of the Caps’ goals in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Saturday, on Hockey Night in Canada at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ovechkin recorded the Caps lone tally in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, Alex Ovechkin has 20 goals to place him at the top of the leader board in that particular category. Hard as it might be to imagine, it’s the first time in his illustrious career that Ovechkin has been the first player in the league to 20 goals in a season.

The Caps, as whole though, haven’t mirrored Ovechkin’s personal success yet this year, despite their captain being on a pace to record the first 70-goal season in the NHL in forever.

Ovechkin is taking a lot of shots, scoring a high — but based on his history, not outrageously high — percentage of said shots, and generally being the best player on the ice almost every night he laces them up. The rest of the team however, remains a work in progress.

Washington’s next-highest goal scorer is Joel Ward, with nine. Ward’s career high in goals was the 17 he posted in 2008-09, his first full campaign in the league, so it’s unlikely that he continues to score at a 33-goal pace, especially considering his over 20 percent shot success.

The second line’s contribution has been sparse thus far. Troy Brouwer has scored five times; Brooks Laich thrice. Mike Green, bitten by the injury bug once again, has yet to record a goal, though two of Mikhail Grabovski’s seven goals came off tips of Green shots, which were originally awarded to the defenseman, on opening night.

It’s kind of been an age-old story around these parts since the start of the Ovechkin era. Where will the secondary scoring come from? When will they learn to play defense? Will the goaltending, strong enough in the regular season, carry over to the second season?

The Capitals defensive struggles are well documented. On any given night right now, half the dressed defenders didn’t start the season on the big club. One was waived by a division foe. One’s a 27-year old minor league journeyman. Another is a 29-year old AHL veteran. One was a college free agent signee last year. Several have been legitimate NHL rookies, including 19-year old Connor Carrick, who was sent down to Hershey just three games in.

Raise your hand if you had Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Alexander Urbom or Tyson Strachan being nightly contributors to the Capitals in this, Ovechkin’s age 28 season.

Liar.

All the while, a legitimate Top-4 prospect named Dmitry Orlov bides his time riding the shuttle between Hershey and D.C., yet to suit up for the big club this season,

Whatever you want to think of GM George McPhee’s asset management this season, especially on the blue line, you’re probably justified. If you want to think he’s waiting out the competition until the trade deadline to steal a Top-4 D-man from a second division team, good for you. If you think he’s squandering precious games during the regular season when the Caps could be building a home-ice advantage for the playoffs, you’re justified as well.

It was a real crapshoot for the Caps to have started the season depending on Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Carrick, then filling in the gap with the rest when those players didn’t pan out due to injury or inexperience. The ramifications might not be fully known until the spring.

One thing is for certain: Ovechkin is holding up his end of the bargain. It’s up to the rest of the Caps, and to McPhee and Adam Oates, to find the right parts to supplement Ovechkin’s contributions. Otherwise, at the end of the season we’ll once again be lamenting another incomplete season in the prime of Alex Ovechkin’s Hall of Fame career.

OPINION: Washington Capitals have too many holes to trade for one “difference-maker”

On Wednesday, Mike Harris of The Washington Times espoused his opinion that the Washington Capitals should shake things up and trade for a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman. Presumably, Mike was talking about the “Rod Langway” type of Norris winner, and not the type of candidate Mike Green was when he was twice-nominated.

I’ll let Mike explain himself: [Read more...]

Redskins get elusive first win as defense finds its footing

The Washington Redskins finally got their elusive first win of the season by playing solid defensive football and taking advantage of turnovers Sunday afternoon against the Oakland Raiders. The Redskins defense played their best game of the season, against an admittedly depleted Raiders squad, and the offense executed well enough to qualify the win as a “team” victory. And not a moment too soon.

The Redskins came out of the gate a little bit sluggish to start the game, with consecutive three-and-out series, perhaps due to crossing three time zones to play this one. The sluggish start was compounded by a special teams blunder, as a blocked punt by Rashad Jennings after the Skins second series was recovered by Jeremy Stewart in the end zone for a quick 7-0 Raiders lead.

After another Redskins three-and-out on the following possession, Raiders QB Matt Flynn, starting for the injured Terelle Pryor,  threw a strike to rookie TE Mychal Rivera for a 18-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a two score lead early on. But on the drive, the Raiders lost starting running back Darren McFadden to a hamstring injury, and that would play into the Redskins hands the rest of the day.

Those two quick scores by the Raiders apparently triggered a wake-up call for the Redskins.

On the next possession, the offense went hurry-up no-huddle and marched down the field. The drive stalled at the Oakland two yard line, however, and the Redskins settled for a chip-shot field goal by John Potter.

That must have energized the defense as well.

On the ensuing Raiders possession, David Amerson read Flynn all the way, jumped a route, and picked off a pass intended for Raiders leading receiver Denarius Moore.  Amerson took it untouched 45 yards for the Skins first score of the day.

With McFadden out, the Raiders went to a more pass-happy attack, which enabled the Redskins defense to come after the immobile and indecisive Flynn. The Skins pressured Flynn all day, recorded a season-high seven sacks, and forced two Flynn fumbles to go along with Amerson’s pick-six.

The defense didn’t allow another point, shutting out the Raiders offense for better than three quarters, as the Skins scored 24 unanswered points to walk out of Oakland with their first win of the year.

Going into the bye week, the Redskins should feel good about getting their first victory of the season. Their 1-3 record places them one game behind the Dallas Cowboys (2-2), who lost on the road at San Diego, at the top of the division. Both the Eagles and Giants lost in Week 4 as well, setting the NFC East as the worst division in the NFL right now, with no team having a winning record.

What’s more, if the Cowboys lose in Week 5 to the high-powered Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, the Redskins would then have an opportunity to go into Arlington in two weeks and battle with the struggling Cowboys for the division lead.

It appears that mediocrity is going to rule the division this season. If the Redskins can use the two solid weeks of practice surrounding the bye to get Robert Griffin III even more up to speed with his offense, and give the rookies in the secondary two more weeks to feel comfortable in the schemes, there’s little reason the Skins can’t rebound to still be a factor in the division.

District Sports Page staff intern Brandon Enroth contributed to this report.

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