Let the hand-wringing begin. Furrowed brows are welcome, too. So is head shaking, tsk-tsking and muttering under your breath.
The $24 million quarterback and the coach with a two-year extension have failed miserably in leading Washington’s offense – the team’s clear strength – thus far through the preseason. Instead of resembling one of the league’s most high-powered units, the Skins’ starters have struggled to manage a measly first down. They move the chains as if moving mountains.
Their ineptitude has created mass consternation in some corners and outright panic in others. Doomsdayers see a worst-case scenario materializing with every errant pass and fruitless run. Critics who worried about the loss of offensive coordinator Sean McVay, along with 1,000-yard wideouts Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, are doubling down on fearful forecasts.
Where’s Aaron Rodgers when you need him?
The Green Bay quarterback didn’t stick around long Saturday night – going 6 of 8 for 37 yards and a touchdown on his only drive – but the prescription he wrote for the Packers faithful three years ago could be beneficial around these parts today.
He gave them five letters: R-E-L-A-X. Relax, he said. Everything is going to be OK. The assurance was issued to calm a fidgety fan base after Green Bay’s 1-2 start in 2014. The Packers finished at 12-4 and advanced to the NFC championship game.
At this point, it’s fair to ask if I’ve fallen and bumped my head.
That could be the only logical explanation for comparing Rodgers and the Packers to Cousins and the Skins. One is an eventual Hall of Famer who helms a perennial playoff team. The other is a polarizing fourth-rounder who leads a decidedly dysfunctional franchise.
But Skins fans have good reason to chill out and not get worked up over two exhibition games. First and foremost, it’s the NFL preseason, sports’ greatest atrocity against mankind. Washington’s starting offense could smell sweet as a rose or stink to the high heavens and neither would matter. Nothing that happens on the field can overpower the stench of fake football.
NFL exhibitions put the “less” in meaningless, building bridges to nowhere and roads to nothing. The 2008 Detroit Lions were perfect in the preseason (4-0) and perfectly awful when the games counted (0-16). Conversely, the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and 2007 New York Giants each won the Super Bowl after posting 1-3 preseason records.
Besides the inconsequential nature of August football – injuries notwithstanding – there’s more rationale to blow off Washington’s ugly results so far: Frankly, we shouldn’t have expected much.
The Skins were slow starters WITH McVay, Garcon and Jackson. It would be a miracle if the offense didn’t miss a beat without them. A lull in development and lapse in production is only normal.
In three seasons under Gruden, Washington has yet to win its regular-season opener or two of its first three games. We’ve been left to hope for stretch runs like the 6-2 tear to close 2015. There’s great excitement when the team gets hot like that. But stumbling from the gate reduces margin for error, evidenced by the 4-4 mark over the second half of last season.
Now, Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson are being worked in at wide receiver as Gruden knocks off rust as a playcaller. The offense would do well to vaguely resemble last year by opening day against Philadelphia. Until then, it doesn’t matter if they gain negative yardage Sunday and no first downs against Cincinnati, the last dress rehearsal for starters.
After all of the above, we still haven’t mentioned the best explanation for Washington’s terrible offensive performance.
Missing your coordinator and top two receivers is bad enough. Missing one of the NFL’s best tight ends makes success more difficult to attain.
Jordan Reed is arguably the most important player outside of Cousins. He’s a luxurious security blanket for the QB, catching 66 passes for 686 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last year. Without him, the Skins attack is much more blasé; Washington is 2-4 the last two years in regular season games when he doesn’t play.
Reed was recently cleared to practice and should see his first preseason action Sunday. The next time he suits up will be the season opener and it’s unlikely that the offense will have its rhythm with its Pro Bowl tight end by then.
Looking at the schedule’s early portion, this season is shaping up as another 1-2 or 2-2 start. That’s probably where the team was destined to be regardless, whether Cousins & Co. were on fire this preseason or played as if stuck in snow.
As Rodgers would say: “Relax.”
There’ll be enough to worry about for real before long.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.