Redskins-Giants Winners & Losers

Handing out labels following Skins games, this time a 29-27 win at New York …

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Winners

Su’a Cravens — Gorgeous game-clinching INT for the rookie safety/LB we all have high hopes for.

Kirk Cousins — This wasn’t Good Kirk, but it wasn’t Bad Kirk either (except for taking that sack at the end of the first half). A step in the right direction. By the way, he’s on pace for 5,275 passing yards, which would be the third-most ever.

Jamison Crowder — Four catches for 78 yards, including a 55-yard TD. Also broke off a 50-yard punt return that featured him dancing on both sidelines.

Quinton Dunbar — I have no idea what he was doing on the punt return he accidentally touched that later turned into a TD for NY. But that high degree of difficulty one-handed red-zone INT made up for it. Also caught a fake-punt downfield pass like he was DeSean.

DeSean Jackson — Five catches for 96 yards and one beautiful score. Continues to look good this (contract) year.

Josh Norman — ODB got some (seven catches, 121 yards), but it took 11 targets to do it, and he never found paydirt. Oh, and Norman made him cry.

Jordan Reed — Unreal one-handed catch-and-run on a long third down for a first.

David Bruton Jr. — Even though it wasn’t ruled as such, that looked like an end-zone INT to me.

Trent Murphy — Another sack. That’s three in two weeks.

Chris Baker — Absolutely crushed Eli, forcing a fumble.

Dustin Hopkins — Five-for-five on field goals, and the only kickoff he didn’t touchback was a short one that was returned shy of the 25 (more on that later).

Tress Way — Who knew Tress Way had an arm on him?

Jay GrudenNot calling timeout at the end of the half was bad clock management, and running it on third-and-three on the final drive was too conservative, but they did have a more balanced offense and got a much-needed win at New York, so here we are.

The raised fists — Nice to see, in light of Gruden’s earlier comments.

Losers

Bashaud Breeland, Shaun Lauvao, DeAngelo Hall and Kory Lichtensteiger — All hurt, and Breeland and Lavau better not be for long. Hall’s may be an ACL.

Dashaun Phillips — All I know is he can’t stay with Sterling Shephard.

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Trent Williams — Had to play some left guard, where he’d never played before.

Matt Jones and Chris Thompson — Twenty-three carries for 88 yards. Okay.

Robert Kelley — Between the hair and lack of extra yards, it’s hard to tell the difference between him and Jones.

Orleans Darkwa — What’s an Orleans Darkwa?

Ben Kowitca (special teams coach) — Had a punt blocked (negated by penalty). Pulled off a successful fake punt. And I’m not sure if this is strategy or what, but each of the past two weeks Hopkins has pooched a kickoff high and to the right, and the other team hasn’t gotten it out to the 25. Something to watch.

Redskins-Cowboys Winners & Losers

Handing out labels following Skins games. This time a 27-23 home loss to Dallas …

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Winners

Josh NormanHis office remained mostly stationary, set up on the left side of the field. He did shut Dez Bryant down whenever they were matched up, though, and punched a fumble out of Ezekiel Elliott’s breadbasket. As good as advertised so far.

Trent Murphy — One-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble! Trent Murphy sighting!

Chris ThompsonThis blitz pickup, on a third-and-seven, is a thing of beauty. Nice catch-and-run for 38 on the final drive.

Jamison Crowder — That was a hell of a TD catch. Also caught six balls on eight targets.

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis — Ten catches and 121 yards on 12 targets for the duo.

Dustin Hopkins — Two shorts FGs and plenty of touchbacks. Did not leave a surprise onside kick well short of the 10-yard mark.

Alfred Morris — Scored an untouched go-ahead TD in his triumphant return. Wish we could cheer for him still.

Losers

Kirk Cousins — The missed connection with a wide-open Crowder and the back-breaking end-zone INT were bad enough. But it was the little things, too. He’s not good right now, and the Redskins are bad when he’s not good.

Those calling for Colt McCoy — Start Cousins until he’s hurt.

The defense — Dallas shouldn’t score 27 points when they don’t have Tony Romo. Chalk it up to adjustment issues? Maybe, but also to Norman and Ryan Kerrigan being surrounded by replacement-level talent.

Jay Gruden and Sean McVay — Fifty planned passes versus 15 planned runs in a game that was tight throughout. They were getting 4.1 yards per carry, too. The bloom is coming off of a lot of roses.

Bashaud Breeland — Had trouble with Dez and tackled Cole Beasley for pass interference on the goal line. Tough season for 26.

Kory Lichtensteiger — The much-maligned center somehow messed up the snap on a spike play, forcing a 10-second runoff with 18 to play. You don’t see that much.

David Bruton Jr. — Doesn’t tackle too good.

John WallC’mon, man.

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Matt Jones — Thirteen carries for 61 yards and a badly needed TD. Doesn’t seem capable of breaking tackles or getting extra yards.

DeSean Jackson — Three catches for 40 yards. He’d be a monster right now if Cousins was cooking.

Josh Doctson — Caught and ran one for 57 when the whole defense was keyed in on DeSean. Was also targeted on three end-zone fades, none of which were caught.

Redskins-Steelers Winners & Losers

Handing out labels following Skins games, this time a season-opening 38-16 loss to Pittsburgh at home on Monday Night Football …

Winners

Matthew McCounaghey — The burgundy-and-gold suit was a nice touch.

Jordan Reed — Impressive on the first drive, at least.

DeSean Jackson — Six catches for 102 yards. Reinforced the opinion that he’s in for a big year.

Chris Thompson — Scored a TD on the day his brother got out of prison.

Sean McDonough — Liked him in his MNF debut, especially when he asked Jon Gruden, “Do you want to blast your brother?” for punting on 4th-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 40.

Arthur Moats — Started at LB for Pittsburgh. Go Dukes!

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Losers

Kirk Cousins — So that was terrible. Inaccurate out of the gate, he had one bad INT dropped and another bad INT caught. Rushed throws and failed to scramble — or even move, really — all night. Clear regression from the second half of last year. Showed why you don’t hand out a huge contract based on a 10-game stretch.

Jay Gruden — Chose to kick and punt on two 4th-and-short situations in Pittsburgh territory in the first half. Resulted in three points. Mike Tomlin went for it twice on 4th-and-1 in Washington territory. Resulted in 14 points.

Bashaud Breeland — Had the near-impossible assignment of matching up with Antonio Brown most of the night, one-on-one in many cases, and was burnt for two TDs. Better gear up for more WR1s down the line.

Matt Jones — Seven carries for 24 yards. (Didn’t fumble or get hurt, though.)

Jamison Crowder — Fair caught with no one in his area code. Fumbled after making a first down (Pierre Garcon recovered).

Trent Williams — Penalized twice. That should be his season total.

Greg Toler — Looked real bad in coverage on a 42-yard catch by Sammie Coates.

The defense in general — No pass rush. Couldn’t stop the run. Couldn’t get off the field. May be a long season.

D.C.-area Dancing With the Stars fansSorry, y’all.

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Antonio Brown — Penalized for twerking. Is so, so good.

Josh NormanGot into a shouting match with a teammate, and it was downhill from there. Didn’t play bad, and nearly made a couple big plays, but he was on the other side of the field from Brown most of the night. Bummer.

Ryan Kerrigan — Strip-sacked Big Ben and then got stripped himself. Better luck next time.

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Zach Britton Is A Magician

The recent Fangraphs post “Zach Britton’s 2016: An All-Time Great Season?” is as eye-opening as it sounds. The O’s closer hasn’t allowed an earned run since April. It’s August.

If he sustains his current ERA for the rest of the season, then this would be the best year ever for a reliever (min. 60 innings pitched) from a run-prevention standpoint. Not bad!

And not that further proof is needed, but I’m just curious: With Britton on pace for 50 saves, how does he stack up vs. other closers with massive saves?

Well, there have only been 15 50-save seasons in MLB history. Here’s how Britton compares (ranked by ERA):

Zach Britton, 2016 — 50 saves, 0.55 ERA
Eric Gagne, 2003 — 55 saves, 1.20 ERA
Craig Kimbrel, 2013 — 50 saves, 1.21 ERA
Trevor Hoffman, 1998 — 53 saves, 1.48 ERA
Bobby Thigpen, 1990 — 57 saves, 1.83 ERA
Dennis Eckersley, 1992 — 51 saves, 1.91 ERA
Mariano Rivera, 2004 — 53 saves, 1.94 ERA
Eric Gagne, 2002 — 52 saves, 1.97 ERA
Mark Melancon, 2015 — 51 saves, 2.23 ERA
Francisco Rodiguez, 2008 — 62 saves, 2.24 ERA
Mariano Rivera, 2001 — 50 saves, 2.34 ERA
Jim Johnson, 2012 — 51 saves, 2.49 ERA
Jim Johnson, 2013 — 50 saves, 2.94 ERA
Rod Beck, 1998 — 51 saves, 3.02 ERA
Randy Myers, 1993 — 53 saves, 3.11 ERA
John Smoltz, 2002 — 55 saves, 3.25 ERA

That’s not even close. And I know saves don’t really matter as a true measure of effectiveness, but it’s incredible.

Lowering the bar a bit brings in Fernando Rodney’s 2012 campaign and Dennis Eckersley’s 1990. They each amassed 48 saves with ERAs of 0.60 and 0.61, respectively.

Those were good seasons! They’re in the neighborhood of Britton’s 2016, and an earned run or two could knock him off course.

That’s okay, though. Saves aside, let’s close with another stat: Since becoming O’s closer in 2014, Britton’s ERA is 1.46 over 191 innings. Low by any measure.

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The Nats Are Still Real Good At Pitching And Just Okay At Hitting

Pretty sure I read somewhere that the Nats had the second-most regular-season wins in MLB from 2012 to 2015. Assuming that’s true, which I think it is, that’s pretty good.

I mean, the whole part about not winning a playoff series over that span is pretty rough, but 91 wins per year is not bad! How’d they do that?

The easy answer is with a) top-shelf pitching and b) upper-middle-tier hitting. Have a look:

Nats batting (as measured by runs per game)

2012: 10th (4.51)
2013: 15th (4.05)
2014: 9th (4.23)
2015: 10th (4.34)
2012-15 average: 11th (4.28)

Nats pitching (as measured by ERA)

2012: 2nd (3.33)
2013: 8th (3.59)
2014: 1st (3.03)
2015: 7th (3.62)
2012-15: 4.5th (3.39)

There you go — 11th in batting and fourth or fifth in pitching over the duration. That’ll do it.

So how’s it going this year? The Nats are 15th in batting (or scoring, whatever) with 4.32 runs/game and second in ERA at 2.86. They’re on pace to win 99 goddamn games.

This year’s lineup figures to improve a bit from the early going, but I’d be surprised if they jumped into the top 10. The pitching may regress, but, barring injury, they look like a top-five fixture.

It’s a familiar formula.

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Redskins 2016 Offseason Grade: B?

Old friend of the site Bill Barnwell is handing out offseason grades over at ESPN, and his NFC East batch gives the Skins a B. Solid.

The highlights? Franchising Cousins and swapping Culliver for Norman. The lowlight? Not improving the backfield, unless you think cutting FroMo is addition by subtraction.

I thought it was a good offseason, though so much of it comes down to the draft. And at least Dallas got a C.


Putting Strasburg’s Contract In Context

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There’s been a lot said and written about Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $175 million extension, and much of it is very good. I recommend Fangraphs, Nats Baseball and SB Nation as goodreads, but I want to add something extra here, which is a quick look at the Strasburg deal relative to the top 10 pitcher contracts ever.

Note: The innings pitched and ERA+ and FIP columns here are averages of the four seasons leading up to the deal in question. So, for Strasburg that’s 2012-15.

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Four thoughts/takeaways that jump out:

1. Accounting for inflation, Strasburg’s $25 million/year isn’t much for this group. Consider Sabathia, who got $23 million/year starting in 2009. That season, only nine teams had $100 million-plus payrolls. In 2016, that number has more than doubled to 21.

2. Strasburg’s much-chronicled injury concerns show up here in the form of 28% fewer innings than the others. Of course, this was an extraordinarily healthy group leading up to their deals. Verlander, Sabathia and Tanaka haven’t held up.

3. Strasburg is slightly younger (28) than the average (29).

4. Stras’ ERA+ (which adjusts for ballpark effects) is slightly worse than the rest of the group (122 vs. 135). His FIP (fielding independent pitching), however, is slightly better (2.96 vs. 3.08). Overall, he’s right in line, effectiveness-wise.

Bottom line: Of course injuries are a concern, but that’s why Washington was able to get him at this price. It’s a reasonable deal, and putting it next to other big-time pitcher contracts confirms that. Scherzer’s is a little troubling, though.

A Caps Fans And A Pens Fan Walk Into A Bar …

Mr. Irrelevant Caps correspondent Brad Parker returns (!) to preview the Caps-Pens series. He’s joined by Ian Brinksman, a Pittsburgh native and devoted Penguins fan who had the misfortune of working with Brad once. Brad asked the questions and Ian answered. Enjoy watching them go snark-for-snark.

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1. Didn’t you guys suck a few months ago? What the hell happened? (Figured I’d lob you one first so you can tell us how amazing your coach is and explain how Sid saved Pittsburgh.)

The Pens didn’t suck as such, but they definitely plodded along in mediocrity. I don’t think there was much strategic difference between Mike Johnston and Mike Sullivan, but the team certainly responded after the former’s firing. Part of that transformation has to do with the coach, but it also coincided with call-ups, the trade for Carl Hagelin, and yes, Sidney Crosby waking up from his early-season doldrums and tearing the league apart.

With all due respect to Sullivan, I think the main difference in watching this team now and from the beginning of the season (and frankly from much of the last half dozen years) is its speed. How Washington deals with it will be an interesting match-up.

2. Do Pens fans hate the Caps as much as we used to hate you?

Used to? Almost as soon as the Caps finished up with the Flyers, my social media was flooded with the familiar frothy-mouthed anti-Crosby vitriol. I mean, your twitter handle is dedicated to mocking him. But in answer to your question, no, not quite.

The Caps are certainly a rival, but they pale in comparison to our cross-state friends from Philadelphia. And as you would probably guess, that’s because the Flyers actually beat us from time to time in the playoffs. So yeah, the relationship is a bit condescending, which I imagine is part of why Caps fans hate the Penguins so much. Maybe this is the series that changes that, but until the Caps actually beat the Pens in April/May that relationship isn’t going to change.

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3. It’s obvious that we hate Sidney Crosby because he’s a whiner that dives and yet is treated as infallible by the incredibly biased Canadian media. Why do you guys hate Alex Ovechkin, who is the greatest goal scorer of his generation and plays the game with unbridled enthusiasm and infectious joy?

I’m glad to see your journalistic objectivity is intact. I’ll ignore the Crosby baiting, other than to say I wish the league protected him as much as is claimed. Maybe then he wouldn’t have lost a year of his career to concussions.

Anyway, I love how Ovechkin’s description has been updated over the years from “best player in the world” to “best goal scorer!” And I think that gets at the heart of the antipathy. Penguins fans view him as a threat and a massive talent, but (rightly) view Crosby as the superior player. So as the NHL rammed their “rivalry” down our throats, our tribal instincts took over and the need to defend Crosby translated into attacking Ovi.

Personally, I like Ovechkin. I have an affinity for all Russian players; I find them endlessly amusing. I don’t like a lot of his hits as some of them can be quite reckless, but I don’t have any burning hatred for the man.

4. Which Penguin, who we aren’t talking about now, will Caps fans hate in a week?

This might be a bit obvious, but I think it’ll be Phil Kessel. If you look at his stats alone, he had a solid season. But in typical Kessel fashion, he disappeared for large swaths of the year and started to hear some of the same complaints that marred his time in Toronto. After an especially ghastly game in March, Kessel was able to muster some consistency that carried over into the playoffs in a big way.

From my very unscientific eyes, he was the best player on either team during the first round. His speed and shot created havoc for the Rangers. And apparently this shouldn’t be all that surprising, as his performance in past playoff games and the Olympics shows a man who ups his game when the stakes are high. I don’t think it’ll be long before I hear Caps fans mocking our fat, balding winger.

5. Um, that goalie you have is pretty awesome, right?

Matt Murray is one of the most highly regarded goalie prospects and he’s absolutely playing like it. Even when Fleury is finally healthy enough to play, I’d rather keep rolling Murray out unless he starts to stumble. I like Fleury a lot, but this kid has been everything we could possibly ask for and I don’t want to upset that.

6. The schedule was clearly altered because Justin Bieber is playing at Verizon Center on Friday. What’s your favorite song by the Beebs? (I know you’re kind of a hipster and will try to pretend you don’t like him, but seriously.)

My favorite moment was when Bieber thought he was sufficiently street to rap “Lose Yourself” in Detroit.

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7. Will any games in Pittsburgh be moved because of a Foghat/Blue Oyster Cult double bill?

Scheduling a Penguins playoff game on the same day as the Steelers draft is yinzerpocalypse.

8. Would fans in Pittsburgh rather see the Pens win another Cup, the Steelers win another Super Bowl, or the Pirates win another World Series?

Ooof. As much as it pains me to admit it, probably another Super Bowl.

9. You guys always beat us in the playoffs, even when we’re up by two games. Do you have any fear playing the Caps this year?

It’s funny. If someone were to show me the Capital’s record, statistics, and a breakdown of their team’s makeup — but hid the name of the team/players — I’d be incredibly nervous. But as soon as the Capitals name was revealed, I’d relax immediately. I don’t think I’m alone either. As soon as the Flyers began to make a series of it, I watched as Capitals nation began to have a collective freak-out.

Look, I should be incredibly nervous. But the Capitals remain the Bengals of hockey. Incredibly good during the regular season, hilariously inept in the playoffs. Bungles are going to Bungle, and until they change it, Caps are going to Cap.

10. Does Sidney Crosby still live with Mario Lemieux?

Ha, no. Does Alexander Ovechkin still have a tramp stamp?

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11. In your opinion, exactly how many hats should be thrown on the ice after a player records a hat trick?

In the year 1389, the Kingdom of Serbia was overrun by Ottoman forces in the “Battle of Kosovo.” Despite an obvious military defeat, the Serbs spent the next 700 years viewing this battle as the ultimate victory as Prince Lazar’s sacrifice stopped the Ottoman advance (note: it didn’t).

I bring this up only because it’s the closest parallel to your insistence on always bringing up the 2009 playoffs, where Crosby made an ill-advised statement during the Capitals’ Game 2 victory. To follow Brad on twitter (@stopthehats) is to see this event mentioned in constant, triumphant joy!

But of course the Penguins would go on to win the series and embarrass the Capitals in game 7. Why this series would be remembered fondly by a Capitals fan can only be explained by some deep, horrifying psychosis.

12. The Penguins will win this series if …

The Penguins will win this series if they continue their season-long mitigation of Ovi (zero points), and not allow the Capitals’ lethal powerplay too many opportunities.

13. The Capitals will win this series if …

The Capitals will win the series if they find a way to slow the Penguins aforementioned speed, force them to make stupid penalties, and rattle the rookie goaltender.

14. Your prediction?

I don’t think any team will dominate. I’ll say Pens in 6, but I could just as easily imagine a scenario where it goes the other way.

15. If your prediction comes through which of the following will you enjoy more: the victory or my Twitter meltdown?

Your Twitter is a master class in trolling. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is when the Caps do lose, you seem to have a complete psychotic break. I especially enjoyed the series of cryptic Prince (RIP) lyrics during the game 5 loss. I’ll enjoy the victory more, but it’s really closer than it ought to be.

Caps Fans Get The Best Return on Investment During These NHL Playoffs

Here with a guest post about this Caps’ playoff run and league-wide ticket prices is Mr. Irrelevant tickets partner TiqIQ.

It’s that time of year again — intensity picks up, facial hair begins to grow and dreams of hoisting Lord Stanley swirl in the minds of 16 NHL teams. For fans, the harrowing experience of the NHL Playoffs brings forth a gambit of emotions, from the elation of a big win to the frustration of an overtime loss. Patience is certainly tested, but one question remains; which fan base is getting the best bang for their buck during the 2016 NHL Playoffs?

Looking at secondary market data for 2016 NHL Playoff tickets provided by online aggregator TiqIQ and VegasInsider’s Stanley Cup odds for each team, it appears that the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals provide the best value for the greatest return this postseason. At the other end of the spectrum sit the New York Rangers, whose exorbitant ticket prices at Madison Square Garden and long odds at the Stanley Cup make them one of the worst deals in the playoffs this season.

The above graphic depicts each team’s home ticket average during the first round on the secondary market as well as their odds of winning the Stanley Cup. Perhaps expectedly, the Rangers lead the list with a whopping home average of $518.50, though at 18/1 odds leave fans paying big prices for what will likely result in an early exit. Washington Capitals playoff tickets, however, are the ninth most expensive in the opening round of play at an average price of $234.72 at Verizon Center. With 11/4 odds to win it all, the Capitals serve as the best deal through the Quarterfinals.

Such a claim is better represented through the team-by-team value index, which can be seen below. These numbers illustrate which fan bases receive the best value by multiplying each team’s first-round ticket price average at home by their Stanley Cup odds and then dividing that number by 1,000. The lower the number, the better the value, and the Capitals lead the list with a .65 rating.

Interestingly enough, while the Rangers own a 9.3 rating on the value index, they aren’t the team with the worst value from a ticketing and competitive standpoint this postseason. That honor belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers, who typically post high ticket prices at Wells Fargo Center and have the worst odds of winning the Stanley Cup at 200/1. Their 48.7 rating is far-and-away the worst value in the league. That number is certainly impacted by their first-round opponent in the Washington Capitals as well, who are clear favorites to win their first Cup in franchise history this season.

Other notable teams on the value index include the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. Prior to being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, the Red Wings were second to the Flyers as the worst value in the 2016 NHL Playoffs with a 12.8 rating. That number is interesting considering the team’s continuous regular season success and record 25th consecutive playoff appearance, which didn’t seem to translate into a deep playoff run. Like the Flyers, the Wild typically own big ticket prices during the regular season and have the fourth highest average ticket price during the first round. Their 50/1 Stanley Cup odds make them the third-worst value at a 12.8 rating.

The Capitals may offer the best value to their fans, but several teams trail closely behind through the first round of play. Anaheim Ducks playoff tickets at Honda Center are the cheapest of the Quarterfinals at $145.11, and though the team has 12/1 odds at raising the Cup, they have the second-best value index with a .8 rating. The San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars follow at respective ratings of 1.3 and 1.5.

Of course, plenty of hockey is left to play, and it remains to be seen if the Capitals have enough to win it all come June. For fans, however, they’ll gladly enjoy the ride – and the value that comes with the franchise’s potential first Stanley Cup.

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