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Monday, September 18, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington football fans can breathe a bit easier with 0-16 off the table.

Joyful outcomes might be few this year, but at least Jay Gruden and Co. prevailed in their first “must-win” game. Thoughts of whiffing against the Los Angeles Rams, with Oakland and Kansas City up next, cast a pall over the season entering Week 2.


Instead, Washington proved it can win (27-20) by running the ball and playing defense. The Rams were gouged for 229 rushing yards while Kirk Cousins passed for a meager 179. Gruden channeled former Rams coach “Ground Chuck” Knox, calling for 36 handoffs.

“It’s important,” Gruden told reporters about pounding the football. “It keeps your defense fresh, you’re possessing the ball and the linemen love it. They have more fun doing that than pass protecting all day against Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and those guys. We had a lot of success and the backs liked it. The receivers will eventually get to like it because it’ll open up a lot of play action and shock plays for us.”

So we learned something new about this team. But looking around the country, we learned something else in the season’s second week:

Washington may be destined to produce mostly bad football, but they’re going to have lots of company.

Washington-Los Angeles was one of the more entertaining games. The teams combined for five touchdowns and four fields goals with multiple big plays on both sides, including a 61-yard touchdown run by Chris Thompson and a 69-yard bomb from the Rams‘ Jared Goff to Gerald Everett.

(Coach Sean McVay’s Rams have scored 66 points through two games, tied with Denver for third in the league. Washington’s next two opponents, Oakland and Kansas City, are tops in scoring with 71 and 69 points, respectively. This isn’t the year to have the AFC West on your schedule.)

The crowd at a half-empty L.A. Coliseum should’ve been thankful for the display. Many ticket holders elsewhere were treated to abominations, which have been a national theme thus far.

On Sunday, neither Carolina nor Buffalo scored a touchdown in the Panthers’ 9-3 victory. Minnesota failed to cross the goal line in a 26-9 loss against Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay routed Chicago, 29-7 and the Bears averted a shutout by scoring with 1:44 left. Arizona beat Indianapolis, 16-13, and Seattle beat San Francisco, 12-9; those four teams scored one touchdown apiece.

Of course, the Cincinnati Bengals would love to muster a measly touchdown. They have produced three field goals through eight quarters of football. The sorry output led to the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after Thursday’s dreadful 13-9 defeat. Houston reached the end zone just once in that eyesore.

Memo to the league: Folks don’t tune in to watch defensive struggles. I’m not suggesting we want NFL scores to mimic Arena football, but a bunch of punts mixed in with some field-goal attempts and a touchdown won’t maintain many fans’ attention.

Blowouts don’t help, either. Only three games in Week 1 were decided by seven points or less.

Competitiveness has been better this week, as seven contests were one-possession affairs. But let’s not confuse close games with good games. That’s as bad as the NFL’s mistaken assumption that every team deserves primetime exposure.

Are you ready for some bad football? You’ll get some Thursday night, when the Rams play the 49ers. The TNF matchup after that — Bears vs. Packers — is equally unappealing.

San Francisco and Chicago are among the league’s worst, with no business being on national TV. The same is true for Cleveland (vs. Minnesota on Oct. 29), the New York Jets (vs. Buffalo on Nov. 2) and Indianapolis (vs. Denver on Dec. 14). Those games should be real treats, especially since the teams will be on three days’ rest!

Viewers from coast-to-coast likely have the same low opinion on Washington, which plays back-to-back Thursday games vs. the New York Giants (Nov. 23) and Dallas (Nov. 30). Not much was expected from Washington this season and the first two games haven’t altered the forecast.

However, beating Los Angeles was important to keep hopes alive for at least a middling season. The emphasis on running and the showing by rookie halfback Samaje Perine were encouraging, even though they’re iffy as long-term prospects. Cousins‘ lack of connection with outside receivers remains a concern, though perennial project Ryan Grant justified the staff’s confidence in him by recording the game-winning touchdown.

It was his only catch on two targets, so no reason to get carried away. But teams with limited promise welcome any sign of progress. Fortunately for Washington, similar squads abound.

Subtract the rugged AFC West, where Washington could go 1-3, and they should have a chance in every game.

After two weeks, Washington looks like a team with holes. But judging by what we’ve see elsewhere in the NFL, they’re not alone.

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.


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