After rough start, have the Nationals turned the corner?

By Jeremy Batka

This weekend marks the start of a very important 11 game home stand for the Washington Nationals. If the Nats have even the slightest hopes of post season baseball in 2019, they need to start beating the teams in front of them—but before we get there, how did the Nats get back to playing meaningful baseball?

Let’s think back to Memorial Day weekend- not the hamburgers or hot dogs, but the National’s record and sad state of affairs. Hovering around 10-12 games under 500, far from the first place Phillies, it almost seemed like Davey Martinez’ club was already out of playoff contention before the Memorial Day weekend charcoal had even cooled.

But since losing 4 straight in New York against the Mets, something unexpected has happened, the Nationals started to play better baseball. It started with taking 3-4 from the Marlins in an extended weekend series which led to the Nationals reeling off wins in 12 of their next 17 games. So, what changed so quickly?

Part of the reason for the Nationals underwhelming and downright ugly start to the 2019 season was a rash of injuries including Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman may not be the most shocking name to hit the injured list but you certainly don’t expect his backup, Matt Adams to join him there. Add injuries to Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Howie Kendrick and you’ll start to understand why the Nats fell so far below 500.

It wasn’t just injuries though- the nights when the offense provided a few runs they were most often givien back fairly quickly. The bullpen has by far been the greatest weakness of the 2019 Washington Nationals. Boasting the highest ERA in the NL for a long time in the early half of the season; outside of closer Sean Doolittle, they struggled to find an out. You had good starts from Corbin, Strasburg and especially Scherzer wasted due to the inability of the bullpen to get outs.

So as the Nationals enter their most important home stand of the season (so far) which includes matchups against the Phillies and Braves both of whom they are chasing, why should Nats fans have any faith that their winning ways will continue?

The truth is the Nats turnaround (or slight version of…) is a product of simply playing better baseball. The defense is not committing as many errors and the offense is providing timely hits. This, plus Strasburg, Sanchez and Scherzer having some great starting efforts without the bullpen giving the runs right back.

Turner took some time reaching 100% getting back from injury but he enters the long home stand on fire. Rendon is also hitting well lately and getting on base at an All-Star rate. Even the bullpen has produced some help for Doolittle as Tanner Rainey seems to be a strong 7th  or 8th inning option hitting mid to upper 90’s routinely.

Don’t pencil the Nats in the 2019 post season yet but they certainly have started to play better baseball since Memorial Day. Will they be good enough to make a run at the teams in front of them?

After this 11-game home stand, we may have our answer.

3 Match-ups to Watch Against The Green Bay Packers

Let’s take a look at some of the key match-ups for Sunday’s game vs the Green Bay Packers:

Green Bay O-Line vs. Washington Pass Rush

Image result for Ryan kerrigan vs green bay(AP/Mark Tenally)

Green Bay’s O-line led by Bryan Lulaga and David Bakhtiari, have given up 4 sacks in each of the two games this year. Meanwhile, only Matt Ioannidis and Ryan Anderson are the only Redskins to record a sack thus far. Kerrigan and Preston Smith have remained quiet with 5 tackles between the two of them. One of these units is going to have to win this battle, and it could very well be the Skins’ pass rush. Kerrigan is only a year removed from back to back dougle digit sack and will be hoping to find a groove, as he usually starts the season off pretty fast. Add in the fact that Aaron Rodgers is playing on one leg (which takes him from God-like to slightly less God-like), and it looks like a game where Manusky’s unit can come out on top.

 

Green Bay WRs vs Washington CBs

Image result for quinton dunbar vs green bay(USA Today Sports/Brad Mills)

Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, and Randall Cobb all have over 100 yards and are averaged at least 10 yards per catch. They also have scored 5 TDs between the three. Adams is the biggest threat as Rodgers has targeted him 20 times and owns 5 of the teams 10 red zone targets. Since Adams primary plays on the left side, that means he will match up most of the game against the surprisingly impressive Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar has stood out on defense this season with 5 passes defended and 1 INT. The match up Green Bay would love to exploit is Randall Cobb in the slot vs Fabian Moreau, which is the most advantageous for them.

 

Green Bay Secondary vs. Alex Smith

Image result for alex smith washington redskins(AP/Nick Wass)

Alex Smith has been exactly what he’s been expected. He wasn’t to blame for the loss to Indy, but he hasn’t wow’d anyone. Green Bay gave up 425 yards and 4 TDs to Kirk Cousins at home last week. Davon House replaced injured starter Kevin King(groin) but is currently nursing a bicep injury, leaving Green Bay with Tramon Williams and two rookies at CB. Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson should win these battles, but they’ve been less than stellar. Green Bay plays a lot of Cover 1 with a single high safety, so Smith could exploit the young corners who play on the right side. This is a tough match up to call, but if Smith gets into a rhythm early, we may see a Doctson coming out party.

 

The First Unofficial Redskins Depth Chart

One thing to note here: On the Redskins official website , Kelley is actually listed as the third RB, followed by Perine. Byron Marshall was placed on IR earlier this week, allowing the Skins to sign Josh Keyes who played for the Houston Texans this offseason.

Adrian Peterson of course gets the nod for RB1 with everyone else where they were expected to be except for one player. Danny Johnson will be returning kickoffs.

I’m excited for this team. Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson are officially off the injury report. Fingers crossed that it stays that way for the foreseeable future. That may be wishful thinking but the injuries last year were brutal – 22 players on IR, Trent Williams did not practice all year, Norman out multiple weeks with broken ribs. My optimism may be at an all time high for this squad. HTTR.

It’s DARON Payne And You’d Better Get Used To It

Sam Darnold is sacked by Da'Ron Payne during the Jets' 15-13 preseason loss Thursday night.
via Getty Images

ESPN – He’s not here to give snappy quotes or provide witty comments. Someone other than Washington Redskins rookie nose tackle Daron Payne can provide that entertainment. That is a good thing, because that’s not what Payne wants to do anyway.

Look at his first preseason action two weeks ago against the New York Jets. He took on double teams without losing ground; he won a one-on-one battle for a sack; he strung out runs, allowing linebackers to make plays.

“It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to worry about,” teammate and defensive end Ziggy Hood said.

….

Payne is quiet enough that he didn’t want to speak up at Alabama when an apostrophe was inserted into his first name, turning him into Da’Ron. He was listed that way from his freshman season through this past year.

“Just overnight one day it ended up with an apostrophe,” he said. “I never said nothing for a minute and then I finally said something. … I didn’t think too much about it. My agent called me and was like, ‘Do you want it or not?’ And I said no.”

 

Great article by ESPN’s John Keim on Daron Payne. I’ve always been high on Payne as a player, but as someone who has had their last name mispronounced for 25 years without bothering to correct anyone, Payne becomes much more relatable as a person. You’ve got to love a guy who does not worry about something trivial as a spelling error. 

On the field, He’s earned praise from the veteran leader of the Washington defense, Josh Norman, comparing Payne and Jon Allen to Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei from his days playing in Carolina.

“Young, sprout and just ready to go,” Norman said. “When they played, it was a difference. They moved men. They’d get to a quarterback and he was able to throw it blind sometimes and get it out of their hands faster than they wanted to. That’s when DBs make plays on the ball. Those two guys remind me of them. They’re shorter impact tanks. I look at that and I love it.

Daron, Da’Ron, doesn’t matter. Names aside, Payne is only concerned more important things like sacking quarterbacks and becoming a dominating lineman. 

 

 

Redskins’ 53 Man Roster Projection 1.0

Offense


via Getty Images/Patrick Smith

Quarterbacks: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy

No surprises here. Smith was always going to be the starter and McCoy is a backup who can get you through 5-6 games without ruining your season should QB1 go down. As much as Kevin Hogan would be a nice addition to this team, he is the odd man out as the Skins’ usually only carry 2 QB’s on the roster.


via CBS Sports

Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs, Samaje Perine

No surprises here either. Byron Marshall will be the odd man out. Injuries will likely mean the coaching staff elects to keep 5 backs.

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson (18) during the second half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md. After five seasons in Dallas, Claiborne is getting a fresh start with the New York Jets and focused on staying healthy and being a No. 1 cornerback for his new team. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
via AP/Alex Brandon

Wide Receivers: Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris, Cam Sims

Doctson is the incumbent WR1, with Richardson opposite him and Crowder holding down the slot. Harris has impressed throughout training camp and will earn a spot. Sims has performed well in preseason action edging out Brian Quick. Mr. Irrelevant, Trey Quinn, hasn’t done much to separate him self from the pack.


via Washington Post/John McDonnell

Tight Ends: Josh Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle

Reed, when healthy, is an elite tight end. Davis is also a reliable target who can fill in as a starter should Reed go down (Reed has never played 16 games in his professional career). Sprinkle has been solid this offseason and no one else has done much to challenge him for the third TE spot.

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via USA TODAY

Offensive Line: Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Geron Christian Sr., Tyler Catalina, Ty Nseke, Kyle Kalis  

When healthy, this is a top line in the league. It will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff elects to keep 8 linemen like last year or add another for depth purposes. The latter seems more likely.

Defense

Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne
via AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Defensive line: Jon Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, Anthony Lanier II, Ziggy Hood

This defensive line will be young and hungry. With the exception of Hood, everyone on this line will be 25 years old or younger.

0613-zach-brown-minicamp-day-1
via Garrett Campbell/Washington Redskins

Inside Linebackers: Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Martrell Spaight, Shaun Dion Hamilton

Zach Vigil looks to be the odd man out here. Spaight has shown improvement this preseason and can play on special teams, while Hamilton is a raw prospect that can develop into a starter. These four guys will see plenty of action this week against the Baltimore Ravens.

Image result for ryan kerrigan
via LetsGoRedskins.com

Outside Linebackers: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Not much to say here, this is likely to be the strongest unit on defense with Kerrigan and Smith returning. McPhee was added this offseason to boost depth.


via Keith Allison/Hanover, MD

Cornerbacks: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Adonis Alexander, Danny Johnson, Greg Stroman

A young group led by Norman. Dunbar and Moreau are no surprises. Alexander has the size and speed to play safety as well. Johnson has made the most of his opportunities in preseason action. Greg Stroman will look to immediately contribute as a return man on special teams.

Image result for dj swearinger
via Washington Post/John McDonnell

Safeties: D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everrett, Troy Apke, Quin Blanding

Washington would be best suited to keep 5 safeties as Apke may need more time to develop as a backup and a little competition from Blanding might help speed things along.

Special Teams

Image result for Dustin hopkins
via HTTR4LIFE.com

Special Teams: Dustin Hopkins (K), Tress Way (P), Nick Sundberg (LS)

Again, no surprises here. This unit returns from last year.