Redskins Recap: 90 yards and a cloud of Dustin

Whether or not you support Jay Gruden, or believe Robert Griffin III is the true savior of the Redskins, or you think Dan Snyder is the personification of the antichrist and should cede his ownership to literally anyone else, it bears mentioning that the Washington Redskins are entering Week 5 of the 2015 NFL season tied for first place in a downtrodden and ultimately winnable NFC East. Praise be to Scot McCloughan, a god who seems to have stymied Snyder’s perfidious ego and compiled a tenacious roster that withstood a late onslaught to pull out a gritty win. A lot went wrong, a lot went right, but for at least a week this town can exhale and take solace knowing that the burgundy and gold have been the best team on the field for three of the first four games of the year.

5 Big Things

90 yards to victory: We might as well begin with the obvious, because the events that unfolded over the final six minutes of yesterday’s game were a novel sight for many Redskins fans. Who can forget Donovan McNabb spiking throws into the ground on crucial game-ending drives? Or how about a patented Rex Grossman interception? RGIII made a living off of going three-and-out on pivotal final drives.

Enter Kirk Cousins, who orchestrated a surgical 15-play, 90 yard drive that culminated in a gutsy catch by the inimitable Pierre Garcon to win the football game. This drive had, dare I say, all of the ingredients that would point to the Redskins being a good team. Five runs. Ten passes. Brilliant play-calling in relation to clock management. In the end, the drive melted the clock from 6:05 to 0:26, all but ending any hope the Eagles had of trying a late field goal. Cousins looked sharp and confident, Alfred Morris finally found running room against a tired Eagles defense, and once the drive hit midfield you just had this sense that they were going to find a way to score. The Redskins just don’t do this, guys. That’s why it was so fun to watch.

The Leftovers: The Redskins have done a lot of things wrong over the past 16 years, but perhaps their greatest sin is their stunning failure to utilize the tools at their disposal. Look no further than Leonard Hankerson, who simply could not get on track in D.C., and who now appears to be a star in the making in Atlanta. Remember Rod Gardner? How’d that turn out? Darnerien McCants was supposed to be the next great receiver, right? Time and time again, this team has utterly fallen flat trying to make use of the weapons they have.

Against the Eagles this week, the most exciting development in recent memory finally took place:

Chris Thompson: 6 carries, 53 yards; 3 targets, 2 catches, 24 yards

Jamison Crowder: 12 targets, 7 catches, 65 yards

Ryan Grant: 7 targets, 5 catches, 45 yards

Rashad Ross: 3 targets, 1 catch, 43 yards

Where did this come from? All of a sudden, the most underutilized members of the team came together and put forth an effort that fans have been waiting for. The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but that’s not important. What’s important is that for once, the Redskins finally used their players in the situations that called for them. In DeSean Jackson’s absence (and even when he returns), these players are absolutely imperative if this team wants to contend for a division title.

A chip off the ol’ clock: The Eagles famously care little about time of possession, and that policy certainly played to their detriment Sunday. The Redskins controlled the game from start to finish, logging 41:08 of possession compared with just 18:52 for Philadelphia. The 41:08 represented the longest the Redskins have held the ball in a single game since 1991. In a three-point game, those numbers take on even more importance. In four games, Washington has held the ball for over 15 minutes longer than the opposition in three. For a team with a shoddy secondary and questionable talent across the board, this number stands out above all others.

Secondary is a primary issue: About that secondary. They collapsed in this game. There’s no other way to put it. The defensive line looked monstrous at times, which likely saved the game. Chris Culliver was hobbled for the entirety of the contest, which certainly didn’t help. The secondary’s issues are a persistent and very real issue Washington must contend with. They allowed the corpse of Sam Bradford to connect on three touchdowns, and even let Miles Austin’s husk score on a 39-yard bomb. There is no quick fix. Julio Jones is in the cards next week. This could get ugly.

Dustin Hopkins for MVP: Yes, he’s made all of his field goals. Whoop de do. The most important thing he’s done so far is eliminate kick returns. The Redskins have a historically (and at this point, almost inexplicably) bad special teams unit and Hopkins has been the No.1 disaster deterrent with his penchant for kicking the ball out of the endzone. Many people questioned the release of Kai Forbath, but everyone knows Kai couldn’t kick a ball over a molehill. He’d kick it very accurately over said molehill, but Hopkins still represents a massive upgrade.

Stat of the week

6.79: If you feel like the Redskins are putting together longer drives than you ever thought possible, your suspicions are well-founded. Check this out: last year, the average Redskins drive went 29.9 yards in 5.38 plays. Through four games in 2015, Washington is averaging 6.79 plays and 35.6 yards per drive. From a purely numerical standpoint, that may not seem too significant. On a football field, though, it’s enormous, especially considering the Redskins are actually starting off each drive with worse average field position than they did last season.

Concern of the week

Adjustments: If the Redskins played for 60 minutes like they did for the first 30, you could wrap up the season right now because they would win the Super Bowl with relative ease. First Half Washington absolutely dominates its opponents (let’s forget about the Giants game, which really wasn’t as bad as it looked). The Dolphins could accomplish zip in the first half, the Rams had no success, and the Eagles looked lost for the entirety of the first two quarters.

Then, we meet Second Half Washington. This team is sluggish, incompetent, and lacks a killer instinct. I don’t know if it’s a Gruden thing – does he simply not have the capacity to make halftime adjustments? Or is it something more? What is clear is that the Redskins come out of the locker room a different team than the one that entered it. This must change, especially since Washington does not have the room for error to play like unadulterated crap in the third quarter.

Hey look, here are some things that were good

  • Kirk Cousins threw 46 passes without turning the ball over.
  • The Redskins didn’t run the ball particularly well, but Gruden and Sean McVay stuck with the ground game throughout. Morris ground out 17 carries and Thompson, Cousins, Matt Jones, and Darrel Young combined for an additional 15 carries. Overall, 32 runs for 127 yards.
  • Remember when the Redskins were terrible on third down? Gruden stuck with the run through thick and thin, which meant that while the Redskins didn’t break off many big plays, they consistently gained yards on first and second down. This meant third-and-short for the vast majority of the game, leading to a phenomenal 9-for-17 conversion rate on third down.
  • Run defense remains a strength. Washington still hasn’t allowed 100 yards on the ground in a game, holding the Eagles to 87 yards on 18 carries.
  • Will Compton and Kyshoen Jarrett really stepped up for the defense. The secondary was suspect all game but the linebackers really played well, forcing a few bad throws and tackling efficiently.
  • Trent Murphy ended the game with a sack and a fumble recovery.
  • Chris Baker came out of nowhere to log two huge sacks.
  • The Redskins have now outgained all four of their opponents to start the 2015 season.

Hey look, there were some things that were bad

  • The aforementioned secondary looked putrid at times, and Culliver’s injury remains a huge concern. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins address that this week.
  • Jordan Reed left the game with a concussion, placing the tight end position in a further state of flux. And you have to feel for Reed, who simply cannot stay healthy and has become the team’s most dangerous weapon on offense.
  • Penalties continue to bite Washington. Thankfully, there were fewer instances this week of big plays being called back, but 10 flags for 110 yards is unacceptable for a team like the Redskins.

Next week

Well, I’m the eternal optimist – but the Redskins are going to have to play one hell of a game next week to win. The Falcons bring Julio Jones to the table, and he represents the best wideout Washington has faced to date. It will be a problem, seeing as the roster contains nobody that can guard Jones. The defensive line will have to play above its talent level for this game to remain close. My prediction: the Redskins play another good first half before succumbing in the second, big time. Falcons win 34-20, though I think we will continue to see some very positive steps in the right direction.

Redskins Recap: FedEx Teal

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Right off the bat, we must remember: the Washington Redskins are not a good football team. This seems to be a fact that constantly eludes the clutches of countless fans in this area. Many see a 17-10 final and conclude the problem rests with the very existence of Jay Gruden, or that every transgression is due to Robert Griffin’s “undeserved” descent to the furthest reaches of the depth chart. These are valid arguments to a slight extent, but they are built on the idea that any one move could turn the Redskins from cellar dweller to Super Bowl contender.

This is ludicrous. Washington has a Swiss cheese roster. So before you go gallivanting about, espousing the merits of Colt McCoy and proselytizing your Redskins gospel, take a step back. Breathe.

The Redskins are not a good football team, and your ultimate solution will not put them in the playoffs in 2015. Accept this, and you will enjoy the season far more than you are allowing yourself.

With that said, the Redskins actually didn’t play that poorly this week—amazing! Let’s recap.

5 Big Things

1 – FedEx Field was awash in teal. And Twitter was going ballistic.

Look, it’s undoubtedly embarrassing to see your favorite team’s home stadium overtaken by fans of another team, especially when the opposition is not a division rival. But this is nothing new for the Redskins. Fans show up for winning teams. Fans show up for organizations that respect them. Fans show up because they can get to the stadium.Washington fails spectacularly in all three aspects, and those failures didn’t start yesterday.I love this team but I made a promise to myself five years ago that I wouldn’t set foot in that mockery of a stadium until the team gave me a reason to, or until it moved. As it stands, FedEx Field provides the worst fan environment I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. I firmly believe the infestation of opposing fans is not a representation of the Redskins fan base, but more an indication of how disillusioned the fans have become with the stadium in Landover.

Washington, D.C. is a transient area which moderately exacerbates fan attendance issues, but the obvious and inarguable solution is simply to win more and show the fans that you give half a salami sandwich about their well being within the stadium confines.

2 – Kirk Cousins did not lose the game, no matter what the hell you say. To start, the Redskins should have won this game. They should have won it six times over. That they didn’t is less of a criticism of Cousins and more a product of poor execution across the roster. Captain Kirk did throw two interceptions, one of which was horrid and elicited flashbacks to last year’s Giants game. The second was the result of a play we all immediately knew would end up on SportCenter’s Top 10 the following day.

This does not mean Kirk played well; he didn’t, he was serviceable at best and looked lost often. His throwing lanes were opened because of the success of the running game and without it, he very well could have thrown a third or fourth interception. There were definite positives though: the Redskins had more long drives than I can remember, including a 17-play masterpiece that put the cap on a dominant first half. Additionally, Cousins’ response following his first (and again, terrible) interception was admirable and a welcome sight for fans convinced he would revert to the human personification of a turnover.

3 – The offensive line looked…good? It is with cautious optimism that I bestow praise upon the offensive line, particularly Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses. Entering the contest, I was of the opinion that the Dolphins, complete with Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and all manner of talent on the defensive line, would dominate the trenches.

While neither side staked a claim as clearly better than the other, it was a far more evenly matched fight than I could have ever intended. In the first half, the Redskins absolutely controlled the Dolphins defensive line and ran roughshod around some of the biggest and most talented run stoppers in the NFL. Things came down to earth a bit in the second half but it was still quite an impressive showing. The pass protection was a big suspect, but there were a lot of good things to build on.

4 – David Amerson is a terrible, terrible football player. I was high on David Amerson when the Redskins picked him. This was mostly because he seemed to be a good value pick for where the took him. Boy, was I wrong. He’s struggled mightily and Sunday was no different. The worst part was the Dolphins were obviously aware of Amerson’s inability to cover…well, anybody. The third-year cornerback played eight snaps and was targeted on six passes, allowing 28 yards, two first downs, and a touchdown. In eight plays! I’m rooting for Amerson but this experiment may well be over. Coming into this season, he had already been relegated to the fourth cornerback spot. Last year, he allowed quarterbacks to post a 140.2 rating (!!!) when targeting him. Holy cow.

5 – Special teams and defense looked better overall. Yes, the special teams gave up the backbreaking touchdown – that was certainly not good. But overall, the unit looked improved in both coverage and the return game. And praise the football gods, the Andre Robert kick-returning experiment seems to be caput! Redskins fans don’t care who’s back there as long as Roberts is not.The defense looked spectacular at times. I’m not sure if the Dolphins weren’t running the ball because of their gameplan, or if Washington simply made it impossible for them to hand it off, but Miami became decidedly one-dimensional until it came time to run out the clock. Save for a few great catches, there were no big plays and Miami never really got into a rhythm. This was due in part to the Redskins offense controlling the ball for so long, but there was undoubtedly some swagger on the other end.

The Turning Point

Every week, I will endeavor to deem one play or set of the plays the “turning point” of the game. The play or plays identified are those that could have swung the game in a certain direction.

This week, the major turning point was the fumblerooski play that got Twitter in a frenzy and elicited roars of laughter from my household. It was a funky play, it was fun to watch, and it as critical as all get out. The Dolphins had just ended the first half with a big scoring drive and had received the ball to start the second half; forcing a turnover and getting great field position was the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Redskins. They were gifted fortune.

They did nothing with it, and that’s where the game was lost.

Some will point to Carlos Rogers’ Chris Culliver’s dropped pick-six as the moment that could have won the game and they’d be right. In fact, you can point to several different reasons the Redskins should have won. But following that fumble, the Redskins ran three questionable plays for negative-two yards in Miami territory and were forced to punt. Good teams turn those turnovers into points. They don’t go three-and-out. Once again, the Redskins are not a good team.

Next Week

The Redskins remain at home to face the Rams, a team that is remarkably similar to the Dolphins. The Rams beat the Seahawks this week, which shows how good they could potentially be. With DeSean Jackson out, it could be another low-scoring day. The Rams are currently favorited by three points.