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.

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