- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It’s easy to get lost in the gut-lurching ups and downs of an NFL season.
Through the first seven weeks, the Washington Redskins have had their fair share.

There have been excruciating losses, like the one in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 after Kirk Cousins’ game-ending pick-six. How about those to the New York Giants and New York Jets, where the Redskins got their doors blown off at MetLife Stadium?

However, as the Redskins enter the bye week, the losses have been offset by a pair of comeback victories in October. The latest, a 31-30 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the largest come-from-behind win in franchise history — stopped the Redskins‘ season from spiraling out of control.

With a loss to the Buccaneers and a game against the undefeated and defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots looming at the other end of the bye, the Redskins could have been speeding toward a 2-6 record.

Instead, Kirk Cousins led the Redskins to a thrilling victory and earned NFC offensive player of the week honors as a result. Washington (3-4) now enters the bye in second place, just a game behind the Giants in the dreadful NFC East, before embarking on the final nine games of the season.



“I look at our first seven games and we are 3-4 and that’s where we are,” coach Jay Gruden said. “We could be better in certain areas, obviously, we could be worse. I like to see the progress that we’re making. I like to see the attitude the players have. I like to see the resilience — the ability to come from behind, to not let the outside forces get in their way of their production and not have any problems with them on the field.”

At the break, the Redskins look like a team that’s improved — not like a team that combined for seven wins in the previous two seasons.

That said, there’s still plenty of improvements to be made, particularly in the run game and run defense. The biggest question is whether the Redskins can find an overall more consistent effort over the final nine games.

With that, here’s a look at the good and the bad from each position this season.

Quarterback

Good: Cousins has shown flashes of brilliance this season, whether it be as a game manager or when he was guiding the Redskins to comeback victories. With a strong running game against the St. Louis Rams, Cousins was 23-for-27 with 203 yards and a touchdown in a 24-10 victory. Safe and efficient. In wins against the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay, that was not an option. In both instances, the Redskins needed touchdowns with less than 30 seconds remaining, and Cousins displayed the poise and confidence required to do it.

Bad: Cousins has thrown two interceptions in each of the Redskins‘ four losses. Some have not been his fault, but some have been the head-scratching type that make critics wonder if he can turn the corner as a starting quarterback. How he responds after the bye week will largely dictate the Redskins‘ success this season. Can he find the consistency the Redskins are looking for?

Running back

Good: The emergence of rookie Matt Jones and third-year back Chris Thompson. Jones has 249 yards and three touchdowns on 63 attempts, averaging four yards per carry. The Redskins are confident in the hard-running back, and it’s reflected in the playing time, as he’s received primary carries and, at times, out-played Alfred Morris. The speedy Thompson can create mismatches against linebackers and helped the Redskins exploit that when tight end Jordan Reed was injured. He’s been effective on third down and has 23 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown, along with 19 rushes for 120 yards.

Bad: The entire rushing game has struggled since dominating the first two weeks of the season. The Redskins have rushed for just 45 yards in the last three games. Gruden says he remains committed to Morris as the lead back, but he’s struggled mightily this season, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The holes have not been open lately, but when they are, Morris and the running backs have been indecisive.

Wide receiver

Good: With DeSean Jackson out since Week 1, rookie Jamison Crowder has surprised the Redskins as a dependable outlet in the slot. His 32 catches and 292 yards rank third on the team behind Pierre Garcon and Reed. He’s made big plays in key situations — most notably an 18-yard reception to set up Reed’s game-winning catch against the Buccaneers. Garcon leads the team with 37 catches and is the team’s toughest receiver. He makes catches in the dangerous parts of the field, often sacrificing his body for extra yards. Without Garcon’s game-winning catch against the Eagles, when he got crunched between two defenders at the goal line, the Redskins are likely looking at a 2-5 record.

Bad: Without DeSean Jackson in the lineup, the Redskins have not been able to stretch the field. Only eight of Cousins’ 184 completions have resulted in a gain of 25 yards or more — which ranks 30th. Rashad Ross is a capable deep threat and the only receiver on the roster with a similar skill set to Jackson’s, but he lacks the complete package to justify keeping him on the field.

Tight end

Good: When Reed is on the field, he’s the best playmaker in the Redskins‘ offense. Before missing two games as he recovered from concussion, he was the team’s most reliable option, especially on third down. When he was out, the Redskins converted just nine of 27 third downs. How much did the Redskins miss him? Reed was targeted 13 times in his return against the Buccaneers and caught 11 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winning score.

Bad: There are many reasons the run game is struggling and the Redskins could use better blocking from the tight ends. Derek Carrier was sufficient in the first two games, but he’s had trouble since then. Anthony McCoy, who was brought in specifically as a run-blocker, didn’t play the last two seasons because of injuries and it’s showing. This is an area where the Redskins miss Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen, who both sustained season-ending injuries in the preseason.

Offensive line

Good: Rookie right guard Brandon Scherff and second-year right tackle Morgan Moses have come together nicely to form a strong chemistry on the right side of the line. It was a big question mark entering the season, and the two youngsters have held up. For the most part, left tackle Trent Williams has been his usual Pro Bowl-caliber self and Spencer Long has proved to be a capable starter at left guard after Shawn Lauvao was placed on injured reserve after Week 3.

Bad: The Redskins have made great strides in pass protection — Cousins has been sacked just eight times — but the run blocking is a mess. The Redskins are built to succeed on their running attack, but they won’t be able to get anywhere if the play does not improve. Often times, there have been multiple breakdowns in the running plays as the linemen lose their matchups.

Defensive line

Good: The Redskins overhauled the defensive line with additions such as Ricky Jean Francois, Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. However, it’s been defensive end Chris Baker that has shined recently. Even before Paea was injured, Baker started challenging him for playing time and overtook the starting job. Overall, the defensive line has generated good pressure in the pass rush but…

Bad: …It’s had a hard time finishing plays. Despite getting to the quarterback, the Redskins have just 13 sacks. This is not just a problem that falls solely on the linemen, but when they disrupt plays, they need to finish them. The run defense has been an abomination. In the last three games, it has allowed 583 rushing yards. Again, this is not strictly on the defensive linemen, but they’re first at the point of attack.

Linebackers

Good: It’s no surprise, but Ryan Kerrigan has been the most steady performer in the linebacking corps. He has 3.5 sacks and could have many more, if not for a few misses — most notably against Philadelphia. Will Compton has played well in a limited role and filled in nicely when Perry Riley was injured for two games. With Riley and Keenan Robinson injured on Sunday, Compton filled in again. Though he had some missed tackles, he provides the Redskins with depth at the position.

Bad: The linebacker play ties in with the defensive linemen. They’ve also missed their fair share of tackles and have struggled in the run defense. Robinson has mentioned that the inside linebackers need to be better at staying in their gaps. Often, the inside linebackers have taken themselves out of running plays before the running back even hits the hole. Like the defensive line, the linebackers have also pressured the quarterback, but finishing the plays have been an issue.

Cornerbacks

Good: With injuries to DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver, Bashaud Breeland has helped keep the secondary from completely falling apart. Sure, he’s been beat here and there, but he had interceptions against Atlanta and the Jets, and made a game-saving tackle against Tampa Bay. Rookie Kyshoen Jarrett has also helped the Redskins bridge the injury gap. Not only did the free safety convert to nickel cornerback, but he’s excelled and prevented the Redskins from having a serious depth issue.

Bad: This is not a problem that’s necessarily unique to the Redskins, but their corners have struggled against big wide receivers. On Sunday, the Buccaneers had just two healthy wide receivers by the end of the game and it didn’t matter. The Redskins still had no answer for the 6-foot-5 Mike Evans, who had eight catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. A week before, 6-foot-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall terrorized the secondary with seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Safeties

Good: The Redskins brought in veteran free safety Dashon Goldson to add some attitude to the secondary and he’s done just that. The hard-hitter leads the Redskins with 56 tackles, 27 of which have come in the last two games. He’s also had a fair share of missed tackles that have spurred long runs, but overall, he’s been a valuable addition.

Bad: Two times this season, the Redskins have given up big touchdowns — a 62-yarder to Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper and a 40-yarder to Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt. Both times, Trenton Robinson was not back far enough as the single high safety. Robinson was pressed into the starting position after Duke Ihenacho fractured a wrist in the season opener and has been sufficient, but as the last line of defense, Robinson has to eliminate plays like that.

Special teams

Good: The Redskins unexpectedly cut kicker Kai Forbath after Week 1 and signed Dustin Hopkins, and it was a move that has greatly paid off. The rookie drilled a 52-yard tying field goal against the Falcons to send the game to overtime. Gruden has praised his physics-defying onside kicks, and he delivered one against Tampa Bay. The Redskins recovered it and kept pressing in their comeback win. Also, his ability to routinely produce touchbacks was one of the main reasons the Redskins moved on from Forbath. Ross has also sparked big plays on special teams, such as his 101-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Giants. He also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone against the Jets.

Bad: The punt protection has not been great this season. That problem was compounded in Week 1, when Tress Way out-kicked the coverage unit and Jarvis Landry returned the punt 69 yards for the winning touchdown in the third quarter. Against the Giants, the Redskins‘ first punt of the game was blocked and returned for a safety, setting the tone for a dismal 32-21 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Against the Buccaneers, three of Way’s four punts were dangerously close to being blocked.

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