- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Overall, the Washington Redskins’ 17-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins was a step toward improving.

There were some bad moments that led to the loss, the most obvious being Jarvis Landry’s game-winning punt return. There were untimely turnovers and too many penalties — most of which bumped the Redskins out of scoring position and stalled the offense in the second half.

There were some positives, too, like the rushing game and the performance of young offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses against Miami’s Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh.

After watching the game film from the loss, here are some observations from Week 1.

* Let’s get this out of the way early. The punt return coverage against Jarvis Landry was not good and there were a few contributing factors. The first was that punter Tress Way out-kicked the return coverage and he admitted it on Sunday. “I think I wrapped it up a little tight,” Way said. “Usually, my punt will have a little bit of a wobble to it, and so when it came down pretty quick, I ended up looking down there, and I had a real bad feel in my stomach that I gave him a little too much room.” Too much room indeed.

By the time Landry fielded the punt at Miami’s 30-yard line, the closest Redskins tackler was hardly across midfield, giving Landry a near 20-yard head start. One of the gunners — the two players that rush down the sidelines and are supposed to be the first to the ball — got blocked out of bounds and wasn’t near Landry on the return. The result? A wide-open lane through the middle for Landry, a few missed tackles and a touchdown. “It is rare on a punt return you see a player completely untouched,” play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle said on the CBS broadcast.

The Redskins need to be better this week against the St. Louis Rams and Tavon Austin, who returned a 75-yard punt for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and returned one 78 yards for a touchdown against the Redskins last December.

* The Redskins’ rushing attack looked even better on film than it did on Sunday, when they piled up 161 yards to Miami’s 74. Alfred Morris led the way with 121 yards on 25 carries. The plan? Keep away from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake. On 35 rushing attempts from Morris, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and receiver Jamison Crowder, the Redskins ran to the right side just eight times. When they did, Wake was either off the field, or the Redskins ran towards the edge with a tight end providing extra protection. Though the Redskins didn’t run that way often, rookie guard Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses did a great job against Suh and Wake, mixing a variety of cut blocks and zone schemes to neutralize their impact.

When the Redskins ran up the middle, center Kory Lichtensteiger sometimes helped Scherff with Suh or had the assignment to himself. On the Redskins’ fourth play of the game, Morris picked up six yards through the A gap. Lichtensteiger leveled Suh while Scherff blocked linebacker Koa Misi. The Redskins’ largest gains came rushing to the left side. One of Morris’ best runs came on the last drive — a 13-yard pickup to the left edge. Left guard Shawn Lauvao opened a big hole with a block on linebacker Jelani Jenkins that allowed the pickup.

The Redskins’ offensive line will have its hands full again with perhaps an even better Rams’ front that features ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Although Wake and Suh stayed on the right side, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams tends to mix up the alignments, which will test the Redskins’ rushing attack.

* Tight end Jordan Reed’s day wasn’t perfect, but he had a big impact on the Redskins’ offense. He caught seven passes for 63 yards and was a safety valve for Kirk Cousins when the Redskins needed yards. Reed caught a four-yard touchdown on third-and-four to give his team a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. Four of his receptions also picked up a first down, including two third-down conversions.

Coach Jay Gruden said there were some miscommunication errors between Reed and Cousins that need to be ironed out — particularly on Cousins’ first interception and the incompletion on the Redskins’ final play. Reed was also called for two penalties. A pass interference call wiped out a Pierre Garcon nine-yard reception and a holding penalty took Morris’ 14-yard run off the board. Once those small details are cleaned up, Reed’s impact can be even greater than we saw in Week 1.

* There’s nothing like a wacky chase for a loose fumble and Sunday’s game featured an all-timer. But what was even better was the hustle from rookie outside linebacker Preston Smith on the play. Defensive end Jason Hatcher’s efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed, either. Hatcher initially disrupted the play by getting to Ryan Tannehill and forcing him to roll back to his left. Smith was waiting and sacked Tannehill at Washington 35-yard line with a hard hit that jarred the ball loose.

After failed recovery attempts from Miami tackles Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James, the ball squirted 25 yards to the Miami 40. Smith hustled to recover it. The turnover was wasted when the Redskins went three and out the following series.

Smith played just 12 of 57 defensive snaps, but he certainly found a way to make a difference.

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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