- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ASHBURN — A chance to step forward in the NFC East looms for the Washington Redskins on Thursday night when they face the New York Giants in prime time.

Yes, it is only Week 3, but Washington’s 24-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday buoyed the Redskins in a conference where three other teams have already started taking on water. The Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are 0-2. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0, but its come at a hefty price.

Quarterback Tony Romo, who broke his left collarbone on Sunday, and wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is recovering from a broken right foot, may be out the next two months.

The Redskins (1-1) lead the NFL in rushing. They have the top-ranked defense, built off the No. 2-ranked pass defense and No. 4-ranked rushing defense.

Redskins left tackle Trent Williams knows the implications of a prime-time game against a division opponent, but he’s not buying it. Williams said there is nothing to prove to the doubters, only something to prove to themselves: that they are a better team than last year’s 4-12 outfit.

“It’s a great opportunity to show on a national stage that we can be contenders, but I don’t think anybody can go in with the mindset of, ‘Let’s go prove anybody wrong or prove anybody right,’” Williams said.

“It’s just not the way to win football games. You win games with focus, attention to detail and playing tough. That’s the only mindset we can take into Thursday. If you worry about proving somebody wrong this week, what’s your fuel next week? People are going to look at the Washington name and not look any further than the name. It’s so easy to count us out.”

Williams knows it is early, that a lot can happen in a 16-game season. He also knows what it felt like to win just seven games combined in 2013 and 2014. The left tackle said there is a different feeling this season, though he can not quite point to exactly what it is.

“I ain’t going to say, ‘Wait and see,’ but you know, it’s definitely been an emphasis of ours to stop underachieving, which I feel like we’ve been doing for quite some time,” Williams said. “I think guys are finally coming around. Maybe we’ve got the right personnel. I don’t really know what it is, but it’s starting to finally click. It’s just more of a mindset.”

The personnel is a good place to start.

The Redskins made it clear they were going with quarterback Kirk Cousins at the start of the season, handing him the keys to the offense. The offensive line was overhauled, starting with the hiring of coach Bill Callahan. The right side of the line, featuring rookie guard Brandon Scherff and second-year tackle Morgan Moses, has gelled in the early stages of the season.

Tight end Jordan Reed, who missed 12 of 32 games his first two seasons, appears healthy.

Alfred Morris also does not have to be the team’s bell cow when rookie Matt Jones runs for 100-plus yards, like he did on Sunday.

Last season, Williams said the Redskins got away from the running game, a result of trailing opponents at halftime in 13 of 16 games.

When the Redskins can commit to the run, they have an opportunity to control the game, like they did on Sunday against the Rams.

Most importantly, it takes pressure off quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was an effective game manager against the Rams. He completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards and didn’t have to play hero ball to get the Redskins back in the game.

In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins leading, 17-10, Cousins and the offense went 77 yards to score the insurance touchdown. They balanced the pass and the run to grind six minutes and 49 seconds off the clock. Cousins completed all three of his passes for 43 yards, two of which picked up a first down.

Would the Redskins be able to accomplish that same drive last season?

“It’s too hard to compare this year and last year, it’s totally different,” Williams said. “We have a totally different quarterback at the helm, apples and oranges as far as the different styles compare at quarterback last year. We can’t put the pressure on Kirk and allow him to put the pressure on himself where he feels like he has to go out and win every game by himself.

“We renovated the right side of the O-line and have a healthy Jordan Reed. [Jones is] coming off the bench, fresh running just as hard as our starter. When you add all that together, it’s hard to answer that question. It’s night and day.”

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