- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2017

The Washington Redskins’ special teams this season haven’t exactly been, for a lack of a better word, special.

The problems for the unit trace back to the lack of big plays and the number of costly mistakes committed. The same issues plagued the Redskins in Thursday’s 38-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

While turnovers stalled drives and the Redskins failed to get stops, the Cowboys were able to capitalize on special teams — recovering a Jamison Crowder fumble and later returning a punt for a touchdown.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden described the plays as couple of “major FUBARs.”

“There were three or four instances of special teams that wasn’t up to par for us, but overall, I think our special teams have been okay,” Gruden said. “We just haven’t had the splash plays on special teams, the momentum-changing plays that you look for, especially in these close games.”

Against the Cowboys, Crowder fumbled a punt return in the first quarter and Dallas recovered the ball at the 43-yard line. The fumble on the return, which led to a Cowboys touchdown, was Crowder’s third of the season — and second after Gruden declared “he won’t drop anymore” following Week 1.

Crowder told reporters afterward that, “One of their players just knocked it out my hand and made a good play.”

On the Cowboys’ touchdown return, Gruden said punter Tress Way’s hang-time was “poor” and right in the middle of the field. The Redskins coach added that his team didn’t do a good enough job of shedding blocks, which created the room for Ryan Switzer’s 83-yard return.

In the first meeting between the teams on Oct. 29, the Cowboys also blocked a Redskins field goal attempt just before halftime, turning the game in Dallas’ favor. Washington lost 33-19.

Entering Thursday’s matchup, the Redskins ranked 24th in special teams DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric that measures efficiency. Last year, Washington ranked 13th.

And as has been the case for the rest of their roster, injuries have affected the unit. Washington even had to double dip in some areas, like with starters Zach Vigil and Deshazor Everett also having to play on special teams.

Gruden’s options are limited, too, if he wants to make a change at punt returner. Crowder’s backup, Maurice Harris, is in concussion protocol after getting drilled on a kickoff return.

When Crowder didn’t play in Seattle because of a hamstring injury, safety DeAngelo Hall was the punt returner, but Gruden joked that there would be a lot of fair catches. Hall is also 34 years old, not an ideal age for the a position that relies on speed.

The Redskins special teams haven’t played entirely terrible, either. Rookie kicker Nick Rose has been surprisingly effective filling in for the injured Dustin Hopkins (hip), making 90.9 percent of his field goal attempts. That’s actually higher than Hopkins’ percentage (81.8).

The team’s best play on special teams this year occurred against the New Orleans Saints — with Gruden opting to run a fake punt on fourth-and-1 on their own 15-yard to extend a drive. The Redskins went on to score, but ended up losing the game.

“When you have as many close games as we’ve had, sometimes special teams will put you over the top,” Gruden said. “We just haven’t had many of them.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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