- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The optimist sees the Redskins’ 2-2 record and recognizes how competitive Washington has been in the first four games of the season. The Redskins demolished the Oakland Raiders, beat the 3-1 Los Angeles Rams and hung in with the league’s only remaining undefeated team.

The pessimist can pick apart the record and talk himself into all the reasons the season will only get worse: The Raiders might not be good at all, so that win doesn’t mean much. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs picked apart the defense. These Redskins still can’t win a big game on Monday Night Football.

But you can count Redskins coach Jay Gruden among the optimists.

“This is the most talented roster I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Gruden, who was hired in 2014. “It’s the hardest working roster I’ve had since I’ve been here. … I just think they are playing their hearts out and you saw it [Monday]. They just battled to the bitter end and continue to handle adversity.”

The Redskins are sitting at .500 entering their bye week and Gruden is pleased with the progress of his team following a 29-20 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

So far, the Redskins defense looks as good as advertised thanks to the additions of linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger. Rookies Jonathan Allen and Montae Nicholson have made an impact, too.

In four games, the Redskins have the third most sacks in the league with 12. They’re holding opponents to a 10th-best 311.3 yards per game after giving up 377 yards per game last year.

But like past Redskins teams, they couldn’t get off the field against the Chiefs. Kansas City controlled the ball for 37 minutes and the Redskins defense played 70 snaps. They’ve also struggled with scrambling quarterbacks in Carson Wentz and Alex Smith.

Gruden said the effort against the Chiefs confirms his optimism about the players on his roster. 

“They understand that this game, with the people we have here, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in pro football and they have to handle adversity,” Gruden said. “I think we have a group that can.”

Offensively, the Redskins are still a work in progress. Josh Doctson, Washington’s 2016 first-round pick, hasn’t moved past Ryan Grant in the depth chart and failed to haul in a potentially game-winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs. Doctson had the ball, but couldn’t hold on once he hit the end zone turf.

Running back Chris Thompson has emerged as the Redskins’ breakout star and has given quarterback Kirk Cousins a reliable option as he searches for chemistry with his wide receivers. Terrelle Pryor had his best game of the season — three catches, 70 yards — in Kansas City.

Gruden said Cousins has improved dramatically since the first week.

“Kirk is playing well and he is getting us in position to win,” Gruden said. “That’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.”

After the bye, the Redskins need to get healthy. Josh Norman, Jordan Reed, Rob Kelley, Mason Foster and Trent Williams are all dealing with injuries. Each is a key contributor.

Is this a playoff team? It’s hard to tell when so much in the NFL changes from week-to-week.

But the Redskins might have gotten a break from the schedule-makers.

The remaining 12 teams on the schedule have a combined winning percentage of just .370, according to Playoff Status.com. That’s the second easiest remaining slate in the NFL.

Of course, the Redskins can’t take games for granted. When they return from the bye, the Redskins will prepare for the winless San Francisco 49ers.

“I think they realize we can compete with anybody, obviously,” Gruden said of his team. “Anywhere, any time.”


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