DeSean Jackson was the story, both good and bad for the Washington Redskins after last night’s crushing 19-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Jackson made the game’s biggest blunder with the score tied 9-9 late in the fourth quarter when he reversed field on a punt return, tried to force something that clearly wasn’t there and fumbled it away.
But after the Cowboys accepted the gift touchdown, DeSean came back, beat Morris Claiborne in single coverage and tied the game on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left. But for me, the bigger picture question is where DeSean was all night long.
My question is not directed at the receiver as much as it is at Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Dallas created all kinds of problems for the Redskins offense throughout the night by blitzing, sometimes up the middle, but heavily off the edge. The best way for Washington to exploit that was by taking some shots down the field to the best deep threat in pro football. But the touchdown pass was the first real deep shot the ‘Skins took to Jackson.
Admittedly, Gruden and McVay didn’t have great options. The ‘Skins didn’t handle the blitz well and weren’t running the ball well. The coaches did make a good adjustment in allowing quarterback Kirk Cousins some more rollouts and quicker throws. But I would have liked to see at least one deep shot to DeSean each quarter. In fact, I’d like to see that as standard policy in this offense. Jackson is the only receiver who can really stretch the field and open things up.
The lack of a running game was the biggest problem on offense though, and I continue to wonder what this coaching staff has against Alfred Morris lately. Morris carried only six times last night while Matt Jones had 18 carries. Neither was effective, averaging less than three yards per rush. But Morris is the back more likely to get stronger as the game goes on. In observing this team’s offensive line play closely, I’ve also noted that Morris seems to hit the right hole more frequently than Jones does.
I think Matt Jones has been a nice draft pick, a rookie out of Florida. But I’ve yet to see evidence that he’s a true #1 back. He’s a better receiver than Morris and therefore perfect as a change of pace. But these final four games, I want to see Alf get the football.
The disappointing loss did bring positives. Cousins didn’t have great numbers, but I liked his overall game presence. He was under steady duress and still made some good throws, and most important, he played mistake-free. The Redskins won the turnover battle 3-zip. It doesn’t speak very well of the team that they lost a low-scoring game at home to a bad team with that kind of turnover edge. But given the pressure he was under, I’m more inclined to see Cousins’ role in the turnover edge rather than his role in the failure to capitalize.
Finally, can we make it official that hiring Joe Barry as defensive coordinator has been Jay Gruden’s best decision as head coach? This Redskins defense continues to be a pleasure to watch, they’re overachieving and Barry is not afraid to bring the pressure at the game’s most critical points. He was a gutsy hire—a lot of people, including me, were ready to jump down Gruden’s throat if hiring an assistant of the Detroit Lions’ 0-16 team of 2008 didn’t work out. This one looks like a bonanza.
Four games left and the NFC East is still out there for anyone who wants it. The Redskins play four winnable games—Bears, Bills, Eagles and Cowboys. But three of those are on the road, a place Washington has yet to win this year. The ultimate success of this season, the rebuilding project and the futures of Gruden and Cousins still hang in the balance this December.