The Washington Redskins have hung in there in the early part of the 2015 season. The record is only 2- and the schedule is about to get a lot tougher, but there’s a system and cohesiveness developing that those of us who are Redskins fans haven’t seen in some time.
I’m not the biggest believer in Kirk Cousins at quarterback. I think he was often oversold by people whose agenda was more anti-RG3. But the reality was that if the team was not going to return to the offensive style of 2012, with the quarterback using his legs along with his arm, then there was no discernible difference between RG3 and Cousins.
And given that Cousins is more durable and going with him at least quieted all the noise in Redskins Park, that made him the better choice (whether Cousins is better than Colt McCoy is another subject entirely and one I’m not ready to visit right now).
I say this because I don’t want my praise of the current team to be interpreted as any kind of implication that RG3 could not have executed this same offense. He could have. But he would not have been the transcendent player he once was. I love the guy, but until I hear him stand up and say that he wants to run the same read-option style offense that made him a star, there’s just nothing to be gained by going down that path again.
Now, let’s move forward. This Redskin team is running the football. The stat sheet tells us they get 4.4 yards-per-attempt on the ground, balanced between Alfred Morris and Matt Jones. Watching them in action, we see an offensive line and two backs that get very physical at the point of attack. It’s a long way to the era of The Hogs, but it’s least an effort to finally move in that direction.
I like the progress of rookie right guard Brandon Scherff. He has a lot of work to do in pass protection, but he and another young lineman, right tackle Morgan Moses are playing well together. Trent Williams is always reliable at the left tackle spot. There are injury problems—guard Shawn Lauvao is out for the year with an ankle injury, but the decision to spend big money on highly regarded offensive line coach Bill Callahan is clearly paying dividends.
The run defense is also playing well, giving up just 3.9 yards-per-rush, while the league average is 4.1. It’s created a game flow where the Redskins have steady control of the point of attack. The offensive style of Jay Gruden then fits nicely into that.
Gruden’s biggest contribution to this team is his ability to design pass routes that pop receivers open underneath consistently. It’s an approach that fits receivers like Pierre Garcon and rookie Jamison Crowder—whom I love—perfectly. The health of Jordan Reed has been a big boost to this offense and the return of DeSean Jackson will provide a badly needed deep threat.
Crowder and Matt Jones are two notable pieces of what looks like a good draft class, the most obvious fruit of putting new general manager Scot McCloughan in charge. That’s in addition to Scherff and linebacker Preston Smith, who looks like a playmaker. The quality of this roster is better than any Redskins team since the end of the second Joe Gibbs era following the 2007 season and McCloughan is the reason.
It’s this framework that Cousins steps into. The media focus is on his interceptions and that’s the key stat. He completes a high percentage—68.6%. They’re mostly short “system” throws, and he only gets 6.6 YPA, which means you have to avoid mistakes, rely on the run to put you in manageable situations and then just make your throws. Cousins has done that against the Eagles and Rams the result was victories. He did not do that against the Giants and the result was a loss. The Dolphins game was a mixed bag—there were two interceptions, but one was more about a spectacular defensive play—and it was a tough loss.
The NFC East remains wide open, with the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys all at 2-2, Dallas still missing Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, and Philadelphia at 1-3 and looking ready to come apart at the seams, it’s anyone’s to take.
These next three weeks are going to tell us a lot about the Redskins can be in 2015. The next two games are road trips to face the Falcons and Jets before coming back home to host Tampa Bay and then going into the bye week. If a miracle NFC East title run is in the works, Washington needs to steal a road upset and take care of business at home.
More realistically, they need to make sure they beat Tampa and I’d like to see something other than getting 50 dropped on us by Atlanta and then getting collared by the New York defense. Two respectable road losses followed by a home win wouldn’t signify a playoff run, but it would keep the hope of getting to .500 alive.