Heading into Week 7 we are almost at the halfway mark on the season and the Washington Redskins are in first place in the NFC East. This is weird. Looking at their performances so far they don’t feel like a team that would be playoff bound if the season ended today.
The Redskins are a good reflection of the NFC East as a whole. No one really knows what they are. Except for the Giants. The Giants are awful. The Redskins are flipping back-and-forth between a team that wants to prove they are ready for the next level and a team destined for a top 10 pick.
After Week 1 everyone was sending the Redskins to the Super Bowl. Alex Smith delivered the ball well, the great Adrian Peterson was resurrected, and the defense allowed nothing on the ground or through the air. The 24-6 win over Arizona seemed convincing but as the season has shown us since them, the Cardinals are possibly the worst team in the league.
The following week the Redskins got smoked by a Colts team that is also currently considered one of the worst teams out there. Losing 21-9, the Redskins looked flat across the board. The defense allowed a bad rushing team to dominate the line of scrimmage. On offense, the only way they would move the ball was check downs to Chris Thompson. Alex Smith struggled, the receivers were ghosts, and Adrian Peterson couldn’t get going.
The flip-flopping continued as the Redskins faced the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 3. Washington came out and defeated the Packers at home 31-17. This was the game of Adrian Peterson. The future Hall of Famer put up 120 yards and two touchdowns. Things started to become clear for the Redskins offense. If they can run the ball, they can win. Rodgers went into the game injured but any time you can hold a player of that caliber to 17 points, it’s an impressive accomplishment.
With a bye week behind them heading into Monday Night Football against the Saints, the Redskins had all the time in the world to get healthy, well rested, and prepared. The Redskins proceeded to embarrass themselves looking like the exact opposite of everything above. The Saints took down the Redskins 43-19 and even had an award ceremony for Drew Brees before halftime. This loss will literally go down in the history books. Many fans believed this could be the beginning of the end for Gruden in Washington. Note: Early officiating in this game was really bad. Not that it mattered by the end.
Not to be the guy that keeps blaming the refs because the #Redskins deserve most of the calls against them… but a few the other way that seem to be missed have resulted in scores… pic.twitter.com/UwsBnLoOxR
— Hines (@HinesmanTrophy) October 9, 2018
Most recently, the Redskins defeated the Panthers in a nail-biter, 23-17. The Redskins went into the game missing arguably their two best receivers in Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson. All-in-all the Redskins had little business winning this game…but they did. The first half was electric and dominant. Adrian Peterson ran the ball well and that opened the passing game up more than we have seen at any point this season. The second half was awful. This has become a common theme throughout the Jay Gruden era. Had Cam Newton been able to deliver an accurate pass on the Panthers final drive, the end result of this game could have easily been 24-23 Panthers.
Two things the #Redskins have not done well during the Gruden era:
1. Half time adjustments.
2. Playing with the lead.
This game will be a test fron start to finish.
— Hines (@HinesmanTrophy) October 14, 2018
So there is obviously still a lot we don’t know about the Redskins but let’s take a look at what we have learned.
This team has some real assets, some more surprising than others. The most surprising to me has been Adrian Peterson. When the team signed Peterson, the Redskins fan base exploded with excitement. I did not join in this excitement. When the news broke that the team was working out Jamaal Charles and AP I rolled my eyes so hard I thought I would go blind.
Of the two, I was happy AP was the way they went. I was quick to tweet that there was little chance Peterson would make a huge season impact and that he would not reach 1k rushing yards. And if you look at the average performance of a running back over 32, I am correct. Well it turns out AP isn’t average and I’m already wrong on the impact he’s made because he has been the key factor in all three wins. I have been absolutely floored by what he can still do. He is a freak of nature. Not that he cares, but consider this my apology to AP.
A less surprising but equally satisfying asset has been the Redskins young defensive line stepping up to become one of the better units in the league. Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Matt Ioannidis are all young, fast, and unbelievably strong. This unit should only get better as time goes on.
Now the reasons Redskins fans aren’t feeling like their team is in first place…
While the Redskins defensive line has been strong, the back end has been less consistent. The big story has of course been Josh Norman who has struggled to be the All-Pro corner he was brought here to be. He was heavily criticized, along with the rest of the team, after the blow out loss to the Saints. Norman responded forcing two turnovers against his former team, including his first interception in 19 games. Norman will continue to be a “good” corner in 2018 but I do believe this will be his last year with the team. The Redskins can save $8.5 million by releasing Norman this offseason.
Few things to unpack here:
1. Really liking @DeAngeloHall23's new career. Has great insight.
2. 100% of what hes saying about Norman makes sense. He's been there.
3. If there was ever a chance for Norman to step up and end the talk…a game vs. the #Panthers would do it. https://t.co/kqt1nxBJuo
— Hines (@HinesmanTrophy) October 14, 2018
The pass rush has also been an issue. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith have been nearly invisible on the stat sheet in a year that many believed would be huge for both. Kerrigan has been a 10+ sack player for years. Smith is in a contract year and primed for a break out season. We all assumed they would both benefit greatly from the improved defensive line. It’s possible that the relationship is working the other way around. Either way, Kerrigan and Smith need to find a way to get home on a quarterback sooner than later. It is worth noting that Kerrigan is not having a “bad” year. According to Brian Burke of ESPN, Kerrigan has a “Rush Win Percentage” of 43%, second only to Robert Quinn at 47%.
The inconsistency of the offense is also a big problem. Everything right now revolves around Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson. It’s okay to have a focal point of your offense, every team does. But what the Redskins have been unable to do is adapt when a team takes away the first thing they want to do. That falls on Gruden.
The Redskins also do not have a receiver that can take over a game. Jordan Reed was once this guy at the tight end spot but even though he is presumably healthy, he has not been able to connect with Smith the way he could with Cousins. Paul Richardson has been the #1 guy and has proven to be more than “just a deep threat”. Crowder and Josh Doctson have been inconsistent or non-existent.
I know Josh Doctson is this year’s hot-button guy as half the fan base is ready to stamp the bust label on him and the other half is ready to defend him to the grave. I am much closer to the bust crowd. You hear excuses that blame the system or the number of targets he gets but at the end of the day a quarterback doesn’t just ignore a player. If he’s not getting the ball he probably isn’t open, which as a receiver, is important. No scheme plans for it’s supposed #1 wide receiver to have 45 catches and less than 700 yards over three seasons. Also, a catch percentage of less than 45% over his career is not good. Pretty sure all schemes want you to catch the ball.
Now it’s not all Doctson. Part of the problem with the passing game as a whole has been the inconsistency of Alex Smith. Unless he has a perfect pocket or has open field in front of him and a wide open receiver in sight, he seems to struggle. With injuries plaguing the offensive line early and often, this could be a problem moving forward. Smith is also struggling with tunnel vision. A few times now it seems like he refuses to progress through the reads. This often leads him to jump to his second option last second and putting the ball in the dirt.
Another issue that is all too familiar is playing with a lead and the second half. The game against the Panthers was a perfect example. The Redskins dominated the first half and found themselves unable to score a touchdown in the second. Gruden’s inability to keep the offense rolling in the latter half of games is his Achilles heel. Quick starts and heart racing finishes have become the only way the Redskins win games. “An ugly win is still a win” will not take you to the playoffs.
So here we are. Redskins sitting at 3-2 and in first place in the division with absolutely no idea who they are. If you follow “Redskins Twitter” you have seen a lot of extreme takes week-to-week. Everything from predicting Super Bowl runs to fire Jay Gruden, trade Ryan Kerrigan or cut Josh Norman. In reality none of these things would happen mid-season. This isn’t fantasy. Major changes to a roster or staff rarely happen mid-season if you are within a stone’s throw of .500.
The Redskins face the Cowboys this Sunday in their first division matchup of 2018. Jay Gruden has never beaten the Cowboys at home. That’s a problem that needs to be fixed. A win and you can turn the burner completely off Gruden’s seat. A loss and we are back to flip-flopping towards 8-8 and that burner becomes visible once again.
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