The Redskins enter their bye week looking more like a patched-up Revolutionary War band than a football team. There haven’t been this many cracked ribs since Rocky trained in the meat locker. Washington’s 2-2 start could have been 4-0 with a few breaks. Beating Oakland and nearly upsetting Kansas City has football fans nationwide suddenly taking notice of a team that was a popular preseason pick to finish last in the NFC East. The first quarter of the season might forecast a bullish year ahead if the Redskins can say healthy. Here are five things we’ve learned.
Cousins is earning his keep
For his $24 million price tag, Kirk Cousins should produce like a superstar. He’s thrown for 1,004 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception with a 107.6 passer rating. Washington has been surprisingly committed to the run, and Cousins is still building chemistry with Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Josh Doctson. With a late win over the Rams, a blowout of Oakland and a near-upset at Kansas City, Cousins has improved every week. If he can complete deep passes and clean up a few mental and mechanical issues, Cousins could force the Redskins to finally pony up for a long-term deal in the spring.
Running often, getting nowhere
The Redskins ran the ball on more plays than they passed in three straight games for the first time in coach Jay Gruden’s four seasons. Washington is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but that’s inflated by Chris Thompson’s 7.1-yard average on 20 carries. Robert Kelley has been limited by injuries. Rookie Samaje Perine leads the team in carries (46) but averages a plodding 3.1 yards a pop. Perine hasn’t moved the pile, and the running game looks useless in the red zone. Still, Gruden has decided that ball control, clock management and balance will be hallmarks of his offense this year.
Swearinger is team MVP
So many players have overachieved on defense. Outside linebacker Preston Smith has awakened, and nickel back Kendall Fuller has emerged. But new safety D.J. Swearinger has made the biggest impact. Swearinger’s mauling of Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch put his big-hitting style on display. That’s inspired corner Bashaud Breeland to raise his play and stop committing senseless penalties. Swearinger earned instant credibility to back up his constant trash talk. Cornerback Josh Norman likes to tell teammates they are lions. Swearinger tells them it’s time to eat.
Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Josh Doctson were billed as deep threats who would also improve the red zone attack. But each has only one TD catch. Pryor has caught just 13 of 24 targets. He drops way too many over the middle. Doctson has just three catches to match three injuries this season. Running back Chris Thompson leads the team in yards receiving, and wide receiver Ryan Grant has two touchdown catches. There’s nothing wrong with having options, but Pryor and Doctson need to make tough grabs. Otherwise, Grant and tight end Vernon Davis are left to do their teammates’ jobs.
Contenders after all
Get the bandwagon out of storage. My early 6-10 prediction looks low. The Redskins have endured a rough early schedule and hung with the only undefeated team in the league in Kansas City. The road to the playoffs is rarely easy, but the Redskins simply need to stay healthy to have a chance to win nine games and maybe get a shot at winning the NFC East. Beating the Eagles on Oct. 23 to even the season series would be a big help. Jay Gruden’s play-calling has been inspired, and Greg Manusky might be the best defensive coordinator in D.C. since Gregg Williams (2004-07).
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