But before they can even position themselves for success, they have a number of issues to resolve. Here are five pressing questions facing the Redskins as they get back to work this morning.
1. Can Cousins rebound? — Kirk Cousins repeated the pattern that we saw from him in his three-start stint at the tail end of last season. But we haven’t seen if the young quarterback has the ability to shake off an awful performance and get himself back in the groove. If he wants to establish himself as a starter — whether with Washington or some other team — Cousins has to show he can learn from his mistakes and remain poised in a high-pressure situation. All that is easier said than done, but today, we’ll hear from the quarterback on what he learned from his film-study sessions with Jay Gruden and Sean McVay, and how he aims to correct his turnover-prone ways.
2. Can Williams heal up in time? — Cousins will not have much of a chance without left tackle Trent Williams protecting his blind side. Williams is nursing a knee injury that knocked him out of last Thursday’s game. Williams didn’t practice on Tuesday but said he hopes to play Sunday. A lot of it will depend on how effectively he performs in whatever practices he manages to take part in. Without Williams, Washington has to turn to third-year backup Tom Compton, who isn’t ready for prime time. Williams isn’t the only battered player. The Redskins trainers also must get guard Shawn Lauvao, tight ends Niles Paul and Jordan Reed, cornerback Tracy Porter and several others healthy enough to return to action soon.
3. Can the pass rushers get back on track? — After racking up 10 sacks against Jacksonville in Week 2, Washington’s defense didn’t get a sack in Week 3, and the unit managed just one against the Giants. Gruden attributed some of the struggles to injuries. A hamstring strain limited Jason Hatcher in his last outing, and the coach said Brian Orakpo failed to make an impact because of a dislocated middle finger on his left hand. But Orakpo has only half a sack in four games now, and outside of Ryan Kerrigan (five), no other pass rusher has played with consistency. The front seven must make more noise Monday night.
4. Can Jim Haslett fix the pass-coverage struggles? — The Redskins haven’t had an answer for tight ends in their past two games. Inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. has great athleticism, but he has looked lost in pass coverage, particularly against tight ends. He also has missed some assignments on wide receivers lined up in the slot. Safety Brandon Meriweather has had his failures in the same areas. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has to come up with a solution to fix this area of weakness.
5. Can Gruden push all the right buttons? — Here’s where we will get an idea of what kind of a leader Jay Gruden is. We know he’s a great play-caller. We’ve seen that creativity, and no one has ever questioned these abilities. But whether or not he can direct an entire team has been a matter of debate. He blamed some of the struggles in the blowout loss to New York on his own failings, particularly in how he prepared his players for the game. Gruden spent the four days between that game and Tuesday’s practice assessing his methods. Now he must get a 1-3 team with bountiful deficiencies ready to perform well against the defending Super Bowl champions. The coach must serve as teacher, game planner and motivator all rolled up into one. Can he deliver?
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