Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, right, hands off to running back Alfred Morris Thursday night. That’s a pairing that observers should expect to see a while longer. (Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins fell to 1-2 thanks to another loss to the New York Giants last Thursday, and now they try to bounce back against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Following the Week 2 win over the Rams, fans found themselves bursting with optimism. But the frustrations return this week.

In today’s mailbag, we take a look at what it will take for Kirk Cousins to cement himself as a starter, what’s going on with Alfred Morris, how far this team is from truly contending, and more.

Thanks, as always, for taking part, and keep the questions coming! E-mail me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line of “Mailbag question.”

Here we go!

Let’s say we go 8-8, 7-9, we didn’t win these games because of Kirk Cousins, and it was our running game and the defense. Say the front office has decided Kirk isn’t a franchise quarterback, but now we’ve got a mid-first-round draft pick, which won’t be able to reach many of the top quarterback prospects. What would we do there?

– Evan Newton

If that happened, Scot McCloughan would have a few options: He could pursue a quarterback in free agency or he could trade for a quarterback. The general manager alsocould re-sign Cousins and use him as a bridge while drafting a quarterback in the second round and developing him for a year. Or, McCloughan could move up in the draft, although that’s probably the most unlikely of the scenarios.


Chase Daniel of the Chiefs. Is this what you want? (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

This team doesn’t need to give up any more draft picks. The strength of the free agent class is debatable. Sam Bradford, Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chase Daniel lead the way when it comes to quarterbacks with expiring deals. McCloughan would have to decide if any of those players represented upgrades, or if he’s better off re-signing Cousins in hopes that he goes from serviceable (if that’s how things play out this season) to difference-maker with another year of experience under his belt. McCloughan believes that if you have a strong roster and supporting cast, you can win games without using a premier draft pick on a quarterback. In Seattle, Russell Wilson was taken in the third round, 75th overall.

Is Jay Gruden saying Alfred Morris is still the “lead guy” equivalent to RGIII being the “unquestioned starter” back in August, in your opinion? The way things have been going lately it’s starting to feel like a similar situation.

– Eddie Jenkins

I don’t think this is the same type of situation. Morris is proven. He has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons. He opened the season with a 125-yard performance. He wasn’t as productive on 18 carries in Week 2 (Matt Jones had 19 carries that game), and so coaches went with the hot hand. The matchup wasn’t as good for Morris as it was for Jones.

Against the Giants, neither back had a great night. The Redskins fell behind and went with a pass-heavy attack. It felt like they got away from the run a little too quickly. In the second half, they did try to get Morris going again, but the Giants have a very good run defense, and yards were hard to come by.

Jones could find himself in the dog house after fumbling in back-to-back games, particularly at the goal line. But Gruden means it when he says he plans on sticking with Morris as his lead guy. The challenge for Morris is to remain effective even though his snap count may go down. Traditionally, Morris has gotten better as the game progresses, and as he settles into a rhythm and begins wearing defenders down. Splitting carries doesn’t afford him the same opportunity. So he has to prove he can make the most of his opportunities and remain productive. Because if not, eventually coaches will reverse the roles of the running backs.

As you see it today, how many more holes do the Redskins have to fill next year for us to get out of this hell hole?

– Anthony Lawrence, Northeast D.C.

McCloughan is in the process of trying to find the answer to that question as this year plays out.


One place GM Scot McCloughan, left, doesn’t have to look for help is at left tackle, where Trent Williams is a cornerstone. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

From here, it appears that the team still has quite a few holes. The jury remains out on the quarterbacks. The offense also needs an explosive, big-target wide receiver. The offensive line appears to be headed in the right direction, and running back depth is good.

Defensively, the team still needs a dominant edge rusher to attack quarterbacks’ blind sides. So far, Trent Murphy doesn’t look like that guy, and we haven’t seen enough of Preston Smith to know. The defense also needs to add more playmakers in the secondary. We don’t know if Dashon Goldson is the answer at free safety. It would seem that a big-play strong safety also will rank among the offseason shopping list items. Bashaud Breeland and Chris Culliver could serve as the long-term solutions at cornerback, but both need to get their hands on some balls. A reliable nickelback also ranks among team needs. The special teams units are full of holes.

But improved depth across the board, which is what McCloughan is going for, should help that. Realistically, it still could be another year or two before this team is really ready to contend.

[The Redskins could turn back to Robert Griffin III before we know it]

With the NFC East in total disarray and the division up for grabs, what is the breaking point in turnovers that Gruden will tolerate with Cousins? Fifteen picks in 10 games? Fewer? The knock on Cousins coming out of Michigan State was that he forced the ball into wrong places. Thursday proved that, after three seasons in the NFL, he still hasn’t evolved as a quarterback. Cousins might be passable as a backup to plug in for a game or two, but in a wide-open NFC East that’s winnable, he’s going to hurt the team more than help it. Thursday is the proof that he hasn’t changed. How many INTs does Gruden allow before he makes a change?

– Rich Perillo, Tampa, Fla.

I don’t think there’s a magic number. Wins, losses and signs of progress will have a lot to do with it. If he’s turning the ball over repeatedly, and they keep losing games that they should be winning, then the coach will have a big decision to make. In those circumstances, Gruden also could begin feeling the heat from ownership/management to make a change.

For now, Gruden still believes that Cousins needs the opportunity to work through growing pains. But it’s hard to remain patient. The big question involves the expectations of Gruden’s bosses. If they understand that this is about evaluation and that wins will be few, then perhaps that affords the coach a little more time to try to work through these problems with Cousins. But if the quarterback keeps making the same old mistakes, and Washington sinks to a distant last place in a division knock-down-drag-out that ownership expected to be a part of, then a change would have to be made.

[Gruden’s challenge is to get Cousins to play smart, but not scared]

The team admittedly still has a long way to go in the season, but I like the “Capital Punishment” and “Beat the man in front of you” attitude on the defensive side of the ball. Seeing a good pass rush from the front four without all out blitzes is very encouraging. We can only imagine the pass rush if Junior Galette wasn’t lost for the year due to injury. He only signed a one-year deal. Do you know if the front office plans to bring him back next year? Does Galette want to return next year or further test free agency? Would other teams want to take a chance on a player that hasn’t played in a game for over a year?  

– Howard Wilkes, Hampton, Va.

The Redskins do have interest in re-signing Galette if he’s able to make a full recovery from the torn Achilles’ tendon. He badly wants to repay the organization for taking a chance on him. Galette’s presence would have made a big difference for the defense this year. The unit has done well against the run, while also generating some pressure.

However, the players and coaches will all admit that they haven’t made enough of an impact in the pass-rushing department. Murphy hasn’t displayed a significant improvement in explosiveness since last season, and coaches aren’t yet comfortable enough with Smith to turn the starting job over to him. A healthy Galette would have made life better for a lot of people at Redskins Park.

It has appeared to me from the preseason game that Rashad Ross and DeSean Jackson represent a “dual” threat in the receiving corps of the Redskins. I’ve always thought the coach could put one of them on each side of the offensive line with a crossing pattern to go long and it would disrupt the secondary so much that either one of them would be open or another receiver running a 90-degree route underneath their pattern would be open. Why hasn’t Gruden utilized Ross’s speed like this or to sub for Jackson who is not injured?

– Dave Moe, Oakland, Md.


Rashad Ross has made an impact as a returner, leaving the Giants’ Trumaine McBride on the ground Thursday, but he’s got a way to go as a wide receiver. (Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

Well, he hasn’t be able to utilize these two together because Ross wasn’t active in Week 1, and because Jackson has been injured ever since. Offensive snaps have been hard to come by for Ross because he’s still learning. There’s so much more to it than just running fast. You have to learn how to beat press coverage, how to run precise routes, how to anticipate and adjust to coverages. Ross is still learning all of this. Wide receivers have to be versatile as well. They have to be able to run more than just a deep route. They also have to be able to help out with blocking on run plays.

Is it possible that in the future, once Jackson returns and once Ross becomes more well-rounded that the two can share the field? Absolutely. Two threats like that would either give Washington a home run threat, or clear things out underneath for possession receivers like Pierre Garcon and tight ends like Jordan Reed to operate with more freedom. But players have to prove themselves in practice first, and then coaches will incorporate them in games. For now, although he shined in the preseason against fellow backups, Ross is still in the process of proving himself against starters in practice.

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