So, in today’s mailbag, we take this team’s pulse and try to sort through things and answer the question as to whether the Redskins can turn this thing around.
Thanks, as always, for taking part. Keep the questions coming. E-mail me at email@example.com with the subject line, “Mailbag question.” We’ll do it all over again next week.
Are there really locker-room grumblings over Cousins’s performance? Really? Or were they just like, “Bro, I was open?”
Nobody was happy after that loss to the Cowboys, but there’s nobody calling for Cousins’s head this early. We saw frustrations on the part of the wide receivers as Cousins missed wide open targets while going with a check-down, or just overthrowing them completely, and we saw a furious Pierre Garcon after the interception into quadruple coverage. But that’s the extent.
You have to take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve talked to a lot of players on both sides of the ball. Are they frustrated and miffed over their 0-2 start and the lack of effectiveness of their quarterback? Yes. But they’re also frustrated by penalties, missed opportunities, blown assignments on defense. Nobody is looking at Cousins as the ultimate reason for the two losses, nobody is crushing him and lobbying for Colt McCoy. Yet.
Could a wide receiver in the minutes after a game have vented to his agent about frustrations over the loss? Absolutely. That happens all the time. It did last year too. Does that mean Cousins has lost the locker room? No. Overblown. At least for now. Of course, Cousins has to play much better. He had plenty of opportunities to hit big, and he fell short. Eventually, as losses mount and if more poor play continues from the quarterback, then he absolutely could alienate some of his teammates, particularly guys in contract years, depending on Cousins upholding his end of the bargain to help them get paid.
Does the Redskins offense need to improve in the run game and get Matt Jones more involved in order to be successful? Or can they continue to use 5-yard check-downs to Reed and others as a way of moving the ball on first down and in short yardage situations?
Yes, improving that run game, and getting Matt Jones more involved definitely should rank high on the priority list for Jay Gruden and Sean McVay. Despite the signs of promise that he showed last season, Kirk Cousins isn’t yet at the point where he can put his team on his back and consistently throw for 40 to 50 passes a game and give Washington the best chance to win. This team badly needs balance. It’s how it is in the NFL. Despite the pass-happy trend that we’ve seen in recent years, an ability to run remains important. Only three of last season’s other playoff teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing: Pittsburgh (16th), Denver (17th) and New England (30th). You know the common denominator there, right? Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Gruden has never displayed a strong commitment to the run, not in his years here, or his offensive coordinator days in Cincinnati. But the Redskins do need to run the ball more. It’s extremely hard for a running back to settle into a rhythm when he’s not getting a steady dose of carries. Only once did Gruden and McVay call for runs on consecutive plays. Jones displayed an improved feel for his line and the defense, and he ran hard. But, they didn’t use him enough. Why not try to pound it a little more in the red zone? Why not keep running until they truly shut it down? Sunday’s ground production didn’t stink like Week 1 against Pittsburgh. A commitment to the run will ease pressure on Cousins, and it will also create more opportunities for the play-action passes downfield and the bootlegs. Sure, the Redskins could dink and dunk their way downfield some, but the best chance for success calls for a two-dimensional offense.
How do we rebound against another division opponent this week? Is there any hope our run game will be effective?
Well, bud, I wish I had great news for you. But the Giants currently boast one of the stingiest rushing defenses in the league. They held Ezekiel Elliott (4.0 yards per carry against Washington) to 2.6 yards per carry in Week 1, and held Mark Ingram to 3.3 yards per carry in Week 2. For the season, the Giants have surrendered just 142 rushing yards, fourth-fewest in the NFL. So that’s not exactly an ideal matchup.
However, the Redskins can certainly do better in the rushing department if they truly commit and guard against giving up on it too quickly.
The key to rebounding this week involves the Redskins’ ability to capitalize on opportunities. On offense, they can’t afford to get into the red zone and settle for field goals. The defense can’t get Eli Manning & Co. in third-and-long situations and give up big-gainer first-down plays. Missed opportunities killed Washington in a very winnable game against the Cowboys.
Why isn’t Duke Ihenacho active? Will we see him at all moving forward?
The safety didn’t dress for the season opener, and he did play in Sunday’s loss to Dallas, but only 17 snaps on special teams. Given the struggles of starting strong safety David Bruton Jr. (missed tackles, coverage breakdowns), it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Ihenacho gets some opportunities going forward. He had a good training camp and preseason. Durability has always been the one knock on Ihenacho. But if he can manage to stay on the field, I think he could help the defense.
Nothing beats winning and execution, but isn’t it progress of a sort that players are upset with the losing? I remember not so long ago reports of laughing and joking in the Skins’ locker room after losses, and going back further dressing up in costumes during the week even while losing on the field. Grasping for positives here.
– R. Clinton Stackhouse Jr.
True. You want to see frustration and not acceptance of losing. But all of that means nothing if the players can’t channel that frustration into better play. And, they have to guard against letting those frustrations lead to division. Because that won’t do them any good either.
Now that the Redskins are eliminated from the playoffs after two home losses and their toughest part of their schedule ahead, where is their biggest weakness? 1. Offense: no running game, penalties, quarterback ineptness etc. 2. Defense, defensive line, lack of pass rush, cornerback & safety play etc. 3. Coaching staff: the players on both side of the ball are not prepared, penalties, out of position etc. Or is it, as I suspect, all three? Finally, do you expect the coaching staff to remain intact with the amount of losses expected to continue?
– Glenn Brehm, Yorktown, Va.
I think you pretty much covered it. All of the above.
The good news: some of this is fixable. They can work to improve execution in the run game. They can cut down on penalties. Cousins can settle into a better rhythm – whether it’s by relaxing and trusting his eyes rather than playing with the hesitation that we’ve seen, or if it’s by his coaches doing a better job with play-calling to set the quarterback and his unit up for success.
The coaches have to find a way to get the players better prepared and more comfortable with their assignments. They also have to make tough decisions, where they present themselves, and find ways to get their best play-makers on the field. There are indeed limitations, at defensive line, center and strong safety. But they have to do their best to mask those deficiencies. Coaches need to evaluate their strategies, players need to evaluate their approaches, and officials need to continually evaluate the roster.
For the most part, this is what they’ve got to work with, and dramatic changes seem unlikely. But in a game that’s often decided by inches, alterations here and there from top to bottom could spark some improvement. Will all of the coaches survive the season? That’s so hard to say at this point. We’re only two weeks in. You’d like to think they can pull things together and see this thing through. But who really knows?
Email a Redskins question to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered next Tuesday.