Hard to believe it, but the season is already halfway over. The Redskins entered this bye week in the most mind-bending way possible: a tie.

But, here we are, surveying the wreckage from that game, and looking back at the first half of the season.

Thanks, as always, for taking part in the Mailbag. Keep sending those questions, and we’ll do it all over again next week. E-mail me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line, “Mailbag question.”

Here we go.

While I think Coach Gruden is doing a good job overall, two decisions during the Bengals game bug me:  First, why try to kick a field goal on third down? I know the standard answer is “In case there is a botched snap,” but I never liked those decisions. Wouldn’t it be better to take a shot at the end zone first (on a relatively safe play) and then try the kick if it fails? Second, instead of intentionally running the clock down at the end of the overtime period, why wouldn’t he save time so he could try to pass for a first down in field goal territory, take a time out, and then kick the (potentially) game-winning field goal?  Low probability, I know, but it would be better odds than a Hail Mary to the end zone. It just seems like Gruden gave up and conceded a tie at the end.

— Jim Shepherd

I didn’t have a problem with attempting the field goal on third down because, like you said, you want an extra down in case there’s a bad snap. But prior to that, I would’ve liked to have seen a shot to the end zone. On that second-down play, Cousins lost three yards, but did get the ball to the middle of the field to give Dustin Hopkins a better angle. But I might’ve tried a shot to the end zone there instead, because the defense wasn’t looking for it. They knew the Redskins were playing for a field goal.

On the final play of overtime, I understand the Redskins not wanting to give the Bengals a shot at a Hail Mary pass if they didn’t succeed on their own try. The Bengals hit a Hail Mary to A.J. Green at the end of the first half in the previous week’s game.

My issue was this: The Redskins didn’t make a great effort at getting a first down on third down. The play wasn’t designed to get a first down. All of the receivers ran to their designed spots, short of the sticks and turned to look for the ball. Only Ryan Grant on the right side ran within a yard or two of the sticks, but he too was short. The Redskins needed 19 and got eight, but still had 20 seconds left on the clock. That’s enough time to get to the line and run another play for a first down and a field goal. But instead, Gruden let the clock run down, and then the play never really had a chance because protection broke down, and Cousins scrambled to his left, didn’t turn his body and threw the ball about 28 yards short of the end zone, and to no receiver in particular. Again, I get not wanting to leave clock for the Bengals to run a play. But I don’t think the Redskins should have worried about that. Move the ball, get a first down, use the time out, try one more field goal.

It doesn’t seem like the Redskins have a ‘quick go’ call like I’ve seen the Packers and Patriots do to take advantage of times when the defense is confused (like leaving Garcon uncovered) or has 12 men on the field. Is that a function of the play-calling relay system, Gruden preferring a slower count/pace or Cousins not ready for that yet? Seems like missed opportunities that could benefit the offense. 

— John Little

I think it has more to do with Cousins’s comfort level and recognition. He certainly could quickly snap the ball to take advantage of something like that, if he saw it. But he didn’t even see Garcon jumping up and down and waving his hands like crazy, much less the fact that there was no defender lined up over that way. You mentioned Rodgers and Brady. They’re just at different places in this regard. Could they have manipulated a defense like that in their second season as a starter? Maybe not. But you sure would have liked to have seen Cousins have better awareness. That definitely was a missed opportunity there.

The Redskins are still trying to improve two problem areas: red-zone offense and rushing defense. With the bye week, what should they do to address each of them?

— Tim Foisie, Westport, Conn.

Editor’s note: This is the topic of Liz Clarke’s story yesterday, There are two immediate fixes the Redskins can make over the bye week. Here’s Mike:

Unfortunately, there’s not a simple fix for the Redskins’ red-zone issues. They have the personnel to be very good in this area of the field. Last year, Washington ranked among the league leaders in the red zone, coming away with touchdowns on 61.2 percent of those trips inside the 20. The personnel remains the same: Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, DeSean Jackson, and now add Vernon Davis to the mix. Reed obviously was Cousins’s go-to guy in this area last year, with 10 red-zone touchdown catches. Defenses are paying more attention to him this season, but that should lead to opportunities for others.

It’s got to come down to quicker decision-making by Cousins and more creativity by Washington’s coaches. Like, a few weeks ago, we saw Chris Thompson leak out of the backfield for a touchdown catch while Reed took a couple defenders with him. Or, maybe it’s using Garcon on a slant instead of a fade route. Garcon was good on those slants into the end zone under Kyle Shanahan. He hasn’t forgotten how to run them. Coaches will spend the bye reviewing every aspect of the offense, and they’ll attempt to come up with some fixes to the first-half problems. We’ll see what they can cook up on this front.

As far as the run defense goes, the Redskins had done a better job in recent weeks. The defensive linemen got off blocks better and clogged running lanes, linebackers did better as well. But consistency remains an issue. Guys have to fly to the ball. The unit needs more speed, and there’s no way to make the current players faster in a matter of weeks. But for now, the players have to do a better job of bringing that relentless effort consistently, hoping that masks some of their deficiencies.

What is the most important thing the Redskins need to improve on from the first eight games coming out of the bye week?

— Chris Duble

I’d say red-zone offense. That’s the biggest thing hurting this team. Way too many field goals. Way too few touchdowns. The offense can move the ball. Kirk Cousins ranks second in the NFL with 2,454 passing yards. But, he’s tied for 11th with Tom Brady in touchdown passes (12), and Brady didn’t play for the first four games of the season. They have the weapons, they have the schemes to have much more success. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t yet clicked. I think perhaps the use of the play-action could help. We haven’t seen much of that in the red zone. But also, the Redskins haven’t run inside the 20 very often. So, more balance in the play-calling, and more aggression on Cousins’s part possibly could help here. But, this is the biggest need for the final eight games. Far too often the defense comes up with a stop, and Washington’s offense can’t find a way to respond with a touchdown.

With the continued emergence of Jamison Crowder, do you get the feeling that the Redskins will not bring back DeSean Jackson nor Pierre Garcon? With Jackson out last week, I think everyone saw they don’t necessarily need him even though his presence only helps open the field.

— Jason Rotell

I had originally expected that one of the two would wind up staying here. But now, I don’t know. Considering that the offense doesn’t consistently feature either of these receivers, it’s hard to imagine management deciding to give either the handsome contract that both will want. It’s hard to say what to expect from Josh Doctson. But the Redskins have Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed as their go-to guys, and they can likely find more affordable, and younger, options. Those players’ high ends might not equal those of Garcon and Jackson. But both get overlooked often enough that it doesn’t make sense to keep them here.

Who are the Redskins’ first half MVPs, offensive and defensive? Who has been the biggest surprise and disappointment?

— Ryan Chase

Offensive is tough. It’s got to come down to Crowder or Jordan Reed. Crowder has been terrific. Forty catches, 498 yards, four touchdowns, 191 yards after the catch, 21 first downs. Reed also has been his dynamic self: 42 catches, 415 yards, three touchdowns, 133 yards after the catch, 24 first downs. Crowder also had the punt return for the touchdown, and he has proven more durable, so I’ll go with him, in a slight edge.

I’m going to call Josh Norman your defensive MVP. He has lived up to expectations. He has gone toe-to-toe with the best wide receivers his team has faced, and he has come out on top. Even Sunday, A.J. Green had his plays, but five catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns on plays that he lined up opposite Norman is not what you’d call dominant. Norman has been great. Really would have liked to have seen how that Pittsburgh game would have turned out with Norman covering Antonio Brown.

When it comes to surprises: I’ll say Vernon Davis on offense, and Trent Murphy on defense. I thought for sure that Davis was done. I’ve seen my fair share of over-the-hill tight ends, either trying to hang on for another season with the team, or coming in here at training camp and trying to earn a spot. And you can look at them and tell, there’s nothing left in the tank. I expected to see that from Davis. It’s been quite the opposite, however. He told me in the offseason that he can still run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. I said to myself, ‘Yeah, uh-huh, okay.’ But he actually can still run, quite well. Players say he’d be one of the guys they’d take if they were putting together a 400-meter relay team. And we now have seen him out there on the field, getting open, getting separation, making catches, making plays. He has 23 catches on 26 targets for 319 yards, with 10 of those catches producing first downs. He’s averaging 13.7 yards per catch, which ranks second behind Jackson. And he’s 32? Definitely the biggest surprise on offense.

And as far as Murphy goes: He looked like a non-impact player during training camp. He worked with the third-team defensive line. Then he moved back to outside linebacker out of necessity and didn’t make an impact in the preseason. But it turns out, Murphy was just getting his legs back and rounding into form during the preseason. Because he now has six sacks and has carved out a key role for himself. It took Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith some time to get comfortable with the new rotation at outside linebacker, but Murphy got off to a strong start and hasn’t let up. Sunday was the first time in six games that he didn’t get a sack, but he did come close, getting a couple hits in on the quarterback.

Biggest disappointments: On offense, I’d have to say Matt Jones, and on defense, it’s easy: Kendall Reyes.

Jones has had some good games, but he has lacked consistency, and he hasn’t cured his fumble issues. Jones has topped 65 rushing yards in only two games this season (117 versus Cleveland, 135 versus Detroit), and he hasn’t had much success generating yards after contact. Hopefully, for Jones and the Redskins, Jones breaks through and produces consistently in the second half. Otherwise, we could see Rob Kelley take that starting job.

Reyes was Scot McCloughan’s first free-agent signing of the spring and was supposed to start. He came in here and didn’t make an impact at all, and got cut after suiting up for only two games.

Email a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered next Tuesday.

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