After recovering from their long flight back and various injuries Monday, the Redskins will return to team headquarters today for film study sessions, then turn their attention to Sunday night’s meeting with the Raiders.
Travel schedule delayed my game review, but here we are – better late than never – with the five top observations from the 27-20 Redskins win.
1. Game plan/play design – Give Jay Gruden credit for the work he did with this team in the past week. He identified the weakness in his opponent, which was the Rams’ struggles against the run. He figured out how to motivate a struggling offensive line by asking the players how they wanted to attack the Rams, and it so happened they wanted to redeem themselves from their weak showing against the Eagles and prove they could really pound the ball.
With the linemen’s desires matching Gruden’s beliefs on the best way to attack, the Redskins proceeded and went with a run-heavy attack. The 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries (a 5.9-yard average) carried the offense. We still saw some inconsistencies in the passing game (18-for-27 for 179 yards and a touchdown from Kirk Cousins), but it was adequate for Sunday’s game plan, and Cousins made the clutch throws when it counted. The Redskins still weren’t great on third down (5-for-13), but they moved the ball so well on first and second down that it didn’t matter as much.
This is what the Redskins need right now. With a lack of game-changing wide receivers, they need to rely on their linemen and running backs to take pressure off Cousins. I also liked the varied styles of runs the Redskins used against the Rams. Instead of going primarily with the straight-ahead power running plays they used extensively (and struggled with) against the Eagles, there was more diversity. Rob Kelley thrived on those runs to the outside. Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff really displayed their athleticism as they pulled to the left and sealed the edge for Kelley to turn the corner and run to daylight. The pitches to Chris Thompson also helped the Redskins burn the Rams on the edges.
The more active the lineman were, the better they seemed to get, and they all said they sensed the Rams on their heels and wearing down. That does a lot for an offensive line mentally. Another fine blocking display came on the first-quarter, third-and-17 screen pass to Jamison Crowder. Moses laid the block that sprung Crowder as he made the catch and turned toward daylight, Shawn Lauvao ran interference on the back end for Crowder to create separation and then Spencer Long got out in front and laid the block that helped Crowder cross the yard marker. It was a beautifully designed play.
Another good play design: Thompson’s 61-yard touchdown run. The Redskins gave a pass look, then Cousins handed off to Thompson on a delay. Scherff occupied two defenders, so the linebacker couldn’t get to Thompson at the line. Then Lauvao and tight end Jordan Reed engaged defenders, so Thompson was able to slip by them. Terrelle Pryor ran just enough interference for Thompson to get by the cornerback, and then it was off to the races.
More good play design: the game-winning touchdown. Gruden drew it up so Ryan Grant was in a bunch formation and ran behind Pryor, then made his break, confusing his defender and creating separation before making the catch while keeping both feet in bounds. That whole drive was a good display of patience and balance. The Redskins got the ball with just more than six minutes left to play and ran seven times while passing four, eating up 5 minutes, 27 seconds.
2. Bend, but bounce back – Okay, so the defense wasn’t perfect. Not sure we can call it a bend-but-don’t-break unit yet. But it definitely rebounded from some rough patches and made a number of key plays. The Redskins again let their opponents off the hook on third-and-long situations and had plenty of missed tackles. Sometimes it was a bad angle taken, like when Todd Gurley got by Bashaud Breeland on an 18-yard run. Or it was bad technique, like the two Gurley hurdles. Both Kendall Fuller and Breeland went in low and turned their heads rather than locking in on the back’s midsection, aiming to wrap up and take him to the ground. But it wasn’t just those two.
There were missed tackles even by some of the most aggressive Redskins, like Zach Brown and D.J. Swearinger. They made up for them later, but there are certainly things to clean up. As a whole, the Redskins did better on third down; the Rams were 5-for-12. It probably should’ve been about 2-for-12, but it was an improvement on Week 1.
Washington had a couple of sloppy stands in the second half. The players appeared to tire and Gurley appeared to get stronger, but the Redskins regrouped in the clutch. The Rams were marching toward the end zone for a series that would’ve given them a 23-20 lead, but things deteriorated for them when Zach Brown did good job getting underneath a block and tackling Gurley on a screen pass to hold him to a two-yard gain on second-and-17 from the 24. On third down, Junior Galette came up big, recording a pressure that forced Jared Goff to rush his throw to the end zone and also drawing a holding call. On the same play, Fuller broke up the pass in the end zone. The Rams had to settle for a field goal to tie the game rather than taking a lead.
And, of course, Mason Foster’s interception sealed the win and gave the Redskins multiple takeaways in back-to-back weeks. This defensive group has a lot of aggression and determination. You have to like the mindset you see from cornerback Josh Norman, who is always trying to punch out balls when teammates are going for tackles. You saw guys like Norman, Brown, Foster and others get banged up but come back into the game, refusing to quit. It paid off Sunday.
3. Key adjustments – There were a number of adjustments, but two in particular made a big difference. Samaje Perine made one, and Mason Foster made one.
The run game was clicking behind Kelley and Thompson. But Kelley’s injury temporarily derailed the Redskins. They had their two worst possessions at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third. Perine was so eager that he was too eager. He didn’t have a feel for the game. He’d hit holes before they were there, running up on the heels of his linemen. Every time Perine returned to the sideline, Randy Jordan, his position coach (who, on a side note, was coaching at the stadium where his playing career began Oct. 31, 1993, with the Raiders), kept telling Perine he needed to slow down and let plays develop. As the second half progressed, Perine’s feel for the game improved, and then he was at his best on the final drive, pacing his team with 38 yards on six carries. This enabled the Redskins to move the ball in chunks, eat time off the clock and position themselves to score.
Foster’s adjustment came after he blew an opportunity for a takeaway in the first half. With 5:27 left in second quarter, Goff went to receiver Cooper Kupp on a pass underneath. Fuller covered on the back side and Foster could have jumped the route, but he hesitated, then came over late. Kupp made the catch, slipped by Fuller and picked up 17 yards. Fast-forward to the fourth quarter: Rams ball, down 27-20. Foster realizes Goff is running the same play. He and Swearinger had talked and knew they needed to keep their eyes out for that later in the game. And, sure enough, the Rams brought it back. This time, Foster recognized but waited just enough for Goff to commit, jumped the route and made the interception to seal the game.
4. Most Improved Players – It’s still extremely early, but the Redskins have a number of young guys in the running for the Most Improved Player award. Fuller, Matt Ioannidis and Preston Smith lead the way.
Last year as a rookie nickelback, Fuller looked in over his head. He gave up too many big catches. He was out of position in run support. This year, he’s much more sound in his coverage. He’s confident in what he sees. He has broken up receiver screen passes multiple times to kill possessions.
Ioannidis was a nonfactor as a rookie. He wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t quick enough and looked like a bust. He’s a different guy this year. He’s stronger, he’s faster and he knows what to expect. He brings good pressure. He does a good job of shedding blocks and making tackles. He’s suddenly one of the team’s most versatile linemen.
Smith looked like he was about to lose his job. He went much of last season without a sack. In training camp, he didn’t look like a guy who understood he had Junior Galette and Ryan Anderson coming for his job. But he has flipped the switch now that the regular season is here, recording sacks in back-to-back weeks. Smith has also done well against the run. On Sunday, he displayed good balance as he came off the edge, gunning for Goff, but quickly realized the quarterback was giving the ball to Tavon Austin on a jet sweep. Smith made the tackle for the loss.
If he continues to build on this, the third-year pro will position himself for a nice little contract extension next offseason.
5. Remaining needs – The feel-good vibes will remain for only a bit longer, because the Redskins have two very challenging matchups coming. Here’s a rundown of what they need to work on this week:
• Getting the ball to Jamison Crowder more. Late in the game, he had some cramping, so that’s why we didn’t see him as much, but earlier on, opportunities were there. He had four catches for 47 yards on five targets. With the other receivers still developing a feel with Cousins, the veteran slot receiver needs more targets.
• More consistency from Cousins. He again got sloppy with his mechanics at times. He got balls batted down at the line. He overthrew receivers while throwing off the back foot or not planting properly. It was good to see him work through the struggles and throw a perfect pass to Grant to win. But the Redskins need better showings from their quarterback. A healthy rushing attack helps, but eventually the passing game needs to click more.
• Better tackling. There were too many whiffs. Yes, that’s sometimes what you get when you have such an aggressive unit, but the Redskins need to find the fine line. And they have to do better on third down.
• Rob Kelley, Jordan Reed, Josh Norman, Mason Foster, Montae Nicholson and Deshazor Everett all have significant injuries. The Redskins need to be as close to full strength Sunday against the Raiders as they can get. This is the best team they have faced so far; they couldn’t beat the Eagles healthy, and they just barely beat a Rams team laying the foundation. Now they have a legit playoff squad coming to town in prime time.
More on the Redskins