The Washington Redskins improved to 2-1 on Sunday night with an impressive win over the Oakland Raiders.
With an all-around team effort, Washington outgained Oakland 472 yards to 128 yards. The Redskins hadn’t statistically dominated an opponent by such a commanding margin (344 yards) since outgaining the Chicago Bears by 385 yards on Dec. 15, 1974 (660 regular season games ago).
And the 128 yards to which Washington limited the Raiders marked the lowest total by a Redskins opponent since Oct. 12, 1992 against Denver.
Here are five observations from the game after a second look.
1. Kirk Cousins’s performance: The quarterback has traditionally struggled out the gates, and this season proved no different. But on Sunday, Cousins finally looked like the guy that threw for 4,000 yards in 2015 and nearly 5,000 yards in 2016). Cousins was fundamentally sound. He made great decisions. He got the ball out of his hands quickly, and he was accurate.
Give credit to the offensive line for improving in the protection department. Cousins looked more comfortable than he has all year. And the game plan helped here. Because of the commitment to the run (Washington ran the ball on 21 of the 27 first downs and didn’t have a single negative run on any of those first downs), the Redskins kept the Raiders off-balance, and they also kept themselves in manageable situations the bulk of the game. The Redskins had only four third downs of eight yards or longer.
Jay Gruden called a lot of plays designed to get the ball out of his quarterback’s hands quickly and keep the ball moving. This also helped Cousins settle into a rhythm. Cousins was at his best on third downs, completing 10 of 12 passes for 166 yards. Seven of those completions produced first downs. Cousins finished the game with 365 yards and three touchdowns while completing a career-best 83.3 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of 150.7.
2. Pressure up front: The Raiders came to town with one of the hottest offenses in the league, and the Redskins made them look very bad. Derek Carr threw six interceptions total last season and left FedEx Field with two. The Redskins sacked Carr four times and hit him a total of six times while pressuring on additional plays throughout the game. What proved most impressive about Washington’s defense was the ability to pressure the quarterback by sending the defensive linemen almost exclusively. In the past, Washington has struggled in the pressure department and defensive coordinators have had to dial up blitzes, sending additional linebackers and/or safeties just to make life difficult on quarterbacks. But that wasn’t the case Sunday night.
Greg Manusky routinely rushed only four. Twice he sent additional pressure, using D.J. Swearinger to blitz one time and Montae Nicholson another time. But a rotation of Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Junior Galette and Ryan Anderson on the edges, and interior linemen Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, Ziggy Hood, Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain, routinely got the job done. Kerrigan, Smith and Allen all had full sacks while Ioannidis and Galette had a half-sack apiece. The fact the Redskins did this against a vaunted Raiders offensive line speaks volumes to the progress Washington has made under Manusky and line coach Jim Tomsula.
The interior linemen, who are more technically sound this year, did a good job of generating pressure up the middle, and that made it hard for Carr to move around in the pocket. The edge guys, meanwhile capitalized with pressure off the edges. Using only four to rush also helped the pass defense because it enabled Manusky to drop inside linebackers Zach Brown and Martrell Spaight (who played well in place of Mason Foster) into coverage to crowd the secondary and force Carr to hold onto the ball longer.
3. Improved depth: Washington faced an early test of the quality of its depth, on both sides of the ball. For now, they passed that test.
Jordan Reed’s absence didn’t spell disaster. The ageless Vernon Davis took over as the top tight end and had five catches on five targets for 58 yards and a touchdown. With Rob Kelley sidelined, the coaches turned to Samaje Perine. The rookie didn’t have the greatest average (19 carries for 49 yards, 2.6 per attempt) but he produced key runs throughout the night. He, Chris Thompson and Mack Brown combined to produce 114 rushing yards on 33 attempts.
On defense, Mason Foster’s absence meant an opportunity for Spaight. Spaight had nine tackles and a fumble recovery. He has always displayed great athleticism and a nose for the ball. Durability has been the only issue for Spaight, but on Sunday he delivered. (Interesting to see Spaight get the bulk of the action instead of Will Compton. Spaight had 46 snaps, while Compton played five. But coaches believed Spaight was better suited in pass coverage.)
Another display of depth: strong safety, where rookie Montae Nicholson got a second straight start and recorded his first interception. The Redskins appeared to be in trouble when Su’a Cravens got hurt in the preseason and then decided to leave the team. The safety ranks appeared thin after D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett, but Nicholson has quickly elevated himself. He played 43 snaps to Everett’s eight. Both are capable of making plays, but coaches like the size and physicality he offers, along with range. Washington’s safety position, although young, is actually in better shape than it has been in a while.
4. Thompson’s big day: Remember when the Redskins were considering drafting Christian McCaffrey so they could add a dynamic pass-catching running back to their offense, believing that would give their offense a new dimension? Well, it’s a good thing that didn’t work out, huh? Now entrusted with increased opportunities and involvement in the passing game, Chris Thompson is proving himself as one of the most impactful backs in the NFL, averaging 8.5 rushing yards a game and 17.8 yards per reception.
Thompson has four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) and produced a team-high 15 first downs (10 receiving, five rushing), and his playmaking ability has been a godsend for the Redskins, particularly with Jordan Reed limited by injury (Week 2) or sidelined completely (Week 3).
Gruden said he’s going to resist the urge to give Thompson a greater workload because he wants to keep him healthy and because he believes he’s most effective as a change of pace back. But Thompson is still the team’s offensive MVP through three games.
5. Back on track?: Now owners of a 2-1 record, the Redskins probably are right where many would have expected to find them in the standings. However, wins over the Eagles and Rams seemed most likely during the preseason, and few would’ve expected Washington to so thoroughly thump the Raiders.
The Redskins have a chance to hold a winning record after the first quarter of the season, but doing so will prove challenging as the Redskins travel to take on the Chiefs, who rank third in the NFL with 397.3 yards of total offense per game (235.3 passing, 162.0 rushing) and third in the league with 31 points per game. Given the struggles of the Week 1 performance, the Redskins seemed more likely to go 0-4 to start the season. But rebound performances against the Rams and Raiders now bring respectability and keep them on pace with the division-leading Eagles (also 2-1).
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