The Washington Redskins enter the bye week with a 2-2 record after a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night. They had their chances, and they certainly gave the Chiefs more of a fight than some within Kansas City’s organization admitted after the game. But, ultimately, the Redskins fell short and will look back at this game knowing a few small changes could have produced a different outcome.
Here are five observations from Monday night’s loss.
1. Discipline needs on defense – It’s the little things that often define games in the NFL, and the Redskins couldn’t find a way to avoid self-inflicted wounds.
Defensive penalties undid Washington. Bashaud Breeland drew flags three times (illegal contact, horse collar tackle and illegal use of hands), all of which produced first downs for the Chiefs. Preston Smith committed three (two offsides calls and one neutral zone infraction). None of Smith’s penalties produced first downs, but twice his penalties put Kansas City in more manageable situations, and they capitalized and scored touchdowns on two of the possessions where Smith committed penalties. Ziggy Hood also jumped offsides on a third-quarter second-and-1 play, giving the Chiefs a first down.
You like the aggression and eagerness to make a play, but there’s a fine line that the Redskins have to walk, Ryan Kerrigan said after the game.
“There’s such thing as effort penalties. But, the penalties we had tonight, you still can’t have them. You just can’t,” he said.
The Redskins also needed to a better job of setting the edge, particularly on those scrambles by Alex Smith. Defenders got stuck inside and instead of being in position to either foil those runs or hold Smith to minimal gains, they enabled him to turn the corner and pick up chunks of yards.
Mason Foster looked slow trying to run down Smith on one such keeper. Martrell Spaight displayed poor effort when he slowed up thinking Smith was going out of bounds, and instead just let the quarterback skirt right past him. The defense as a whole did some good things, but there were still far too many missed tackles by Washington. By my count, the Redskins had 13 missed tackles. That’s crippling, particularly when a unit has already been on the field too long and needs a breather.
In the first quarter, Washington did a great job of getting the Chiefs off the field, limiting their time of possession to just more than four minutes. But penalties and missed tackles in the final three quarters enabled the Chiefs to hold onto the ball for 33 minutes. Washington, meanwhile, possessed the ball just more than 12 minutes in the final three quarters after holding onto it for just under 11 in the first quarter alone.
2. Details limit offense – The offense didn’t have any penalties, which is pretty impressive given the crowd noise that they had to deal with. However, there were areas where the Redskins hurt themselves by failing to do the things right.
Samaje Perine’s fumble struggles continued, and that’s no little thing. His inability to secure a simple toss to the left killed a promising second-half possession. He had blockers out in front of him and space to take that play and turn it into a nice gain.
Earlier in the game, Kirk Cousins hit a bit of a rough patch, narrowly missing receivers, the worst of which was a throw to an open Niles Paul on a screen pass where the tight end had plenty of room for a big gain. Terrelle Pryor and Rob Kelley both had a drop apiece that should have produced nice gains (Kelley on the swing pass in the first quarter) or extended a drive (Pryor on the throw that went through his hands on the third-down crossing route).
Josh Doctson’s drop in the end zone on a potential game-winner was painful, but that’s a really tough catch. He had the ball, but it came out as he crashed to the turf. I’m not sure anyone could’ve hung on there.
Kirk Cousins said after the game that perhaps he should’ve gone to an open Jordan Reed to pick up the first down rather than taking a shot to the end zone, but he thought the safety was doubling Reed, and went to Doctson instead. In hindsight, the Reed play would’ve likely wound up being a first down, because he was indeed open. But I don’t have a problem with that aggressive approach there.
Washington’s linemen had a couple of missed blocks that could have led to big runs as well. It certainly wasn’t the most disjointed performance by the unit, but they definitely weren’t as in sync on key situations.
3. Progress with receivers – Speaking of Doctson and Pryor, we’re seeing both wideouts nearing a breakout as they have gained improved timing and trust from their quarterback. Cousins threw up that 50-50 ball to Pryor, and the big target receiver rewarded his quarterback by hauling it in for the 44-yard pass. Doctson made a diving catch for a 20-yard pickup, and he then almost had the game-winner. Yeah, yeah, I know, “almost doesn’t count.” But considering the way Cousins didn’t even look for the receiver in the first two weeks of the season, this opportunity spoke volumes to the growth of their connection.
Cousins was confident enough in Doctson that he didn’t throw to Jordan Reed. It’s evident that Doctson has the most impressive skill set of any of the wide receivers. Now it’s time for him to become a legit focal point of the passing attack.
Ryan Grant again came through, making the touchdown grab on the crossing pattern in the end zone. He also made another tough catch along the sideline. With the confidence of these three growing, Washington should have more opportunities to go to Jamison Crowder (who was quiet Monday night) as defenses begin to devote more attention to the other weapons.
4. Kelley vs. Perine – Washington opened the game with a clear mission: establish the run game again, and set up the play-action pass. Kelley got off to a solid start, gaining 23 yards on seven carries, and his production set up Chris Thompson for nice change-of-pace production (three carries for 19 yards), and Kelley’s effectiveness set up the play-action pass. But when Kelley left with the ankle injury, and Samaje Perine replaced him, Washington’s rushing attack fizzled.
Perine’s final stat line reads six carries for 27 yards, which is a good average, but he lacked consistency. Outside of a 12-yard run in the second half, Perine managed only two yards a carry on his other two attempts. An inability to reestablish the rushing attack put Washington in more second- and third-and-long situations, which as we’ve seen isn’t their strength. Perine still isn’t at the level of Kelley in the area of running with that balance of patience and aggression. Kelley displays better field vision as well.
It’s unfortunate the Redskins didn’t have Mack Brown active because he might’ve been able to create the spark in the rushing attack that Perine was not able to provide.
The Redskins need to get Kelley healthy, and hope he can remain durable because there’s clear a drop-off here.
5. Bye week thoughts – There are no moral victories. It’s not at all good that the Redskins lost that game Monday night, because they should have won it. However, considering the way the season started, with an ugly loss to the Eagles, this squad looked like it was headed toward a 1-3 start, or possibly an 0-4 opening to the season, and the latter would’ve spelled disaster.
At 2-2, the Redskins are still on solid footing. They’ll return with a game against a rebuilding 49ers team, then play the Eagles again. If they can pick up two wins, they’re sitting in pretty good position with the Cowboys coming to town in Week 8.
There certainly were flaws in Monday night’s showing, but there is certainly no quit in this team. Years past, we’ve seen things start to crumble, and then the Redskins can’t recover. Monday night, after giving up big plays, the defense regrouped and limited Kansas City to field goals on multiple occasions.
The offense displayed an ability to move the ball even without Kelley, and without a 100-percent healthy Reed and Crowder. Kirk Cousins put on a gutsy performance and appears to have broken out of the early-season funk. I liked his aggression as he scrambled three times in the fourth quarter when he recognized defenders were playing man coverage and had their backs turned to him.
The defense has some things to shore up, and the unit could struggle with Josh Norman sidelined for an extended stretch with that fractured rib. But if the front seven can continue to play like it has, that helps on the back end.
This team could very well wind up being better than we expected. Jay Gruden is perfectly comfortable as play-caller, and we’re seeing him flex those creative and schematic muscles that made him an attractive coaching candidate in the first place.
The primary need on both sides of the ball: Consistency. That’s what will make the difference for this squad.
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