The bye week is over. The Redskins returned to work Monday for a short practice, but they’re now back on their regular routine. The players have the day off before returning to practice on Wednesday in preparation for a home game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
With the early and much-needed off week, Washington will now go 12 straight weeks without a break to finish the season. The 2-2 start has some already thinking about its playoff chances in mid-October, with a crucial four-game stretch ahead that includes two NFC East games.
We’ll receive more clarity on the playoff picture in the coming weeks, but for now, we’ll gauge where this team ranks in the NFC, the biggest surprises and disappointments so far, and how Josh Norman’s injury affects the secondary.
We’re switching up the mailbag format, because a millennial is writing it now (they always want to change everything smh). Shoot your questions on Twitter, using the #RedskinsWP hashtag, and we’ll answer them every Tuesday.
Here are this week’s submissions:
It’s still early to write them off in the NFC East division race. Following the bye week, the Redskins are 1.5 games behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who had an impressive victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
But whether it’s the division or wild card race, the Redskins have the talent to reach the playoffs based on the level at which they played during their last three games. They grinded out a low-scoring game against what appears to be a good Los Angeles Rams team on the road, they punked the Oakland Raiders at home and stood toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs (the only undefeated team in the NFL at 5-0) on the road in a close loss.
We’ll find out whether they’ll make a playoff push during the second quarter of the season. It starts on Sunday when the Redskins host the 49ers, a team that is winless through five games. As desperate as San Francisco might be, the Redskins must win this game.
The following week, Washington travels to Philadelphia for a Monday night contest. The Redskins lost to the Eagles at home in the season opener, and they’ll need to win this game as well to improve their chances at a NFC East title. They’ll host the Cowboys on short rest in Week 8, then travel cross-country to Seattle to face the Seahawks.
By no means is this an easy stretch, and it becomes even more difficult with the amount of injuries they’re currently facing. After Week 5, there are nine NFC teams at either 2-3, 2-2, or 3-2. I would think the Redskins would need to go no worst than 2-2 over the next four games to put themselves in position for a playoff push during the second half of the season.
The biggest surprise has been what we thought was a glaring weakness. Washington’s defensive line has been impressive, particularly with rookie Jonathan Allen and second-year lineman Matt Ioannidis. They’ve recorded a combined 10 quarterback hits with the pressure they’ve created up the middle.
Washington has also improved significantly against the run. It enters Week 6 ranked 10th, allowing just 88.8 yards in four games. Last year, the defense finished 24th in that category. Four games is still a small sample size, but it’s a great start and a significant improvement from what we’ve seen over the last few years. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has done a great job with this unit.
Chris Thompson has also been a big surprise. He currently leads the team with 235 receiving yards and is second with 142 rushing yards — just a yard behind rookie Samaje Perine, with 26 fewer carries. Thompson has accounted for four of Washington’s nine offensive touchdowns this season. Beyond his offensive production, Thompson has remained a great third-down back with his ability in pass protection as well. It’s been just a great performance overall.
Outside of Thompson, the passing game has been a bit disappointing. They’ve been inconsistent, whether that’s because of injuries, timing, pass protection or simply chemistry. While Terrelle Pryor Sr. continues to find a rhythm with Kirk Cousins, and Josh Doctson attempts to display consistency in practice that will result in more playing time, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder have been very quiet. Reed dealt with a chest injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Rams. He missed the following game against the Raiders and was limited in Week 4 against the Chiefs to just passing downs. Crowder was slowed down by a hamstring injury against the Chiefs, but he’s only had 14 catches for 106 yards through four games. Crowder has also lost two fumbles on punt returns as well.
The expectation is that Norman will be out two to four weeks with a rib fracture. He underwent more tests on Monday, and the Redskins are expected to have a better idea of his progress later this week. Knowing Norman, however, he’s going to do whatever he can to make sure he doesn’t miss four games. He was extremely disappointed he couldn’t play with his teammates against the Chiefs, in a close game where Norman felt he could’ve helped the defense out in the second half.
In the meantime, the Redskins should slide in Quinton Dunbar as the outside cornerback to replace Norman. Dunbar has been through these situations before, filling in for an injured cornerback, and he’s fared well given the circumstances. He allowed just three catches for 14 yards on five targets against the Chiefs, according to Pro Football Focus.
That’s not to say Kendall Fuller doesn’t have the ability to play on the outside. He’s just played so well in his nickelback role that it would be best to keep him there, especially since Norman will be out for just a few weeks.
Doctson has made some tough grabs, and made an acrobatic attempt on what could’ve been the game-winning touchdown catch against the Chiefs, but Redskins Coach Jay Gruden has been adamant about the situation. Doctson needs to show more in practice to receive more snaps during the game. He clearly has the talent, but the Redskins need him to be reliable as well.
Injuries play a part in reliability, too. Doctson has dealt with a lingering hamstring issue that listed him on the injury report for the first three weeks of the season. He injured his shoulder on that touchdown catch attempt, but Doctson did participate during Monday’s practice. We’ll see how healthy he is over the next few days.
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