Former Redskins general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly says he believes Washington has all the tools for an impressive offensive season, if it remains healthy, thanks to a variety of playmakers at the skill positions, including quarterback Alex Smith.
“If they’re all healthy, this is one of the top offenses in the NFL,” Casserly said. “Jordan Reed’s the best separation tight end in football. Meaning, he can get better separation against any defender one-on-one in football. Chris Thompson is one of the top third-down backs in football. Crowder is one of the best slot guys in football.
“That tandem of three is as good as any in the league when you combine those guys as far as the ability to get open.”
The team didn’t have a deep threat last season after DeSean Jackson left for Tampa Bay, and Richardson fills that role. Reed was lost to injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and he’s considered by many observers to be the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon on the roster. Thompson offers matchup problems in the pass game out of the backfield, but he was sidelined in 2017 with a fractured fibula.
Quarterback Alex Smith is the biggest addition, coming to Washington in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. No one knows for sure how different the offense will be under his direction, but the veteran entering his 14th season is a winner with a high football IQ who has run multiple schemes. Casserly noted that Smith can use his legs more effectively than Kirk Cousins.
“I don’t know if you’re going to try to put him in that position with bootlegs or things will just happen and the receivers will do a better job with the receivers adjusting to him when he scrambles,” Casserly said. “[Coach Jay Gruden] has always wanted to be a guy to be aggressive throwing the ball deep. He has a deep threat in Richardson that they didn’t have last year.
“I don’t think necessarily Gruden is going to change things as much as he’ll be aggressive throwing the ball deep because he thinks he can get it. Cousins would come off the deep ball too many times on his reads. He wouldn’t follow through on his reads. Alex Smith, will follow through on his reads, I believe, better.”
This offseason, Gruden identified Smith’s ability to make the most of his supporting cast as one of his strengths.
“The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you,” Gruden said. “That’s what I think he does as good as anybody. He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs. He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way, or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out.”
Another offseason addition came in second-round running back Derrius Guice. Many, including Casserly, had him ranked as the No. 2 rusher in the draft behind Saquon Barkley, now with the New York Giants. The Redskins ranked No. 28 in the league with 90.5 rushing yards per game in 2017. Washington hasn’t had a run game ranked higher than 19th since 2013.
Guice led LSU with 1,251 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns despite a lingering knee injury last season and led the SEC with 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016. The tandem of Guice and Thompson is expected to balance an offense that has leaned too heavily on the pass game in recent years.
It all comes back to matchups, and the Redskins have better options now than last season — if healthy. And health can be fleeting as evidenced by the 23 players who landed on injured reserve in 2017 and for certain players who struggle to shake a history of injury issues. The offensive line was ravaged by injuries last season, but Gruden has called the unit a strength.
Casserly used the Patriots as an example of how the Redskins could benefit from exploiting matchups this season.
“The NFL is about matchups,” Casserly said. “The New England Patriots win because they match up great at three positions. They always have a slot back. They always have a tight end. Now recently, they’ve always had a running back. Those are the positions that defenses have the most trouble matching up [with].
“There are very few cover linebackers in the NFL. Therefore, your running backs are going to be open. There are not a lot of cover safeties, and cover linebackers in the NFL. That’s where the tight ends will win. When you’ve got to sit there with your nickel corner covering a slot back like an [Julian] Edelman, then you’re going to win that.”
Those are the three positions Casserly believes the Redskins have an exploitable advantage.
“They’ve got the same ability, to a degree, that the Patriots have,” Casserly said. “Chris Thompson’s as good as any back coming out of the backfield receiving that the Patriots ever had when they’ve been winning these Super Bowls. [Rob] Gronkowski’s a different animal, but Reed is hard to cover. And then Crowder has the ability to be [Julian] Edelman. The question is can he do it and can he stay healthy?
“They have that ability to match up where teams are the weakest like the Patriots do. That’s the way you have to look at it.”
That would be a dream scenario for the Redskins — the kind of scenario Richardson envisioned during the summer. It will be up to Smith and the rest of his new teammates to gain the familiarity they need during training camp to make the most of that potential.
“[Alex is] going to handle the offense fine,” Gruden said this offseason. “The terminology and all that stuff is fine. I think just getting to know the players and what they can do and adjusting to those guys — especially Jordan [Reed] who hasn’t practiced yet and Chris Thompson hadn’t practiced yet — but getting to know Paul Richardson for the first time, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, the rest of them.”
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