Jay Gruden laughs to keep from lying. As much as he would like to take credit for offensive wizardry, he knows better. He can't do it. There is no convincing way to claim that the Washington Redskins' offense is operating according to plan.

Their third-down running back — is it blasphemous now to refer to Chris Thompson like this? — leads the team in rushing and receiving. Thompson and backup tight end Vernon Davis have combined for 565 receiving yards, which is three more than the quartet of Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Josh Doctson. Reed and Crowder accounted for 13 receiving touchdowns last season; they have zero through five games in 2017. Yet quarterback Kirk Cousins somehow has thrown nine touchdown passes.

It all adds up, amazingly, to the NFL's seventh-most productive offense. Since a feeble home showing in Week 1 against Philadelphia, Washington has averaged 401.8 yards while winning three of its last four games.

It's a wacky juxtaposition: The more this team fails to get the ball to its most lauded players, the more it makes progress.


"I don't know what to say," said Gruden, the head coach and offensive play caller.

Washington adopted the motto "By Any Means" this season, and it used to seem like nothing more than a trite phrase to decorate the locker room. But the players have embodied their mantra so far, overcoming injuries, surviving on improved depth and adjusting to whatever challenge the next game presents. The offense has turned into the most dramatic example of that.

It has no high-usage weapons, not even Thompson, who makes the most of a modest number of touches. Eleven players have caught at least one pass. Four have rushed for at least 100 yards. Washington has spread 12 offensive touchdowns among seven players.

You can't call this offense great, and by season's end, it may not even be considered good. But it's, well, something. It's refreshing. And if Washington can protect Cousins better than it did against the Eagles in the opener, this abnormally effective offense just might exploit Philadelphia's pass defense, which ranks 29th in the league, in this rematch Monday night.

"I know we'd like to feature a certain guy here and there," Gruden said. "I'd love to get Jordan Reed more touches. I'd love to get Crowder more touches. But at the end of the day, you call a play. If it's man to man, we like this matchup. Zone? We've got to read this coverage and go here and use this route combination. Sometimes it's luck of the draw. Sometimes it's by design. But I feel really good that, when I call a play and I've got four or five eligible receivers, that any one of those guys can win and be effective. So I let Kirk make the decision and go from there."

It's easy to understand why Washington mixes and matches at running back. The team doesn't have a back drafted higher than the fourth round. But it doesn't lack notable receiving talent. When healthy, Reed may be the best receiving tight end in football. Pryor is a 6-foot-4 athletic marvel who, in his first year at wide receiver, posted 1,007 yards in Cleveland last season. Doctson was a 2016 first-round draft pick. In 2015, Crowder broke Art Monk's franchise rookie record by catching 59 passes, and he followed it up with 67 receptions, 847 yards and seven touchdowns last season. And Davis, 33, is a former No. 6 overall draft pick still blessed with extraordinary speed.

When Washington let 1,000-yard receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave in free agency, the expectation was that Reed and Crowder would receive a heavier workload. After Pryor signed a one-year deal, it looked like the offense had three solid options to lead the passing game. With Doctson, Thompson and Davis playing supporting roles, it seemed like Cousins had plenty of help. So far, Gruden and the front office have been right about the depth, but Reed and Crowder have been limited by injuries and Pryor is searching for comfort in a new system.

Despite those problems, Cousins has progressed with the schedule, getting more efficient, manufacturing more big plays and refraining from taking foolish risks. In the first game against Philadelphia, Cousins finished with a substandard 72.9 passer rating and committed three turnovers. Over the last four games, he has one turnover and hasn't posted a passer rating below 97.6. He has surpassed 300 yards twice and he has a completion of at least 50 yards in his last three outings.

The current offense isn't consistent, but somehow, it's dangerous. The receivers drop passes, and there are instances of miscommunication, but the players are starting to make up for it with big plays. They aren't missing many of those opportunities. It fits the new personnel. They have replaced proven with big and athletic. They're kind of random, but they're explosive.

Combine those weapons with a versatile offensive line, and Washington is able to do whatever is necessary right now. Can that work for an entire season? Probably not. But it's also unlikely that Reed, Crowder and Pryor will continue to produce at a Ryan Grant level.

"Most of those guys, if they're great competitors, are going to be disappointed in their stat production, but I like the way that Kirk is spreading the ball out," said Gruden, who added that he has spoken to his receivers about staying patient and remaining unselfish.

"I try to let them know that fantasy football is fantasy," Gruden continued. "Sometimes when you have a couple of star players — like Pierre and DeSean — it puts pressure on a play caller and a quarterback that, 'I've got to get DeSean the ball, otherwise he's going to get upset.' So you call plays, and you try to force the issue. But now we just try to go with the flow of the game and whoever gets it, gets it."

At some point, the offense will have to prove it can call plays for its best weapons and watch them deliver with great efficiency. For now, the players are just grateful for their versatility. They're good enough to make this wonky situation work, and for that, Cousins credits the coaches.

"It's a moving target because they may start to say, 'Hey, we are better at this phase of our offense than we thought we would be, but we are not as strong in another phase. So let's adjust on the fly and start to create some plays and formations that accent that better,'" Cousins said. "I am very pleased with the way our coaches have worked really hard to create game plans that put us in a position to be successful."

This transitory offense has kept Washington in contention early this season. Soon it will morph into something else because it must. And that will actually be a sad day.

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