Initial Thoughts on the Redskins’ Week One Loss

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General 

— Jay Gruden is now 0-4 in season-opening games as the Redskins’ head coach. The team hasn’t played well in any of the week-one games he has coached, specifically on offense where he makes his money. It may be time to re-think his preseason structure and the lesson plans he provides in the weeks leading up to kicking off a new season.

— I don’t remember a time when the Redskins only committed two penalties in their first game of the season. That is a good sign. Perhaps this team will be able to play a disciplined brand of football.

— Going 3-for-11 on third down is a nightmare. Not being able to run the ball effectively was a big problem. So were several first down incompletions that put Washington behind the sticks.

— There are always a lot of visiting fans at FedEx Field. It will always annoy me. The stadium is subpar and the game experience is less than ideal. Washington’s home field advantage is not what it should be.

Offensive 

— Kirk Cousins’ interception was a back-breaking mistake that he can’t make. There were 23 picks thrown around the league on Sunday. They are going to happen. But not all interceptions are created equally and his pickle with Washington in the redzone, down just two points was a devastating blow. If he doesn’t get picked off on third-down the Redskins kick a chip-shot field goal to take a late lead. You just can’t turn the ball over there and Cousins knows that.

— A lot will be made of Cousins’ struggles on Sunday. He’s long been a divisive figure because he is a quarterback in Washington and more accurately because he was drafted in the fourth round and was never supposed to be his team’s guy. He also now makes $24 million and people can’t get over that. He didn’t play well enough to help the Redskins win. But if Washington doesn’t run the ball well and the team’s receivers are as inconsistent as they were on Sunday Cousins isn’t going to be put in much of a position to thrive. Most of the solid starting quarterbacks in the league would sink in those waters.

— Terrelle Pryor needs to catch the football. Or just track the football at an NFL level. He lost one ball in the sun, on the opening of play of the game. He dropped another perfect toss that could have gone for a 50-plus yard touchdown that would have been negated by a holding penalty anyway. At a critical point in the fourth quarter he dropped a sure first down reception on a pass that hit him in the hands on a crossing route.

— Pryor did catch 6 passes for 66 yards but he was targeted 11 times. That means he caught 55% of the balls he was targeted on, a less than stellar ratio. Believe it or not, that 55% clip is the same as his catch ratio on targeted passes from the 2016 season in Cleveland, though.

— Where was Josh Doctson? He played 20 snaps and was not targeted. He is too good to not play, especially when the Redskins are not making plays in the passing game. Having him watch Ryan Grant and Brian Quick run routes is malpractice.

— Chris Thompson is a football player. Read “football player” in Scot McCloughan’s voice. I love Thompson like Thompson loves football. His highlight-worthy 29-yard touchdown catch was the best moment of the day offensively. He pinballed off defenders despite being 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds. He’s a valuable commodity in Washington’s passing game and he earned the two-year extension he signed last week.

— Ryan Grant should not be as involved in the Redskins’ offense as he was against the Eagles. If he is going to be, though, I hope he continues to play at the level he did on Sunday. He played really well. He made a great leaping catch while taking on contact along the sideline and even turned a screen pass into the Redskins’ biggest gain of the game (34 yards). He actually should have scored on the screen if he read his blocking better. His 61 receiving yards were a new career-best.

— I need more targets for Jordan Reed immediately. He had two passes thrown his way in the first half. That’s about four too few. He may have been a little bit rusty after sparing use in the preseason but I’ll always take my chances involving him. Get him going earlier in the game. Throw him a tight end screen, force him a couple quick pop passes or out-routes. Good things happen when he has the ball.

— Why not move the pocket more? Philadelphia teed off on Cousins by beating the Redskins’ interior offensive line with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. Bootleg. Get Cousins moving horizontally. Move his mark all around the formation so that the Eagles wouldn’t have known where he was. Make him a moving target. That never really happened.

— The running game was bad. Running backs carried the ball 13 times for 34 yards, an average of 2.6 per rush. That’s not good enough. The Redskins need to run the ball more and to do so they need to run it more effectively, namely on first down. Two of the team’s first four first down rushes went for negative yardage and set up obvious passing downs on 2nd-and-long.

— Rob Kelley has now averaged less than four yards per carry in four of his last five games. He’s been a sub 4 yard-per-rush back in five of his last seven games going back over a larger sample size. I don’t put all, or even the majority of the blame on him, but at some point he has to start amassing more yardage.

— Morgan Moses had a very tough game at right tackle, particularly in pass-protection. He suffered an ankle injury in the game and was in severe enough pain after the loss to require a walking boot. Hopefully he was just gutting through more pain than he should have and he will bounce back next week in Los Angeles.

— One thing Cousins did better than he typically does? He scrambled and used his feet to rush for 30 yards on four carries. He also extended a play with mobility, helping to draw a holding penalty in the secondary to move the chains on a 3rd-and-10. If he can continue to make plays with his feet as his passing performance improves he could make another progression this season.

Defensive

— Zach Brown is a stud. He should be signed to a long-term extension immediately. I’m not even joking. Call his agent right now and get a multi-year deal in place. He made 12 tackles, two for-loss and had a sack taken off the board via penalty. He is fast, he gets small while sliding through the line of scrimmage to blow up rushing plays and he is fast. The Redskins have not had a linebacker of his caliber since London Fletcher first showed up. He does wonders for Washington’s defensive team speed.

— Ryan Kerrigan makes plays. His third career interception resulted in his third career touchdown. All three have come at home and two of them have taken place in season-inaugurating games. He had not picked off a pass since 2012. His pick-six gave the Redskins hope when they were down 13-0 and in big trouble.

— Cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland both played really well. I’m digging this tandem. Norman made a great play on the ball when he was tested on the opening snap of the game on a deep-shot to Torrey Smith. Breeland made a couple breakups while defending supersized Alshon Jeffrey on downfield throws as the game went on. Both were willing, physical tacklers in the running game as well.

— Speaking of cornerbacks that looked good, how about Kendall Fuller’s breakout performance? He showed great instincts while blowing up a screen behind the line of scrimmage for a takeway, then almost picked off Carson Wentz on a lobbed pass in the middle of the field later in the game when he executed trail technique to perfection. He looked like a different guy than he was a season ago.

— Other young players coming off disappointing 2016 campaigns who showed well yesterday: Preston Smith and Matt Ioannids. Smith didn’t have sack until week seven last season and got one on the second play from scrimmage. He also hit Carson Wentz two other times and added a tackle for loss. Ioannidis never got to the quarterback as a rookie but tallied a half-sack while pushing the pocket from the interior yesterday. He is much improved as a sophomore.

— DJ Swearinger will want a couple plays back, including his missed tackle on a 58-yard touchdown, but he flashed several times. He has a chance to be Washington’s most impactful safety in years. He had a great pass breakup while displaying his plus-range and made several solid open field tackles.

— Jonathan Allen was stout against the run and did a decent job pushing the pocket as a pass-rusher a couple times. He ended his debut with four tackles and one quarterback hit. I don’t think he’ll end up being a star but he looks like a very formidable starting end who can be a major contributor at an important position.

— Junior Galette registered a sack while rushing on one of his first plays on the field. It was negated by an offsides penalty on rookie linebacker Ryan Anderson. That would have been a really cool story. Galette ended up getting a pair of pressures and looked good in limited time on the field. I want to see more of him. He can still play and his comeback from two torn Achilles’ has been nothing short of amazing.

— Newly-signed defensive end Stacy McGee tipped the Wentz pass that Kerrigan hauled in and returned for a touchdown. Give him credit for that. He was quiet otherwise but that was a mammoth play.

— Third down defense was still an issue. 3rd-and-long is a gift and the Redskins treat it like a curse. They gave up conversions on 3rd-and-12, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-7 during a showing in which they allowed Philadelphia to convert 8-of-14 third downs. Good defense get off the field. An otherwise stellar defensive showing was watered down by the inability to end drives.

— The Eagles averaged 2.4 yards on the ground. The Redskins’ revamped defense looked markedly improved against the run, an area where Washington was horrendous a year ago. I liked what I saw from both the space-eaters up front and the roaming linebackers on the second level. Brown was fantastic against the run and Mason Foster played well also.

— Covering tight ends continues to be an issue. Zach Ertz caught all eight of the passes thrown to him for 93 yards. When Philly needed a big play they found No. 86, and he was open more often than a convenience store.

Special teams 

— Tress Way shanked one punt (30 yards) but had a strong day overall. He pinned the Eagles inside their own 10 on a nice pooch that checked-up near the goal line, and later gave Washington a chance by pinning the Eagles back around midfield while kicking from his own end-line after a three-and-out from the one yard-line.

— Dustin Hopkins made both of his extra points and hit his only field goal. His banner preseason carried over.

— Jamison Crowder is typically a sure-handed punt returner but that didn’t keep him from turning the ball over on a muffed return attempt on Sunday. He’ll be fine. I wouldn’t worry too much about him.

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Grant Paulsen

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