Despite a slow start, Kirk Cousins came, saw, and conquered by leading the Redskins to a decisive victory over the Browns in Cleveland.
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Although the Browns aren't considered a threat to make the playoffs, they do enter the game on a three-game win streak while playing pretty decent football. Rookies Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon lead a Cleveland offense that can catch defenses off guard if they're not careful—eating up big chunks of yards with their explosiveness.
As for the Redskins, the playoffs are very much alive. Winning out the rest of the season, however, is a near must.
While many appear to be sleeping on the Browns in this game, it's important to note that they are much better than advertised. With the Redskins unsure about their quarterback and a respectable Cleveland defense, Washington needs to be careful of the trap.
Follow along as we provide live game grades and analysis throughout the afternoon. Check back after each quarter for routine updates and refresh following the game for a final report card on the Redskins.
Kirk Cousins – B-
Despite starting the game 1-of-6 for less than ten yards and an interception, rookie Kirk Cousins rebounded nicely in his NFL debut.
As the game went on, so did Cousins, gaining confidence and becoming more and more comfortable. The first quarter was rough, and the second was an improvement. Following halftime, Cousins would toss his second touchdown to Leonard Hankerson and the fourth quarter was a test to Cousins’ management and leadership skills on the field.
Throughout the game, there were times when poor footwork led to bad placement and inaccuracy for Cousins. But he was never discouraged. His decision-making was also questionable during specific parts of the game and on certain pass attempts, but you could see his progression as the game went on.
Cousins would finish the game with 329 yards on 26-of-37 passing with two touchdowns and an early interception. And most importantly, a ‘W’.
It's a tough situation for the Redskins heading into this game.
On the one hand, with the team making a serious push for the playoffs, you'd like to have your best player on the field. Even less than a week removed from a sprained knee, the importance of Sunday's game can begin to alter a team's approach.
And on the other, being cautious with your franchise quarterback and relying on a guy like Kirk Cousins to get you through the week appears to be the wiser decision. That said, Cleveland isn't a team to take lightly. This Sunday isn't your typical cake walk through the Browns of yesteryear.
The latest reports have Griffin as a game-time decision.
While the dynamic zone-read would certainly change if Griffin can't go, there's no reason to lack confidence in Cousins. He may not be the explosive eye-popping game breaker that RG3 is, but he's capable of leading his team and managing a game.
Alfred Morris – B+
Like most of the Redskins offense, Alfred Morris’ day started off extremely slow. With Robert Griffin III sitting out and the offense changing their approach, Morris’ ability to operate out of the zone-read was kept quiet all day.
Morris refused to be denied, however, finishing the game with 87 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. His longest run of the day was 11 yards.
Living up to his workhorse label, Morris grinded all game long and made the most of his runs. He continued to break through tackles, he refused to go down at first contact, and he was reliable in the redzone.
It’d be a lie to say Morris didn’t suffer from the loss of Griffin. With change in approach and minus the threat of RG3 on the option, Morris didn’t see nearly as much daylight as he normally does with Griffin as his quarterback.
Darrel Young – A
In addition to his three rushes for ten yards and his one catch for eight yards, Darrel Young continues to plow the way for Alfred Morris.
Although I’m sure it won’t happen, Young deserves Pro Bowl recognition this year.
Evan Royster – B
Limited action today, but Evan Royster made the most of it. He had a nice catch and run for 25 yards and he added a four-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Redskins a 31-14 lead.
Pierre Garcon – B+
One of best features of this Redskins offense is the swag and attitude that Pierre Garcon brings to the table. Besides being an explosive playmaker, Garcon adds the necessary flavor to a young team making huge strides down the stretch.
Garcon finished the game with six catches on 12 targets for 65 yards.
Leonard Hankerson – A
Leonard Hankerson may have turned in the best game of his career today, hauling in two catches for 56 yards and two scores.
On Hank’s first score late in the first quarter, Cousins made a very risky decision to throw into triple coverage and Hank demonstrated great hands and impressive concentration to see the ball in, regain his footing, and take it into the endzone.
Santana Moss – B
On six targets, veteran Santana Moss brought in five passes for 57 yards in the game.
Moss continues to be a reliable target for the Redskins, working primarily between the hashes and using his ageless speed to make something happen.
A fumble late in the game by Moss could’ve proved costly, but Pierre Garcon was there to recover it. After such a great catch and run, it was tough to see Moss cough it up a la Redskins/Giants I.
Joshua Morgan – A
Another quiet game out of Joshua Morgan, but certainly effective.
Morgan hauled in four catches on four targets for 60 yards in the game and proved to be an attractive target regardless of the quarterback.
Trent Williams – B+
Hated to see Trent Williams get beat by Jaqua Parker today, but a good game when it’s all said and done. He’s undoubtedly the anchor on this offensive front and his skills are perfect for Kyle Shanahan and the way he operates his offense.
Kory Lichtensteiger – C
Two false start penalties on Kory Lichtensteiger today and his blocking was nothing to talk about. After such a great start to the year last season, Lichtensteiger has struggled mightily this year.
Will Montgomery – B
Another solid performance out of Will Montgomery today. Initially I was afraid that Monty would be exposed with a more traditional quarterback behind him, but Kyle Shanahan did a great job of moving Cousins in the pocket and Monty remained effective.
Montgomery left late in the game with a leg injury of some sort. More information likely available in Mike Shanahan's Monday afternoon press conference.
Chris Chester – B+
In somewhat of a surprise season this year, Chris Chester held strong yet again in both the run and pass. Naturally, he seems better in the zone-read offense the Redskins are accustomed to running, but he wasn’t lost out there today.
Tyler Polumbus – D
Another porous game from Tyler Polumbus today, who would eventually leave the game with a reported concussion.
I would never wish an injury on any player, but it was good for the Redskins to get someone else in there. The right side has been a disaster all year.
Jordan Black – B
Remember at the beginning of the year when Mike Shanahan signed some guy that was nearly out of football and boxing Krispy Kreme donuts, or something like that? And then he started at left tackle a bit, wasn’t very good, and people just seemed to forget about him?
Well Jordan Black was the fill-in for Tyler Polumbus today on the right end and I thought he played very well. That is, of course, when compared to what we’re used to seeing over there.
Unsure of the severity of Polumbus’ injury, I’d prefer to have Jordan Black playing right tackle next week. And the week after that.
Stephen Bowen – B+
Solid, yet quiet, defensive end Stephen Bowen played well against the run today. Trent Richardson ended the game with two scores, but they were from short yardage. Bowen got penetration and crashed down on the middle—where Richardson makes his money.
Barry Cofield – A
Effective at plugging gaps all game, Barry Cofield was a big reason why Trent Richardson had just 28 yards on the ground today (although the announcers would have you think Richardson had 200).
Cofield also added a sack in the second half to give him 2.5 on the year.
Jarvis Jenkins – B
Other than a bad call for illegal hands to the face, Jarvis Jenkins continued to play well and demonstrated good pursuit against the Browns.
In his first season back from an ACL tear, I think Jenkins is getting better as the season goes on. While he may not be Pro Bowl material at this year’s end, I think it bodes well for the Redskins moving forward.
Perry Riley – B-
A quieter game than most for Perry Riley today, but he added a few nice tackles, including one on Trent Richardson where Riley wrapped and drove through.
Riley ended the game with three tackles.
Rob Jackson – A+
Filling in for Brian Orakpo isn’t easy, but Rob Jackson has done an amazing job.
When coming off the edge, Jackson is a terror. His often overlooked football instincts, however, are arguably his best feature. In combination with his underrated hands, Jackson came up with a big interception in the third quarter that turned into six points.
Jackson would finish the game with a team-high four tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, two pass deflections, and the pick.
Ryan Kerrigan – A
Good pursuit out of Ryan Kerrigan today, applying pressure to the quarterback and containing the outside on shallow routes. He also ended the game with two pass deflections—a skill that he has seemingly mastered more so than an inside pass rush.
London Fletcher – A
Leadership can’t be measured, but it’s well documented when you’re talking about London Fletcher. In addition, Fletcher also was solid in stopping the run and he came up with a third quarter interception to help the Redskins offense hang another touchdown.
Lorenzo Alexander – B+
Although it was unfortunate to see him leave the game, Lorenzo Alexander was laying out some pretty big hits, whether it be from the linebacker spot or on special teams.
The One Man Gang literally has no boundaries. Hopefully he makes a full and speedy recovery.
DeAngelo Hall – A
Since the bye, DeAngelo Hall has been playing very good football and today was no exception. Hall provided good coverage all game, he helped to keep the lid on the Browns offense, and he contributed in run support with the solid tackling that most people don’t realize he has.
Josh Wilson – B+
No receiver had over 75 yards receiving today, and Travis Benjamin had the Browns’ only receiving touchdown by way of poor coverage from DJ Johnson. That said, Josh Wilson deserves credit for one of his better games of the past few weeks.
Madieu Williams, Reed Doughty, and DeJon Gomes – B
Coming into the game, I preached the importance of limiting Cleveland’s big play ability on offense by containing the receivers and keeping a lid on guys like Josh Gordon. Thanks to Brandon Weeden’s inaccuracy and conservative coverage from the safeties, the Redskins defense was able to do that.
Kai Forbath -- B+
Another field goal, this one a 44-yarder, to keep Kai Forbath perfect on the season. Although we'd like to see some more touchbacks on kickoffs, I'd take made field goals over deep kicks off the tee any day.
Richard Crawford -- A
Just two punt returns today, but Richard Crawford ended with 18 yards and he seems to have good play recognition on punt team. He knows when to call, he understands when to let the ball go, and he gets up field when he decides to take one.
Last week's decision to deactivate Brandon Banks paid off well, and I'd expect the same approach today.
Because of Banks' benching, rookie Richard Crawford was handed punt return duties and he delivered. Not only did he have two good returns during regular time, but Crawford's huge return in overtime essentially set up the Redskins' victory. Who doesn't want more of that?
Kicker Kai Forbath also had a great game last week and the Redskins will likely need him today as well. If the loss of Griffin (?) takes away from the team's big-play ability, then Forbath may hear his name called two or three times today.
Finally, I'd like to see an improvement from Niles Paul today on kick returns. He's getting a shot to really prove himself and his versatility with this team. Last week's fumble is hopefully a forgotten memory.
Kyle Shanahan -- A
Although it's players that go out and execute, I believe a lot of today's win goes to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Dealt a rather difficult hand on the road against an underrated Browns defense, Kyle adjusted his approach and found a way to give his rookie quarterback passing lanes to see and time to throw the football, all with anticipation and recognition of his offensive line likely facing an uphill battle without the zone-read.
Kyle saw how much the Browns struggled with play action and misdirection and he kept his foot on the gas all game. He put his team in position to score, position to win, and position to close.
Jim Haslett -- B
Since the bye week, Jim Haslett has looked like a new man. His defense, although far from perfect, is getting pressure where they can and they're playing with passion. Against the Browns, Haslett dialed up good blitzes and he kept the lid on the Browns' vertical threat.
I haven't jumped ship to call Jim Haslett the best defensive coordinator in the league. However, I'll give the man credit when deserved. And since the bye, Haslett has called a pretty good defense and is a big reason for the Redskins' current four-game win streak.
To me, the top priority for Haslett coming into this game is to stop the big play. Browns receiver Josh Gordon is averaging over 17 yards per catch and he has a way of getting behind defenses. As long as the Redskins can stay on point in the deep secondary, I think Haslett can game-plan for the rest of the Cleveland offense.
On offense, Kyle Shanahan's approach will ultimately come down to who he has at quarterback. If Griffin starts, expect business as usual with limited run option. If Cousins gets the green light, expect less emphasis on the zone-read.
And regardless of quarterback, look for Kyle to get the absolute most out of the ground game.