Stock Up, Stock Down After Washington Redskins' 2nd Preseason Game
Stock has tumbled further for the Washington Redskins' offensive line and running game after a second loss this preseason, albeit by a closer margin of defeat—21-17 to the Green Bay Packers at FedExField on Saturday.
Not many members of the Burgundy and Gold's offense emerged from the game with any credit, including quarterback Kirk Cousins. Washington's signal-caller was erratic in the pocket, missing more than a few chances for points due to conservative reads.
The positives involved some fringe players performing well, including rookie running back Samaje Perine. Washington's fourth-round pick chipped in with a solid dual-threat performance after struggling against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1.
There is also a stock boost for a key member of the special teams.
Find out what the stock looks like for several players after a second straight exhibition defeat.
Stock Up: Phil Taylor Sr.
Phil Taylor Sr. is doing everything he can to convince coaches he should be Washington's starting nose tackle in 2017. One week removed from impressing against the Ravens, Taylor caught the eye again in Week 2.
The bulky 29-year-old stubbornly refused to be moved in the middle. Instead, Taylor used his massive 6'3", 343-pound frame to be a force against the run and in the pass pocket.
Showcasing his underrated chops as a pass-rusher, Taylor logged one of the Redskins' five sacks. It was a notable splash play from a veteran competing at one of the most crowded position groups on the roster.
Taylor needs to fend off competition from a litany of other potential starting 0-techniques, including Stacy McGee, Terrell McClain and Joey Mbu.
It's been so far, so good for Taylor this offseason. The oft-injured former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, who hasn't played since 2014, "has been one of the happiest surprises," according to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.
At the rate he's going, it will surprise no-one if Taylor is starting over center once the real action begins.
Stock Down: Rob Kelley
Nine carries for as many yards just isn't going to cut it from Washington's starting running back. Yet the paltry total is all Rob Kelley could manage against the Packers' starters.
Granted, Kelley was hardly helped by another worryingly feeble display from the blockers in front of him. Even so, much more should still be expected from the second-year ball-carrier who appears to have a lock on the starting running back job.
Kelley's struggles were the signature part of what has sadly become an all-too familiar tepid performance on the ground. Kelley and designated third-down back Chris Thompson combined for a meagre 10 yards on 11 carries, while Matt Jones produced just four yards from a pair of attempts.
Watching the Redskins once again labor to get the run going only made it easier to question the team's decision not to add to the backfield this offseason. Unfortunately, Washington already passed on picking from what was a relatively loaded running back class in the 2017 NFL draft.
Yet there can be little excuse for ignoring some of the capable runners on the veteran market. Even now, it's easy to believe a player such as 31-year-old James Starks could help steady a rotation built on quicksand headed into the regular season.
Stock Up: Tress Way
One look at the numbers from Tress Way in Week 2 shows the stock for the Redskins' punter is on the rise. CSNMidAtlantic.com's Rich Tandler detailed how well Way kicked against the Packers, consistently pinning the NFC North club deep and denying chances for returns.
Singling out a punter for praise is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the fact Way had so many chances to impress hinted at the generally inept performance from the Redskins' offense.
Indeed, the Burgundy and Gold's starters on O' were dreadful, with Thom Loverro of the Washington Times aptly and witheringly summing up their output.
However, although Way was on the field too much in Week 2, his strong performance does have positive implications for the season.
The Redskins invested heavily this offseason, both in terms of draft picks and free-agent arrivals, to get better defensively. Part of the process will involve consistently winning the field position battle and putting offenses in unfavorable spots to allow Washington's revamped D' to tee off and play aggressively.
A quality punter can be a key factor in this dynamic.
Way needs to bounce back from a dismal 2016 campaign, during which he ranked near the bottom of most meaningful statistical categories for his position. It's only preseason, but the early signs are good a player who could prove an underrated weapon in 2017 is back on track.
Stock Down: The Offensive Line
The Redskins should be deeply concerned by how easily their offensive line has been pushed around the last two weeks. Washington's front five was manhandled by the Ravens and proved equally as compliant against the Packers' front seven.
Although Green Bay's D' only registered a single sack, there was consistent pressure on the pocket from the start. Additionally, Redskins runners rarely had time to let creases open before being swarmed on in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage.
More than one observer noticed the problem, including ESPN.com's John Keim and Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Jones' observation is the most telling since it speaks to the root cause behind this team's struggles establishing its running game.
Setting the tone on the ground demands physical dominance in the trenches. It's what the Redskins' O-line has been built to deliver.
Sadly, Washington's primary starters up front have been proving soft touches so far this preseason. There is no shortage of talent, particularly with tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, as well as guard Brandon Scherff.
Line coach Bill Callahan is one of the league's best, but his reputation will be tested by which way his current group goes this season. The NFC East is loaded with dominant defenders in the trenches, including New York Giants nose guard Damon Harrison and Philadelphia Eagles D-tackle Timmy Jernigan.
Washington's O-line must make rapid improvement or risk being dominated by players of this type during the regular season.
Stock Up: Samaje Perine
If there was one member of the backfield rotation who emerged from Week 2 with any credit it was Perine. The rookie contributed 74 yards of total offense, including 45 on the ground from just eight attempts.
Perine ran with the intensity and dynamism Washington's more established players at his position lacked. He was quick off the mark and regularly resisted first contact.
What was most impressive was the deceptive speed and acceleration evident in the 233-pounder's game. Such a potent mix of brawn and quickness could be the ticket to a more productive running game for the Redskins in 2017.
Just as important, Perine needed a big game on his home debut after struggling in Week 1. The first-year ball-carrier coughed up a fumble in Baltimore but showed off the versatility and big-play potential against the Packers sure to put Kelley's status as starter in jeopardy.
Perine's next step has to be to work over a starting defense in the same eye-catching manner.
Stock Down: Kirk Cousins
Cousins played well enough to throw for 144 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay. Yet the plays he missed should concern the Redskins.
More than once, Washington's man under center missed potential scores and longer gains as he zeroed in too quickly on shorter reads. He didn't see Terrelle Pryor Sr. in the end zone, per Mike Jones of the Washington Post, who also chided Cousins for not spotting Josh Doctson for an easy six later on.
These are the kind of strikes an offense built on generating big plays through the air simply cannot miss. It's doubly important for an offense lacking the ability to grind out yards and sustain long drives on the ground.
Obviously, no quarterback reads it right every time he drops back, but Cousins has been the starter long enough to know where the big gains are in this offense.
His failure to spot them against the Packers could be the first worrying signs of regression from a quarterback playing a second-straight year under the franchise tag.
There is nothing wrong with maximizing the high-percentage throws. It's how Cousins has become a more efficient passer the last two years.
There has to be a balance between happily taking what a defense is willing to give up and still being bold enough to take the top off coverage when the chances present themselves.
Cousins has two more dress rehearsals to get the balance right before misses like those against the Packers truly prove costly.
Stock Up: Chris Thompson
A product of Cousins' eagerness to check the ball down so often was a reminder of Thompson's worth and skills as a pass-catcher. The fifth-year pro led all Redskins' receivers with five grabs for 52 yards.
Thompson also produced a rarity for an anaemic offense this preseason, namely a big play. The fifth-round pick from 2013 reeled off a 29-yard gain for Washington's second-longest pass completion of the night.
What Thompson did against the Packers was let everyone know how important he has become in this offense. The 26-year-old is the quick-release safety valve for Cousins whenever things aren't open, or obviously open at least, downfield.
Thompson is also an X-factor as a matchup out of the backfield. Not many linebackers and rush ends can stay with No. 25 in space. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has become increasingly creative moving Thompson around to isolate favorable coverage defenders.
He is struggling to show a similar spark running the ball, but Thompson's worth in Washington pass attack has never been as clear.
After catching a career-high 49 passes in 2016, Thompson appears primed for his best season yet as a receiver.
An 0-2 record shows how much work the Redskins still need to do to refine things on both sides of the ball ahead of the season proper. There are positive signs defensively and on special teams, but they are offset by an offense lacking balance, as well as conviction in the search for big plays.
Week 3's meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals offers another chance for Washington to right these wrongs.