Winners and Losers of Washington Redskins' Week 2 Performance

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2017

Winners and Losers of Washington Redskins' Week 2 Performance

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    So the Washington Redskins do know how to run the ball after all. A whopping 229 yards were amassed on the ground as they beat the Los Angeles Rams 27-20 on the road in Week 2.

    Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley led the way, but rookie Samaje Perine also got in on the act. All the tough running opened things up for some members of the passing game, despite more struggles for Kirk Cousins.

    Washington's quarterback may be having trouble finding his groove, but one of his favorite receivers looked close to his best this week. Just as important, the offensive line in front of Cousins showed it can still boss the line of scrimmage.

    The Redskins got similar physical dominance from some members of the defense, particularly edge-rusher Preston Smith. There were still some issues with tackling in the open field, though.

    Read on for a full list of the winners and losers from Washington's Week 2 win.

Winner: Running Game

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    It's been so long since the Washington offense played power football and won that you could be forgiven for thinking events on Sunday were a mirage. Fortunately, you can trust your eyes: The Redskins turned their running game loose and didn't stop running until the Rams cried uncle.

    The reason the run game as a whole is a winner this week is because of the way everything clicked. All three running backs played well, linemen won their matchups and coaches committed to keeping the ball on the ground.

    The last point may be the most pleasing. For a rare time, pass-happy head coach Jay Gruden went run-crazy. In doing so, he gave the Rams a bit of everything.

    He called zone-stretch runs, just like those Washington ran for fun under predecessor Mike Shanahan. He also called power plays out of I-formation looks, along with sweeps and tosses to exploit the edges of L.A.'s defense.

    One other thing Washington's offense did well was mix the straight-ahead brute force of Kelley with the lateral quickness of Thompson. The Redskins used different running styles to keep a defense off balance and the results were spectacular.

    To put what Washington achieved on the ground in Week 2 into context, consider these numbers, per CSNMidAtlantic.com's Rich Tandler:

    "They got 167 rushing yards in the first half, the most the team has compiled in the first half of a game since they got 174 in the first half against the Bucs on December 12, 2010.

    Robert Kelley rushed for 79 yards, Chris Thompson gained 77 on the ground and Samaje Perine got 67. The Redskins have not had three backs gain 65 yards or more in a game since December 1, 1957, when Ed Sutton (72), Jim Podoley (71) and Don Bosseler (68) did it.

    Kelley rushed for 63 yards in the first quarter. That’s the most in the opening quarter since Alfred Morris gained 70 in Week 14 of 2012.

    Thompson’s 77 yards came on just three carries. His average of 25.7 yards per carry was the best ever for a Redskin who had at least three carries in a game."

    Doing something the team hasn't done for six decades doesn't happen by accident. It only comes about thanks to a commitment from the coaches and players to make the running game a focus.

    The Redskins have resisted making such a commitment for too long. Seeing Gruden finally trust the men on the ground was more than a mere welcome sight.

    It was also proof to a coach who usually lives or dies by the pass that he has a different way to win this season. Not even the "possible fractured rib" suffered by Kelley, per Gruden (via ESPN.com's John Keim), can put a downer on the Redskins finally realizing they can win with the run.

Loser: Jay Gruden

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    Gruden may have the let the running game have it's rare day, but he still needs to remember one simple thing: He has a talented team, so sometimes he just has to get out of its way.

    Unfortunately, the coach often can't help himself. He couldn't with the Redskins leading 10-0 and in position to open up a bigger lead in the second quarter.

    Washington's groundhogs had pounded the ball inside the red zone, only for Gruden to suddenly and inexplicably abandon the run. Rather than keep things on the ground, where the Redskins were finding a ton of joy, he called two fades from inside the 10-yard line.

    Both fell incomplete, forcing the Redskins to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. The baffling series near the goal line took the steam out of Washington and handed the initiative back to a Rams team naturally relieved to have escaped falling behind by three scores.

    Buoyed by the swing in momentum, the Rams reeled off 10 unanswered points. Suddenly, a game firmly in the Redskins' control became an unnecessarily close and uncomfortable one.

    Gruden had given momentum away by abandoning the run at a time when the Rams had no answer for it. It's one of football's oldest maxims to keep doing something until the opposition proves they can stop it.

    Yet, the coach's tendency to get too cute and clever can stall the Redskins at key moments in games. This team has been built to win doing the basics right.

    Gruden just needs to steer the ship, not reinvent the wheel.

Winner: Jamison Crowder

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    Jamison Crowder was supposed to play a bigger role once DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon joined new teams. Sadly, he was practically missing in action during Week 1's defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, catching three passes for just 14 yards.

    Thankfully, Crowder was more involved in Week 2. Although he only made one more catch than he did against the Eagles, the 24-year-old showed his flair for the big play is back.

    A big play is just what No. 80 produced when he took a wide receiver screen 21 yards on 3rd-and-17 in the opening quarter. Crowder's other three catches went for 26 yards, as Washington's best slot receiver routinely found separation and running room underneath.

    The most pleasing part of Crowder's performance was how the Redskins used him. Cousins hit him on screens, shallow crossers and off option routes. These are the kind of play designs a diminutive burner such as the 5'9", 177-pound man is built to win on.

    Making more Crowder-friendly plays a feature of the passing game will help ease the Redskins' transition to life post-Garcon and Jackson, especially since one of Cousins' other prime targets is still experiencing teething problems.

Loser: Terrelle Pryor Sr.

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Two games into his Redskins career, Terrelle Pryor is still to show he can be the No. 1 wideout this team needs. He followed up a shaky showing against the Eagles with an unconvincing display in Los Angeles.

    This week he caught just two passes and dropped a few others. Drops are becoming more than a mild worry with Pryor. Instead, his inability to hold on to the football seems set to significantly impact the 28-year-old's ability to be Washington's big-play threat of choice.

    It would be a shame if suspect hands cost him, because Pryor can deliver those coveted big plays. He did so when he took a short pass 31 yards on the game-winning drive. His catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter positioned Cousins to find Ryan Grant from 11 yards out and secure the W.

    The Redskins need more of these contributions from Pryor. More to the point, the Redskins need to identify the best ways to get more of these type of contributions from him

    It means the Redskins have to find Pryor's staple routes, those go-to plays tailored to his core physical talents. Slant routes seem fitting for a 6'4", 228-pound pass-catcher who boasts the frame and length to win inside.

    It's a route Pryor is used to, one he ran a lot while making a rapid transition to life as a wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns early in the 2016 NFL season, per Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus:

    "He runs a pretty simple route tree, with 29 of his 34 targets this season coming on just four routes (slants, hitches, crossers, and go routes)."

    Working Pryor on a heavy diet of slants may be basic stuff, but it's a necessary start toward something better. Building confidence and familiarity remain the keys for him, Cousins and the Redskins.

Winner: Offensive Line

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    It was easy to believe it wasn't the 2017 Redskins playing in L.A. on Sunday. No, instead it was the 1980s version, the one with Joe Gibbs on the sidelines and the "Hogs" owning the trenches.

    Memories of this franchise's glory years were conjured by the total dominance of today's offensive line. This present-day front five pushed, mauled and flattened a talented Rams front seven.

    The feeling of yesteryear was strongest whenever the Redskins ran the ultimate Gibbs favorite, the counter trey. Several times right tackle Morgan Moses and right guard Brandon Scherff pulled around the corner, while the remainder of the line blocked the other way.

    Getting blockers out in space was something the Redskins did well all game. Left tackle Trent Williams was particularly swift of foot. His vicious pancake of a hapless defensive back caught in no-man's land led to Thompson's first score, a seven-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

    Later in the same period, it was Scherff smothering Alec Ogletree at the linebacker level to help spring Thompson for a 61-yard scoring run.

    Remember, this wasn't any run-of-the-mill defensive front the Redskins beat down. Instead, Washington's blockers regularly put Pro Bowl linemen Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald on skates.

    This is the kind of dominance the Redskins hired line coach Bill Callahan to coax from his charges. It's why the franchise used top-five draft picks on Williams and Scherff.

    If Callahan and Co. can repeat this performance consistently, the Redskins will go far this season.

Loser: Kirk Cousins

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    Credit to Cousins for throwing the game-winning score late on, but not even this decisive contribution can mask another middling overall performance from Washington's starting quarterback.

    The 29-year-old finished the day having missed on nine of his 27 throws. Granted, he was hardly helped by numerous drops. Not only did Pryor let a few get away, but Thompson also dropped a pass accurate enough to release him on the run for a huge play through the middle on Washington's opening drive of the second half.

    Gruden's bigger concern about Cousins' stat line should be the meagre 179 yards he posted through the air. As ESPN.com's John Keim put it: "A ho-hum day for a guy in (another) money year."

    The modest total speaks to Washington's ongoing inability to generate the big plays common in the passing game last season. Struggles of this type are natural without Garcon and Jackson.

    Yet, if the Redskins are going to reach the playoffs this season, Cousins and his new targets must quickly get in sync.

    It will require going back to basics with Pryor, meaning using his physical traits in more obvious ways. The onus is also on Cousins, though, who must show more composure under pressure.

    He's not a raw and developing starter anymore. Cousins now has to act like the veteran he is, like the franchise-caliber passer he aspires to be.

Winner: Preston Smith

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    Registering a second sack in as many games shows Preston Smith is determined to make his dismal 2016 season look like an aberration, rather than the norm for his career.

    Contrast Smith's fast start to 2017 with his stunted progress to begin the last campaign, per Peter Hailey of CSNMidAtlantic.com: "Preston Smith's second sack in 2016 didn't come until Week 10. Thanks to his takedown of Jared Goff on Sunday, Smith has reached that number already in 2017."

    Washington's second-round pick from the 2015 NFL draft is showing true game-wrecking tendencies early this season. Not only did he take down Goff, he also forced some negative plays against the gadget portion on the Rams' offense.

    Specifically, Smith wrapped up slippery Tavon Austin for a loss when the Rams tried to run the triple-threat playmaker on a jet sweep early in the third quarter. He had read the play and wasn't fooled by the misdirection both pre- and post-snap.

    It was one more standout moment from a rush linebacker who spent a good portion of Week 2 in the backfield. Smith playing this well is not only ensuring the Redskins don't miss the suspended and injured Trent Murphy.

    His performances are also giving Washington's defense an enviable rotation at outside linebacker. Smith is acting as the bookend for Ryan Kerrigan in the starting units, while coordinator Greg Manusky can keep the pair fresh by also turning to veteran Junior Galette and rookie Ryan Anderson.

    Such an embarrassment of riches is an ideal situation for a 3-4 unit. Armed with an edge-rushing contingent this deep and talented means Manusky will have little excuse for not making the Redskins' defense one of the stingiest in the league.

Loser: Bashaud Breeland

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    One thing sure to hamper Manusky's efforts to significantly improve this defense is poor tackling. Enter Bashaud Breeland, who will surely tire quickly of seeing highlights of Rams running back Todd Gurley hurdle over him as he snatched air.

    Worse still for Breeland, it wasn't his only whiff of the day. The cornerback who can normally be counted on to make tackles also failed to wrap up Sammy Watkins, leading to a 28-yard gain for the wide receiver on the Rams' first drive of the third quarter.

    Counting the cost of Breeland's missed tackles makes for grim reading. Missing Watkins kept alive a Rams drive set to end in a touchdown after Breeland later missed Gurley in the flat.

    The Redskins get off the field and keep a touchdown off the board if either of these tackles is made. It's an important reminder all good defense is built on getting the basics right.

    Sadly, Breeland wasn't the only member of the D' to forget this valuable lesson. A blown assignment in coverage let Rams rookie tight end Gerald Everett take a pass 69 yards in the second quarter.

    This is the second week in a row Redskins defenders have failed to finish plays. They let Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz slip out of their collective grasp too often in Week 1, leading to decisive big plays for Philly.

    As much as any schemes he wants to implement, Manusky must stress the importance of fundamentals for a unit long on talent but so far short on efficiency and discipline.

    Even with a few issues still to address, the Redskins took a huge step forward in Week 2. The looming questions concern whether the commitment to the run will be a one-off for Gruden, while Cousins and Pryor still need to work on their rapport.

    Defensively, things were better, but Manusky must be mindful of how many big plays his unit is surrendering, especially with the prolific Oakland Raiders up next on Sunday.