Biggest Takeaways from Washington Redskins' Week 2 Win

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2015

Biggest Takeaways from Washington Redskins' Week 2 Win

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    They should have beaten the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, but the Washington Redskins refused to leave another W on the field in Week 2. The Burgundy and Gold trampled all over the hyped up St. Louis Rams to record an emphatic 24-10 win that proved a lot about 2015's team.

    It proved Washington boasts a smashmouth running game few teams in the league can match. Whether it's ol' dependable Alfred Morris or burgeoning new star Matt Jones lugging the rock, Washington's blueprint for success is simple: run over the opposition.

    It's a plan being aided by exceptional play upfront. Helped by not having to wait for a decade to pass while Robert Griffin III makes his mind up in the pocket, this season's front five is imposing itself in both phases of the game.

    That's been great news for the running game. It's also helped quarterback Kirk Cousins find some efficiency, along with big plays in clutch situations.

    Defensively, the man nobody wanted continues to defy expectations. First-year coordinator Joe Barry has his unit swarming to the ball and, against the Rams at least, applying a ton of pressure.

    Find out what the biggest takeaways are from the Redskins' success in Week 2 and how they can impact Week 3's NFC East showdown with the winless New York Giants.

The Offensive Line Is Performing Above Expectations

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    In 2014, Washington's offensive line was nothing more than a welcome mat for opposing pass-rushers, to the tune of 58 sacks surrendered. But one offseason, a new coach and two new starters has made all the difference in the world.

    When this season's schedules were released, many would have rightly grimaced at the idea of Washington quarterbacks being at the mercy of two of football's most formidable defensive lines.

    But as 106.7 The Fan's Brian McNally pointed out, the Redskins have instead thrived. McNally's checklist of reasons why, including better play execution, play-calling and quicker decisions from the pocket, have all factored in.

    It's impossible to underestimate the difference it's made not having RG3 under center. For one thing, head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay can call the game they want. That means pocket-based plays relying on multiple reads and quick throws.

    Cousins isn't wasting any time making those reads and throws. It's a night-and-day difference for the pass protection.

    But it hasn't all been about simply swapping out the quarterbacks. As bad as Griffin was, there were still plenty of times the last two years when this O-line was worse.

    Enter Bill Callahan, who is already showing why he merits a reputation as one of the league's finest trench-warfare gurus.

    After seeing his big-name defensive front manhandled for most of the game, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lavished praise on Washington's O-line foreman, according to CSNMidAtlantic.com's Dan Shiferaw: "They’re outstanding on coaching. Coach [Bill] Callahan has done a great job with that offensive line. It’s Dallas all over again.”

    Callahan is certainly coaxing increased physicality and greater symmetry from a group with a rookie at right guard next to a second-year tackle. It helps that veterans Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao and center Kory Lichtensteiger have all been solid so far.

    The more Callahan preaches technique and refines the more varied blocking system, the better the Redskins will get up front. Continued improvement can ensure a line good enough to act as the bedrock of this season's team.

    That theory is sure to be tested by the Giants. Big Blue's pass rush has been weak so far, just two sacks in as many games.

    But New York always seems to turn up the heat against the Redskins. The Giants swarmed in for seven sacks the last time the two teams met. With fire-zone blitz artist Steve Spagnuolo back calling the defense, Big Blue will provide a thorough examination of Callahan's troops.

    So far, though, Washington's front five appears well-equipped for the challenge.

There's a New Star in the Backfield

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns in your first extended action in the pros qualifies you for praise. That isn't in short supply for Matt Jones after the way he flattened the St. Louis D.

    In the process, Jones provided Washington's running game with a new star. His combination of blistering speed and awesome power made him a lethal weapon against the Rams. It also made veteran Morris a mere supporting act for the first time in his pro career.

    Ol' No. 46 simply couldn't match the dynamism and punishing style Jones brought to the field. But the beauty was Morris didn't have to.

    While Jones stole the show, Morris still totted up 18 carries, just one short of Jones' mark. But those numbers are a little deceptive, as CBS DC's McNally notes: "Morris had 10 second-half carries for seven yards.

    In other words, when the game was on the line, Gruden and his staff chose to go to Jones. They didn't waver in the decision even after the rookie made a typically rookie mistake, according to DC Hot Read's Chris Russell.

    Those decisions don't mean Morris is done in D.C., far from it. But the message was still clear. Washington's running game is no longer all about 2012's sixth-rounder.

    Instead, Week 2 provided the perfect illustration of how things are supposed to work in Washington's backfield this season. The Redskins now boast a legitimate tandem of workhorse runners. Either can wear out a defense and control the clock.

    In Week 1 it was Morris' day. Week 2 became the Jones show. Next week the picture could change again, as Gruden noted, according to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times.

    If Morris, a pending free agent, declines or simply fails to agree a new deal, the Redskins have a ready-made successor in Jones. For now, though, as McNally notes, just enjoy this highly destructive double act.

    The Giants likely won't, even though Big Blue has allowed opposing ball-carriers just three yards per rush through two weeks. But that number has come against the DeMarco Murray-less Dallas Cowboys and the run-shy Atlanta Falcons.

    The Giants haven't faced a rushing attack as dominant as Washington's prime evil one-two punch.

Joe Barry's Defense Is Becoming a Force

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Week 1 was no fluke. The Redskins have a pretty tough defense this season. Barry's group served notice in Week 2 by making the Rams look decidedly less than average all day.

    Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times highlighted just how miserly Washington's defense was:

    The Redskins‘ defense came to play against St. Louis. They allowed just 10 points for the second-straight week and held the Rams to 213 yards on offense — only 72 in the first half. The Rams were 2-for-12 on third down conversions and 1-for-7 in the first half, with their only conversion coming on the last play of the second quarter. The Redskins forced the Rams to punt on their first six drives.

    What was intriguing about the performance was the difference in applying pressure. Specifically, both games have shown the disproportionate importance attached to sacks and pressure in the NFL.

    Oftentimes, sacks are valued more than pressure, certainly in terms of hype. But it's consistent pressure that's always the most important thing for a defense to achieve.

    Consider Week 1 against the Dolphins. The Redskins logged three sacks, but they still didn't disturb Ryan Tannehill enough in the pocket. Consequently, he was able to rebound from some early struggles to make a series of clutch throws, both at the end of the first half and throughout the second.

    Yet fast-forward a week later and you'll see Washington only sacked St. Louis passer Nick Foles once. That came courtesy of Stephen Paea touching the quarterback down after Foles had fumbled the ball and fallen on it.

    But despite the meagre sack total, the difference in cumulative pressure was immense. Unlike Tannehill, Foles was rarely afforded any breathing room in the pocket.

    He wasn't given time to set his feet or step into his throws. Foles could do neither because he was usually taking a hit.

    Those hits came from all angles. Trent Murphy delivered one off the edge while Chris Baker, dished out punishment from the interior.

    But the best stuff came from how Barry found creative ways to use rookie Preston Smith. Mike Jones of the Washington Post detailed how Smith spent time inside next to Jason Hatcher, while he also lined up wide and even at inside linebacker on some other snaps.

    This more varied use of personnel was exactly what was needed after the inconsistent pass rush against the Dolphins. Now Barry gets to turn his mix-and-match stable of pass-rushers loose on a struggling Giants O-line.

    Big Blue allowed "two sacks and four quarterback hits," in its 24-20 home loss to the Falcons in Week 2, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    Significantly, two of those sacks came from rookie Vic Beasley and veteran Kroy Biermann. Both are hybrids who can rush standing up or from a three-point stance.

    With Murphy, Smith and Ryan Kerrigan at his disposal, Barry can scheme ways to give the Giants fits in Week 3.

Redskins Still Losing the 3rd Quarter

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    If there's one cloud hovering over Washington's positive start to the new season, it's the team's penchant for being outplayed in the third quarter. Miami won that period in Week 1, and the Rams repeated the trick this week, firing back with 10 points after trailing 17-0 at the break.

    While the Redskins had been a model of efficiency during the opening two quarters, familiar failings popped up after the break. They included the now customary barrage of self-inflicted wounds. Along with Jones' fumble there were a host of penalties.

    Perhaps more concerning is how the Rams made adjustments the Redskins struggled to cope with. The main one was to stretch Washington's defense with spread sets and misdirection.

    For a brief moment in the third, this ploy sparked life into the previously dormant St. Louis offense. Running back Tre Mason started to find cutback lanes where none had been before.

    The proliferation of reverse plays and improved running also helped create the Rams' lone offensive score—a 40-yard bomb to Kenny Britt. Russell noted how jet sweeps and end-around calls had helped fool Washington's defense into surrendering a big pass play.

    These struggles to keep pace in the third quarter were similar to the joy the Dolphins found once they isolated tight end Jordan Cameron against linebackers. Gruden and his staff can't be caught cold to start another second half.

    Of course, the Giants have had their own struggles after halftime. They've been outscored by both the Cowboys and Falcons.

    But Big Blue's coaching staff is still an experienced bunch who shouldn't be taken lightly.

Kirk Cousins Can Be Efficient and Deliver When It Counts

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    He can't protect the ball, and he can't win games. Just two of the myths Kirk Cousins shattered against the Rams.

    Cousins protected the football against a big-play St. Louis defense that usually makes even the best quarterbacks a little accident-prone. No. 8 didn't toss an interception. That almost bears typing again.

    Granted, Cousins got lucky on an ill-advised first-half heave that Trumaine Johnson should have picked off. But every successful QB needs a little luck.

    As important as not connecting with the guys wearing the different jerseys, Cousins missed on only four of his 27 throws. That's real efficiency.

    Once again, he also spread the passes and 203 yards between a bevy of targets. Eight different players caught a pass from Cousins.

    But it was two connections in particular that stood out. They were the clutch third-down strikes to Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed on the fourth quarter march that put the game away.

    Gruden highlighted both throws in his praise for Cousins' "efficient" showing, according to Boyer.

    This is what quarterback play is supposed to look like in Washington. To those who would say Cousins is merely playing the role of so-called "game manager," let me retort with: Well, duh!

    When the running game is driving the offense and sapping the clock, the quarterback's job is to keep things simple and steady and still make key throws in clutch situations. Cousins did all of those things against the Rams.

    The question now becomes can he repeat the trick against Big Blue? After all, a home game with the Giants is where things started to unravel for 2012's fourth-round pick last season.

    Cousins tossed four interceptions during a Week 4 45-14 loss on Thursday Night Football. This season's schedule has offered him the perfect chance to make amends.

    There's every reason to believe he will. The Redskins are playing physical football on both offense and defense.

    This is now a team with a real identity as opposed to merely being a vehicle for a particular quarterback's potential development.

    Sticking with the current formula of power-based running and smothering, pressure defense can heap yet more misery on an old foe.

    All statistics and player information via NFL.com.

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