Biggest Takeaways from Washington Redskins' Week 7 Win
To you, me and the rest of us mere mortals, a week is just seven days. To the rarefied beings who ply their trades in the arena of professional sports, however, a week is a long time. Particularly for those who earn their crusts in the NFL.
One week is all it took for Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins to completely alter the narrative of their season. For No. 8, that meant leading a historic comeback to help see off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-30 in a wild game at FedEx Field.
In the process, Cousins turned the narrative that he is a failed quarterback, a spectacularly bad gamble from head coach Jay Gruden, on its head. Washington's sideline general now looks vindicated for starting Cousins over Robert Griffin III, after the former threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. The trick now is repeating those heroics.
It would help if the man under center received some—any at all, really—help from a dormant running game. Not even the visit of a Bucs team soft against the rush could revive Washington's once-fearsome-looking ground attack.
The offense as a whole could use a helping hand or two from a defense that started the season brightly. Now, though, coordinator Joe Barry's unit is flitting between barely average and downright mediocre on a weekly basis.
If there's a defense for Barry, it's that you can only work with what you're given. His hands are currently tied somewhat by a growing injury list that's threatening to spiral out of control and take Washington's chance for a successful season with it.
Read on for a more detailed breakdown of Washington's biggest takeaways from Week 7's thrilling comeback win.
Jordan Reed Is Invaluable to This Offense
Cousins will get, and deserves, most of the plaudits for the revival against Tampa. Yet, don't overlook the not-insignificant part played by tight end Jordan Reed. His return from injury sparked the passing game back to life and certainly made things easier for Gruden's signal-caller of choice.
Reed caught 11 passes for 72 yards against the Bucs, making two of those grabs really count. After catching a three-yard score in the third quarter, Reed snatched the game-winner from six yards out in the dying minutes.
He spent the game doing what he's done all season (at least when he's been healthy). Namely, tormenting every level of a defense with his move skills, quickness, athleticism and excellent hands.
Week 7 showed Reed is now the undisputed focal point of this passing game. Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay are drawing up plays intended to create the best matchup possible for No. 86.
It's also no coincidence Cousins went interception-free for a rare time as soon as Reed returned to the lineup. Without his clutch target and natural safety valve, 2012's fourth-rounder had been forcing throws and not showing too much confidence in his other receivers.
But Cousins knows Reed will make even a wayward delivery a potentially positive play. As long as Reed's on the field, Washington's quarterback situation will continue to look a whole lot better.
Defense Is Becoming a Real Problem
It couldn't stop the run, it couldn't stop the pass. Coverage was abysmal, tackling was worse. Pressure was nonexistent.
In a nutshell, that's the depressing checklist for Washington's defense after Week 7. Worse still, it's becoming very familiar. Barry's defense is now a real problem, one that threatens to undermine the whole season.
His increasingly generous unit allowed Tampa Bay to amass 190 yards on the ground. This came one week after the New York Jets stomped their way to 221 yards. Whether it was Doug Martin or Charles Sims carrying the ball, the NFC South club kept on moving the chains.
Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times detailed just how bad things have gotten for the Redskins' run defense:
The Redskins‘ run defense will get a much-needed break this week after allowing 582 rushing yards in the last three games. It’s been talked about frequently, but this is becoming a serious problem for the Redskins. Though they won on Sunday, not many teams will lose with that type of success on the ground. Doug Martin rushed for 136 yards. The Redskins have allowed an opposing running back to rush for more than 120 yards in each of the last three games. What appeared to be a strength early in the season appears to becoming a weakness. Earlier last week, Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the run defense is not as bad as the numbers reflect. That was somewhat true against the Jets, but right now, that reasoning isn’t hard to buy into.
A feeble run D is always a problem. At this point, though, fans of the Burgundy and Gold would likely settle for that being the only problem afflicting Washington's defense. But coverage and pressure are hardly any better.
The secondary was burned by Mike Evans for eight catches, 164 yards and a score. In all, Tampa rookie QB Jameis Winston threw for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was helped by the fact so few members of Barry's group actually managed to feel his collar.
The Redskins accounted for just one sack, a takedown split between linemen Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. Nice to know they did something to earn the paychecks handed to them this offseason.
Too many along the front seven are failing to produce. Their struggles are adding up to a comfortable pocket for opposing quarterbacks and plenty of room for running backs to exploit. Both issues are leaving an injury-riddled secondary increasingly vulnerable.
Overseeing the mess is Barry, a coordinator tied too rigidly to a four-man rush and no mixture in coverage. It's a formula that might work with premium talent. But with so many key players missing, the onus is on Barry to add a wrinkle or two to challenge offenses.
So far, not so good for Washington's first-year coordinator.
Run Game Continues to Be Anonymous
Just 50 yards rushing against a defense ranked 25th against the run entering Week 7. If the problems on defense are becoming all too familiar, Washington's inability to run the ball is now a broken record.
Is this really the same season that started with 343 yards rushing in the first two weeks combined? Back then, it seemed as though the Redskins had a formula for success on the ground destined to take them far this season.
The one-two punch of dependable veteran Alfred Morris and explosive rookie Matt Jones looked like a bruising tandem every defense on the schedule would struggle to contain. To say it hasn't worked out that way would be a mild understatement.
Washington currently ranks 21st in rushing offense. Jones, Morris and Co. are averaging a pitiful 3.7 yards a pop. Things got so bad in Week 7, Gruden and his staff had to come up with new ways to manufacture a ground game.
Their solution was to run Cousins out of read-option looks. It's hardly an optimum solution, even though Cousins rushed for 15 yards on three attempts, including an eight-yard scoring scamper to kick-start Washington's comeback.
Critics will argue, with some justification, that Gruden is rarely patient enough with the running game. While the view has merit, it's hard to be patient when so many rushing plays are producing minimal or negative yardage.
The blocking up front isn't good, but neither are the decisions in the backfield. Jones often takes too long making up his mind which hole to hit. He makes a few too many jump cuts and juke moves going sideways, rather than squaring his shoulders and plunging forward with his 231-pound frame.
As for Morris, he's obviously determined to let the snail win the race this season. Playing behind blocking no longer geared exclusively to him, No. 46 looks lost on the field. There's no burst or power to start and finish runs.
ESPN.com's John Keim believes Morris should get used to a reduced role:
It was another tough outing for the three-time 1,000-yard back. Morris gained just five yards on six carries and has not looked like himself since early in the season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Matt Jones continue to get more carries. Morris can’t do it alone and needs better blocking, but he’s also not getting extra yards like he has in the past.
It's true to point to the schedule and say the Redskins have faced some top-notch run defenses this season. But the Bucs aren't the Jets. Woes on the ground have now become a pattern for this season. It's one Washington must fix during the bye week.
Another 4th-Quarter Comeback Quieted Kirk Cousins' Critics
They won't stay quiet for long, but Cousins' critics sound pretty muted after Week 7. Actually, a few are probably still talking, but nobody with any sense is listening. Not after Cousins produced a second fourth-quarter comeback this season.
Trailing by six, Cousins led a long scoring march to hit Reed for the game-winning score and finally overcome the Bucs. He repeated the heroics he produced to beat the Philadelphia Eagles late on in Week 4.
That Cousins received so little help from his friends only emphasized just how impressive he was this week. Completing 33 of 40 passes for 317 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions? That is a quality day's work under optimal circumstances. To do it without the support of a running game—and while playing catch-up thanks to a woeful defense—almost defies belief.
Cousins even managed to tie a franchise record for completions in a game, to go along with leading the biggest comeback in team history, according to Yahoo Sports' Jay Busbee.
More than records, though, Cousins displayed a mastery of the Gruden offense. He ran a scheme bursting at the seams with West Coast-style timing patterns like clockwork.
Unlike last week's horror show against the Jets' tough defense, Cousins hit the high-percentage throws he was supposed to and protected the ball the way he should.
Sure, more daunting tests await than the hapless Buccaneers. Cousins should enjoy the bye week, because a trip to take on the New England Patriots follows. The defending Super Bowl champions will take away the staple underneath crossing patterns Cousins loves. They'll also blanket Reed.
If any team can bring out the worst in a quarterback who forces the ball into coverage when he gets rattled, it's the Pats.
For now, however, Cousins has earned a reprieve from the critics. With the season on the line, he showed why Gruden made him the starter. The next step is consistently proving that decision right.
"You like that?"
Injuries Threatening to Derail Washington's Season
A mountain-high injury list got stacked a little higher after Week 7. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan fractured his hand, according to ESPN.com's John Keim. Meanwhile, cornerback Bashaud Breeland suffered a hamstring problem, as noted by RotoWire Staff (h/t CBSSports.com/Fantasy).
Just add those to the defensive casualty ward already housing cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver, along with inside backer Perry Riley Jr. The latter hobbled off against the Bucs with a calf issue, per Keim.
If you think the problems on defense are bad, consider the offense is still without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, running back Chris Thompson and O-linemen Shawn Lauvao and Kory Lichtensteiger.
It's official: Injuries are wrecking Washington's season.
Any rebuilding team needs to be at full strength every week to compete in the NFL. Without the star power at key positions the league's perennial contenders boast, the Redskins can't overcome multiple injuries.
With the Patriots up next, Gruden needs the ranks back to full strength in time for Week 9. Keim is optimistic both Kerrigan and Riley may be available for New England. But against Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, it would be great if the secondary has its best options available.
Granted, not many will expect the Redskins to get much on the road against the reigning champs, either way. But the last thing the Burgundy and Gold need is for the cost of their catalogue of injuries to extend further into the season.
Washington is just about still alive in a wide-open NFC East. To pull off a shock, though, the Redskins must quickly get back to full strength.
All statistics and player information via NFL.com.