Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Washington Grades, Notes and Quotes

Marcel Davis@@Mar_CelDavis24Correspondent IDecember 27, 2015

Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Washington Grades, Notes and Quotes

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Completing their journey from worst to first, the Washington Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-24, in Week 16, clinching the NFC East title.

    Holding the edge in total yards (418 to 398), Washington nabbed the lead in the first quarter and never looked back, building the lead as high as 21 points in the franchise's 600th victory.

    With a playoff spot secured, Week 17 can now serve as a bye week of sorts for injured Redskins to rest. Before we can look ahead, though, let's first delve into how and why the team is returning to the playoffs.

    Here are Washington's postgame grades, notes and quotes.

Position Grades

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    There's much to like about Cousins' play of late.
    There's much to like about Cousins' play of late.Matt Rourke/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Quarterback: A

    What road woes?

    Continuing his hot run, Kirk Cousins had his way with the Eagles defense. Coming close to his season total of six touchdowns on the road, he threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns.

    Straying from the short passing game that made him the NFL's most-accurate passer entering the bout, Cousins took and connected on shots downfield, as he had five completions of 20-plus yards.

    Running Backs: C-

    Despite being given the keys to the backfield with rookie Matt Jones inactive, Alfred Morris turned in another dud. On 17 carries, he tallied 49 yards.

    Speaking to his lackluster play on the road, believe it or not, he set a season high for rushing yards on the road with his performance.

    As a team, Washington finished with 67 yards on the ground.

    Jones' replacement, Pierre Thomas, gave the team a spark in the passing game. He had seven catches for 67 yards. Returning from a two-game absence, Chris Thompson added a 12-yard touchdown reception.

    Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A

    Cousins finally threw an incomplete pass in his direction, but it was another banner day for tight end Jordan Reed. He finished with nine receptions, 129 yards and two touchdowns.

    Playing against his former mates, wide receiver DeSean Jackson filled the role of decoy most of the night. On six targets, he had four receptions and 44 yards receiving. 

    Benefiting from the attention paid to Jackson and Reed, wideout Pierre Garcon had his best game of the season. He set or tied season highs for receptions (seven), targets (12) and yards (80). And for a second consecutive week, he scored a touchdown. 

    Offensive Line: B-

    Injuries to Morgan Moses and Josh LeRibeus the previous week put the streak in jeopardy, but for a ninth consecutive game, Washington fielded the same starting lineup up front.

    Continuing a familiar theme, rushing lanes were again hard to come by. In pass protection, though, this unit showed its mettle. On 48 dropbacks, Cousins was only sacked twice and hit seven times.

    Defensive Line/Linebackers: A

    In back-to-back weeks now, the Redskins front seven has lived in the opposing backfield. It also did it for a second consecutive time against Sam Bradford and the Eagles. 

    Washington had nine quarterback hits and sacked Bradford five times. With three sacks and two tackles for loss, rookie Preston Smith was the team's chief playmaker. 

    Following last week's fiasco on the ground (240 yards rushing allowed), the Skins held Philly's backs in check to the tune of 45 yards on 16 carries.

    Defensive Backs: C-

    Going against the storyline of the season, the secondary was the weak link here, as Bradford completed 37 of 56 passes for 380 yards. 

    Had the Eagles not left multiple big plays on the field—courtesy of errant throws and, mainly, drops—the numbers would look even worse for Washington's back end.

    The only saving grace here is two fumble recoveries by Dashon Goldson and DeAngelo Hall, the latter of which was returned for a touchdown.

    The Dallas Cowboys won't present much of a challenge in Week 17 given their murky quarterback situation. But in the postseason, with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson as possible opponents, the poor communication and lapses in coverage the secondary put on display in this contest will get the 'Skins beat.

    Special Teams: D+

    Washington's special teams got off to a rocky start and never recovered in this one. Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed his first extra point on the season. Nothing of note occurred in the return game, with Jamison Crowder netting 10 yards on two punt returns and Rashad Ross returning one kickoff for 19 yards.

    In coverage, the team surrendered a 49-yard kick return to Josh Huff.

    Coaching: A

    Cousins will draw the brunt of the criticism for how the first half ended, and rightfully so. But with a chance to enter the half up two scores, head coach Jay Gruden's decision not to send out the kicking team with just six seconds remaining was also questionable.

    In totality, though, it's hard to find much fault in the coaching staff's game plan.

    The Eagles came into this contest 30th against the run. But with their secondary missing cornerback Byron Maxwell, Gruden saw it fit to air the ball out with rookie Eric Rowe and E.J. Biggers in the starting lineup.

    After 365 yards from Cousins, it's evident he didn't err in going with this strategy.

    On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Joe Barry's strategy to move Bradford off his spot worked to great effect. Even on passes he completed, his accuracy was affected to the point that Philly receivers missed out on yards after the catch.

    And while it was partially due to miscues from the Eagles, Bradford's yards per attempt dropped from 9.6 yards the first meeting to 6.8 yards in this one.

Important Note No. 1: Reed Chasing History

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Despite ranking second in the NFL in receptions and third in touchdowns for tight ends, Reed was a notable omission from the recently announced Pro Bowl roster.

    While his accomplishments weren't acknowledged by his peers and fans, a place awaits Reed in Washington's team record book nonetheless.

    Following the first of his two first-quarter touchdowns, he became the first Redskin with 10 touchdowns in a season since Gary Clark in 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Info

    Given his current run—five touchdowns in the past three weeks—the team's single-season record of 12 receiving touchdowns is within reach. Reed is just one touchdown shy of tying the record and two shy of breaking it.

Important Note No. 2: Capitalizing on Turnovers

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Redskins' struggles converting turnovers into points are well documented. Despite ranking 13th in the NFL in takeaways, only two teams had scored fewer points off turnovers (26) than Washington.

    It took 16 weeks, but the 'Skins finally got a handle on this problem spot, and all it took was the defense taking charge. Taking the offense out of the picture, Hall returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown. 

    With the offense getting a field goal off an earlier fumble, the team finished with 10 points off two turnovers on the game. If its postseason stay is to last longer than a week, this is something Washington needs to carry over in the weeks ahead.

Quote No. 1: Cousins' "Knee"-Jerk Decision

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    With six seconds remaining from the opponents 6-yard line, what play do you run? 

    A fade? Maybe, a slant? 

    Nope. Passing over an opportunity to make it a two-score game, Cousins took it upon himself to end Washington's scoring drive in the most bizarre fashion by taking a knee.

    It's no wonder why, following the team's second division title this millennium, all anyone wants to know is what drove him to commit such an act, including his head coach. 

    "I don't know why Kirk took a knee there. We'll have to find out at halftime," Gruden said at the end of the first half, per NFL.com's Conor Orr.

    Speaking postgame, Cousins made his explanation public, via Gabe Hiatt of the Washington Post:

    Yeah there was a lot of confusion with what the play call was and for lack of a better word I just had a lapse in my decision making and instinctually took a knee when I should have thrown the ball away to stop the clock. And we were fortunate it didn’t end up hurting us.

    Cousins further distanced himself from Sonny Jurgensen in the Washington record book with his seventh 300-yard passing game of the season. But on the night in question, what you're left asking yourself is: Cousins or Gus Frerotte?

Quote No. 2: Offense Hitting Its Stride

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    In contrast to how it started the season, Washington has rode the coattails of its surging offense down the stretch.

    In the past three games, all wins, the team has averaged 32.2 points per game, easily eclipsing its scoring average (22.6) on the season.

    And in the opinion of Jackson, we haven't seen the best the offense has to offer just yet, per the team's official Twitter feed.

    "I don't think we've seen the best yet," he said. "We have a lot of young talent. We know what we need to do to win the game."

    The Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings or whichever NFC team draws the 'Skins in the playoffs may disagree with the former statement. But there's no denying the latter one.

    Washington has young building blocks in place on offense with Cousins, Reed, Jones and Crowder all having room to grow as players. This is in addition to a homegrown offensive line featuring four players drafted in the past four years.

    With such a young core, unlike the franchise's last division winner, this edition of the Redskins has a chance to have sustained success going forward under the stewardship of a proven team builder in general manager Scot McCloughan.