By Trey Gregory
Coming off a 4-12 season and only 7 wins in two years, expectations are pretty low for the Washington Redskins in 2015. Washington did, however, hire their first GM of the Dan Snyder era with a sterling reputation as a talent evaluator and team builder. Washington’s new GM, Scot McCloughan, almost completely remade the defense and had a solid first draft. Second year head coach, Jay Gruden, also made tremendous changes to his staff. Gruden’s addictions include acclaimed Oline coach Bill Callahan, QBs coach Matt Cavanaugh, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry and Defensive Backs coach Raheem Morris. McCloughan’s and Gruden’s additions were enough cause to give some Redskins fans hope, despite an awful national reputation.
After a relatively quiet offseason, Washington spiraled into dysfunction after their second preseason game for reasons so tired that I will spare us all from recapping them. Finally though, relief came and football started yesterday. I spent most of my summer mulling over the personnel decisions in Washington and debating with myself about just how big of an impact they would make. I finally got my answer yesterday when Washington played the Miami Dolphins.
The matchup of the game was Washington’s young offensive linemen against Miami’s vaunted defensive line. The Redskins rebuild the right side of their offensive line using rookie first round pick Brandon Scherff at RG and second year RT Morgan Moses, who saw very limited action as a rookie. The Dolphins offseason acquisition, Ndamukong Suh, is one of the most feared defensive linemen in the NFL and he would be matched up with Scherff all day.
So how did Washington fare against a Miami team that is expected to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East? Better than I would have thought. Washington lost 10-17, but they lead Miami until the fourth quarter, the defense only allowed one touchdown, Kirk Cousins moved the offensive well, and they ran the ball down Miami’s throat for 161 yards.
The stars of this game for Washington were the retooled defensive line which included Jason Hatcher, Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, Rickey Jean Francois and Preston Smith along with holdover Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan and second year man Trent Murphy on the edge. They were playing with fire. The only downside was a lack of pressure from the edge rushers It’s really a shame Washington lost Junior Galette to an Achilles injury in the pre season because I’m not so sure Miami wins if the Redskins had a better pass rush. I’ve been a big Murphy supporter all offseason but he did disappoint me against Miami as he was a non-factor. Thankfully, Preston Smith looks like he’s coming into his own. I almost threw my phone through my window when he got a strip sack on Ryan Tannehill, I was THAT excited. I am very proud of how the defense played today. We’re going to lose games this year, but I want them to be tough games that the D keeps close.
The secondary had plenty of highs and lows. Tackling improved from the preseason, and I think the jury is still out on weather Dashon Goldson is washed up or not. But he played well enough to keep me optimistic that he can return to form. This team can’t get Breshaud Breeland back soon enough. David Amerson is a complete liability out there. Deangelo Hall suffered a rib injury and briefly sat out of the game. During that time the Dolphins challenged Hall’s replacement, Amerson, multiple times with success. It was the first time Miami’s defense started rolling all day. The secondary did, however, look so much better when Hall was out there instead of Amerson. Once Chris Culliver, Hall, and Breeland are all on the field at the same time, this secondary could be acceptable for the first time in years. With Goldson really giving me reason to think he can get back to form, we just need Jeron Johnson to get back and produce with Duke Ihenacho out.
Kirk Cousins made the tenth start of his career after losing the job in 2014 due to a very real interception problem. I’m overall pleased with Cousins. So many of the offensive problems were not his fault. The penalties, that’s what really killed Washington. Offensive penalties were a huge problem only second to awful special teams play. Cousins moved the offense down the field and generally made good decisions outside of two interceptions. I don’t think his interceptions were all that egregious though. The first interception was an ill-advised throw but his second was due to a spectacularly acrobatic catch by Miami’s Brice McCain.
I’m not buying that Desean Jackson exiting the game hurt Washington all that bad either. Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder should be able to step up. I think Pierre Garçon and Jordan Reed did, but it’s time to bench Andre Roberts. Not cut him, but make him a backup. He just dropped too many important balls. He had his chance, it’s time to see what Grant, Crowder, and maybe even Rashad Ross can do.
I loved Alfred Morris in this game. All offseason people have been saying this will be Morris’ last year and Matt Jones will replace him in 2016. It’s like Morris was wearing a middle finger on his helmet while bulldozing through defenders to quiet all the people who said he wouldn’t make it in a power scheme. He was far and away Washington’s best offensive player today.
The offensive line also deserves their props. Scherff didn’t disappoint. I thought he made Suh look silly a couple times. Shawn Lauvao had a couple bad plays, but the line overall looked good. Reed also stayed healthy! Which is a victory all on its own. Derek Carrier also showed promise in limited time. I feel much better about the state of the TE position with Carrier now on the team.
There’s just those pesky special teams. I wonder if they’re regretting not keeping Evan Spencer around to play on coverage units yet. Washington lost too many special teamers, Niles Paul, Silas Redd, Adam Hayward and (temporarily) Jeron Johnson, this offseason/pre season to give that spot to someone, Ross, who can only return kicks, in my opinion. We already have Chris Thompson, Jackson, Crowder, Grant, and Roberts to return kicks. But I am trying to trust McCloughan in that decision. The usually fantastic punter, Tress Way, out kicked his coverage, which led to Laron Landry returning a punt and providing the second Miami touchdown of the game.
If the defense keeps playing with fire, and hopefully improves with Breeland and Johnson back and maybe Preston Smith getting more reps; Washington’s young Olinemen continue to improve; and Cousins gets a little more consistent with more experience, then this team can win a couple more games than people give them credit for. I’m talking, maybe 7, so let’s not get carried away. But hopefully they put up a tough fight in their losses and have a season they can build on for next year.
In other NFL news.
Marcus Mariota made Jamis Winston and the Buccaneers look silly. It was really interesting, the juxtaposition of watching Mariota start the game with a TD and Winston stat with a pick 6. That was very telling of the game to come.
I had the Colts penciled in as one of my AFC favorites for the Super Bowl. It’s too early to get carried away, but the Bills… Ill say that again, the Buffalo Bills made Indiana look like a team in the middle of a rebuild.
There probably wasn’t a more disappointing game than the Broncos and Ravens. The opposing offenses looked equally pathetic with great defenses. It’s a same Terrell Suggs is injured for the season, because I think him and Elvis Dummervil were going to do something special this year. The real story, however, was Peyton Manning. A friend of mine sent me a text that says it all, “Peyton looks like an old man for the first time that I’ve ever seen.” Once again, I don’t want to overact to one game, but it seems like age might finally be catching up with Peyton. Especially if you consider this game was actually the tenth in a row that he has played below average.
Eagles fans are certainly disappointed after a close loss to Atlanta. It could have been worse though Eagles fans. The Eagles started the first half in an atrocious manner. Sam Bradford just looked completely out of synch with his receivers and their vaunted run game didn’t produce at all. Chip Kelly certainly made adjustments at half time and Philadelphia came out to play in the second half. Had they played like that the whole game, the Eagles would probably 1-0 to sit atop the NFC East tied with Dallas.
Speaking of Dallas. The Giants and Cowboys played about equally bad for most of their match, but the Loss of Dez Bryant and Randy Gregory, for at least four weeks each, is a crushing blow. It will be very hard for Dallas to stay in front of Philadelphia to with the NFC East without their number one receiver.
For anyone who didn’t see, Seattle’s game was on the live against Saint Louis in overtime. It was 4th and 1 and if Seattle didn’t convert, they lose. Sound familiar? (Super Bowl). This time Seattle did what everyone guaranteed would work in the Super Bowl, ran Marshawn Lynch even though everyone in the building was expecting it. Lynch was stuffed and Seattle lost. Can we all please stop saying the Super Bowl call was a bad call now? Please? Which reminds me, the Colts got annihilated again. When will the investigation into whether the Bills deflated their footballs start?
Speaking of deflategate, Tom Brady certainly seemed like he was out to prove something against the poor Steelers’ defense. Pittsburg didn’t stand a chance. It just wasn’t fair. I’m not sure if there will be a better connection than Brady and Gronk this year. The Patriots could be scary good.