There are a few ways to look at the Washington Redskins' 27-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. On the one hand, the Redskins lost by 17 and it wasn't actually that close. On the other hand, the Redskins were predicted by many to lose by a whole lot more than 17. On the third hand of this weird, deformed creature, one got the feeling New England could have easily run the score up into the 50s if it wanted to.
When all is said and done, it was a pretty boring game, really, and that seems like a good thing if you're the Redskins. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Bill Belichick and Tom Brady run the score up and things get messy. Instead, they opted to run the ball 37 times to eat up clock and get the game over with, and Redskins fans should be thankful for their mercy.
Considering the Redskins dropped roughly 293 passes in the game, it's really amazing they kept it as close as they did. The two Patriots turnovers helped, and New England receivers dropped a few passes as well, but Kirk Cousins also had a pretty solid game and Jeron Johnson did a good job in the defensive secondary to limit big plays, so give credit where credit is due.
#1. Jeron Johnson
We've been waiting for Johnson to play significant snaps all season, and he finally did so Sunday. Johnson played 49 of the defense's 80 snaps, and he looked good. As mentioned, he played the safety net role well, limiting plays that could have gone for huge yardage to much smaller gains. He put himself in position to make the tackle more often than not, and he tripped a few players up by lunging at their feet when he wasn't in position to make the tackle (including two such plays in quick succession against LeGarrette Blount). It's one game, but it was a very positive sign for Johnson.
#2. Will Blackmon
It was another decent if not spectacular day from Will Blackmon, who has really done an admirable job since coming to the Redskins midseason. He got manhandled by the much larger Mike Evans two weeks ago, but otherwise he's been at least OK in pretty much every game he's played. He finished with eight tackles, and he forced a fumble on Julian Edelman on a play that shouldn't have resulted in anything but a decent Patriots gain. He then managed to fall on the loose ball instead of trying to pick it up and run with it, so double points for the heads-up play.
#3. Kirk Cousins
I look forward to the criticism for this one, as there are varying amounts of Cousins comments on this post each week. I would like to again stress that this list is not a compilation of the three best and three worst players in the game, just players who I would like to point out that either had a meaningful contribution to the game or I felt their stats did not tell the whole story.
With Cousins this week, he falls into the latter category. He wasn't spectacular by any stretch, and his accuracy was off in the second half. He made his share of mistakes, for sure. But the poor guy couldn't catch a break in this game, and I felt genuinely bad for him. His first pass of the game was a spot-on throw to Pierre Garcon — one of the most surehanded receivers Cousins has known — that hit him right in the hands and bounced high in the air. Garcon couldn't find it and it was picked off.
Cousins' next two passes were also dropped.
How is a quarterback supposed to get any sort of momentum going when the game starts like that? A guy who has always struggled with turnovers throws a great pass and gets pegged with an interception anyway. He throws two more good passes, and they go down as incompletions, and the Redskins have to punt. By the time he gets a chance to orchestrate any sort of offense, his team is down by 14.
In a way, it reminded me of Robert Griffin III last season (*ducks*). Griffin is rightfully criticized for taking too many sacks, and many of them were his fault, but sometimes (like the Detroit Lions game this preseason) he would just get obliterated before he could even complete his drop. If a quarterback struggles in one particular area — not to say Griffin is perfect except for his pocket presence, nor to say Cousins is perfect except for his accuracy — you have to give him some help in that area. If Cousins needs to get a rhythm going, especially when your run game at this point is essentially a blind dog stumbling his way through an Ikea, dropping his first three passes of the game, and plenty more afterward, is not a good way to help him out.
Honorable Mentions: Kyshoen Jarrett, Will Compton, Ricky Jean-Francois
#1. Perry Riley
I'm guessing Riley is done as a starter on the Redskins. He had a terrible game — how does a starting inside linebacker play 49 snaps and not record one tackle? — and was eventually replaced by Will Compton, who was much more productive. Riley was put in a bad spot, that is being forced to cover running backs when he really has no business doing so, but that's something he should be able to do. Scot McCloughan will definitely want to address the inside linebacker position in the offseason, and he very well might look for two new starters. (For what it's worth, Keenan Robinson, Compton and Mason Foster are all free agents after this season, while Riley is owed about $5 million.)
#2. Chris Culliver
I don't know if he's still injured or what, but Chris Culliver has been underwhelming this season. He's had some nice plays, but he's gotten burned far more frequently, and like so many other Redskins defensive backs in recent years, he talks shit that he hasn't been able to back up. All is not lost for Culliver, who is generally regarded around the league as a quality cornerback. Next year will be important for him, and he has a lot of ground to make up, as he's been well below average for a top corner this season.
#3. The Run Game
Normally, I would probably let this slide, considering the rushing attack has been virtually nonexistent for six weeks now, but I felt inclined to bring it up considering Jay Gruden specifically mentioned improving the run game as a priority for the bye week.
The Redskins have been outgained on the ground 748 yards to 172 since Week 4; put another way, they're allowing 187 rushing yards per game while rushing for just 43 per game. The run game just doesn't work, and at this point, it's tough to say who's to blame. My thinking is Gruden either needs to keep trying to run the ball, but more creatively (i.e. not the standard run up the middle on first down for a yard or two, then pass each of the next two downs), or he just needs to give up on it entirely and have Cousins chuck the ball 50+ times per game. Why not, at this point? Even when the rushing attack starts flowing, like it did in the second half against New England, Matt Jones fumbles it and Gruden doesn't trust him anymore.
I just wanted to mention the ineptitude of the pass rush. The Patriots used a tight end as an offensive lineman for part of the game, and Washington's defense, though missing Terrance Knighton, was completely unable to put pressure on Tom Brady. Perhaps the game plan was to simply focus on coverage and let Brady make a mistake? I don't know, but it didn't work, and it likely made life easier on Dion Lewis and Blount.
Tom Brady was pressured 3 out of 39 passes. 7.6% 2nd lowest percentage in last 3 yrs. And that's with a TE & Center playing L & R tackle.— Eric Bickel (@EBJunkies) November 9, 2015