In this week’s fan mailbag, I’m taking a closer look at how the Redskins’ offense matches up with the Cardinals’ defense and examining what the Redskins should do with Jordan Reed and Su’a Cravens.
I understand the allure of giving a player like Reed, who’s battled injuries to his head and his body throughout his career and is currently suffering from an AC joint separation, a break and bringing him back in time to play the role of super hero in the playoffs. If I were the coach of the Washington Redskins and Jordan Reed were medically cleared, though, he’d be on the field.
First, let’s consider Reed’s role as
Kirk Cousin’s security blanket an offensive weapon. He leads the team in yards per game (70.0) and receptions per game (6.6), he is second in touchdowns (5) only to Jamison Crowder, and he leads the tight end group in total yards (630). He’s arguably the top active tight end in the league right now, seeing as the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is done for the season with a back injury, and Reed commands respect and attention from opposing defenses. The Redskins need him on the field, and Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan know it, as evidenced by the massive multi-year deal Reed signed this past off season.
Secondly, we have to look at the playoff standings. The Redskins are not a lock to be in the postseason. The Dallas Cowboys control their fate as the leaders of the NFC East, and so, Washington needs to focus on keeping pace with the New York Giants, winning football games, and maintaining control of their sixth place position in the conference. (For more about Washington’s playoff chances, checkout out this week’s Warpath to the Postseason.) When you’re in the position the Redskins are in and you haven’t guaranteed your spot in the dance, you don’t sit one of your best weapons, just in case he can come back better and stronger in the playoffs. If Washington doesn’t make it and Reed could’ve helped them get there, shutting him down will have been a waste.
It’s a possibility that we see the second round draft pick out of USC shift to safety before the end of the season, especially with as thin as the Redskins’ safety corps has become this year. The unit lost its two starters to IR (DeAngelo Hall: ACL, David Bruton, Jr.: concussion), and Donte Whitner, who took the majority of the team’s snaps at safety last week against Dallas, has been underwhelming in the role since joining Washington in early October. Additionally, we know Cravens has taken snaps at safety on the scout team in practice.
With all of that in mind, I still don’t believe Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry is in a rush to move Cravens just yet. I like what I’ve seen from Cravens, especially when I watch him lined up to blitz. Defenses have to account for his ability to blow up plays, like the particularly memorable play he and fellow rookie Anthony Lanier made to take out Sam Bradford in the Minnesota game just a few weeks ago. Cravens can make the offense leave an extra player around as a blocker just long enough to disrupt whatever the original play call may have been. Barry, though, has preached a need for consistency versus flashiness from Cravens, and the rookie, who missed two weeks with a concussion earlier in the season, is still growing.
Barring a massive collapse in the Redskins’ defense or elimination from playoff contention, I’d expect Cravens to spend the rest of this season developing in his current role as ILB and special teamer on game days and as a safety in practices with an eye toward officially moving to the secondary in 2017.
“AZ is league's top-ranked total defense...what part of the field will Skins offense look to use most? #hhmailbag”
Arizona’s defense is a fortress, but not impenetrable. Since coming back from their bye week in early November, the Cardinals have allowed their opponents to put up 20, 30, and 38 points. So, how can the Redskins take advantage of Arizona’s weaknesses? (And can the defense hold up their end of the bargain if the offense manages to score two or three times?)
One of the most interesting potential vulnerabilities for the Cardinals is where the opponents’ touchdowns are coming from. Half of the touchdowns (13) against Arizona have been on the ground, but those touchdowns are coming in short yardage situations. 85% of those rushing scores are less than 10 yards. If Washington is going to cross the goal line from inside the 20, which has been a struggle in recent weeks, they need to use heavy doses of Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson, maybe with extra support in run blocking from tight end Vernon Davis.
Conversely, the passing touchdowns (9) have come from some long distances, like 65 yards, 37 yards, 35 yards, and 25 yards. The 35 and 25 yard scoring plays are especially relevant because they came in last week’s 38-19 loss against the Atlanta Falcons. This tells me that the Cardinals do have some issues and the Redskins have a chance for a speedy wide receiver like DeSean Jackson or Jamison Crowder to score on a breakaway pass play.
Whatever they do, they’ll need to stay balanced and just keep chipping away, taking what they can get, because neither yards on the ground nor yards in the air are going to be easy to come by. This won’t be another 500+ yard game for the burgundy and gold.
Have a Redskins question? Tweet @Hogshaven and @VaRedskinsFan during the week using the hashtag #hhmailbag for a chance to have your question featured in our weekly post!