clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Answering 5 questions about the Redskins for Stampede Blue

New, comments

or, A Brief History of Everything Redskins

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I posted five questions for Colts fans and the replies I got back from Chris Blystone, a writer for Stampede Blue, the Colts SB Nation site.

I thought I’d take the opportunity today to publish Chris’s five questions and my answers.

Many Colts fans don’t know much about the Washington Redskins. Tell us a little bit about this team. What are their biggest strengths and weaknesses? How do you see them matching up with the Colts?

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know enough about the Colts to discuss matchups, but I’ll do my best to tell you a bit about the Redskins, which I do know about.

Our glory years in the Super Bowl era lasted from 1980 to 1991 (usually referred to as Gibbs 1.0). I’m assuming you don’t want to hear about the Redskins’ two NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl, though talking about what happened to the franchise from 1999 is painful, for that is the year that we mark as the beginning of “the Dan Snyder era”. Snyder is generally considered by everyone (Redskins fans most of all) to be one of the worst owners in the NFL. We love the team, but his leadership brought us nearly two decades of dysfunction.

My belief is that the organization, starting with the hiring of Jay Gruden, turned a corner in 2014. Dan Snyder has almost disappeared from the public eye. More and more, football decisions seem to be made by football people. Draft classes have been impressive. This past off-season, the Redskins watched a bunch of players from the ’17 team walk in free agency, and we were pretty happy because they got big contracts with other teams, we’ll likely get 4 compensatory draft picks, and the front office had, for the most part, drafted replacements for those veterans a year before they were needed.

In short, a lot of fans see 2018 as a watershed year for the franchise. Either the 5th year of consistency is going to pay off with some playoff wins, signaling a franchise that has finally got the needle pointing up, or the Jay Gruden era will likely come to an abrupt end.

Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The dominating win in Arizona on Sunday pushed a lot of the punters to change their positions from betting that Gruden would fail, to betting that he is finally about to succeed. Of course, there are 15 more games to navigate before that referendum is decided.

The 2018 Redskins are different from the 2017 team that went 7-9, and it is light years away from the team that used to hand out retirement bonus checks to aging free agents from other teams looking for one last season.

The Redskins had the worst run defense in the league last year – and a significant reason was that our first round draft pick, Jonathan Allen, was lost for the year in the 5th game. In the first 4 games, the Redskins gave up an average of 88 rushing yards per game; after the loss of Allen, the Skins finished dead last, giving up 134 yards per game.

The team turned that weakness into a strength. First, Jon Allen is back healthy. Also, the team doubled down by drafting his former Crimson Tide teammate, Daron Payne, in the first round this year, then followed up by taking another interior defensive lineman, Tim Settle, in the 5th round. All three have played extremely well in preseason and in Week 1.

Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The ‘veteran’ in the group, Matt Ioannidis, who was drafted out of Temple a year ahead of Allen, has played at an all-pro level for the past year (though he wasn’t sent to the Pro Bowl). We picked up Caleb Brantley when the Browns shocked everyone by cutting him at the end of camp. The coaches must really be sold on him, because they waived Anthony Lanier, who had been with the ‘Skins for three years. He had improved every year, and been seen as a valuable part of the DL rotation. The problem was that Lanier was a specialty interior pass rusher, and not much good against the run, while Brantley is more well-rounded. We believe that the team may have just transitioned, in the course of two or three drafts, from a team led by its wide receivers (DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon) and TE (Jordan Reed) to a team that leads from the trenches on both sides of the ball. The David Johnson-led rushing attack of the Cardinals totaled 68 yards on Sunday afternoon, good for 4th stingiest in Week 1.

Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On the offensive line, we have the best left tackle in football, Trent Williams. At right guard is our 1st round pick, drafted 5th overall in 2015, Brandon Scherff, who is a monster. At right tackle, we have a talented and proven veteran in Morgan Moses. Left guard is the weakest link, with journeyman Shawn Lauvao, but our center is a 2nd year, 6th round draft pick, Chase Roullier, who – after playing decently in 2017 after starting center Spencer Long was lost for the year to injury -- looked like he’d taken that 2nd year leap when we saw him playing against the Cardinals on Sunday.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

So, I’d say that our worst unit from last season -- the defensive line -- is our best unit now, and the offensive line, which suffered tons of injuries in ’17, is now healthy and rounds out our strength in the trenches.

I don’t want to bore you with a detailed breakdown at every position group. The offensive star is our 3rd down back, Chris Thompson. He was on track to lead all NFL running backs in receiving last season before he broke his leg. He put up 138 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown against the Cardinals on Sunday. He scored 4 touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season a year ago.

Our other offensive star is tight end Jordan Reed, whom Tony Gonzalez, this week, described as definitely the best route running tight end in the league, and possibly the best overall tight end. He’s a stud.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We drafted Derrius Guice in the 2nd round this offseason, and the ‘Skins were poised to feature him as the lead back this year before he tore his ACL in the first preseason game. We signed a veteran named Adrian Peterson, who used to play for the Vikings, Saints and Cardinals. He’s older, at 33, but seems to have juice left in the tank. He put up 96 yards rushing, and another 70 yards receiving on Sunday. He seems to be rejuvenated, humbled, and happy to be in the league. I think the coaches are gonna ride him for as long as he can hold up this season. He certainly has added a lot of punch to the run game, and taken some of the sting out of the loss of Guice.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, our homegrown hero is Ryan Kerrigan, the most criminally underrated OLB/edge rusher in the NFL. He consistently puts up 8-11 sacks per year; has never missed a game in his 9-year career, and sets the perfect example of how to be a pro football player and how to be a good guy.

Opposite Kerrigan is Preston Smith, #94. You never know which 94 you’ll get from week to week. When he’s on his game he’s a beast, but when he isn’t, he can disappear for the entire 60 minutes.

Everyone knows Josh Norman. He’s the highest paid cornerback in the league, and he earns most of it. The Redskins let last year’s boundary corner from the other side, Bashaud Breeland, leave in free agency. They also traded away our talented and improving 2nd year slot corner, Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade. A lot of people were concerned about the very young DB group we were left with.

The doubters were largely silenced on Sunday when 4th year starting CB, Quinton Dunbar showed up to play in Arizona. He was probably the star of the game for the Redskins, and looks like a player who has finally figured out how to play the position at a very high level. We have a 2nd year CB (Fabian Moreau) who looks like he will be able to round out the group. They were good enough in camp that the ‘Skins cut Orlando Scandrick just a few months after giving him a million dollar bonus to come to training camp and compete for a job against a bunch of young draft picks and UDFAs.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, it’s a strange mix of very young players – especially at DL and CB – and very old players, particularly at QB (Alex Smith), TE (Vernon Davis), and RB (Adrian Peterson), each of whom is 33 or 34 years old. But I feel like the team has finally recovered from the RG3 trade, and is -- for the first time in a very long time – fully stocked with talent.

The weakest areas of the team?

The starting safeties are competent, but the depth is paper thin if either guy gets injured.

Left offensive guard is average at best, and injury prone. We don’t really have a competent backup.

While our tight end Reed is an elite pass receiving talent, he’s never played more than 14 games in a season, and managed to limp through only 6 games last year. TE blocking is also a skill that isn’t easy to find on the Redskins.

The weakest starting group for the Skins is probably the WR corps. Josh Doctson is a third year player drafted by Washington in the first round of 2016, and the main question everyone is trying to answer about him is whether it’s too soon to declare him a draft bust. The front office signed Paul Richardson from the Seahawks in free agency, giving him $8m per year for 5 years, but Richardson never produced much is Seattle. He hasn’t really shined in preseason or in Week 1, though he seems adequate. The team’s best receiver is Jamison Crowder, who is a very good slot receiver, but the fact that he is the best and most reliable receiver on the roster is concerning. Surprisingly, the team has good depth (backup) receivers, though two of the three backups came out of the Arizona game with high ankle sprains, and the third has been in the concussion protocol since the first preseason game, so you’ll likely see one or two receivers added this week. One of them is likely to be Brian Quick, who was probably the 54th man following the end of pre-season. Quick was on the roster last season, but didn’t see the field much at all. When he played, he played well, but the coaches just don’t seem inclined to put him in the game.

After an ugly breakup with Kirk Cousins, the Redskins brought in Alex Smith to be the seasoned vet who could take the helm and move them forward. How has that move looked so far?

Cousins never seemed to be able to become the quarterback that Gruden wanted him to be, despite the fact that Gruden really championed Cousins over RG3 in 2016. The past three years have been distracting and draining for the coach, the team and the fans, as the one question everyone asked every week was related to the Cousins situation.

The front office did the best thing possible, given where the situation with Cousins was at the end of the ’17 season. They agreed to terms with the Chiefs in a trade for Alex Smith, then gave Smith the 4-year, $94m contract that Cousins had refused.

Smith seems to be everything the Redskins hoped he would be. Gruden, in a press conference, said that Smith was the single smartest person he’d ever met. Others have said much the same thing.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Teammates have praised his leadership, his calm demeanor, and his on-field skills.

There’s been a bit of shade thrown at Cousins in the way teammates and coaches have compared Alex to “the situation in DC in the past”. Of course, that’s involved a little tit-for-tat, with Cousins going to Minnesota and saying that he joined the franchise because of their commitment to winning, and the talent level on the team.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, coaches and players seem to be relieved to be rid of Cousins. Fans are split on Cousins, but the vast majority see Alex Smith as being at least as good, while many fans (including me) see him as an upgrade insofar as his skillset seems a better fit for Gruden’s offensive schemes, and his leadership seems to fill a space that Kirk Cousins never seemed capable of filling.

The Redskins won on Sunday in Arizona after losing 5 straight season openers, including every one of Jay Gruden’s first 4 years here. Asked by reporters ahead of the Week 1 game in Arizona if Jay had analyzed the 4 losses looking for a common thread, Jay said that he had, and the answer was “turnovers”.

Of course, Kirk, as the starting QB for the three most recent seasons, had a terrible TD:INT ratio for season openers. He also lost a couple of fumbles.

Smith looked incredibly good against the Cardinals – especially given the fact that he had played less than a half of football in the preseason, and had never been in a competitive game with Jordan Reed or Chris Thompson before Sunday’s kickoff. Alex didn’t turn the ball over, he threw for a touchdown, but – more importantly – he made excellent pre-snap reads, was decisive with the football, and didn’t lose his head in pressure situations.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Personally, I couldn’t be happier with Smith after having taken him out for a test drive on Sunday. The 14-year veteran seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the Redskins franchise.

It was gut wrenching to read about Derrius Guice going down with a season ending injury before the season got rolling. He was a player that many of us were very interested to watch. How has the rest of the rookie class fared so far?

Every rookie that the Redskins drafted either went to IR (Guice) or made the 53-man roster (everybody else). Let me give you a brief rundown of the picks.

R1 – Daron Payne: As discussed in the first question, Payne is looking beastly, and Redskins fans believe that he will be a defensive anchor for the next decade or more. He looks grrrreat!

R2 – Derrius Guice: Torn ACL. IR. Before he got injured, Guice had become the most popular man in DC. Everyone will be excited to see him come back next year.

R3 – Geron Christian: The Redskins drafted a project Offensive Lineman who may be the LT of the future when Trent Williams retires. At worst, we expect him to be a capable swing tackle by 2018 or 19. Geron Christian needs to build a lot of strength and develop technique, but the Redskins have entrenched starters and a skilled backup in place, so Christian will have a year or two in the weight room and on the practice field to develop his strength and technique before he’ll be expected to contribute much in games.

R4 – Troy Apke: S, Penn State. Certain fans on Hogs Haven were calling Apke a bust before the ink was dry on the paper that the Redskins wrote his name on in Philadelphia on the third day of the draft. He turned heads with his speed at the combine, which is why the ‘Skins drafted him, but his college film shows a player who isn’t ready for prime time at the safety position. In preseason, he showed his speed – getting quickly to where he wanted to go – then missed nearly every tackle he attempted. The coaches seem fully committed to him, but his selection in the draft may be destined to produce snickers for many years to come if he doesn’t develop into a much better player. Right now, he’s taking up a valuable roster spot, and expected to primarily contribute on special teams.

R5 – Tim Settle, Nose Tackle/Interior DL from Va Tech is considered a “draft steal” by most people, who generally say they had a 3rd-round grade on him. Jay Gruden said that they had a much higher grade on Settle than where they drafted him, but passed on him a couple of times because they had already drafted Payne in the 1st. When they saw Settle in the 5th, according to Jay, they said he was the best player available by a mile based on their ratings, so they took him.

Settle has impressed so far. He’s capable of playing in the DL rotation now, but the feeling is that a year in the NFL strength program will help him develop into one of the better interior D-linemen in the league in a year or two. He’s part of the very young DL (two drafted in ’18, two drafted in ’17, one drafted in ’16) that seems to be the new strength of the Redskins team.

R6 – Shaun Dion Hamilton: Linebacker from Alabama. He’s one of 4 Alabama players in the Redskins defensive front 7 to have been drafted in the past two years. The guys who break down film seem to be split on SDH. Some guys praise his smarts, his energy in getting to the ball carrier, and his ability to anticipate. At least one Redskin fan I know who enjoys breaking down film has spent a lot of energy trying to demonstrate to everyone that SDH can’t (or at least doesn’t) tackle well. I think it’s gonna be two or three years before we know whether SDH was a good draft pick or not, but he’s probably average for a 6th round pick.

R6 – Adonis Alexander. The ‘Skins picked Alexander in the supplemental draft by using a 6th round pick from 2019. This pick is all about measurables, as Alexander is tall and long, but is extremely raw, and shouldn’t play a defensive snap for the Redskins this year. But his position coach, Torrian Gray, coached him at Virginia Tech for a year, so fans are hopeful that this relationship will pay off. Draft pundits seem to think that if Alexander had been able to stay at VaTech for one more season, he would’ve probably been a 2nd round pick in the 2019 draft, which makes it feel like he’s a bit of a steal, but – like Christian, Settle and Apke, Alexander will take up space on the roster, but either be inactive most weeks, or see the field primarily on special teams. He wouldn’t likely make it to the practice squad, so he joins a small group of players that the Redskins want to keep and develop, but don’t want to expose to waivers or the 10-man practice unit. This kind of drafting is what allowed the Redskins to let go of 6 free agents (and secure 4 comp picks) this past off-season. The team is drafting & developing a year or two in advance of needs, but the forward planning is putting a bit of pressure on the limited roster, as quality developmental players can be snatched away if not protected.

R7 – Greg Stroman, CB. Another VA Tech player reunited with his former coach. The Redskins have had a lot of luck with Va Tech DBs over the years (recently retired DB, Deangelo Hall is a former Hokie). Stroman will be a backup CB, and also has abilities as a punt & kick returner. He looks like a more than capable 7th rounder.

R7 – Trey Quinn, Mr. Irrelevant, was the 256th player drafted. Unlike a lot of guys drafted in that position, Quinn had a very strong college career. Quinn often bragged post-draft that he was “the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history”. He made the team as the backup slot receiver and primary punt returner, and looked good every time he was on the field. Gruden spoke glowingly of him all preseason, bragging that Quinn could line up in all three WR positions. Unfortunately, he suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cardinals and will likely miss the Week 2 home game against the Colts.

Who are some players we might not be familiar with whose names we will know by the end of Sunday?

I’ve talked a lot about the young players and the best players, so I haven’t left much of the field unplowed. The other issue is that many of our best players are on the offensive or defensive lines, where they don’t stand out much – especially to an opposing fan base.

Let me just list a few players who may or may not be unfamiliar to you, who are likely to have their names called a few times on Sunday for making positive plays:

Chris Thompson, #25, in my opinion, the best and most explosive third-down running back in the league

Zach Brown, #53, is one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, and he’s a talented tackler. He led the NFL in tackles per game in 2017, at 9.8.

Quinton Dunbar, #23, is the boundary cornerback opposite Josh Norman. He came to Redskins camp 3 years ago as an undrafted free agent wide receiver. With Garcon, Jackson and other veterans, his chances of making the roster were nearly nil. When injuries bit deep into the DBs early in camp, Gruden threw him in with the defensive backs just to field a defense for practice. Dunbar caught the coach’s eye, made the team as a cornerback, and got a contract extension last year. I’d say he’s the best bet to flash and grab your attention on Sunday.

Preston Smith, #94, is capable of wrecking an offense as a pass rusher if he shows up ready to play.

Montae Nicholson, #35, is a second year safety who has good range and make up speed. He has show himself to be a tough tackler with some talent when the ball is in the air. He could make some key plays in either the run game or as a pass defender.

Chase Roullier #73 & Trent Williams #71 on the OL – on Sunday in Arizona, Chris Spielman was in the broadcast booth and, on several occasions, highlighted the athleticism of Williams in his pass blocking, and Roullier for pulling from the center position and blocking effectively in space. Because the Redskins run some exotic blocking schemes, TV analysts often enjoy the opportunity to show the audience the blocking after the play, so – unlikely as it may sound – you could see these guys mentioned prominently, especially if the run game is working like it did in Arizona.

Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is a guy who took a lot of grief in Indianapolis, but who was criminally undersupplied with talent. He did well with what he had to work with in his time here. How has his defense fared for the Redskins?

When Manusky was first promoted to DC, you’d have been hard-pressed to find much support for the move among the fans. The feeling was that Gruden looked to be on shaky ground, and was unlikely to be able to recruit a quality DC, so the team would “make do” with Manusky for a season or two. If Gruden got fired, no loss. If Gruden survived, a ‘real’ DC could be hired later.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I honestly don’t think Manusky, despite having been a player for the Redskins back in the day, has made much of an impression on the fan base.

In many ways, he is overshadowed by his own assistants and position coaches.

The ‘personality’ of the defense seems to be driven primarily by the fiery Jim Tomsula. While he might’ve been a disaster as a head coach, as a defensive position coach, Tomsula is among the best in the NFL. He’s a big personality that easily outshines Manusky, his boss. On Hogs Haven, we get a lot of mileage out of a couple of GIFs of Jim Tomsula, caught on camera on the sidelines, screaming things like “Everybody’s gonna eat!” with saliva spewing out of his mouth.

Another guy who gets a lot more credit from the fan base than his boss is DB coach Torrian Gray, who came to the Redskins after a decade or so at Virginia Tech. A very noticeable improvement in DB play coincided with Gray’s arrival, and the secondary in general seems to be on a positive trend. Gray gets most of the credit with the fans.

I don’t think Manusky is in any danger of losing his job -- His strength may just be a willingness to be outshined by his position coaches -- but the fans neither love him nor hate him. I just don’t think he stirs much passion among the fan base at all, especially compared to the colorful DL coach, Tomsula, who gets all the best headlines and GIFs.

Defensively, the Redskins haven’t distinguished themselves statistically or with on-field play, except for games 2, 3 and 4 last year, before the injuries started cutting so deep that the season was ruined for the Redskins.

This is the year that the Redskins defense needs to shine. The team has invested the defense with draft capital, and done a good job acquiring free agents like Josh Norman, DJ Swearinger and Zach Brown to minimize any potential positional weaknesses. I implied earlier that it’s a “no excuses” year for Jay – a referendum on his career. The same could be said of Manusky.