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Fan confidence doubles this week

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Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

There was a “surge” in confidence in this week among Redskins fans in the FanPulse survey, as the percentage of fans expressing confidence in the direction of the team doubled from 2%, where it had held steady for the previous two weeks, to 4%, its highest total since the Week 4 survey, back when Jay Gruden was still the coach and Case Keenum was still the starting quarterback.

Why would a number of survey respondents — all of them Hogs Haven readers — decide to tick the “confident” choice this week?


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Well, there’s the obvious answer that the voting tends to respond to wins and losses, and with the Redskins the hottest team in the NFC East right now with a two-game win streak, it’s inevitable that some fans will feel better about the team’s direction. After all, consistent winning is hard in the NFL. I did a quick check, and the Redskins appear to be tied for the 6th longest winning streak in the league at the moment (Ravens #1 with 8-straight wins).

A uniquely “Redskins” answer to why this increase in confidence occurred might be linked to recent reports that Bruce Allen’s job may truly... no really... finally... be in jeopardy. Apparently, after ten years and a 62-93-1 record as the most powerful executive non-owner in the franchise (a.k.a. “the guy in charge of things”), Dan Snyder is finally starting to wonder if Bruce Allen might not be the guy to take the Redskins into the future.

Bruce Allen is the most reviled man in Washington DC — and that’s really saying something these days! Hints of his potential departure certainly have the capacity to nudge the needle a bit. Just wait and see what happens to the FanPulse Poll the day that Bruce Allen’s departure from the organization is officially announced!

But I don’t think a two-game win streak or a Mike Garafolo rumor about Bruce Allen explain why the number of people expressing confidence in the direction of the team doubled this week.

I think the answer lies with the players, and specifically with the younger players on the Redskins roster.

The Redskins roster will undergo a sea change in the 2020 off-season that would have occurred even if there were not a new head coach coming in, and will occur even if the front office doesn’t undergo any great re-organization following the end of the regular season.

There is about to be an exodus of older Redskins — some of whom have been with the organization for a decade, others who may have only recently arrived — who have filled ‘cornerstone’ positions like QB, CB, LT and more. The list includes Trent Williams, Josh Norman, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Colt McCoy, Alex Smith, Case Keenum, Ryan Kerrigan, Chris Thompson, and possibly a few players like Adrian Peterson or Brandon Scherff. These players won’t be gone due to a ‘house cleaning’; rather, they were all part of the core roster that should have had its championship ‘window’ between 2015 and 2019. They are all either injury-affected or passing their primes and reaching the end of their contracts at the end of the ‘19 or ‘20 seasons. The exodus will also open up the Redskins salary cap quite a lot.

The Redskins have been drafting well for the past few seasons, and many felt that the 2019 draft was especially good. They have supplemented this good drafting with an emphasis on youth in their free agent signings, with players like 25-year-old Ereck Flowers and 25-year-old Landon Collins being two of the successful free agent signings of this season.

The Redskins are about to become a young team, and, in the past two or three weeks, Redskins fans have been treated to a lineup that has featured the players of the future. With the naming of Dwayne Haskins as the official starting quarterback against the Jets in Week 11, the return of Derrius Guice from injury, and the benching of Josh Norman, unofficially mid-game against the Jets, but officially prior to the Lions game, the Redskins have been fielding the core players that will lead the team in 2020... and winning some games with them.

Offense

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has shown massive growth since his first appearance in a regular season NFL game versus the Giants in Week 4 when he threw 3 interceptions in 17 attempts.

There’s not a lot in Dwayne Haskins’ statistics in his four games as a starter to inspire confidence. He’s 2-2 in the W-L column, but on a 3-9 team that’s not so bad. He’s completed 60 passes on 111 attempts (54%) with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

But anyone who has watched Haskins play would have to acknowledge that he has looked more confident, made fewer mistakes, and played better game by game. In short, Haskins is developing right before our eyes — certainly week to week, but often from quarter to quarter. There’s never been any question that he has the arm talent, but now he is showing that he has the ability to move in the pocket and to make good decisions. With one or two more off-seasons of training, and another one or two dozen games of ‘live fire’, Haskins has the look of a guy who will put it all together.

Haskins certainly speaks with a lot of confidence. He closed his press conference on Wednesday with this comment:

“The pocket’s the pocket. You can’t get involved with what’s around you and looking down at the rush because then you won’t be able to see the field. I just think the biggest thing with me is just playing more calm, not rushing my eyes or my feet because I feel like I’m late or not in a rhythm. So, now I’m just playing where my eyes and my feet tell me and allowing the ball to rip when it’s there.”

At running back, Derrius Guice looked positively beastly in his 10-carry, 129-yard, 2-TD performance while he was splitting snaps with Adrian Peterson, who actually got the bigger proportion of the carries. In almost any other week, fans would have been excited by AD’s 99 yards and rushing touchdown, but Guice was so dominant that former Redskins QB Trent Green, who was the analyst in the booth for the TV coverage, declared that Guice was the player that everyone would be talking about on Monday.

Of course, Peterson, who, like Frank Gore, is still capable of being the starting running back for an NFL team, is still under contract in 2020. Add to that mix Bryce Love, the 4th round draft pick who is a 2019 “redshirt”, spending the entire season on IR with a knee injury, and you have a potentially overwhelming combination of power and speed, youth and experience in the Redskins’ running back room.

At wide receiver, the Redskins seem to have hit at least one home run, and added a single or two, and one hit for extra bases in the draft and college free agency.

Terry McLaurin has been the offensive star of the passing game so far this season, getting off to one of the most productive starts for a wide receiver in NFL history. And, while his TD production cooled somewhat when Case Keenum came off the field, McLaurin’s contribution to the offense has not.


Related

Scary Terry! Legit 4.3 speed, great route runner, pillow soft hands. He’s got it all.


In 11 games, the rookie wide receiver has 42 receptions for 646 yards. His numbers were a bit lower against the Panthers, in part because he let a nice pass downfield from Dwayne Haskins go right through his hands, but he is on pace for nearly 60 receptions and 900 yards. More important than his impressive statistics, however, have been the abilities Scary Terry has shown to (a) run extremely good routes, and (b) win a fight for the ball with any defender.

Kelvin Harmon was probably better known to most fans pre-draft, and certainly had more ‘buzz’ around him than did McLaurin, but the Redskins waited until the 6th round before drafting the former NC State receiver. By the end of training camp, it was clear that McLaurin was going to start the season faster, but that Harmon was going to have an important place in the Redskins offense later in the season. Now that ‘later in the season’ has arrived, Harmon is flexing his muscles.


Related

Draft profile: Kelvin Harmon Can Make Every Catch, But is He What the Redskins Need at WR?


In the past three games, Kelvin Harmon has 11 receptions for 147 yards. Over 16 games, that pace would result in 59 catches and 784 yards, so his contributions are impressive. He was targeted in the end zone against the Panthers — a catch that he tried to make one-handed while closely covered. While the play result was a simple incompletion, the confidence that the coaches and Dwayne Haskins showed by targeting him on a key red-zone play is strongly positive.

I was surprised by something that Dwayne Haskins said about Kelvin Harmon in the Panthers post-game press conference. A reporter asked about his growing connection with Harmon, contrasting it with the existing relationship Haskins had with Terry McLaurin, as they played together at Ohio State prior to both being drafted by the ‘Skins in April. Haskins, as I said, surprised me with his reply:

Well, I’ve known Kelvin a little bit more than Terry; I’ve known Kelvin since I was in high school, so we have camaraderie together because he’s run routes [with me]. We train together in the off-season. Of course, Terry was a college teammate, so, having both those guys on the outside, I can trust them with any route they’re gonna run.

He added to those comments at his Wednesday press conference.

“Kelvin and I are both from Jersey and we played each other in some tournaments back in the day, so we’ve known each other for a while – camps and stuff like that, and having trained together for the pre-draft. Me and him, we have a great connection together. He’s someone I like throwing to just because of his physical presence and his willingness to get better. We throw routes everyday after practice and things like that. So, having him and having Terry and even Steven – me and Steven are really close as well. So, all three of those guys, we have a great connection.”

Again, this bodes well for the future.

In answer to an earlier question in the Panthers post-game press conference, Haskins had singled out a few names. He was asked a question about the trio of himself, McLaurin and Derrius Guice.

Yeah, I think we’re a great trio. We have a lot of great players around them as well — Steven and Kelvin... a lot of young guys that are stepping up.

Kelvin of course, is Kelvin Harmon, but “Steven”, who Haskins has gone out of his way to mention a couple of times, is Steven Sims Jr., perhaps the most surprising offensive contributor this season. Sims first caught the attention of Redskins fans in the return game during pre-season — in fact, he had a kickoff return for a touchdown two weeks ago — but he also flashed in the early part of the season when he was featured on some unconventional runs.

Recently, a number of fans had been calling for the undrafted rookie to replace last year’s Mr. Irrelevant, Trey Quinn, as the team’s primary slot receiver and punt returner. Watching him, I felt that the coaches were aware of his explosiveness, but were also aware that he needed to work on his route running and understanding of the playbook. I figured that it would be next year before he would be given the chance to replace Quinn.


Related: Steven Sims: The next Tyreek Hill or the next Brandon Banks?


That chance came earlier than expected due to a devastating hit on Quinn during a punt return that resulted in a penalty and probably should have included a game ejection as well, if the refs were applying consistent logic. With Quinn out, Sims handled the punt return duties for the balance of the Panthers game, looking okay, but he handled Quinn’s slot receiver duties as well, and looked good doing it. In a game where Haskins completed just 13 passes, Sims caught 3 for 29 yards, including a chain-mover of 14.

Defense

If the Redskins don’t field the best defensive line in the NFL (and some might argue that they do) they almost certainly have the youngest. Daron Payne (22), Jonathan Allen (24), and Matt Iaonnidis (25) should be together for the next three or four years, providing a combination of size and speed that is effective in both run-stopping and pass-rushing. This is a unit that a defense can be built around.

Montez Sweat, the first round rookie outside linebacker, is turning into a powerful and dynamic player. He started the season playing well against the run, with limited production as a pass rusher, but in the past two games he has been credited with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.


Related

Don’t Sweat It: Redskins Rookie OLB Starting to Come Into His Own

Don’t Sweat It Part II - Redskins Rookie Montez Sweat Quietly Having a Solid Season


Consider this from Mark Tyler:

When the Redskins moved back into round one of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat, in what was a very good EDGE class, Skins fans rejoiced. It was just a few months before this selection that Sweat tore up the scouting combine, posting a 4.41 40 yard dash, a 36 inch vertical, a 4.29 short shuttle and 21 reps on the bench press. The 6’6” 265 pound athletic freak was projected by many to be a top 10 pick, but slid due to some medical concerns.

Sweat, who has now made 12 consecutive starts at OLB, is starting to heat up - like most of us assumed he would. On the season he has 38 total tackles, five tackles for a loss, five sacks, two passes defended and a forced fumble. If he continues at his current hot pace, he’s projected to have 52-55 tackles, 8-9 for a loss, 7-8 sacks, and 2 FF. That would be right there with the numbers Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan produced as a rookie in 2011 over 16 games.

There were five EDGE rushers(six total) taken before Sweat in round one of the 2019 NFL Draft. Here is a look at how they are doing during their rookie seasons:

#2 - Nick Bosa: 12 games, 36 tackles, 14 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF

#4 - Clelin Ferrell: 11 games, 31 tackles, 4 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 0 FF

#7 - Josh Allen: 12 games, 34 tackles, 10 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 FF

#12 - Rashan Gary: 12 games, 13 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 0 FF

#16 - Brian Burns: 12 games, 18 tackles, 4 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF

#26 - Montez Sweat: 12 games, 38 tackles, 5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FF

Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, the two most highly regarded EDGEs in last year’s draft, are pacing the pack when it comes to sacks and tackles for a loss. Allen leads the group in forced fumbles with two. Sweat is leading the pack in tackles with 38 combined.

At cornerback, the overdue benching of Josh Norman has coincided with the team’s 2-game win streak. While it’s easy to think of Quinton Dunbar as a young player, the undrafted former wide receiver now appears to be a grizzled veteran when compared to his teammates. The 27-year-old fifth year player has become Washington’s best cornerback.

Also, with Josh Norman going to the bench, the 25-year-old, former 3rd-round draft pick, Fabian Moreau has moved from nickel corner to boundary corner, and the change is doing him good. Incredibly, with Norman benched, Moreau has pulled down THREE interceptions in the past two games — both victories for Washington.

Pro Football Focus was impressed with Moreau following the Lions game:

The same player who had allowed 25 catches on 28 targets for more than 300 yards this season had a career performance Sunday. On eight targets, Moreau surrendered five completions and came away with two interceptions — the first requiring him to go stride for stride with Marvin Hall, and the second tasking him to jump a short route. While Jeff Driskel isn’t exactly top-notch competition, Moreau clearly flashed his skillset this past week.

PFF gave Fabian Moreau an 88.4 coverage grade for that game against the Lions, in which he played 62 total snaps and 40 coverage snaps.

A week later, Moreau’s coverage snaps jumped to 56. His interception and return to the Carolina 1-yard line led directly to the Redskins’ first touchdown of the game, late in the second quarter.

Moreau is still learning and improving, but playing consistently at boundary corner for the balance of the season should bode well for the Redskins in 2020.

The Redskins are young at safety as well. It seems odd to talk about Landon Collins being “young”, but, of course, he is, having been drafted when he was just 21. Collins came to the Redskins this year in free agency, but the 25-year-old was signed to a 6-year contract, meaning that the strong safety will be a defensive cornerstone player of the next half-decade of Redskins football.

By the numbers, Collins leads the team in tackles, and has earned good grades from PFF, with a run defense grade of 83.3, a pass rush grade of 83.4, and an overall defensive grade of 73.2. The wins against Detroit and Carolina were two of his 3 highest graded games of the season according to PFF. His best game, PFF was against Dallas, and his 4th best grade was against Miami.

But the eye test is more convincing. Collins has been all over the field — especially in run defense — and has played with speed and energy, quickly establishing himself as a team leader. In recent games he has often rushed past the line and chased down the running back from behind.

Beyond all this young talent, there’s reason to hope for more good things at inside linebacker as well, with Cole Holcomb playing well, and Reuben Foster returning from injured reserve in 2020.

The 2020 Redskins are set to field a younger, faster, stronger team than I can ever remember. Next year’s roster will likely feature cornerstone players who are all in their 20s, and all hungry for success.

That’s why I think Redskins fans are starting to express more confidence.