Time again for an in-depth look at Seattle’s upcoming opponent. Our guest to answer five questions about Washington — which hosts Seattle Monday night at FedExField —- is Zac Boyer, who covers Washington for the Washington Times.
You can follow Boyer on Twitter at @ZacBoyer.
Q1: In a real general sense, what has gone wrong with Washington since it played Seattle in the playoffs following the 2012 season?
A: Simply, the Redskins have gotten in their own way. They were able to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs in 2012 because of the way quarterback Robert Griffin III ran the offense. The threat he posed as a runner was complemented well by running back Alfred Morris, and when they were in sync, the play-action game became much more of a threat.
Griffin’s injury in that playoff game led to a problematic 2013 season, as Griffin couldn’t adequately run the offense until he got healthy near midseason. But, the problems weren’t limited to the quarterback. There were significant issues with depth and talent, especially on defense, and the special teams units were woeful. Then, coach Mike Shanahan torpedoed the franchise on his way out the door, truly setting the team back. It’ll be a slow build before it can recover from so many mistakes.
Q2: What is the general assessment of Kirk Cousins’ play since he has taken over for the injured Robert Griffin III?
A: Cousins (above in an Associated Press photo) seems to be a more natural fit in coach Jay Gruden’s offense, a West Coast derivation that emphasizes timing and trust between the quarterback and the receivers. He worked in a pro-style offense at Michigan State, where he was a starter for three years, and fundamentally has the experience necessary to run such a scheme.
The problem with Cousins, though, is that he has a penchant for forcing throws and making seemingly fundamental mistakes. In the game against the New York Giants last Thursday, a 45-14 loss, he threw four interceptions, overthrowing or underthrowing receivers and failing to spot defensive backs. In 11 career games, he’s thrown 15 interceptions, and after throwing 29 interceptions in 40 games as a starter in college, it’s worth wondering if those turnovers are simply something teams will have to deal with.
Q3: Alfred Morris looks like he’s pretty much the same runner as ever. But is there anything different about his game or how the team is using him now under first-year coach Jay Gruden?
A: There’s very little different about Morris this year than there was in his first two years with the Redskins. Upon settling in as the coach in January, Gruden noticed that the one strength of the offense was the running game, with Morris rushing for more yards over the last two years than anyone not named Adrian Peterson. To that point, he kept the offensive line mostly intact and retained offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who has been the run game coordinator.
Gruden will likely, over time, adapt a man-blocking scheme instead of the zone-blocking scheme employed by Shanahan, who essentially believed he could plug any offensive lineman into the mix and the run game would thrive. The Redskins even tried to make subtle shifts during the offseason, signing a few offensive linemen with man-blocking experience before cutting them when the preseason ended. Ultimately, Gruden knows Morris is the team’s one constant, and he decided he didn’t want to mess with a good thing.
Q4: What are the general strengths and weaknesses of the defense?
A: When the Redskins sacked Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne 10 times in a 45-10 victory in Week 2, it was seen as a sign that the defense was finally starting to realize the potential that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had been talking about for years. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had four sacks, defensive end Jason Hatcher was credited with 2.5 and five other players at least joined in on one.
The pass rush, then, was expected to be the strength, especially after signing Hatcher (who Seattle also pursued) following a career year in Dallas and bringing in Trent Murphy, a highly regarded rookie from Stanford. But the Redskins, quizzically, only have sacked the quarterback once in the other three games, stilted by quarterbacks with a quick release. That means the secondary has been exposed as a sub-par unit, and the loss of cornerback DeAngelo Hall to a torn left Achilles’ tendon in Week 3 showed that the two young cornerbacks, David Amerson and rookie Bashaud Breeland, still have a long way to go.
Q5: Finally, what is the general mood in Washington about the team following the blowout loss to the Giants and a 1-3 start?
A: Even though the Redskins lost, 37-34, at Philadelphia in Week 3, emotions remained high. The team had pushed the defending NFC East champions to the brink of defeat on their turf, and a series of self-inflicted wounds — a kickoff return for a touchdown, a missed 33-yard field goal, and a four-and-out on a drive that started in Eagles territory with less than two minutes remaining — was all that prevented the Redskins from a victory.
But the thumping the Giants levied in Week 4 was humbling, because it was another reminder that the Redskins are not close to being routinely able to compete with teams and that this is, all hopes aside, still a rebuilding year. Gruden is starting to realize how far back this team is in terms of talent, and that’s not a situation that’s easily correctable. While there’s still plenty of trust in Gruden — as there should be — it’s only a matter of time before losses mount, injuries start to become an excuse and the focus, as it does each fall, shifts to next year.