Time for Washington Redskins to Embrace Reality

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Colt McCoy #12 of the Washington Redskins throws a pass in the first half of a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Colt McCoy #12 of the Washington Redskins throws a pass in the first half of a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The Washington Redskins must adapt their playing style to their new personnel and embrace the reality that faces them.

The Washington Redskins are tied for first place in the NFC East with five very winnable games left on their schedule. The recent loss to the Dallas Cowboys was another gut-wrenching, horrendously officiated, painful loss to arch rivals. Still, there were enough positives to hold out hope that Washington will outlast Dallas down the stretch and capture the division.

There are as many takes on this game as there were players on the field. It’s fascinating to listen to so many extremely knowledgeable football analysts, both on TV and at the local pub, come away with such wildly differing views regarding what they think they saw. One thing, however, is certain: if the Redskins can go into Philadelphia next Monday night and beat the Eagles they will retain the top spot in the NFC East with just four games remaining.

Obviously, I’m not giving Dallas a chance against Drew Brees and the Saints. Nothing against the Cowboys specifically, but I’m not giving anyone a chance against the Saints this year. Fortunately for Jay Gruden’s team they don’t have to play them again unless they meet in the NFC Championship. Until then there is a lot of football left and the Redskins’ chances to make a run at the playoffs are at least as good as the Cowboys’.

I came away from the Redskins’ loss to Dallas feeling pretty good about this team. Save a missed tackle by Fabian Moreau and a blown coverage by Quenton Dunbar and the Redskins win that game. Two plays were the difference.

To hear some talk about this game you would think the Redskins got beat by 40 points and had been eliminated from the playoffs. It’s time for a reality check. For at least four days, assuming a Dallas loss to New Orleans on Thursday Night Football, the Redskins will be alone in first place atop the NFC East in December. That’s pretty incredible considering they lost their college phenom running back Derrius Guice in training camp.

Subsequently, both of their starting guards are gone for the season and both of their tackles have been playing hurt since September. Also gone is their outside speed receiver Paul Richardson. Their electrifying third down back, Chris Thompson, has been out for a month and their top slot guy, Jamison Crowder, even longer.

Still, Washington is right there ready to make a run at the division title. But Jay Gruden needs to embrace the reality that this team is not the team he hoped it would be. The team must move forward without Alex Smith, the $71 million dollar a year QB (if he does not play again), and wide out speedster Paul Richardson who made teams at least pretend they thought we might go deep, and most importantly, All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff.

The new version of this unit is never going to be a ground and pound offense.

I like Jay Gruden. He’s a good coach and, playoffs or not, if he’s not around next year it will be because Dan Snyder made a terrible mistake. Gruden deserves another year. Having said that, Coach Gruden has exhibited one glaring weakness. He is slow to adapt to change.

With at least six, probably seven, new starters on his offense, he needs to adjust his expectations. This new team can get it done, just not the same way the old team was going to do it. The pre-injury riddled Redskins were being molded into a polished, well oiled offensive machine. Granted, it had not yet materialized but that seemed to be goal.

The new look Redskins offense is more akin to a sandlot team. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the Redskins can win their division with Colt McCoy scrambling around and throwing to whoever breaks open. Josh Doctson, Mo Harris, and Trey Quinn are not names that are going to keep opposing defensive coordinators awake at night but all three have unique skill sets that could surprise a lot of people.

Tony Bergstrom and Jonathon Cooper have played surprisingly well at the guard positions. But Gruden needs to transition away from his ‘run between the tackles’ mindset and adopt a gunslinger mentality. No, it’s not his nature but sometimes you have to play the cards you’ve been dealt. It may not be what he wanted but it can certainly still work well enough to win the NFC East but not if he’s going to ask them to win the same way that Alex Smith won.

Gruden still has plenty of weapons on offense. Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, and Jeremy Sprinkle can all do amazing things blocking, catching, and running with the ball after the catch. I’m sure I’m not the only one that is profoundly disappointed in Gruden’s limited use of two and three tight end sets.

For someone who is supposed to possess a great offensive mind, the lack of creativity has been maddening. I would think Gruden would be drooling over the possibilities presented by running three tight end sets with this trio. But for some unknown reason, Gruden has kept those plays in his pocket and in fact has been extremely frugal employing even two tight end sets. Sometimes the team has to play to it’s strengths and not to what the coach had hoped they’d be. This is an offense that should almost always have at least two tight ends on the field.

Gruden had an aggressive game plan against Dallas. He came out throwing and that seemed to surprise a lot of people. I hope he continues with the aggressive play calling. So what if McCoy throws a bunch of interceptions? You have to give yourself a chance.

I’m a big fan of Alex Smith but that conservative approach to play calling is ridiculous. Limiting turnovers is great but when you’re wearing out your punter it’s time to try something different. The something different is McCoy and throwing the ball down the field.

Gruden has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Doctson is coming into his own and McCoy seems to be comfortable doing things that Smith would never do. McCoy is fine throwing to a receiver who is not open. Some players don’t have to be open. Just throw it. They’ll go get it.

Quinn and Harris seem to have similar if less spectacular abilities. And Gruden would be doing his quarterback a favor by employing multiple tight ends as any quarterback who has ever thrown a pass will tell you, big targets are easier to hit than small targets. Sometimes a little common sense goes a long way.

Kapri Bibbs is an exciting runner, and he’s fast. Peterson clearly has a whole lot left in the tank and the possibility of getting Thompson and Crowder back is tantalizing. Clearly, despite the gloom and doom of quite a few Redskins fans, the tool box is not empty. The offensive weapons are there and the defense is going to keep this team in a lot of games.

If Gruden will let his sandlot QB play his sandlot style of game the Redskins schedule shapes of very favorably to win their division.

Gruden must embrace the reality that his team is not what he set out to build. This offense is never going to methodically move the ball down the field at five or six yards a pop. If Gruden can’t shift gears and move away from his desire to be a power running team McCoy is going to be looking at an awful lot of third and longs. This offense would be better served to put an extra tight end on the field and cut McCOy loose.

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are currently Washington’s big play threats. Treat every down like it’s third down and give Colt three chances to complete a 10 yard pass as opposed to just one.

If Gruden will allow McCoy to be the guy that rewrote the Texas Longhorn record books this offense can be successful. A less rigid and predictable approach to play calling might give Peterson those few extra inches he needs to find some open space and do his thing.

Unless Gruden makes a commitment to throw the ball all over the field, as he did against Dallas, other teams are going to make shutting down Adrian Peterson easier than it should be. When the Redskins came out throwing against Dallas I was ecstatic. I hope they don’t abandon the pass happy approach because of the Dallas game.

I don’t understand why Washington played Quenton Dunbar. He could barely run. And the safety support on Amari Cooper’s two long touchdowns is not what you would expect from two of the games best safeties. But, these things happen, hopefully infrequently.

Interceptions happen too, but so do touchdown passes. This team is good enough to win. But, they can’t play scared. And that’s up to the coach.

This defense can smack people in the mouth. Throw in the best special teams play we’ve seen in years and an offense that goes after yardage in big chunks and you’ve got a formula for success.

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There is nothing wrong with going three and out every now and then and interceptions are not the end of the world. Being too timid to turn the ball over takes a team’s big play potential off the table.

If Gruden can convince his team that he’ll tolerate mistakes as long as they go down swinging the Redskins will be hosting a playoff game in the near future.