We spoke with our friend Ken Meringolo of Hogs Haven for the inside look at Washington!
1. DeSean Jackson is one of the best receivers in the league and he's expected to return this week. Which players stepped up on offense in his absence?
Far be it for me to suggest that the Patriots have any weaknesses...at all...but the turnover in your secondary from last season has left an opening for teams to attack you over the top. You can't even attempt that without a player like DeSean Jackson, and with him back in the fold, I expect the Redskins to go to that well as often as possible.
There is nobody on our roster that can do what DeSean can do, but in his absence, the Redskins relied heavily on Jordan Reed (when he could stay on the field). Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder saw increased snaps, but at the end of the day, there are few players period that can do what DJax does at full speed.
If we are going to have any chance to stay in this game, we are going to need big plays from him. It bears mentioning that pass protection is key to this strategy, which means to even try and attempt to exploit this tiniest of advantages, we are going to have to overcome a huge strength of yours, which is evident in your incredible sack total.
2. The running game hasn't gone through a single back like it has in the past. What role does everyone have, or is someone looking to separate from the pack?
Both Jay Gruden and McLovin (what we call Scot McCloughan) favor an uber-physical style of play, and the rookie runner Matt Jones brings something to the table in that department that Alfred Morris simply does not. That said, they are running pretty much the same plays for both backs, despite what some folks in the media seem to be suggesting.
Morris has gained a reputation for getting better and stronger as the game wears on, but with the timeshare in place, he has not really found his flow very often. I don't think the Redskins are looking for one of them to become "the guy" this year, though with Morris' contract coming up, it is very likely they are hoping Jones shows them enough to justify giving him that role in the future.
Going back to your first question, having a player like DeSean Jackson on the field will help both of our running backs tremendously, as we have seen defenses cheating towards the run against us (and rightfully so).
3. Kirk Cousins seems to have turned into a leader on offense. How do fans perceive his ability and future?
It's a great point about Kirk Cousins and the emergence of his leadership. We're talking about a guy who was voted a team captain of Michigan State as a sophomore, when it wasn't even clear he was the consensus #1 starter in week one. With Robert Griffin III as the "franchise guy" the last few years, Cousins went about his business very professionally, but did not really exert his voice. I believe we are seeing a guy who is far more comfortable being the natural leader he always has been, thanks to his increasing confidence as a starter.
At the end of the day, when you give a guy 16 games to show you what he is made of, you are going to experience some growing pains. Kirk is winning over fans and teammates, but the truth is that for him to have a bright future as a starter in this league, he needs to continue to mature--he is not there yet.
Personally, I think he will be our starter for some time--certainly through another contract. He gives McLovin a great opportunity to save at least a few bucks at the quarterback spot and devote those resources to other needy areas (linebacker, cornerback, safety, defensive line, interior offensive line, running back, wide receiver and tight end). It doesn't hurt that Kirk is a huge Tom Brady fan, and studies the golden boy extremely closely.
4. Washington's defense has struggled with running backs in recent weeks. Is this the result of injuries, or has something else changed?
Our run defense has DEFINITELY struggled lately. On one hand, we have suffered some injuries at linebacker, which has contributed to this, but when you watch game film, something else shows up. Our defensive line, which is supposedly one of our strengths (and it has been for the most part), might be more to blame, though they have come by that blame kind of honestly.
Teams have found out that if they force us into a nickel package by bringing three and four receivers into the game, they are actually able to run effectively. Our 3-4 ends shift into traditional 4-3 tackles, and our outside linebackers assume 4-3 end duties. We are getting manhandled in these situations, as evidenced by the nearly 600 yards of rushing we have surrendered the last three games. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins defensive coordinator comes out of the bye week, as he he has surely identified that himself.
5. Bashaud Breeland has really turned into a quality cornerback. How is the rest of the secondary coming together?
Much like Russell's looks, our secondary has become a real problem. We whiffed on David Amerson out of the second round, but it looks like Bashaud Breeland is going to be a player for us. Chris Culliver was our big free agent prize in the offseason, and when he is healthy, we have two very good cover corners. DeAngelo Hall is a serviceable third corner, but his career is coming to an abrupt end thanks to injuries.
Our safety situation continues to be a work in progress. It might sound more like an excuse than anything else, but we still have not fully recovered from the tragic loss of Sean Taylor. We have tried a LOT of guys back there over the last handful of seasons, and nobody has really emerged. Dashon Goldson and Trenton Robinson represent one of the better safety tandems we have had in a while, but with Culliver and Hall sidelined, this safety duo has been asked to do way too much. I am already seeing Gronk in my nightmares.