Russell Report Card: Special teams play hero

Chris Russell
October 14, 2018 - 8:25 pm
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Six weeks are complete in the NFC East and somehow, the Redskins are in first place by themselves. Again.

This time, it’s because of an unlikely win. 23-17 over the Carolina Panthers on a chilly Sunday at FedExField.

Now, our weekly report card.

Offense: C+: It would be easy to give the Redskins offense a lower grade because Alex Smith only passed for 163 yards and, once again, they did not score a touchdown in the second half.

Washington only has one in five games this year and it was in garbage time last Monday in New Orleans, while also only scoring a total of three points in the third quarter of games this year.

They blew a couple of golden opportunities as well: one at the end of the first half when they had 1st-and-10 at the Carolina 33 and once with a 1st-and-10 at the Panthers 44, of which they came away with no points on both drives, but they did execute well enough in other spots.

Vernon Davis caught a 22-yard seam-route from Alex Smith in stride for the game’s first score and Paul Richardson did a nice job running the back line of the end zone, while Smith held the underneath linebacker for a touchdown on a 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

Adrian Peterson ripped off a few big runs on first down calls and finished with 97 yards on 17 attempts, constantly finding space in tight windows.

Defense: B: Josh Norman had an interception and forced a fumble against his former team, only a few days after being benched. D.J. Swearinger had a sack and a forced fumble and the Redskins run defense only allowed 81 yards on the day.

Washington controlled Christian McCaffrey and held the NFL’s scrimmage-yards leader to just 66 yards total. That’s about half his season average.

The Redskins defensive unit also came up with a huge stand at the end of the game when Carolina was carving them up and only down six. Quinton Dunbar, who struggled much of the game, did a very good job on Devin Funchess on third down and on the final play, Fabian Moreau blanketed Jarius Wright to seal the win.

Still, the Redskins only had the one sack and looked bad on one sequence allowing Torrey Smith to run free on two plays in a row for a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

Special Teams: A+: This multi-unit group gets the A+ for ‘astonishing’ as in that performance was never expected and, in my opinion, it was the No. 1 reason they won the game.

Dustin Hopkins had huge field goals of 56, 49 and 29 plus his extra points. Hopkins also had four touchbacks and the Redskins kickoff coverage unit allowed 18.5 yards per return on two opportunities.

Punter Tress Way only averaged 41 yards per kick but downed one punt at the Carolina-3 (Brian Quick), had a long of 51 and had another boot inside-the-20.

The big momentum play? A punt fumble and recovery caused by Shaun Dion Hamilton and recovered by Jeremy Sprinkle, which set up the Redskins first touchdown, the very next play.

Greg Stroman had a 10-yard punt return that set up the Redskins at the Carolina-33 for one of those squandered opportunities and Sprinkle even did a nice job on squib kickoff return to start the second half.

Coaching: B-: Jay Gruden is going to get criticized for the Redskins offense being too conservative after a 17-0 lead. The reality is two big penalties ruined critical drives that cost them points. If anything, Gruden was too over-aggressive at times, such as going for it on a 4th-and-3, while wasting a timeout in between, with an inconsistent passing game.

Gruden also was way too pass happy against a Carolina defense that was yielding 4.58 yards-per-play.

However, the call of the year so far was the head coaches’ decision to roll the dice on a 4th-and-1 from the Redskins 45-yard line and sneak Smith for a first down. That led to the Richardson score and a critical seven points. It’s the second time this year, at midfield or on his side of the field, that Gruden has made that call and it has worked, leading to touchdowns on the drive.

Fans are going to be upset because the Redskins didn’t blitz enough. I get it. Their secondary is not good enough in coverage to constantly be in man coverage and blitzing. When Greg Manusky needed it, on 4th down to end the game, he sent extra heat. 

 

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