WASHINGTON — Remember when the Redskins were 0-2 and everyone thought they were done? The defense sucked, the rushing attack was more like a futile effort and Kirk Cousins had regressed to the mistake-prone backup he was in 2014.
All of a sudden, we’re looking at a swarming, ballhawking defense complemented by a dominant ground game and a QB capable of dropping dimes to open receivers all over the field. And we like that.
But which Redskins team is the real one?
As is generally the case in pro football, the answer is a complicated one. The ‘Skins lost to a Pittsburgh team that looked good in Week 1, but not so much now. We didn’t think much of Dallas in Week 2, but now they look like a legit NFC contender.
One could make the case that the wins over the Giants and Browns were more good fortune than good football (only half of Washington’s six takeaways in those games were really forced), but their last two wins are the only reason we’re discussing the Redskins’ viability as a contender. Battering Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz behind a makeshift offensive line and holding the Ravens offense to 188 passing yards and 3.8 yards per pass isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it was a vast improvement for a ‘Skins defense that was considered no better than a “bend but don’t break” unit that relied heavily on turnovers to be effective. Furthermore, winning in Baltimore is no small feat — the Ravens are 49-18 at M&T Bank Stadium in the John Harbaugh era.
Sunday against the Eagles, the Redskins ran for a season-high 230 yards, sacked Wentz five times and had a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession (largely because they had the ball for virtually all of the second quarter, holding Philly’s offense to only one yard on four plays). That’s flat-out domination.
What makes the Redskins defense look even better the last two weeks is the fact that they generated only one turnover and still shut down two pretty good offenses (especially the Eagles, who came into FedEx Field averaging 28.5 points per game, but left Landover without scoring an offensive touchdown). Not to make light of the misfortune of injury, but losing safeties David Bruton and DeAngelo Hall appear to have opened the door for better options in Duke Ihenacho and Will Blackmon.
But what can we take from this? Is this the team that got rolled by the underachieving Steelers or is it the juggernaut that beat up an Eagles team that looked primed and ready to win the suddenly competitive NFC East?
Kirk Cousins is good, but can’t seem to replicate his epic roll to close out the 2015 season. The run game is on a hot streak, but not yet consistent. The defense has battered the last two QBs they’ve faced, but still can’t stop the run (212 yards at 5.3 yards per rush the last two weeks).
The good news for the Redskins is their schedule no longer looks like the murderer’s row we thought it was in August. The ‘Skins are already 2-1 in a surprisingly good division, so it’s not crazy to think they could clinch a winning record within the NFC East for a second straight year. Carolina is 1-5 because their defense is giving up miles of passing yardage and their MVP QB is sulking. The 2-2 Packers’ inconsistencies have driven their MVP QB to drinking his struggles away. The Bengals are 2-4 and minus a home game because they face the ‘Skins in London…which may actually be to their advantage, given the way they’re currently playing. The only widely assumed loss on the Redskins schedule is the Week 10 matchup with the Vikings, but even that’s winnable because it’s after a bye week.
Not to be cliche, but this is a 16-game season and you can’t make any grand proclamations about any team in the league before the season has run its course — especially when you’re talking about the Redskins. But this much we know: Washington has proven this year they can beat teams with winning records (their last three opponents were over .500 at the time they played them) and is in prime position to earn a second straight division title for the first time in 32 years. That’s all we can reasonably ask from this good, but still quite flawed team.
Now be reasonable and catch up on the updated Week 6 Recap.