If Mark Twain were around to watch the passing game for the 2017 Washington Redskins, he might utter his famous quote about the three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics. The Redskins rank ninth in the NFL with 252 passing yards per game. Not bad, but wow it doesn’t feel that potent. That’s because it’s not.
It’s not as good as last season when only New Orleans averaged more through the air per week than Washington’s 297. It’s not as good on the outside without deep threat DeSean Jackson and tough guy Pierre Garcon. Though talented, it’s not as good in the slot with the returning Jamison Crowder.
Pushing much of the blame on the Jackson/Garcon replacements, namely Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson, is the easy call and arguably not the wrong one. Whether because of inexperience, injuries, or mood, they haven’t come close to filling in.
They’ve also barely had Jordan Reed. No disrespect to Vernon Davis, who has provided ample production, but it’s not as good at tight end this season without a healthy Jordan Reed.
Without a healthy Jordan Reed, the kind of threat defenses must account for and his coaches game plan around, the offense hasn’t been the same.
The Redskins (4-5) have played nine games this season. Jordan Reed dressed for six, didn’t finish them all and missed the past two with a lingering hamstring injury.
The 27-year-old acknowledged a setback during practices last week kept him off the field against the Vikings. That Reed missed the first two practices heading into Sunday’s crucial matchup with the New Orleans Saints strongly suggests the offense will once again play without its best weapon.
“It’s just a lingering thing. The only way for it to heal is to rest it,” Reed said Thursday “We don’t have time for that right now. So it can be confusing and tricky to try and get back out there.”
Reed’s constant uncertainty makes things tricky for head coach Jay Gruden when putting on his play-caller hat. If Reed plays, he’s the headliner in the red-zone, a primary target in play-action, a constant in virtually all personnel groupings. When he doesn’t, adjustments galore. Those tweaks ideally happen over the course of the week. With uncertainty comes delay.
“The hardest thing with him is on Mondays and Tuesdays. We just don’t know if he’s going to play or not and he’s a major part of any game plan. When he’s not in, you kind of have to adjust your game plan. That’s the most difficult challenge,” Gruden stated.
All the praise for Reed’s talents are worthy. Few tight ends have his speed, which the 6’3” target uses for route-running jolts. Even when on the field this season, that version hasn’t always shown. It hasn’t been nearly as good.
Before the hamstring issue, there was the lingering toe injury that kept Reed away for chunks of training camp and started his season on the wrong foot. Reed is averaging career-lows in yards per catch (7.8 yards) and receptions per game (4.5). Even if he plays Sunday – Reed considers himself “day-to-day” – there’s no assuming Washington gets the full-speed playmaker all desire.
“The way I hurt (the hamstring), I was decelerating. So it wasn’t really opening up, it was slowing down. Now every time I try to slow down, I can feel it a little bit. I’ve gotta pay it real close and stay on top of it,” Reed said.
If the Redskins were only dealing with Reed’s injury, perhaps they’d be closer to the top in the NFC. Numerous man games lost on both sides of the ball combined with playing the NFL’s toughest schedule thru Week 10 and its own gaffes have Washington needing at least five wins over its last seven games for any playoff hope. Projecting that kind of finish would be easier with more hope on Reed’s status.
“Hopefully, we’ll get great news (Friday),” said Gruden as the Redskins move closer to play three games in 12 days. “If not, we’ll get him for the Giants or Cowboys or whatever it is.”
We can debate whether the Redskins should have kept Garcon (yes) or Jackson (eh). We can ponder how the offense might be different for the better. More room inside for the smallish Crowder. More one-on-one looks for Pryor and Doctson. More consistent targets for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Overall, all would be better with a healthy Jordan Reed, the biggest “What if” of them all.
That’s no lie regardless of any stats. Mark Twain would agree with that.