Seattle and Washington don't face off until Monday Night, but I got a great scouting report on the enemy this week from HogHunter, writer over at Hogs Haven. It's been a while since these two teams last met in the 2012 Playoffs, and the coaching staff, quarterback, and many parts of the roster have changed over there. Here's what we need to know going into Monday Night's matchup.
My questions in bold, HogHunter's answers follow.
1. Kirk Cousins has taken over the starting quarterback duties for the time being -- overall, how has he played? What are his strengths and weaknesses, and what happened last week vs. the Giants?
Cousins has made a lot of really good plays for the Redskins early in games, but last week was a complete meltdown. Cousins has had issues with turnovers since he's been in the league. He tends to stare down his receivers which is going to continue to kill him, and his chances of being a legit starting QB in the league. He will get away with it against suspect secondaries like Philadelphia's, but the Giants studied him extensively and knew his tendencies. Seattle will have a fun day if he doesn't clean it up quickly.
Cousins fits what Gruden wants in his quarterbacks, but he's still got a long way to go. He needs to do a better job of recognizing the coverages and changing plays or avoiding throws that are not there. Cousins can move the ball efficiently, and he has the weapons on offense to make plays. Even with a suspect pass blocking line in front of him, he can avoid pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly. It's when he can't hit his first or second option that he gets into trouble. Either the protection will break down, or he tries to force throws like he did last week. Neither one of them usually ends well. The next two weeks he's facing two of the best defenses in the league, and he'll have to play the best football of his life to keep the Redskins in the games.
2. With the Shanahans gone, what does the new Sean McVay offense look like? What are the core tenets and how has it performed on the field thus far?
Well, I don't think we're seeing the Sean McVay offense quite yet. This is still the Jay Gruden show, and he made it clear when he got here that he would be making the majority of the play calls on offense initially. McVay does gameplan certain aspects, but this is Jay Gruden's offense right now. Gruden definitely likes to pass the ball, much to the chagrin of a lot of Redskins fans who want to see Alfred Morris pounding the rock 25+ times per game. The team kept four of the five starters on the OL from last year, and are still using the zone blocking scheme that Shanahan brought with him. Morris excels in this system, but Gruden also plans on getting bigger along the line and using some power blocking.
It will take another year to see the changes that he wants to help with pass protection. The team went out and got two new receivers in free agency, and drafted another one. Gruden likes use his athletic TEs and move them around the field to take advantage of mismatches and soft coverages. Jordan Reed was set to be an integral part of this year's offense, but his injury gave that role to backup TE Niles Paul.
The offense has had it's ups and downs, and we've seen two different quarterbacks running it. Griffin had an efficient game against the Texans week 1, but it was a ton of short passes. Turnovers in the red zone killed that game, and they only had points to show for it. Then it was party time against the Jaguars defense. Griffin was using the read option effectively and finding open receivers before getting hurt. Cousins came in and was throwing at will, and he continued that trend the following week. Then,the Giants exposed some of his flaws, and six turnovers later you're back to people questioning the offense. It's a work in progress.
3. How has the defense performed this season? What are the strengths, and what are the weaknesses of that group?
The defense started off the year performing relatively well. They were able to hold the Ryan Fitzpatrick Texans and the Chad Henne Jaguars to 10 points each. Then the injuries started piling up and they also faced better offenses. The Eagles game saw a lot of yards through the air, but they were still able to have a solid defense against the run. The Giants game exposed a lot of weakness up the middle of the defense, particularly with the safeties and ILB Perry Riley.
Also DeAngelo Hall was still the best CB on the team this year but now he is out for the year after tearing his Achilles in Week 3. This puts a lot of youth and inexperience at the position, as 2nd year CB David Amerson and rookie Bashaud Breeland started last week. Breeland was eventually subbed out after some miscues and replaced by oft-injured Tracy Porter...who got injured.
The pass rush should be better this week with Jason Hatcher fully participating in practice this week. He was limited last week with a hamstring injury and it showed in the game with his lack of burst. He has been very disruptive at the line, and Ryan Kerrigan leads the league in sacks(thanks Jacksonville!). Brian Orakpo is dealing with a torn ligament in his finger, and it's affected his game.
4. How is Washington's injury situation looking right now? Anything major to be concerned about?
The injury list is less than the 17 players that were listed last week, but there are still too many names on it. RGIII is obviously out for this game. The Redskins' top receiving tight ends were both limited yesterday. Jordan Reed has been dealing with a hamstring injury since Week 1, and could play, but it will be a game time decision. Niles Paul was knocked out during the game and is going through the NFL concussion protocol. He was cleared to practice today, and should be ready to go for Monday's game. He's been having a breakout season, and the Redskins need one of them to be on the field.
Trent Williams is the big name to watch over the next few days. He had a knee injury against the Giants that's described as a kneecap dislocation. He is still noticeably limping at practice, and was limited over the last two days. Williams would be a huge loss, especially with a backup QB coming off of a very bad game. Starting guard Shawn Lauvao missed last week's game with a knee injury, but seems to be on track to play this week.
5. How has the rookie class looked thus far? Any contributors that might play a role this week?
This class was drafted to replace players next season and beyond, or so I'm told. Second round pick Trent Murphy has been active for every game this season and has been used in certain defensive packages. He hasn't made much of an impact yet, but he wasn't drafted to be an immediate impact player with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo playing ahead of him.
The two offensive line picks have impatient fans clamoring for them to start now to replace some of the much-maligned members of Tyler and the Turnstiles. Morgan Moses still needs time before he's ready to take over at right tackle. Spencer Long has been active for more games, and would replace Chris Chester at RG if he went down.
Bashaud Breeland has been playing well as a 3rd/4th CB, but was thrust into the starting role last week. He struggled along with everyone else, and Tracy Porter stepped in for him. Breeland should be back in the starting role again this week. He's an aggressive corner who has been making plays since he's been here.
Ryan Grant was a 5th round pick that was seen as a luxury pick by some due to the offseason signings of Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson. Grant has impressed early and often during training camp and the preseason. He stepped up when Jackson was hurt Week 2 vs the Jaguars to pull in 5 catches for 57 yards. He's a precise, smart route runner with good hands.
6. What under-the-radar player or players should Seattle fans have their eyes on?
If Niles Paul is in the game, he will be used extensively. He might not be considered under the radar after his performances over the last few weeks, but it was definitely surprising to see for the people that have watched him on the team for the last 3 years. He's a former wide receiver that was converted to tight end by Mike Shanahan. He had been relegated mainly to special teams, where he did well as a gunner and was even used on kickoff returns last year. Now he's emerged as a legit threat at TE under Gruden. Our lil "Baby Hands" is all grown up.
Huge thanks to HogHunter for the excellent breakdown. Head over to HogsHaven for more of his and their staff's great work.