An appreciative tip of the cap to Alex Rowsey from Hogs Haven, who gave us some great, detailed answers to our five questions this week. Read and learn about Washington.
Dave Choate: Is there a verdict on Kirk Cousins at this point? From what I've seen, he's been accurate and at least decent this season, but how are fans feeling and how's his job security?
Alex Rowsey: At this time, there is still no verdict on Kirk Cousins. He's agreed by most that he's the best QB at this time currently on the roster. Not even everyone agrees with that, but most do. So I guess the verdict is that barring some unforeseen collapse, he'll be the starter for this whole season. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. He'll be a FA after this year and how he plays the rest of the season will largely determine what the 'Skins want to do for the future. If he plays relatively well and the 'Skins win some games, then I could see him being brought back. Another year at 4-12 or if Kirk throws a ton of INTs, then you'd assume we'll have a new QB in 2016. He's definitely been accurate and decent this year. Fans of the Washington Redskins are very fickle when it comes to the QB position. Kirk's been inconsistent and each week the talk goes from him being a bum an definitely not our starter beyond this year to he's a "franchise QB" in the making and then back again. Fans are feeling pretty good this week because we won last week, Kirk didn't throw any INTs, and he led a come-from-behind, game-winning, fourth-quarter drive. I think his job is pretty secure for this year. Beyond that? He'll have to prove himself the rest of the season.
Dave Choate: Looks like you've got a bit of a three-headed backfield going. Knowing the Falcons have been pretty stout against the run but also vulnerable to pass-catching backs, can you give us a quick scouting report on Jones, Morris, and Thompson, and how each might be used?
Alex Rowsey: I heard a nickname for our three RBs the other day and it was "PSP." That's supposed to stand for power, speed, and patience. Power would be Matt Jones. Speed is Chris Thompson. And patience is Alfred Morris. I think that's fairly accurate. It really all starts with Morris. Patience is fitting for him as he's elite at setting up his blockers and creating lanes with his running style. He's durable like you just would not believe and always falls forward. He's used almost exclusively on first and second downs as a runner only. They rarely pass the ball his way. He's our best RB and when it comes to just running the football, there are few better in this league. He combines patience and power beautifully, and while he won't consistently break off 20 and 30 yard runs, he's good for 3-5 almost every time he touches it regardless.
Thompson is the traditional, prototypical third-down back. He's very small (5'7", 193 lbs.) and very fast/quick. He's also technically our best pass protector. His technique there is sound though his frame is lacking. He's not much running the ball and he goes down fairly easily. He can, however, break off a big one at any time with his decisive cuts, quick shifts, and excellent speed. Where he really excels though is as a receiver. On check-downs and screens, he's trouble. Based on your assessment of your team's run defense, it sounds like he's one you should be worried about.
Matt Jones is our new fourth-round rookie and he really has everyone in Washington excited. When you see him, you'll probably think he looks like some sort of Steven Jackson/Marshawn Lynch hybrid. He has those long dreads and he's absolutely huge (6'2", 231 lbs.). He has similar (if not more) power than Morris, but he also has crazy deceptive speed. The NFL's Next Gen stats clocked him at over 21 mph in a game not to long ago and he was the second fastest player in the league that week behind only Darius Heyward-Bay. That's insane for a man of his size and power. Still, he's more of a run-you-over type of runner than a burner. He's used when we need a single yard or are down near the goal-line a lot. However, he's really a three-down back who has very good hands as a receiver, too. He typically gets more touches than Thompson but less than Morris, though there have been games this year when he out-touched both. Basically, he's used all over the place at any time. They use him in place of Morris on first and second downs pretty often and they use him in place of Thompson on third downs, as well. Basically they just use all three guys a lot and like to keep all three fresh. It's worked quite well since we currently have the #1 rushing offense in the league and both Morris and Jones are in the top 25 in rushing (Morris is 11th and Jones is 23rd).
Dave Choate: How has your defense fared thus far? If you're gameplanning for a Falcons teamfeaturing Julio Jones, do you have the resources to stop him?
Alex Rowsey: The defense has been great so far. We're currently ranked #4 overall (#9 against the pass and #2 against the rush). Our defense has been helped a lot by our offense possessing the ball longer than any other team in the league (the Falcons are second). That helps keep the defense off the field and fresh. While they've excelled at preventing yardage, they've struggled to create turnovers. They're 3rd in the league in third-down defense (only allowing first downs on 31% of third downs), tied for 9th in sacks (with 9), but dead last with 0 INTs. The Redskins are 10th in points allowed at only 19.8 per game.
Enough with the numbers. Our defense is solid, but it's primarily because of the front seven. Our DL has been dominant against both the run and pass. Terrance Knighton is one of the toughest guys in this league to run against and guys like Chris Baker, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Paea have been wreaking havoc in the backfield on passing plays. The LBs are solid too being led by ILB Keenan Robinson. He's a tackling machine and all over the field. Our OLBs (Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, and Preston Smith) are all very well rounded and very good against both the run and the pass though not quite dominant or elite as pass rushers (Kerrigan can be at times).
The trouble lies in the secondary. Our DBs have been hit hard by injury and were never going to be that strong of a unit to begin with. We lost starting SS Duke Ihenacho for the season a couple week ago and have been without DeAngelo Hall for a couple weeks now. Our original starting slot CB is also out for the year. Oh, and our best CB, Chris Culliver, is hurt right now, too. It's a mess. I think I speak for just about all Redskins fans when I say we're terrified of what Julio Jones is going to do to that secondary. The front seven absolutely must apply pressure or Julio Jones is going to go off. Hopefully Culliver will be healed enough to play (and play well). He played last week but was pretty bad and noticeably injured. Behind him we have Bashaud Breeland, who is a second-year pro and decent, and then a bunch of guys who are just guys. Will Blackmon plays in the slot some; he's only been a Redskins for a couple weeks. Kyshoen Jarrett seems to have taken over the primary slot duties last week. He's a sixth-round rookie who was a S until a few weeks ago and some practices in training camp. Quinton Dunbar was an undrafted rookie WR who just switched to CB. We brought both him and Deshazor Everett up from our practice squad in the past week. It's terrible.
In summary, no, we don't have the resources to stop Julio Jones.
Dave Choate: Give us a player from each side of the ball who may be impactful, but flies under the radar nationally.
Alex Rowsey: On defense, the player is Chris Baker. He was undrafted in 2009 out of Hampton and is really coming into his own. At 6'2" and 325 lbs., he plays DE in our 3-4 front and is a terror as a pass rusher. He started the season as a reserve and just moved up the depth chart to become a starter. He had probably the best game of his career last week recording a couple sacks and basically living in Philly's backfield.
Offensively I'd have to say Jamison Crowder. He's a fourth-round rookie WR out of Duke. He just overtook the starting slot WR job from Andre Roberts and will not be looking back. He's really incredible, especially for a rookie (and one who's only 5'9" at that). He's a sharp route-runner, incredibly quick, and has solid hands. He'll get a bunch of receptions and usually works the intermediate area of the field. He repeatedly breaks out of cuts and absolutely leaves defenders multiple steps behind. Very tough cover.
Dave Choate: How do you expect this game (and your season) to go?
Alex Rowsey: I expect this game to shock a lot of people. Everyone reading this is going to think I'm being a total homer and that's fine. I think the Redskins are going to win... and I don't think it's going to be particularly close. For me it comes down to our running game. The Redskins can run the ball. And when they do, they eat up a lot of clock. Looking at our roster (and most rosters), that's easily the best way to defend Julio Jones. They simply have to keep him off the field. That's the Redskins identity this year and it's worked out fairly well. So I expect a lot of running and a lot of eating the clock. At the same time, I expect the Redskins run defense to bring Devonta Freeman back down to Earth. Julio is going to get his. I have no doubts there. But I do believe the Redskins defense is good enough to make a team one dimensional. If the Falcons have trouble running and don't have their offense on the field a lot in the first place, it's going to be tough.
As far as the season, I think the 'Skins are an average team. I don't think they'll make the playoffs and I expect they'll end up somewhere around .500. They're a team on the rise, but a year or two away still. The running game is excellent and the defense is very good. The run defense and the front seven are especially good. The weaknesses are the passing game and the secondary. If Kirk continues to play as well as he has and shows modest improvement over the course of the year (which I think he will), then I expect he'll be brought back. We'll see Sunday. I just hope for no injuries. The Redskins can't really afford anymore.