On what was a pristine day in Landover, Maryland, the feeling could not be the same for Redskins fans heading into a battle against the Arizona Cardinals. The Redskins started off like rabid animals on defense with Anthony Lanier forcing a strip sack and Preston Smith recovering the ball and returning it inside the ten-yard line. A few plays later, Kirk and company did not wait long to put seven on the board off a play-action bootleg to Jamison Crowder.
From there, the offense struggled and only put up another touchdown and was outdone by the Cardinals offense. If it were not for the pass rush and the ability to get constant pressure on Blane Gabbert, this could have been an easy loss. There will be plenty of tape to dissect on the offensive side of the ball after the 15-20 victory. But, for now, the Redskins have held onto the opportunity to finish at the .500 mark or better for the third straight season.
Momentum can be a funny thing in a game like football. Once you think you have it, you can lose it, then gain it back in the blink of an eye. There was no doubt that the Redskins were feeling good about themselves coming out of the locker room to begin the second half. The Cardinals had other plans. They recovered the opening kick-off, but the defense refused to break. Ryan Kerrigan, Anthony Lanier, and the defense were able to hold the Cardinals to a field goal keeping the Redskins lead. The defense believed that they could be up for the challenge the rest of the game and continued to ride that momentum.
Passing Game: C
The passing game looked better, but not great. Kirk Cousins was able to put the ball in places that only his receivers would be able to get them. The receiving core also improved from previous games, but there was still the case of the drops. Most notably was Vernon Davis fumbling the ball, yet again, and killing a drive that looked bound for the end zone. As valuable as Davis has been this season filling in for an injured Jordan Reed, it might be time to start giving Jeremy Sprinkle more playing time.
Running Game: D
The running game will continue to be below average. We must come to terms with it if we have not already. The Redskins ran the ball twenty times for thirty-one yards. Albeit, one of those carries was for negative fourteen by Josh Doctson, but even then, you are looking at nineteen carries for forty-six yards which is still horrific. The lack of success could be attributed to the injuries along the offensive line, but even before the injuries, the Redskins were not an elite rushing team. This is an area that will need to be addressed and focused on come OTA’s and training camp.
You really cannot say enough about how much the defensive play had turned around against the Cardinals. Anthony Lanier and Preston Smith were the standouts from a pass rush that kept getting to Gabbert and putting him on the ground. The two combined for three sacks, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble and an interception.
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) December 18, 2017
The run defense was just okay, but just good enough. They allowed 141 yards rushing on 34 carries which equates to 4.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals ability to control the clock and the amounts of plays they ran was due to their success in converting on short downs with the running game.
The secondary was good, but there were a couple of times that Josh Norman and Beshaud Breeland were burnt deep, but only truly beat once. What this season has shown is Norman needs over the top help against those receivers that have top speed. The Redskins have missed Montae Nicholson’s ability to cover ground in the passing game.
Special Teams: B
The mistakes from previous weeks were corrected this week. That was the encouraging sign. However, a couple of things still bothered me from keeping the special team’s group an A for this game.
While Dustin Hopkins was a perfect 2 for 2 in his return from the IR, what was the most discouraging was Jay Gruden still putting a starting cornerback back for kick returns. While Breeland is athletic and a good option, you don’t put your starting cornerback in a position where he can easily get hurt. With Maurice Harris active, he should have been the one taking those reps. Harris has proven to be quick, athletic and able to hit holes with a burst of speed like we see with Crowder and Chris Thompson.
The second event that was a black mark on what was otherwise a well-executed game plan was the short kick off by the Cardinals to begin the second half. The Cardinals ability to recover that ball while a handful of Redskins were oblivious to what was going on around them gave the Cardinals an opportunity to capitalize and have momentum swing in their favor. Luckily, the defense brought their best game of the year to minimize any damage.
The playoffs have been out of reach for weeks now, but that does not mean there is nothing to play for. There are still future contracts, roster slots, and jobs that are on the line. Their home finale will be against a struggling Denver Broncos team that is coming off a Thursday night win against the Indianapolis Colts, but 1-6 on the road. While the Broncos will be looking to salvage the rest of the season, their front office will be scouting their potential next quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
Next Game: Broncos (5-9) at Redskins (6-8) 1:00 PM (FOX)