1) Canal Street Chronicles: When I look at Kirk Cousins' season statistics after eight games (10 TDs, 9 INTs, 66.9% completion percentage, and an 82.9 quarterback rating) I'm thinking: average-to-below average quarterback. But we both know that cold numbers never tell the whole story. How good is Cousins and do you think he is the guy who can take Washington's franchise back to its successful ways of the past?
Alex Rowsey: Right now, the numbers are actually telling a pretty accurate story. Looking at the entirety of the season, Kirk has been an average to slightly below average QB. The thing to acknowledge here is that he seems to have improved as the season has gone along (not that unexpectedly, as he was relatively inexperienced as a starter coming into the season). In my opinion, Kirk is on his way to becoming a good, solid, starting QB. He's not there yet, but it seems his play is trending upwards.
I wouldn't dare say if Kirk is "the future" yet or not. I think he's earned this entire season as the starter and then I think a decision will be made after that. Based on his play over the first half of the season, I think it's fair to expect that he'll be re-signed and at least afforded an opportunity to start next year. What the rest of this season will help decide is if he'll be brought back long-term or short, paid or just barely, and as the undisputed starter or with some competition. We'll have to wait and see. It's simply too early to say. If he doesn't improve any further, then he's not good enough to get us back to the success of our Super Bowl teams. If he keeps improving, who knows?
2) CSC: Washington's usually efficient running game has been down this year. Running back Alfred Morris started the season with a bang against the Dolphins, rushing 25 times for 121 yards (an excellent 4.8 yards-per-carry). Since then, his production has dramatically come down, including a four carries for 10 yards performance against the Patriots last week. What happened?
AR: I'd love to answer this question for you, but I don't know that anybody has an answer. So I'll take the cop out choice and say it's a combination of things. Here are the factors:
- For one thing, Alfred has not been running as well as he has in the past. At times there are yards there to be had and he's not getting them. It seems that he's trying to hard (more on that in a minute).
- Our OL has done a pretty piss-poor job in run blocking. Nobody thought our OL was going to be incredible this year, but everyone thought they'd be drastically improved over the last couple of years with the additions of OL Coach Bill Callahan and #5 overall pick OL Brandon Scherff. They've been decent in pass protection, but run blocking has left a lot to be desired. To further their troubles, the Redskins lost their starting LG early in the season and a few weeks ago also lost their starting C. Neither will return this season and the running game has been noticeably worse without them.
- Morris has lost a huge chunk of the RB workload this year to third-round rookie RB Matt Jones and third-down RB Chris Thompson. The coaching staff seems to pretty clearly favor Matt Jones as our #1 RB. He's been getting the majority of the carries, especially lately, and has quite frankly been running better than Morris this year. His issue has been with fumbles. He's had three and each one has been at a pretty inopportune time. The point is, Morris isn't the guy who's out there even a majority of the time anymore, and that's significantly hurt his numbers.
- The fourth and final factor is the play-calling. The Redskins flat-out haven't been running the ball a lot. Some of that's due to the running game being stagnant/terrible and not producing enough to warrant it's continued use. Part of that has been because we occasionally get down a couple of scores and we kind of forget about it. Part of that has possibly been because our HC has a tendency to get a little pass-happy. Whatever the reason, we don't run the ball as much as we have in the past nor as much as we probably need to in order to have real success.
3) CSC: Could you tell us about one player on each side of the ball for Washington that we may not have heard of, but who is likely to have a big impact on the game on Sunday?
AR: On defense, I'm going to go with our sixth-round rookie DB Kyshoen Jarrett. Jarrett's an undersized (5'10", 200 lbs.) S out of VT who has been our top nickel CB for a majority of this season. You read that right. And what's more... he's been very impressive. When a DB is drafted in the sixth round, you're typically thinking that maybe he'll make the team and if he ever sees the field, he'll be contributing on special teams. Jarrett is pretty great on STs, but he's been needed on defense terribly due to the crazy amount and severity of injuries in our secondary. I mean, we seriously asked a sixth-round rookie S to play CB in the slot and he's been killing it. This week, our secondary is getting much healthier, but you can be assured that Jarrett will still have a place on the field. Will it be in the slot? Maybe he'll move back and play some S? Maybe both? I'm not sure yet, but I know he'll be out there because he's been too good to keep off the field.
On offense, I'm going with the aforementioned third-round rookie RB Matt Jones. He's not the obvious choice. We'll probably be starting a new C this week (someone you might know, Brian de la Puente). We also have an outstanding fourth-round rookie who has been our best WR this year (Jamison Crowder). But I'm sticking with Jones. I really think he's a very good RB who has incredible size (6'2", 231 lbs.) and also outstanding speed. He's also a fine receiver out of the backfield. It's kind of crazy. He's been our best RB this year (not saying much) and he's had fumbling issues. I think the staff is going to stick with him though and, no disrespect, but I think our running game will get back on track a little bit against the Saints defense. I expect him to be heavily involved and if he runs like he's capable of, you'll know his name by the end of the game.
4) CSC: How would you go about defending Washington's offense if you were Saints' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan? Inversely, how would you attack Washington's defense if you were Sean Payton?
AR: To defend the 'Skins offense, first shutdown the running game. We always make some sort of an attempt to get it started, especially on first down, and if things go like they have been lately, it won't be too difficult to shut it down. After that, you're making Kirk Cousins throw the ball. He's more dangerous than he was earlier in the season, but as a defense, that's still what you want. He makes some mistakes and if you make him throw enough, you can probably get a pick (or two). You need to watch out for the TE Jordan Reed. He's our best play-maker/receiver. He's basically impossible to cover, but that should be your focus. You'll of course have to be aware of DeSean Jackson or he can kill you. Kirk gets rid of the ball lightning fast, but your best bet is to test the OL and try to pressure him. Again, he's prone to some costly mistakes.
To attack the 'Skins defense, definitely start out running the ball. Our defense hasn't stopped a RB in over a month. Ingram could very well have the game of his life. Come out running it and you may never even need to throw. When you do throw, however, work the quick passing game. Joe Barry (the Redskins DC) loves to play zone and sits the CBs a few yards off the WRs. Quick passing negates any pass rush (we haven't really had any lately, anyway) and capitalizes on the most injured/banged up area of our defense... the secondary. Also, work the middle of the field as much as possible. Our LBs have been historically bad as have our safeties. It's kind of the opposite whenever you run the ball. Run to the outside and pass to the middle. Hell, you can probably just run and/or pass wherever you want...
5) CSC: Prediction time for you, Alex: Who wins this game and why?
AR: I think it's going to be a very, very close game. The Redskins have done very well at home this year and have been pretty bad on the road. Lucky for us, we're the home team. I'm going with 26-25 Redskins. Don't ask me why those numbers, it's just going to happen. I think the Redskins offense will be able to have success. Kirk has looked pretty good lately and the Saints defense has been pretty bad. Plus, I just cannot imagine our running game struggling at historic rates for a fifth game in a row. Similarly, I expect that the Saints will be able to move the ball, as well. The Redskins defense has seemed to tighten up a little down in the red-zone and can hold teams to FGs more than you'd expect. If the Saints win, I don't think anyone would be surprised.
Many thanks to Alex for giving us very detailed and comprehensive answers on his Washington Redskins. For more coverage of Saints-Redskins with a D.C. flavor, please check out Hogs Haven.