After four weeks, despite the burgundy and gold lenses, the Redskins glass is half-full. Two straight wins brings the Skins back from the brink and (coupled with the Giants Monday Night loss) gets them out of the NFC East basement.  While the team is by no means playing great football…the results are getting better.  Sunday’s 31-20 victory over an 0-4 Cleveland team on its third starting quarterback of the season will be more than accepted by the faithful.

Captain Kirk- yes, he threw the interception that led to a three-play, 12 yard drive for a TD in the first half.  And yes, he gave up a crucial sack on 1st on 10 from the Browns 32 that killed a drive only to get sacked again on 3rd and 18 that pushed the team out of field goal range.  And yes, he averaged less than 10 yards per completion.  But Cousins completed 78% of his passes and threw for 3 touchdowns.  Converting in the redzone (4 TD’s in 5 chances)!  All while the man he replaced stood idly on the other sideline.  The Star Trek Episode Equivalent “I, Mudd”-where the scheming, mustachioed Harry Mudd hijacks the Enterprise…leaving Kirk and crew to work off-script.  Not a classic, but highly entertaining especially with the return of a former nemesis.

Griffin’s Ghost- Robert III returned to Landover like an exiled leader, simply watching as his replacement rallied his former team against his current squad.  A squad that he only was able to lead for one regular season Sunday…and one that remains the lone winless team in the NFL.  Unlike Caesar, Hamlet’s father, Banquo, or Henry IV, this ghost will fade quietly into the background: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.  And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)

Welcome Matt- the second-year running back Jones gained a season-high 117 yards on 22 carries, scoring the game-clinching TD in the fourth quarter.  For a team that was held to just 55 yards rushing in the season opener, definitely an encouraging sign.  Because the more productive Jones and Chris Thompson (3 carries for 24 yards) are, the less Kirk Cousins has to throw.  Let the record show that the Skins are 2-0 when Cousins throws fewer that 40 passes in a game this fall, and 0-2 when he has 40+ attempts.

Jordan Rules- the Redskins top target notched season-highs in catches (9), receiving yards (73) and touchdowns (2) while providing Cousins with a third down security blanket: all four of his completions on the money down went to Reed (two did not move the chains, one did and the fourth put points on the board).  Currently the fourth-year player is on a pace for 100 receptions.

Third and Streaky- the Skins converted 4 of 8 opportunities, moving the chains on their first four third downs while failing to reach the marker on their last four attempts.  As mentioned, Reed was the target: 2 short-left, one short-middle and one short-right.  Cousins was sacked on the other third down pass play.  Matt Jones carried the ball three times on third down, converting twice on third and one.  Yardage breakdown:  3-3 on third and less than four yards, 1-5 on third and more than six yards needed.

Defense Takes the Fifth on Third Down- after four weeks the Skins’ D is the worst in the league at getting off the field…allowing opponents to convert 57% of third downs.  Cleveland moved the chains on 8 of 12 chances. A makeshift defensive line is doing what they can, but when three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs it usually means one of two things:  either you’re allowing too many completions or the opponent’s running game is getting by your front seven consistently.  This is an issue that won’t go away…especially with linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (hyperextended elbow) added to the day-to-day injury watch.

Saved by the Turnovers- thank goodness for the ballhawking defense that tallied takeaways on three straight second half Cleveland possessions:  Quinton Dunbar’s fumble recovery inside the ten kept the Skins from potentially falling ten points behind, Will Compton’s recovery stopped a Browns running game that had gained 25 yards on the previous two plays, and Josh Norman’s interception set up the game-sealing TD.  With a defense that ranks 25th against the pass, 30th against the run, and 29th overall- turnovers will be its saving grace.  The Skins are tied for fifth in the league with 8 takeaways.

Josh Norman=Robin Hood?- instead of robbing from the rich while giving to the poor, the Skins offseason acquisition simply takes from the opposing offense while he gives his team a short field.  Until he unveils the bow and arrow.  Norman was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after his INT for pantomiming Errol Flynn (I’m sorry, we refuse to acknowledge the Costner film) or for you millennials Jennifer Lawrence.  Full disclosure: I’ve used the bow-and-arrow move after getting a strike on bowling (timing the release for when the ball hits the pins).  As well as the six-shooters move…and the pulling the pin from a grenade.

Flying Flags- while Norman’s penalty didn’t hurt the Skins (they still scored a TD on a drive that began at the Browns’ 39 instead of the Cleveland 24), there were 9 flags for 75 yards against the Skins Sunday.  Through four weeks the team’s 34 penalties are the 5th most in the NFL (although their 251 penalty yards is 13th most).  This week four came on offense (two holds, a false start and a pass interference) while four came on defense (holding, pass interference, offsides and archery) and one more coming on special teams (offsides on a Cleveland extra point).  Norman’s three flags gives him a team-high 7 for the season…while the biggest infraction remains false starts (10) followed by offensive holding (6).  None of the flags were as back-breaking as a few have been in previous weeks.  Which was the most costly penalty?  Jordan Reed’s offensive pass interference in the second quarter that turned a 3rd & 4 from the Browns’ 11 into a 2nd & 20 from the 27.  Instead of a TD, the Skins would settle for a field goal.  Here’s hoping Norman notches another INT against the Ravens and breaks out a cutlass.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 48.7 yards on his 3 punts…placing two inside the 20 yard line and getting one off in the face of full-pressure.  Dustin Hopkins nailed a 49-yard field goal.  With the recent history of the hot mess that was the kicking game, it’s nice see this unit that once imploded on a weekly basis actually help this team along.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia (3-0) had the week off and remains in the top spot, while Dallas (3-1) moves into second place with their win at San Francisco.  The Giants (in first place just two weeks ago) slip into last place after their defeat at Minnesota–for remember, the Skins hold the head to head tiebreaker.  Third place is nothing to sneeze at for a team that has finished in last place eight times from 2004-14.  The NFC East is living up to its reputation with a 10-5 composite start-best in the league.  Worst division?  A tie between the AFC South and NFC South at 6-10:  of the eight teams only Atlanta has scored more points than its allowed.  Sadly the Skins draw both North Divisions this fall.

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