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So much for the descent into disaster.  The Redskins never trailed in their 27-20 win at the Los Angeles Rams…and for a while it was cool to see the George Allen-era Skins uniforms go against the George Allen-era Rams uniforms.  Now we have to wonder if week one was the aberration or week two was the mirage.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 18 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown…the game-winner to Ryan Grant.  While less than ten yards per completion is less than ideal, Cousins was turnover free this time out and was much better on third down.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent: “The Tholian Web”, where Kirk is trapped aboard the USS Defiant as it phases into another dimension.  Perhaps the Skins’ offense is phasing into a different dimension of its own.

Running Wild- I couldn’t see too well without my glasses…was that USC’s old “Student Body Right” on display at the Coliseum?  The Skins ran for 229 yards…their highest total since last October’s win over Philadelphia (ironically also a 27-20 score).  Robert Kelley provided the thunder (until he hurt his ribs) while Chris Thompson added the lightning (106 total yards on six touches) and rookie Samaje Perine provided the rain (67 yards on a team-high 21 carries).  Nobody expects “Hogs 2.0” to sustain a ground attack that regularly surpasses 200 yards, but consistently reaching 100 would help Cousins and the air game hit their stride.

Better to Receive- at least this time Terrelle Pryor didn’t have eleven targets.  Jordan Reed led the way with six catches for 48 yards while Ryan Grant acted like it was August all over again with his 11-yard TD grab.  Jamison Crowder notched three of his four catches on third down.

Third and Something- the Skins converted 5 of 13 attempts, with Kirk Cousins completing 7 of 12 passes (5 conversions) and Perine getting stopped for no gain on their lone run.  His top target?  Chris Thompson (4 targets, 1 catch and conversion) followed by Crowder (3, 3 and 2).  Eight of the 13 passes were thrown to the short right…while three more tossed to the short middle and the touchdown came on a pass to the short left.  Distance breakdown:  2 for 2 on short-yardage, 2 for 7 on medium range (4 to 6 yards needed) and 1 for 4 in long-yardage situations.  Nine of 13 third downs are medium range or better?  I’ll take that.

Case for the Defense- I’m this close to going back to “Saved by the Bell” references as Zach Brown is producing like a powerhouse preppie.  With 10 tackles, the free agent pickup leads the team in stops for the second straight week.  Linebacker Preston Smith added a sack and two quarterback hits.  Cornerback Josh Norman forced another fumble with his well-placed punch.  Two more takeaways by the team give the Skins four on the season…tying the D for third in the NFL.

Third Down and Lockdown- even though the Rams moved the chains on 5 of 12 attempts, at least the defense didn’t get embarrassed on third and long–holding Jared Goff and LA to 0 for 7 on third and 7+ yards needed.  Bending but not breaking:  Goff completed 6 of 8 attempts but only three of those resulted in a first down (they also sacked him once).  While the Skins allowed both Todd Gurley short yardage runs to keep possessions alive, this was much better than the Philadelphia game.

Flying Flags- four penalties for 25 yards?  Who are these people!?  I’m used to Septembers where this team is committing multiple infractions on the same drive and often on the same play.   Instead– the team’s six penalties accepted over two weeks is the lowest in the league.  Two holds, a defensive hold and a neutral zone infraction were accepted Sunday (a facemask was offsetting and an ineligible downfield receiver was declined).  Jordan Reed is the early leader on the season with two flags (holding and pass interference).

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 51 yards per punt–placing both inside the 20-yard line.  Dustin Hopkins makes two of three field goal attempts, connecting from 22 and 41 yards while missing a 51-yarder.  It would be nice to have more production from the return game, but there were no major embarrassments and the coverage crew didn’t give up the big play.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia leads the NFC East via tiebreaker:  the Eagles and Dallas own 1-0 division marks to the Redskins 0-1 while Philly has the better point-differential.  The Skins are in third while the 0-2 Giants are in last…but take heart as Howie from Hoboken remembers that the 2007 team started 0-2 and won a Super Bowl.

Conference Competition- the AFC holds an early 4-3 edge in the race to 33 wins and interconference supremacy.  The AFC West (6-2) is marginally better than the NFC South (5-2) while each division has at least one 0-2 team.  A different race for #1 is underway…who’s feeling the draft?

Over the river and through the woods…to Jerry’s new house they went.  The Redskins came home on the short end of a 31-26 score.  Instead of scoreboard-watching regarding the Cowboys and New York Giants in a nip-and-tuck NFC East race, the Skins will spend the next month attempting to secure a wildcard berth (a Dallas win plus a Redskin loss over the last five weeks eliminates Washington from division title contention).  Lets get rid of the leftovers before they go bad….

First, the timing- yeah.  The Skins had to play Sunday night and then fly to Dallas for a Thursday afternoon game?  Beyond the acceptable mode of the NFL not really caring about its product here.  The biggest scheduling hose job I have ever seen in a sport that tries to maintain competitive balance whenever possible.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys played at 1pm ET–meaning they had roughly an 8-hour head-start on the Skins minus any flying because they didn’t have to travel.  Calling shenanigans.  The league could have just as easily slated major market Chicago and the New York Giants into the slot if they were worried about eyeballs.

Here Comes the Sun- what was with the glare at AT&T Stadium?  How did this slip past the attention of the architects and contractors and inspectors and the team and the league?  I can only imagine how Dustin Hopkins dealt with the glare trying to make a 55-yard kick.  At a stadium where no expense was spared, how did this glaring oversight take place?

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise went warp speed, throwing for 449 yards and three touchdowns.  There were the usual misfires on third down, but that was one sweet dial up of the deep ball on 3rd and 2 that resulted in a 67-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson.  Nine receivers caught passes and four finished with over 65 yards receiving.  The other guy just was able to produce more points.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent:  “The Menagerie”, a 2-parter where Kirk’s former Captain Christopher Pike is kidnapped by Spock so unused footage from the series pilot can see the light of day.  One of the best shows, even if Kirk got a little upstaged.

Running Aground- just a few days after erupting for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns, Robert Kelley came back to earth with a 37 yard performance on 14 carries.  While one doesn’t expect the Packers game every week, 50-60 yards from your lead back would be nice.  If you pass 53 times and run just 19 times against the Cowboys, odds are you might come up short.

Receiver Rotation- this time it was DeSean Jackson’s turn to be the deep threat, grabbing 4 catches for 118 yards.  Jordan Reed tallied 10 more grabs while Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis and Pierre Garcon each made contributions.  As disappointing a day that it was for the ground game, the air attack was in gear bigtime.

Third and Mixed- the team moved the chains on 8 of 15 third downs…with Kirk Cousins completing 9 of 12 throws for 5 conversions.  Believe it or not, they ran the ball on 3 of 6 third and shorts…and converted on each running play!  The top target was a tie between Jordan Reed (3 with 2 catches and 2 conversions) and Jamison Crowder (3 with 2 receptions) while “short-left” was the #1 area of exploitation (6 targets, 3 catches and 1 conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  5-6 on third and short, 1-2 on third and medium, 2-7 on third and long.  That two of the non-conversions came inside the Dallas 10-yard line leaves the red zone offense once again a little red-faced.

The Defense Rests after being really accommodating-  we know the Skins D will not become the 2000 Ravens even if we click our ruby purple slippers three times.  And they held the Cowboys at bay for much of the day.  But when they needed a stop down 17-12 in the fourth quarter they allowed Dallas to drive 75 yards on 7 plays and keep the game at arm’s reach.  They allowed Dak Prescott to complete over 70% of his passes while sacking the rookie just once…and coughed up over five yards per carry.  After 11 weeks, this defense has the distinction of ranking 25th against the run, 25th against the pass and 25th overall.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made 2 of 4 field goals…missing from 43 and 55 yards.  After making 15 of 16 to start the season, he’s converted 10 of 15 over the last five weeks.  And while I haven’t lost confidence in the kicker, one never knows what goes through a placekicker’s mind.

Flying Flags- what is this?  A season-low 3 penalties for 30 yards?  Both offensive infractions were against Ty Nsekhe (hold, false start) and the defensive whistle came against Donte Whitner (unnecessary roughness).  About those false starts- the Skins now have 19 on the season, or second most in the league.  The most costly flag?  In the second quarter when Nsekhe was whistled for the hold on 2nd and 13…turning a 3rd and 13 into a 2nd and 23.  Dustin Hopkins would miss a 43-yard field goal attempt a few plays later.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas (10-1) not only owns the top spot in the NFC East, but also has a two and a half game lead for the #1 seed in the conference.  The New York Giants 27-13 win over Cleveland makes them the least-inspiring 8-3 team ever, but one that holds down second place in the division but the first wildcard.  The Redskins at 6-4-1 are in third place and are clinging to the final playoff spot by half a game over Tampa Bay and Minnesota.  Philadelphia?  After losing on Monday night to Green Bay the Eagles are 5-6 and in last place of the NFC East…and 11th place in the conference.

The NFC Beast- Philly’s loss to the Packers robs the division of a 30-13-1 record through 11 weeks, which would have simply been awesome.  But 29-15-1 isn’t too bad either, just a little better than the AFC West’s 29-15.  The AFC North remains the dumpster fire of divisions with a 13-27-1 mark…as now Cincinnati (three straight losses since their bye week) is doing their best to keep Cleveland (even worse than their 0-12 mark would suggest) company.  The Browns didn’t give up their #1 for Griffin, did they?

 

There’s nothing more amusing in the NFL than when two teams tie and everybody freaks out like it’s the end of the world.  Instead of focusing on how both teams had to play at 9:30AM ET after making a seven-hour flight a few days before, the mantra “ties are stupid” gets spewed all over the place.  Instead of wondering if it’s fair that a team loses a home game so the NFL can “grow overseas”, we get the hot take “ties suck, man”.  Instead of worrying about the wreckage that is Thursday Night Football (underprepared and overworked players make for great football), we have to make overtime more equitable.  Last Sunday’s tie between Arizona and Seattle would have been a 6-3 Cardinals win had they been using the old rules…so you can thank the league for that one.  Both the Bengals and Redskins had opportunities to win in regulation and in overtime (missed extra points, anyone?).  The league can’t make field goals for the Burgundy and Gold…just like they can’t force Cincinnati to stop committing idiotic penalties.  Sometimes there are games so well-played that neither team deserves to lose…just like sometimes there are games so poorly played that neither team deserves to win.  If you are that hell-bent on a winner, award one “action point” for whichever team gains more yards in the extra session.  And let that stand.  Until then, I’m cool with ties.  Especially paisley ones…

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 458 yards and two touchdowns.  He also did his best to distribute the ball fairly…finding seven different receivers on the afternoon.  He’d like the interception back, but just like his Trek counterpart you have to take the overzealous mistakes with the energy of his leadership.  A deep pass like the one intended for Jackson when picked off is basically a punt…and didn’t come back to haunt his team.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “Assignment Earth”- where the Enterprise travels back to 1968 and has to figure out if an alien named “Gary Seven” is working to destroy the earth or save it.  Just like the tie gives no resolution…this episode provides intriguing setup only to end ambiguously.

Robbing a Starting Job- Robert Kelley started in place of an injured Matt Jones (the report said bruised knee, I want to say it was fumble-itis)…and ran 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown.  Does this mean Mr. Jones’ days are numbered as the #1 option?  I’ll try not to fumble in my response…

Crowding the Receiving Corps- while much of the attention is focused on DeSean Jackson’s ability to stretch the field and Pierre Garcon’s knack for moving the chains, Jamison Crowder led the Skins with 107 receiving yards on 9 catches.  With 40 receptions at midseason, the second-year player is on pace to shatter his rookie totals (59 for 604).

Tight End Extravaganza- Jordan Reed returns to perform in the role of “Kirk Cousins’ security blanket” with 9 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.  Lost in the shuffle is the resurgence of veteran Vernon Davis- 5 grabs for 93 yards.  Even in a limited role, Davis is on pace to post his most productive season since 2013.

Third and Fading- the Skins moved the chains on 8 of 17 opportunities…but after going 4-4 in the first quarter had issues extending drives as the game progressed (just 2-7 after halftime).  Cousins completed 11 of 15 throws for 7 conversions…while the team was 1-2 running the ball on the money down.  His top target?  Reed had four catches with two conversions while Crowder had a pair of receptions in his four targets with one conversion.  Before getting hurt, DeSean Jackson had two catches on three targets, moving the chains twice.  Six of Cousins’ passes were thrown short left (five catches and two conversions)…while four were thrown short and to the right (all four catches moving the marker).  Yardage breakdown?  Third and short saw the Skins go 3 for 4, third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed) saw the team convert 3 of 4 chances, and third and long was a predictable 2 for 9.

Grading the D- a little of this and that on an afternoon where AJ Green seemed to be on a different speed than the Skins secondary.  They were able to sack Andy Dalton three times and tallied two turnovers.  Will Compton led the way with 10 tackles.  At midseason, the unit ranks 16th against the pass, 26th against the run and 22nd overall while allowing the 18th fewest points per game.

Flying flags- Fifteen penalties. 15. XV.  Not ideal…as the total pushes the season-long tally to 66 (second most in the league, behind Oakland in the biggest non-surprise ever).  Five penalties were offensive (including two false starts to give the Skins 15 on the season-tied for most in the league), nine were defensive (including three illegal use of the hands by Josh Norman- giving him five on the year and a team-high ten flags this fall) and one came on special teams (holding, Martell Spaight).  Bashad Breeland after getting flagged just twice over the first seven weeks had a defensive hold and two facemask fouls against the Bengals.  Thank goodness Cincinnati had seven penalties of their own- the most idiotic the ignoring of a fair catch in overtime that helped jumpstart a Skins drive.  The most costly penalties?  Ziggy Hood’s defensive hold in the third quarter turned a 2nd & 5 from the 7 into a 1st and goal from the 3 (the Bengals would score soon thereafter)…while Brandon Scherff’s hold in overtime turned a 2nd & 8 from the 17 into a 1st & 20 from the 29.  Actually, it would have been 1st & 15 from the 24 because of Robert Kelley’s illegal shift. Yes– it was one of those days…

Kicking Themselves- two missed field goals will haunt Dustin Hopkins during the bye week…especially the 34-yarder he booted wide left in OT.  Analysts point to a high snap as the cause.  The Skins also averaged under 20 yards on kickoff returns…while Jamison Crowder ripped off a 23-yard punt return.  Tress Way averaged 42.7 yards over three punts…while dropping one inside the 20.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas (6-1) after their overtime win over Philadelphia find themselves not only atop the NFC East, but in the #1 spot of the entire NFC.  The Giants (4-3) made a rare two-spot bye week upgrade;  while enjoying their post-London naps Eli Manning and company jumped from fourth in the division to second (and sixth in the conference).  The division record tiebreaker puts Philadelphia in third place (and seventh in the NFC).  The 4-3-1 Redskins?  Eighth overall in the conference…and all alone in last place of the NFC East for the first time since week three.  Hello darkness, my old friend…

West is Best- as in the AFC West.  A 3-1 week means the Broncos and company are 20-11 …a whisker better than the NFC East (for those grading at home, .645 to .638) and it’s record of 18-10-1.  The AFC North despite its tie remains the worst of the quartets at 10-19-1.

Sunday’s 27-20 win over Philadelphia may appear to be a one-touchdown affair, but when looking under the scoreboard it feels like the most complete victory during the Jay Gruden era.  The afternoon had more than a few odd twists and turns…from Philly running one play over a 75-minute stretch of real-time to the Skins allowing 2 long returns (one on an interception, the other on a kickoff).  Drink the 4-2 Kool-Aid…OH YEAH! 

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise completed 10 of his first 13 throws… but his biggest play early was his nine-yard scramble on a 3rd & 7 that moved the chains deep in Skins territory and jump started a touchdown drive.  There was the ill-advised throw that resulted in the pick-six…and he did complete just 8 of his final 21 throws.  But for the fourth straight week Cousins led his team to victory…and for the second time in that stretch notched a division win.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “The Conscience of the King”- a traveling Shakespeare troupe may be harboring a former dictator who ordered a planetary genocide.  And Kirk is one of two people who can identify him.

Triple Back Attack- the firm of Jones, Thompson & Kelley were open for business again as the team gained a season-high 230 yards on the ground.  Matt Jones led the way with 135 yards…and had two key runs:  his 1-yard TD run left on 3rd & goal from to give the team a lead they’d never relinquish at the end of the first half and his 57-yard scamper in the fourth quarter to effectively end the afternoon.  Chris Thompson (37 yards rushing and 3 catches) helped fill in some of the blanks while Robert Kelley (59 yards rushing including a 45-yard gain) is beginning to find himself as an NFL back.  One doesn’t expect 200+ yards regularly, but if the power trio can generate a consistent threat then Kirk Cousins will have even better looks downfield.

Hold the Line- 230 yards rushing and no sacks allowed.  Sounds like we need to give game balls out to the starting five up front.  Nice job negating a defense that entered the day ranked 2nd in the NFL.

These Jordanaires can Sing, too- minus Jordan Reed the receiving corps responded with solid efforts from Pierre Garcon (6 catches for 77 yards), Jermaine Crowder (17 yards per catch and a TD) and Vernon Davis (one TD catch, one sweet sideline grab and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty).  DeSean Jackson added 5 catches and with multiple early touches had no complaints about the gameplan.

Third and Encouraging- the Skins moved the chains on 7 of 13 attempts… including 5 of 7 in the first half.  Cousins completed 5 of 10 passes on the money down…with two additional attempts wiped out because of defensive penalties that resulted in first downs for the Skins.  The top target?  Pierre Garcon (5 passes thrown to, two catches and three conversions (a defensive pass interference call moving the chains as well).  Accounting for the Cousins scramble and penalties 13 of the 15 third down calls were passes…with both of Matt Jones’ previously mentioned runs on third down getting the job done.  Yardage breakdown:  1-for-3 on third and short (both misses coming by passing the ball), 2-for-2 on third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed), 4-for-8 on third and long.  The one issue would be that it’s not ideal to have 8 of your 13 third downs (9 of 15 including the two penalties) needing 7+ yards to move the chains.

The Joy of Sacks- two sacks on the first Eagles possession set the tone…as Carson Wentz (11-22-179 yards and no touchdowns) looked less like the rookie that lit up the league in September and more like the kid who locked himself in a gas station bathroom during the offseason.  In addition to a pair of sacks, Ryan Kerrigan tallied four quarterback hurries.  The pass rush put the exclamation point on the afternoon with back-to-back sacks on the 2nd and 3rd downs of Philly’s final possession…forcing a punt on 4th and 24.

D earns an A- the defense also held the Eagles to 4-12 on third down.  After allowing nearly 60% conversions over the first four weeks the Skins have gotten off the field on 20 of 27 money downs the last two games.  During the four game winning streak, they’ve allowed 15 total points (all field goals).

Special Situations- Tress Way flipped the field, averaging 53 yards per punt (40 net) while Dustin Hopkins nailed 2 field goals…including a 50-yarder that made the game a two-possession affair in the fourth quarter.  The kickoff return for a touchdown wasn’t ideal but can be rationalized.  There were no game-changing returns…but there were no return gaffes either. 

Flying Flags- nine penalties for 75 yards wasn’t as bad as the Eagles 13 for 114, but still far from ideal.  Six on offense (two holds, a false start, illegal block to the back, unsportsmanlike conduct and delay of game), two on defense (neutral zone infraction, illegal use of the hands) and one on special teams (illegal block to the back).  Most costly?  Vernon Davis’ unsportsmanlike penalty call for shooting a fadeaway jumper at the crossbar moved the kickoff from the 35-yard line to the 20.  Philly would return the kick 86 yards for a TD.  The ball reaches the endzone for a potential touchback otherwise.  There was also a sequence where the Skins followed up an illegal block penalty on a punt return with a hold on 1st down.  Instead of a 1st and 10 from their 33…they had to dig themselves out of a 1st and 20 from the 13-yard line crater (they’d wind up punting).  Least costly flag?  Cousins’ delay of game that burned time off the clock before his kneeldown in the fourth quarter.  We’ll accept that one…

Dissecting the Division- to have said in August that Dallas would start 5-1 wouldn’t have been much of a stretch.  But to have said the Cowboys would be in that spot atop the NFC East minus Tony Romo would be something completely different.  Five straight wins for Jason Garrett’s team also has Big D in the #2 seed of the NFC…behind unbeaten Minnesota. The Redskins at 4-2 own second place by half a game…and are 5th in the NFC (meaning we can start thinking about printing those Wildcard banners).  Philadelphia’s third in the division and 7th in the conference standings…losing the NFC record tiebreaker to Green Bay.  The New York Giants remain in last place…but their win Sunday means that all four NFC East teams are .500 or better.

SEC of the NFL?- last year the division resembled the Sun Belt Conference a little more…but this year the quartet is off to a 15-8 composite record (easily the best in the league).  Division of depression?  Would you believe the highly-touted AFC North is off to a 9-15 start?  Actually it makes sense because they’re the division lined up with the NFC East for interconference play.  And they have the steaming pile that is the Cleveland Browns among their number.

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.