Archives for posts with tag: Josh Norman

Remember last year when the Redskins went to Seattle with an offensive line held together by duct tape and paper clips, only to bring back a victory from Puget Sound?  Well this past weekend the Burgundy and Gold used rubber bands and masking tape to keep the line semi-solid in a 16-3 win by Tampa Bay.  Instead of losing a second straight game to a fellow future wildcard contender, the Skins are two games clear of a muddled NFC East and are off to their best start in ten years (we won’t mention who was coaching the Maroon and Black that autumn).  This has the feel of 2012 and 2015 all over again:  a first-year starting quarterback at Fed Ex Field exceeding expectations amidst a division ripe for the taking.  Enjoy the ascent, because if there’s anything we’ve learned from 2012 and 2015 it’s that 2013 and 2016 are distinct possibilities.

Turnovers Told the Tale- four takeaways helped keep the Buccaneers out of the end zone.  Josh  Norman’s interception at the goal line on the first drive of the day set the tone.  Greg Stroman’s interception led to the team’s final points of the afternoon.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s fumble recovery in the end zone ended another Bucs drive into the red zone.  And Ryan Kerrigan’s fumble recovery inside the ten ended Tampa Bays’ last best chance to rally.  And the Skins did not turn the ball over at all.  The team now ranks third in the league at +11 in turnover margin, and they needed every one Sunday to prevail.

Mr. Smith Goes to Consistency- for the third time in four weeks Alex Smith threw for exactly 178 yards.  The Skins won all three of those games…and are 5-0 when he throws for under 250 yards (1-3 when he crosses the 21st century marker for “productive passer”).  If he throws for exactly 178 yards against Houston, we’ll know the fix is in.

Cousins Comparison- Kirk and company had a bye this past week, but I took my bye last week (writing back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back college basketball previews for WTOP.COM) so let’s revisit how the former Franchise Tagged one fared:  18-22 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the Vikings’ 24-9 win over Detroit.  Minnesota is 5-3-1 and in second place of the NFC North, currently owning the second wildcard.  Cousins for the season owns a passer rating of 102.2 (9th best in the league) while Alex Smith is at 90.7 after nine games (21st in the NFL).

Peterson Provides Production- he didn’t gain 100 yards, but the Skins main threat on the ground rushed for 68 yards–including two first down scampers in third and short situations.  His 672 yards through nine games is already more than his numbers from the last two years (and three teams) combined over 13 games played.

Catching On- Maurice Harris led the team with 5 catches for 52 yards, following up his 10 reception effort against Atlanta.  With 26 catches this fall, the third-year pro has already more than doubled his career numbers.  Not bad for a fringe roster player.

Third and Two Halves- the Skins went 0-for-4 on the money down in the first half and 5-for-9 after intermission.  Alex Smith completed 5-of-8 passes while getting sacked once, moving the chains twice.  The running game moved the marker on 3-of-4 plays (Peterson twice and Kapri Bibbs once).  Smith’s top target?  Maurice Harris and Josh Doctson each notched a pair of catches on two targets–each moving the chains once (Doctson’s grab was for a touchdown).  Yardage breakdown:  2-for-2 on short-yardage, 1-for-5 on intermediate (4 to 6 yards needed) and 2-for-6 on long-yardage.  Almost 50% of the third downs needed seven or more yards-less than ideal.

D gets a pass- so they gave up 501 yards…but when it mattered they stopped the Buccaneers shy of the end zone each time.  Mason Foster led the way with 10 tackles while Preston Smith and Matt Ioannidis notched sacks.  Plenty to be happy with, but also plenty to work on moving forward.

Extra Special Teams- Dustin Hopkins nailed his three field goal attempts (unlike his Tampa Bay counterpart Chandler Catanzaro who missed two of three and was cut) with a long of 43 yards.  Tress Way averaged 49.4 yards per punt, but that merely graces the surface.  Four of his five landed inside the Bucs’ 20 with Way’s three second-half kicks landing at the four-, six- and 13-yard line.

Flying Flags- eight infractions for 52 yards gives the team 64 for 624 yards (9th and 4th most in the NFL). Of the five on the offense, two were false starts while the other three were holds (the Skins 21 holds this year are the most in the league).  Morgan Moses had one of each while recent pickup Jonathan Cooper had a pair of holds.  The two defensive penalties (neutral zone infraction and a hold) came in the fourth quarter and were luckily wiped out by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s third turnover of the day.  The special teams’ flag was an illegal formation on a kickoff.  Costliest penalty?  Those two that kept the Bucs’ late drive alive.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins own a two-game lead in the NFC East and due to conference record would be the fourth seed “if the playoffs began today”, which they obviously do not.  Dallas (4-5) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia thanks to Sunday night’s win and is in 10th place of the conference–the Eagles holding down 11th.  The New York Giants may be in last place of the division but depart the conference basement with their Monday night victory in San Francisco.

NFC East no Longer Least- despite the worst winning percentage (.444) of the league’s eight quartets, the Skins’ division after a 3-1 week at least moves into lock-step with the NFC West (17-21) and AFC East (18-22).  The NFC South (21-15) continues to be the best bunch, even with a 1-3 week that saw Tampa Bay squander 501 yards of offense, Atlanta lose to Cleveland and Carolina get crushed by Pittsburgh.  The Interconference Contest (that means absolutely nothing) is also tied at 22 wins apiece.

 

So–you’re telling me the Redskins needed two weeks to come up with what we saw Monday night?  Sadly the Skins in their 43-19 loss to New Orleans showed more pretender than contender…2-2 for the seventh time in ten years.  This wasn’t just a loss, this was a dismal defeat and an exposing exhibition.  Instead of taking control of what appears to be a sagging NFC East, the Burgundy and Gold keep the hopes of Cowboys and Eagles fans alive.  Giants fans–2020 is going to be great.  Meanwhile, Drew Brees carved up the defense like a beignet to the tune of a video game on cheat mode 26 of 29 passes while passing Peyton Manning’s career mark for passing yards.

Not Ready For Prime Time Again- the Skins drop to 1-7 on Monday Night Football under coach Jay Gruden, with the only victory coming in 2014 at eventual NFC East Champ Dallas.  With Colt McCoy at the controls.  Perhaps the Redskins should make him their designated MNF starter.

Mr. Smith Goes to .500- Alex completed 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and an interception while getting sacked three times.  Number 11 did score the team’s first touchdown late in the first half…but looked shaky throughout the night.

Kirk in Exile- Cousins helped lead Minnesota to a 23-21 win at Philadelphia in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship, albeit with different starting quarterbacks.  Kirk completed 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.  And unlike the game at the Los Angeles Rams, there were no defeat-sealing fumbles.  Cousins after five games has a passer rating of 105.1 (7th best in the NFL) to Smith’s 92.9 (20th).

Running on Empty- I guess an even-numbered game means the Skins will have trouble on the ground:  a season-low 39 yards on 18 carries.  Adrian Peterson gained 6 yards on 4 tries while injuring his shoulder.  Granted, they trailed from the end of the Saints’ first drive.  It’s tough to establish the run when being forced into playing catch-up.

Third and Longer- the offense converted 4 of 13 third downs…passing on every play.  Alex Smith completed 6 of 12 passes (for 4 conversions) while getting sacked once.  His top target was Jamison Crowder (one catch in 3 attempts) while Chris Thompson tallied 2 receptions (and one conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  1-3 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-2 on third and medium (4-6 yards) and 2-8 on third and long (7+).  It’s tough to move the chains when over 60% of your opportunities are long-distance.

D earns an F- so much for the new look defense that shined in September.  The Skins allowed touchdowns the first four times the Saints had the ball…and New Orleans had possession for the final 10:25 of the night.  The secondary suffered multiple breakdowns, and cornerback Josh Norman was benched for a series in the third quarter made memorable when Drew Brees burned rookie Greg Stroman.  What’s nice is that Ryan Kerrigan posted his first sack of the season.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 38 yards.  Four on the defense and two on special teams.  No multiple offenders this time–although there were a pair of defensive holds and a hold on a punt return.  The most costly flag?  Down 6-3 the Skins got a third down sack of Drew Brees-but Montae Nicholson gets whistled for unnecessary roughness.  Instead of a 4th and 16 from the New Orleans 41, Brees and company get a 1st and 10 from the Washington 44.  They’d score six plays later for the first double-digit lead of the day.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made both of his field goal attempts and Tress Way averaged 36.7 yards over three punts.

Dissecting the Division- even with the loss the Skins remain on top of the NFC East.  Dallas, Philadelphia and the NY Giants each lost one-possession games Sunday.  The 2-3 Cowboys enjoy the division record tiebreaker over the Eagles while the 1-4 Giants currently occupy last place in the East and in the entire NFC.

NFC Least- the Skins are atop the only division that doesn’t have at least one team with a winning record.  the 7-12 mark held by the East is the worst in football–while the AFC North is the best at 11-7-2 (but only 9-5-1 without the help of Cleveland).  The NFL is a snapshot league, but this has the feel of 2015 when a 9-7 record could win it all over again.  Meaning a team that loses a lot of games will win the division–and the Skins could easily be that team.

They don’t give out banners for finishing 8-8.  And they don’t even have last year’s “first place schedule” to hide behind…although the first ten games were a brutal gauntlet.  And the Redskins are going to finish out of contention for the fourteenth time in eighteen years this century.  But coach Jay Gruden’s team can salvage some dignity by finishing .500- it would give them a non-losing record for a third straight year (longest streak since…1999-2001).  And it would give the team a 25-22-1 mark over his last three seasons.  So even though Sunday’s 20-15 win over Arizona only affected the Cardinals’ playoff hopes, it was necessary for the Skins to end their slide and get in position to be in position to scrape their way back to .500.  With last-place Denver and last-place New York on the horizon, the avenue to 8-8 is there.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 18 of 26 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns while getting sacked just once.  A passer rating over 100 for the sixth time this year.  No fumbles were lost…but the offense only had two solid drives on the day.  Thank goodness the Cardinals were even more offensively challenged.  Episode Equivalent:  “Operation Annihilate!”- where flying amoebas attack the landing party and one attaches itself to Spock.

Running in Reverse- one of the reasons why this year pales compared to the last two for Cousins production-wise.  Thirty-one yards on 20 carries…with Samaje Perine (14 carries for 37 yards) being held to under 50 yards for the third straight week despite being the main ball-carrier.  Will this be addressed in the offseason with a band-aid or a big-time prospect?

Chilly Receptions- Jamison Crowder led the way with 5 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown, giving him 59 for 717 on the season.  Great for a #3 option.  Which sadly this year he is not.  The duo of Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have combined for 640 yards on 49 catches–and even though Pryor has been on the shelf for a while this is still not good.

Third Downers- how about 1-for-9?  Cousins completed 3-of-6 passes for the lone conversion (to Crowder his top option with three targets and two catches), while getting sacked once and scrambling short of the marker once. Their lone run came on a 3rd & 8.  Yardage Breakdown:  1-for-5 on third and medium and 0-for-4 on third and long (7+ yards needed.  Meaning yes, they didn’t face a third and short.  One of the many reasons why this team is fighting for 8-8 and not a playoff berth.

Zach Rules- okay, so Zach Brown didn’t play.  But Zach Virgil did the Bayside faithful proud with 8 tackles which tied for the team lead.  More importantly, the defense kept the Cardinals out of the end zone and got off of the field on 15 of 19 third downs.  Preston Smith notched a fumble recovery which set up the Skins’ first TD and an interception in the red zone.  Easily the best Sunday for a Preston since I crushed 20 wings (13 drums and 7 flats) at the Rhino circa 2006.

Kicking Game and Screaming- tough to get past the missed kickoff in the second half.  Not acceptable.  Still Tress Way averaged over 53 yards per punt and Dustin Hopkins made both field goals (long of 32 yards).  So there’s that.

Flying Flags- seven penalties for 82 yards.  Three on offense (two false starts and a hold), three on defense (pair of PI’s and an unsportsmanlike conduct) and a special teams infraction (leveraging).  Holds and false starts (16) are now the most common offensive fouls, while pass interference (7) is the most common defensive whistle.  Most costly?  a while Josh Norman’s PI in the second quarter set up a Cardinals field goal, Kendall Fuller’s PI with under a minute left put the ball on the Washington 21…and gave Arizona another chance to steal a victory in Landover.

Dissecting the Division-  Philadelphia (12-2) has locked up a first round bye and needs just a Vikings loss to wrap up home field in the NFC.  Dallas (8-6) is assured of second place in the division thanks to their win over Oakland and is currently in ninth place of the conference–meaning they need to leapfrog three teams to make the playoffs.  Two wins plus 0-2 finishes from two of the three NFC South contenders (Atlanta-Carolina-New Orleans) plus Detroit and Seattle each losing once will do the trick.   The Redskins (6-8) are assured of third place, meaning that for the first time since 2001-03 they won’t finish in last for three straight seasons.  The New York Giants can still finish out of the NFC cellar by winning two straight and Chicago wrapping up their year with two more defeats.

Conference Call plus the Mouth of the South-  the NFC leads the AFC 36-22 with six games remaining–and it isn’t even that close.  The NFC South owns the best mark at 33-23 while the AFC North brings up the rear at 23-33 (Browns are responsible for 14 of those losses).  The NFC East is 28-28…tied for fifth with the NFC West.

Elimination Island- Green Bay was bounced from contention with their loss to Carolina plus Atlanta’s win on Monday night.  Other hopes terminated along with Arizona’s (thanks to their loss to the Redskins):  Green Bay and Cincinnati.  Tennessee’s loss to San Francisco keeps Miami and Oakland hanging by a thread.

It was going to happen eventually.  We heard echoes of an attempt after the win over Minnesota…and I’m sure the heirs of Frankie Ford would have had issue with Kirk Cousins’ “ooheee!” and its similarity to “Sea Cruise”.  Look it up on Youtube, kids. Instead Cousins throws for 375 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Green bay…and goes all Toby Keith on GM Scott McCloughan.  “How do you like me now?”–I’m sure he wasn’t referring to concert the two of them attended; instead it’s an opening shot for the upcoming contract negotiations.  Regardless…we have our new catch-phrase.  Just like “AAAyy” gave way to “Sit on It”.  Hopefully there won’t be a “Wah Wah Wah” next year…

 

Captain Kirk- this is the episode many doubted could happen and others hoped would be possible.  A prime-time, national TV performance against a playoff team (despite the Packers 4-6 start, they were a postseason player last January).  Outgunning Aaron Rodgers.  A victory for the Burgundy and Gold at Fed Ex Field.  This is Exhibit A when Kirk goes into Starfleet for offseason negotiations.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent: “Amok Time”- Kirk has to divert the Enterprise to the planet Vulcan because Spock is experiencing a deadly 7-year cycle.  Once there, a native ritual turns into a fight to the death.  Great episode…watchable anytime.

Robert-not Gene-Kelley- one reason why a Spock-centric episode was picked for Kirk’s evaluation this week was the emergence of Cousins’ supporting player.  The rookie from Tulane rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns…as his breakaway run in the fourth quarter all but sealed the victory.  Unlike his non-relative Gene, this Kelley does not dance.  He plods and fights and searches for that extra yard.  More importantly, he doesn’t fumble (fingers crossed).  The Skins have found their necessary compliment to an air attack that only appears to be scratching the surface.

Better to Receive- and what a crew of pass-catchers.  Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder each took turns burning the Packer secondary Sunday night…Garcon finishing with 6 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown while Crowder notched 102 yards on 3 receptions.  Meanwhile, Jordan Reed provided the matchup nightmare he always does and DeSean Jackson was the team’s top target on third down.

Third and Awesome- tough to think otherwise after the team converts 9 of 14 on the money down…8-12 through the air and 1-2 on the ground.  Cousins completed 8 of 10 passes while getting sacked twice…and all 8 of his completions moved the chains.  Jackson had two catches in his three targets, while Reed and Crowder also had two receptions/conversions.  Yardage breakdown:  3 for 4 on third and short (less than 4 yards needed), 4 for 6 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 2 for 4 on third and long (7+).  And 71% of third downs needed 6 yards or fewer…that is awesome.

Case for the Defense- so they didn’t shut out the Packers.  And defensive back Donte Whitner led the team in tackles (a pet peeve of mine) with 10 stops.  But they forced three 3-and-outs to start the game and finished it with takeaways on the final two Green Bay possessions of the night. In a league where nobody stops anybody for sixty minutes, sometimes just enough is just enough.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 40 yards…a far cry from the first month of the season when it fans were seeing yellow.  Two on offense (delay of game and a false start) and four on defense (two delays of game, a roughing the passer and an illegal use of the hands).  The top culprit?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands and delay of game give the cornerback seven on the season…still four shy of Josh Norman’s team lead (he padded his total with a delay of game).  Where would we be without another false start?  The total of 18 on the season is the fourth-most in the NFL.  After eleven weeks the Redskins do lead the league with seven illegal use of the hands.  Most costly penalty?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands turned a Redskins ball at their own 38 into a 1st and 10 for the Packers at the Washington 33.  Green Bay would score a TD on that drive.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas continues to win-this time 27-17 over the Ravens, and at 9-1 the Cowboys continue to lead the NFC East as well as hold down the conference’s #1 seed. The New York Giants’ 22-16 win over Chicago proves that Eli Manning and company are the least-enjoyable 7-3 team in league history…still in second place of the division and the #1 Wildcard in the NFC.  The Redskins remain in third place at 6-3-1 and occupy the final playoff spot in the conference…while Philadelphia’s 26-15 loss at Seattle drops the Eagles to .500, fourth place, and ninth in the NFC.

The NFC East Beast- a 3-1 week means the division is now 27-12-1… a far cry from last year’s monstrosity.  The only other quartet that’s close is the AFC West that’s 26-14.  Worst division?  The AFC North is dragged down by Cleveland’s 0-11, but even without the Browns they’d be sub-.500 at 13-16-1.

 

 

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.

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.

Can’t trust that night.  Monday, Monday…gives the Skins a fright.  I’ll give the estate of John Phillips a reprieve by not going through an entire set of lyrics that focuses on the Monday night misery experienced by the Burgundy and Gold over the years.  But let the record show that this team is 2-15 in Monday night games at Fed Ex Field.  Not ideal by any stretch of the imagination…and instead of being able to celebrate the raising of the 2015 NFC East banner (okay, so there wasn’t really a ceremony) the Skins wake up 0-1 with more questions than answers.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise-Tagged one completed 30 of 43 passes…but many were in check-down mode.  Instead of stretching the field or challenging the Steeler secondary, we saw the classic short stuff that pads the stats while infuriating the faithful at the same exact time.  The Original Series episode most resembling Cousins’ week one performance?  “Gamesters of Triskelion”, where they do gladiator stuff and the episode at first glance appears to be better than it actually is.

The Tragedy of Robert III- well, fans of a Stuartesque restoration on the shores of Lake Erie were given a rude awakening.  They saw the former face of the Redskins franchise complete 12 of 26 passes for 190 yards and an interception against a Philadelphia defense that ranked 28th in the league against the pass last year.  Unfortunately as has been the case with the House of Griffin, the phrase “adding injury to insult” isn’t just cute wordplay–it’s reality.  RG3 broke a bone in his non-throwing shoulder taking a hit against the Eagles.  Instead of focusing on if he’d keep his starting job by the time the Browns came to Fed Ex Field, Robert III is headed to IR with no return in sight until Halloween…if then.  “A shoulder! A shoulder!  My kingdom for a shoulder!”

Running aground- Fifty-five yards on just twelve carries!  No runs on third and short or any third down at all!  If Alfred Morris were still here, he’d be like Zack Morris wondering why the latest episode had no scenes at the Max.  Matt Jones gained 24 yards on 7 carries and reportedly made the wrong read on an early 4-yard loss.  The second-year pro has the central casting look of an NFL runningback, but is not proving himself so far this season.  Plan B is the oft-injured Chris Thompson.  Can they bring back Wilbur Jackson?

Rating the Receivers- everybody got fed Monday night, with the firm of Reed, Garcon & Jackson combining for 19 catches.  DeSean Jackson showed why he’s a game-breaker with a 33-yard grab standing out in his 6 reception, 102 yard performance.  Jermaine Crowder even got into the act as a junior associate with 6 catches.  Problem was, Jackson was the only receiver to catch more than one pass and average more than 10 yards per reception. 

Third and Checkdown Time- the good news is Kirk Cousins completed 7 of 10 passes on the money down.  The bad news is that all 7 were of the short variety…and only 3 saw the receiver reach the magic marker.  Jordan Reed was the security blanket, catching all 4 passes thrown his way for 36 yards and one conversion.  All ten third down attempts were pass plays…with Kirk & company converting 1 of 2 short-yardage (1 to 3 yards needed) plays, 0-2 mid-yardage (4 to 6 needed) and 2 of 6 long-yardage (7+) situations.  That over half of your third downs were long yardage says a lot about the offense’s inability to do the right thing on first and second downs.

Getting gashed- last year the Skins ranked 26th in the league in stopping the run and allowed a 2nd-worst in the NFL 4.8 yards per carry.  Monday saw more of the same with DeAngelo Williams ripping off 143 yards on 26 carries.  Much was made on social media of the Steeler runningback leaving a 75-cent tip at Ledo’s Pizza over the weekend.  Let the record show that it is not cool to stiff your waitstaff…but it is also not cool for a server to make a tip (or lack thereof) public.  After further examination, it was revealed that not only was the server fired but that Williams ordered salads and pasta.  At Ledo’s Pizza.  He probably also gets the Western Omelet at IHOP…

Mason Nation- major shout-out to linebacker Mason Foster, who can order the oatmeal at IHOP for all I care after tallying 14 tackles against the Steelers.  Or the Chicken Christopher at Mortons.  Or the hamburger at Union Oyster House.

Situation Norman- thank goodness they brought in Josh Norman to cover the likes of the Antonio Browns of the NFL.  Except for Monday night…when Brown tore through the Redskin secondary like a blowtorch through butter to the tune of 8 catches for 126 yards, two touchdowns and one massive endzone gyration that merited not just a penalty but a spot on “Dancing With the Stars”.  While it was uncomfortable watching Bashaud Breeland get turned inside out (he did make an early interception while tallying 9 tackles), with every catch one thought “where was Josh?”.  Especially when the $75 million dollar price tag and FOX pregame segments are involved.  The team threw out the “scheme” talk of Norman taking one side of the field…much like if the Nationals only had closer Mark Melancon pitch to right-handers.  While it’s not like this is a defense that doesn’t have a slew of potential leaks, but not to make the adjustment seems short-sighted.  One cannot wait to see where Dez Bryant lines up in week two…

Flying Flags- nine penalties for 55 yards…with two on special teams and seven on offense.  Five false starts (wondering what sort of drills we’ll see in Ashburn this week) and two holds.  Kory Lichtensteiger was flagged for two false starts while Trent Williams was tagged for a false start and a hold.  Most costly penalty?  Actually the sequence that saw a Vernon Davis hold wipe out a 10-yard Matt Jones run…turning a 1st & 10 at the Pittsburgh 32 into a 1st & 20 at the Washington 48.  Tack on a Trent Williams false start before the next snap and the Skins were 1st & 25 at their own 43.  They’d wind up turning the ball over on downs…missing the marker by one yard after coughing up 15 via infractions.  Pittsburgh would take the ball 67 yards on 14 plays to score just before halftime and the Skins would never be within a touchdown again.

Dissecting the Division- so Philadelphia and the New York Giants, despite making coaching changes, stand atop the NFC East?  The Giants 20-19 win over Dallas gives them the divisional record (1-0) tiebreaker and first place in the standings this week.  Philadelphia’s win over Division III Cleveland (I still believe they don’t give out scholarships with the Browns) allows the Eagles to embrace all that is Carson Wentz.  Dallas is in last place because of their 0-1 division record.  But that can all change Sunday.