Ahead of the Colts’ road game against the Washington Redskins, I got a chance to ask some questions of Bill Horgan from Hogs Haven, and he was gracious enough to give me a lot of excellent information about the Redskins and what we can expect to see come Sunday. Let’s dig in to it.
Many Colts fans don’t know much about the Washington Redskins. Tell us a little bit about this team. What are their biggest strengths and weaknesses?
The 2018 Redskins are different from the 2017 team that went 7-9, and it is light years away from the team that used to hand out retirement bonus checks to aging free agents from other teams looking for one last season.
The Redskins had the worst run defense in the league last year – and a significant reason was that our first-round draft pick, Jonathan Allen, was lost for the year in the 5th game. In the first 4 games, the Redskins gave up an average of 88 rushing yards per game; after the loss of Allen, the Skins finished dead last, giving up 134 yards per game.
The team turned that weakness into a strength. First, Jon Allen is back healthy. Also, the team doubled down by drafting his former Crimson Tide teammate, Daron Payne, in the first round this year, then followed up by taking another interior defensive lineman, Tim Settle, in the 5th round. All three have played extremely well in preseason and in Week 1. The ‘veteran’ in the group, Matt Ioannidis, who was drafted out of Temple a year ahead of Allen, has played at an all-pro level for the past year (though he wasn’t sent to the pro bowl). We picked up Caleb Brantley when the Browns shocked everyone by cutting him at the end of camp. The coaches must really be sold on him, because they waived Anthony Lanier, who had been with the ‘Skins for three years. He had improved every year, and been seen as a valuable part of the DL rotation. The problem was that Lanier was a specialty interior pass rusher, and not much good against the run, while Brantley is more well-rounded. We believe that the team may have just transitioned, in the course of two or three drafts, from a team led by its wide receivers
On the offensive line, we have the best left tackle in football, Trent Williams. At right guard is our 1st round pick, drafted 5th overall in 2015, Brandon Scherff, who is a monster. At right tackle, we have a talented and proven veteran in Morgan Moses. Right guard is the weakest link, with journeyman Shawn Lauvao, but our center is a 2nd year, 6th round draft pick, Chase Roullier, who – after playing decently in 2017 after the starting center was lost for the year to injury -- looked like he’d taken that 2nd year leap when we saw him playing against the Cardinals on Sunday.
So, I’d say that our worst unit from last season -- the defensive line -- is our best unit now, and the offensive line, which suffered tons of injuries in ’17, is now healthy and rounds out our strength in the trenches.
The weakest starting group for the Skins is probably the WR corps. Josh Doctson is a third-year player drafted by Washington in the first round of 2016, and the main question everyone is trying to answer about him is whether it’s too soon to declare him a draft bust. The front office signed Paul Richardson from the Seahawks in free agency, giving him $8m per year for 5 years, but Richardson never produced much is Seattle. He hasn’t really shined in preseason or in Week 1, though he seems adequate.
The team’s best receiver is Jamison Crowder, who is a very good slot receiver, but the fact that he is the best and most reliable receiver on the roster is concerning. Surprisingly, the team has good depth (backup) receivers, though two of the three backups came out of the Arizona game with high ankle sprains, and the third has been in the concussion protocol since the first preseason game, so you’ll likely see one or two receivers added this week. One of them is likely to be Brian Quick, who was probably the 54th man following the end of pre-season. Quick was on the roster last season, but didn’t see the field much at all. When he played, he played well, but the coaches just don’t seem inclined to put him in the game.
After an ugly breakup with Kirk Cousins, the Redskins brought in Alex Smith to be the seasoned vet who could take the helm and move them forward. How has that move looked so far?
Cousins never seemed to be able to become the quarterback that Gruden wanted him to be, despite the fact that Gruden really championed Cousins over RG3 in 2016. The past three years have been distracting and draining for the coach, the team and the fans, as the one question everyone asked every week was related to the Cousins situation.
The front office did the best thing possible, given where the situation with Cousins was at the end of the ’17 season. They agreed to terms with the Chiefs in a trade for Alex Smith, then gave Smith the 4-year, $94m contract that Cousins had refused.
Smith seems to be everything the Redskins hoped he would be. Gruden, in a press conference, said that Smith was the single smartest person he’d ever met. Others have said much the same thing.
Teammates have praised his leadership, his calm demeanor, and his on-field skills.
All in all, coaches and players seem to be relieved to be rid of Cousins. Fans are split on Cousins, but the vast majority see Alex Smith as being at least as good, while many fans (including me) see him as an upgrade insofar as his skillset seems a better fit for Gruden’s offensive schemes, and his leadership seems to fill a space that Kirk Cousins never seemed capable of filling.
Who are some players we might not be familiar with whose names we will know by the end of Sunday?
Let me just list a few players who may or may not be unfamiliar to you, who are likely to have their names called a few times on Sunday for making positive plays:
Chris Thompson, #25, in my opinion, the best and most explosive third-down running back in the league
Zach Brown, #53, is one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, and he’s a talented tackler. He led the NFL in tackles per game in 2017, at 9.8.
Quinton Dunbar, #23, is the boundary cornerback opposite Josh Norman. He came to Redskins camp 3 years ago as an undrafted free agent wide receiver. With Garcon, Jackson and other veterans, his chances of making the roster were nearly nil. When injuries bit deep into the DBs early in camp, Gruden threw him in with the defensive backs just to field a defense for practice. Dunbar caught the coach’s eye, made the team as a cornerback, and got a contract extension last year. I’d say he’s the best bet to flash and grab your attention on Sunday.
Preston Smith, #94, is capable of wrecking an offense as a pass rusher if he shows up ready to play.
Montae Nicholson, #35, is a second year safety who has good range and make up speed. He has show himself to be a tough tackler with some talent when the ball is in the air. He could make some key plays in either the run game or as a pass defender.
Chase Roullier #73 & Trent Williams #71 on the OL – on Sunday in Arizona, Chris Spielman was in the broadcast booth and, on several occasions, highlighted the athleticism of Williams in his pass blocking, and Roullier for pulling from the center position and blocking effectively in space. Because the Redskins run some exotic blocking schemes, TV analysts often enjoy the opportunity to show the audience the blocking after the play, so – unlikely as it may sound – you could see these guys mentioned prominently, especially if the run game is working like it did in Arizona.
Thanks again to Bill for taking the time to give us all the great information provided.