The Redskins would take Kirk Cousins’ game against the Browns in most weeks. They boiled it down to four bad plays by Cousins, though one of them could have been a game-changer -- the ugly interception that set up a tying touchdown. The key is making sure those plays don’t cost them games because if they do, a torrent of criticism awaits. When Cousins was in a good rhythm late last season, he could throw a jump ball to the middle of the field and tight end Jordan Reed would grab it (as happened in Chicago, for example). When he’s not in that sort of rhythm, bad plays happen.
One thing the Redskins did like a lot from the Browns game was the way Cousins extended the play in the red zone and hit Reed for a score. Cousins has not always looked to extend plays when facing a three-man rush in the red zone, but he did this time. The Redskins hope he can build off such plays. The ability to make plays off-schedule has been a topic. “You just have to play and react,” Cousins said. He hasn’t always done so; he did just that last week.
No one’s game gets picked apart more than Cousins’. It’s the nature of the position in a big market. He’s used to it and knows the analysis always will follow. “I don’t know that you ever say, ‘I’m starting to play well now’ or ‘I wasn’t playing well then,’” Cousins said. “I mean, it’s just, who knows. You can win two games in a row, if you lose this week, now it’s ‘Cousins isn’t playing well and doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ So I just take it one game at a time and do the best I can one play at a time. The old adage, those three words: Do your job. I just try to do my job and I think that gives me the best chance to try to play successfully.”
Linebacker Trent Murphy bulked up to play the line, and the added muscle appears to have helped him since he returned to linebacker. He’s winning with his hands and playing strong. But, Murphy said, he doesn’t think that’s a big reason for his early success (he already has a career-best four sacks). “I don’t think there’s any secret,” Murphy said. “It’s hard work meets opportunity equals success. That’s the grandmaster recipe.”
However, there is something else that’s helped Murphy: yoga. Some of the defensive linemen did yoga last season, notably Jason Hatcher. So Murphy started going to classes in the offseason. Since they returned from training camp, he goes once a week before heading to Redskins Park. “It helps your flexibility and bending at the top of the pocket,” Murphy said. Indeed, one of his sacks this year came when he turned the corner against a right tackle, getting lower than he had in the past. The Redskins work on drills to help this every day -- exploding around the corner and finishing. All teams do. But the yoga has helped. “For sure,” Murphy said. “Worst-case scenario, you’re getting flexibility and a little cardio and sweating out toxins. Best-case scenario is it helps your pass rush.”
It’s been an odd week at Redskins Park. The Redskins won two in a row, but there has been such a heavy focus on the defense, it’s felt like they’re on a two-game skid. “That’s what you want,” one player said. Yes, it is; higher expectations are much better than the reverse. They also know if they don’t fix the defense, then they could fall far behind in the NFC East. For what it’s worth, the Redskins did not spend extra time with tackling drills -- they have done them every day. But there was a lot more talk from coaches and players during practice about paying attention to doing it right. The feeling also was that Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell does a better job breaking tackles than Baltimore’s Terrance West.
It’s uncertain how much Donte Whitner will play Sunday. But Whitner said when he does play, he’ll be a little more motivated because of the way he was released -- a day before offseason workouts were to begin in April. “I’ve always played the game with a chip on my shoulder, but it adds to it,” he said. “If I was sleepwalking or anything before, I’m definitely awake now and ready to play the game.”
In my article on Pierre Garcon earlier this week, his trainer, Tony Villani, talked about his consistent work ethic. One thing he mentioned that I couldn’t get into the story is that when they’ve tested Garcon, his speed is the same as it was when he was 22 -- Villani has worked with Garcon since he started preparing for the NFL scouting combine. “He runs with more power,” Villani said. “When he was younger he ran with more flow and prettiness. He’s a much more powerful athlete now. All his movements are more powerful, which is how he’s kept his speed.”