John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer 21d

Terrelle Pryor starts slow; Redskins' D faces another challenge

ASHBURN, Va. -- The start isn’t what many anticipated after watching Terrelle Pryor in training camp, when he stood out among the offensive players.

After three games, Pryor is on pace to finish with 53 catches and 619 yards for the season. One big game could change those numbers, of course, since the team has played only three games.

But Pryor has received only eight targets over the past two games -- resulting in four catches for 50 yards. Is it a matter of quarterback Kirk Cousins trusting him less after a shaky opener? Or, rather, just how games have unfolded?

Two weeks ago against the Rams, the Redskins attempted 27 passes. On the game-winning drive, Pryor did come up with a 23-yard catch and run. At a crucial time, Cousins went to Pryor.

A week later, Pryor again was not a big part of the passing attack. But one person said they wanted to attack Oakland over the middle, leaving others as stronger options, notably receiver Jamison Crowder (six catches) and tight end Vernon Davis (five catches).

Working the middle isn’t Pryor’s strength: Of his 10 catches, six have come outside the numbers (with five on the left side). He hasn’t had any catches, or targets, between the hashes.

He’s officially listed with one drop, but he’s had his hands on other passes -- or has been near enough to catch them. The first play against Philadelphia was not a drop, but rather a case of not finding the ball. Same result: a missed opportunity. Those can weigh on a quarterback, but Pryor has played more than any other receiver.

Pryor’s catch rate is 100 percent with passes thrown outside the left number. He’s caught just five of 14 targets everywhere else, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s not all on the receiver if a pass isn’t accurate or catchable. Not every player runs the same routes, either.

Pryor’s average air yards per target: 12.0. Ryan Grant (6.5) and Crowder (5.53) run shorter routes. Their catch rate reflects that: Grant has caught eight of 12 passes thrown to him; Crowder is 13-of-17.

The Redskins viewed Pryor as a raw receiver when they signed him and continue to view him as someone who needs to polish his game. Considering that, there’s no reason to force the ball to him -- not with more experienced options (including Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson) also on the field.

Other notes:

1. Rob Kelley received some criticism via social media after he bought a random kid an Xbox earlier in the week. Which is a bit amazing. But a couple of points bothered Kelley. One, someone referred to him as a millionaire. He makes good money -- his base salary this season is $540,000. But his signing bonus in 2016 was $3,000. The other point: Though the 10-year-old was wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey, Kelley made it clear that he would have done the good deed no matter what shirt the kid wore. Kelley merely wanted to do something nice for a kid, something he wishes someone would have done for him when he was around that age. Kelley is one of the more sincere players in the Redskins’ locker room. He wasn't looking for publicity and only wanted to discuss it because it might spur someone else to do a similar act.

2. The No. 1 task for Washington’s defense Monday night: limiting big gains after first contact against both the run and passing games. The Redskins excelled in this area against Oakland, holding the Raiders to 40 yards after contact -- after allowing 172 yards combined the first two weeks. They did a good job swarming to the ball at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. In the pass game, they played a lot of zone to keep receivers in front of them; Oakland excelled with physical receivers against man coverage in their first two weeks.

3. But the Chiefs pose a different issue. They’re more about speed and creating issues in space. They’re third in the NFL with 311 yards after contact. “We’ll handle everything in the back end and our D-line goes hunting, nothing more to be said about that,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “Great athletes. Them boys running ... . It’s going to be a track meet, man. We already know it.”

4. Justin Houston continues to be an effective player for Kansas City. Add him to the list of excellent outside pass-rushers the Redskins have played early in the season, joining Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Even Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham is difficult to block. Houston, though, will be used in multiple ways. He doesn’t rush as much when the Chiefs run their base defense. In nickel, he’ll rush more and line up on either side and sometimes over the guards.

“He’s a little bit different than what we saw last week with Khalil Mack,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s a talented pass-rusher, got a little bit different style, got more power, but he’s very effective. Very effective pass-rusher, strong, got good knack for where the quarterback is. He can transition his rushes a lot of different ways -- inside moves, outside moves, power.”

5. Gruden said the Redskins will have "a lot of non-verbal communication" and other ways to handle the snap count Monday night. They try to simulate crowd noise in practice by blaring music when the offense has the ball. But it’s difficult to duplicate the noise they’ll face at Arrowhead Stadium. "That one is special," Gruden said. "That one and Seattle are the two that really jump into your mind." The Redskins play at Seattle on Nov. 5. It’s harder to call an audible in those stadiums.

6. The other tricky part for defenses playing the Chiefs: maintaining eye discipline. The Chiefs have playmakers in tight end Travis Kelce, running back Kareem Hunt and receiver Tyreek Hill. Coach Andy Reid will often incorporate each one in the action of a play -- a fake jet sweep to Hill followed by a fake handoff to Hunt followed by a pass to Kelce. Quarterback Alex Smith will keep the ball on the zone read. He’ll also throw downfield to Chris Conley, who averages 16.33 yards on six catches. “If we can limit the big plays and try to make them methodically move the ball down the field, we can have some success,” Gruden said.

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