ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins made the correct call, benching Andre Roberts for Jamison Crowder in the slot. It’s a decision that will continue to look good moving forward, just as it did last week vs. Atlanta.
Crowder has played only five games and started two; he remains a work in progress. But as he becomes a bigger threat, and when receiver DeSean Jackson returns, it provides the Redskins more options in the passing game. Crowder's blocking has been OK, but it’s his ability in the slot that matters most. One thing to note: the New York Jets have allowed 25 receptions to slot receivers in four games this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s third most among the six teams who have played the same amount of games.
A few things I liked about Crowder’s game after re-watching it:
Reliable hands: Crowder has been targeted 28 times and has responded with 23 catches and no drops. His quickness from the slot provides a different look. Of those catches, 15 have been on throws that have traveled five yards or less in the air. Only four receptions have been on passes of 10 or more yards in the air. Compare that to Roberts, who was credited with two drops by ESPN Stats & Information among his eight targets this season (and five last season). Roberts' inconsistent hands doomed him. Sure enough Sunday, Crowder reached behind him to catch one pass for 10 yards in the fourth quarter.
Makes defenders miss: The Redskins like Crowder on the bubble screens because they turn into punt return situations. His ability to set up defenders or veer through narrow openings helps in these situations. On a 14-yard bubble screen, Crowder made the first defender miss, then swerved back inside and made another whiff and sharply cut upfield to make one more miss. On his 26-yard gain, Crowder ran with urgency and a little patience, hoping to con another defender -- he got the safety turned around with a cut. Crowder had his best day for yards after the catch, averaging 6.88.
Patience: It’s a subtle thing, but one that receivers must master. Some want to go as fast as they can all the time, but some routes need patience. On one third-and-6, Crowder, aligned inside in a three-receiver set to the left, did not burst off the ball. He needed to be in synch with tight end Derek Carrier running a crossing route in concert with him. Because they were in unison, the safety playing a zone on that side went too far inside with Carrier -- and that provided extra room for Crowder, who turned a short pass into a 12-yard gain. Had Crowder run this too fast, the safety would have been in better position to react and perhaps tackle him before the first down.
Creates space: The Redskins like Crowder in part because he can create space for himself. Sometimes it’s just an extra yard or two, but his quick cuts helped Sunday -- and will help more going forward. Crowder caught a seven-yard out on the game-tying drive late in regulation in which he froze the defender, aligned inside, and cut back outside to create enough room to not only catch the ball but get out of bounds. In overtime, his 16-yard reception occurred because of that separation. He started in the slot to the left, ran to the middle and sold it as if he would continue, only to sharply cut outside. And that bought him another yard or two of space for a 16-yard gain.