LANDOVER, Md. -- The difference he makes was evident once the Washington Redskins drove inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. Tight end Jordan Reed can help the Redskins anywhere. But this is where he mattered most Sunday. This is where his importance was magnified -- and served as a reminder of what Washington missed when he couldn’t play. As if the Redskins needed a reminder.
But during the week, the Redskins knew they would take advantage of any matchup with Reed against a safety split wide. One coach’s eyes lit up during the week discussing that possibility. And when presented with the opportunity, they capitalized.
Here’s why Reed matters: Against Atlanta, the Redskins couldn’t balance the field on a pivotal third down in the red zone late. So they opted for a bubble screen to the left that the Falcons anticipated. Sunday, on the game-winning play, the Redskins showed a bubble screen to one side but threw back to Reed. He’s a playmaker; he made a play. It’s no coincidence that Cousins had one of his best games once Reed returned from a two-game absence.
“He’s a talented player,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “He’s wired to be able to separate. He’s got great hands, he’s a competitor and he makes a big difference.”
Yes, he does. Reed finished with 11 catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came off a slant pass against a safety. The tricky part with Reed is trying to assess his future because of how often he has been hurt. And the concussions are a problem -- he has now had four. He’s so young to have had that many.
But when he’s on the field, Reed makes a big difference, mainly for his ability to do what he did on the final catch: Beat his man at the line.
“I feel every time I line up outside and someone’s on me, I never feel I’ll be covered,” Reed said. “I’m always confident. I’m a matchup problem; I can get open and catch the ball.”
He should be confident, and the last play showed why. The Redskins ran him on slants a few times earlier in the game inside the 10-yard line; one resulted in a five-yard catch and the other was for a three-yard score. But he also ran a fade route that was incomplete on the final drive.
That’s why Tampa wanted him to run again on the last play. But Reed jabbed hard to the outside and the safety, Bradley McDougald, bit hard. Reed was open by several yards.
“They were sitting on outside leverage waiting for the fade route,” Reed said. “It was the perfect call. ... I just have to stay patient on the line of scrimmage, don’t get too antsy, don’t go too quickly.”
Cousins obviously played a huge role in the game. It’s not as if he made throws that were jaw-dropping, but they were good. And he stayed calm. One smart thing he did was target Reed 13 times, with 11 ending in receptions. Another one of those came against safety D.J. Swearinger at the 3-yard line, when Reed again created separation with a hard jab step outside. It was a mismatch.
“He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body,” Redskins safety Dashon Goldson said. “A lot of people underestimate his speed and ability when he’s out there. You can see it on film, but it’s tough when you get out there in a game situation and you have to guard a guy.”
That’s why, when Goldson saw the Bucs covering him with a safety, he wasn’t shy about expressing what should happen.
“I was saying the whole time on the sideline to go ahead and give him the slant. They can’t stop the slant.”
The tough part for Washington’s coaches is relying on Reed for their game plans at times because of the durability issues. But when he’s on the field, he’s a weapon. And if they get receiver DeSean Jackson back after the bye week -- that’s not yet a guarantee -- then they’ll finally have their full complement of skill players.
“It’s a tough deal for a defensive coordinator and defenses to deal with him,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Reed.
Teammate Trent Williams called Reed “unguardable.”
“You show me anyone in the league who can guard that man one-on-one,” Williams said. “I haven’t seen that yet. As long as we’ve got him, we got a chance. He’s the best receiving tight end that I’ve seen.”
A few other tight ends might have something to say about that distinction. But there’s no doubt about this: The Redskins need Reed -- and they’re glad he was on the field Sunday.