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Kirk Cousins' poise, Jordan Reed's presence makes a difference

LANDOVER, Md. -- Five observations on the Washington Redskins' offense after their 31-30 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  1. I’ve written about this and probably will do so again, but the run game issues continue to bother the offense. They will not win consistently having to play the way they did Sunday. But I will say, it’s surprising that they’re 3-4 given the struggles in the running game and some of the other injuries on offense (though Sunday was really the first time when the running game was bad that they won; against Philly, it was inconsistent, at best, but did have one good run by Chris Thompson). One issue Sunday: Center Josh LeRibeus got pushed back on some Alfred Morris carries, forcing short gains. Too often there was penetration; but there were also a couple holes missed or holes that should have been pressed better; Matt Jones missed a chance for a solid gain because of the latter. Also, the Bucs used quite a few eight-man fronts, and at times, their linebackers were stationed three yards back and getting up the field quick -- so if a lineman reached them, it had little impact.

  2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins obviously deserves a lot of credit for maintaining his poise throughout the game and for executing down the stretch. After the fumble that was returned for a touchdown, Cousins responded by completing all four passes on the next series for 50 yards, en route to a touchdown drive. And here’s how every series after that fumble went: touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. Also, his inconsistency as a passer is more reflective in off-target passes as they are in his interceptions. Sunday, a few of his targets helped out with some catches on low or off-target throws (especially Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder). Reed in particular helps any quarterback. Even Andre Roberts made a nice adjustment on the 38-yard pass to him. Cousins deserves the praise today, but he did not do it alone. And sometimes the difference between hero and goat is minimal: On the second-and-goal pass on the final drive, Cousins’ errant pass was nearly intercepted (not sure where he was trying to throw, but the safety got his hands on the ball). Next play: touchdown. Life in the NFL. But, yes, Cousins still needs to prove he can be consistent before anyone should feel he's the QB beyond this season. Lots of peaks and valleys.

  3. I’ll be curious to see what happens when DeSean Jackson returns, but the short pass continues to be a way of life for Washington. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cousins completed 24-of-26 passes that traveled five yards or less. Without seeing the All-22 film yet, it’s hard to know what might have been missed downfield. Was Cousins checking down too soon or taking what’s available and avoiding negative situations? I also wonder how the ground game failures impacts this; better run game equals more play action equals more longer pass plays. Whenever Jackson returns, he should provide more of a downfield threat. If nothing else, the short passes keeps them out of bad situations. Eight of his nine touchdown passes have been on throws of five yards or less. That’s tied for most in the NFL.

  4. Loved that they mixed in some zone read action in the red zone. It’s a tactic that can help, especially in the scoring area and especially with a quarterback you would not expect to run. Sure enough, Tampa Bay’s ends crashed hard on the fake and Cousins had an easy path. They ran this later in the game with Jones, but it failed in part because of poor blocking -- the end also played it well, forcing Cousins to hand it off. I liked that Washington stuck with some boot action, too, even though the ground game was sputtering. The Redskins want to be committed to the run, but when you gain 24 yards on your first 11 carries and you trail by 24 points, it’s tough to stay committed. But the second half really was about executing, too; the offense found a rhythm, from the play callers on down.

  5. More Reed. It’s not amazing the difference he makes because we’ve all seen it the past two seasons as well. But his athleticism enabled the Redskins to gain some extra yards, whether on a bootleg catch in which he dodged defenders for five extra yards or when reaching down by his feet to make a grab for seven yards. Defenders always have to keep an eye out for Reed, and I’ve seen that open up lanes for others. It will again. And his ability to win at the line of scrimmage -- and quickly -- gives the Redskins a different threat. There’s a reason he’s caught 12 passes on third down, with 10 resulting in first downs. There’s a reason Cousins’ passer rating when targeting Reed the past two seasons is 107.0, according to ESPN Stats & Information.