The running game situation, Vernon Davis' blocking, Kendal Thompson's catch and Nate Sudfeld's night all are addressed in five observations about the Washington Redskins' offense after Friday's 22-18 win over the New York Jets.
I’ll have more on this later, but the running backs actually fared better than I originally thought while watching the game. Maybe that’s a function of low expectations, but in general there was more to build on than in the game against the Falcons. That’s not to say “problem solved” but just that at least it wasn’t a lost cause. There were more yards after contact, for example. Matt Jones' biggest issue, of course, is durability. But he showed more of what he could do, less stutter-stepping through holes. There was at least one run in which Jones again opted to try to bounce rather than lower his shoulder against a defensive back; coaches don’t like that. So it wasn’t perfect and I still have big questions about the run game this season, but there were more positives than in the preseason opener. The Redskins' pass-blocking as a group was solid, too. The one hiccup: running back Chris Thompson got steamrolled by end Leonard Williams, coming through the middle on a stunt. The laws of physics won. But Thompson is an aggressive protector, and that’s one of the few times I’ve seen him lose in a while. Rob Kelley also had a good pickup on a deep out; he gave himself up to slow a linebacker and Colt McCoy had time for the completion.
There are questions along the offensive line, namely at left guard and backup center. I still favor Shawn Lauvao to win the left guard job, provided he continues to progress in his return. Spencer Long doesn’t yet appear ready to be a full-time center, but there are times his power makes a difference at the position -- a strong nudge of a linebacker created a slightly larger opening Friday, leading to an arm tackle attempt. Backup Austin Reiter is still firmly No. 3 at center, and while he’s stronger, he did get shoved back a few times on outside zones (and did a solid job getting to linebackers on other runs). If the Redskins keep nine linemen, he can win a spot. But he has a ways to go in order to become a starting-caliber player. One lineman who has had a quiet summer, which is good, is right guard Brandon Scherff. Though he’ll occasionally let defenders get into his pads, he’s able to anchor much better and prevent a worse situation. He’s playing with good strength.
Another topic I’ll address later but will mention here: Vernon Davis’ blocking. Over the last year, Davis has worked more on this aspect of his game. He does an excellent job getting his feet and his head in proper position, and he has the strength to hold the block. There were a couple runs Friday where if he (or, say, receiver Jamison Crowder) doesn’t get his block, the play blows up. That’s what happened too often last season, and it’s the difference good tight end blocking can make. I also think Davis’ blocking could give the Redskins greater comfort to perhaps go with three tight ends instead of four (with blocking tight end Logan Paulsen on the definite roster bubble), depending on who they want to keep elsewhere. It still looks like Niles Paul is shaking off whatever rust he accumulated by missing an entire season. His blocking seemed better when on the line than when he had to be on the move.
Redskins rookie receiver Kendal Thompson said his transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver has been helped by Jordan Reed. Reed went from quarterback to tight end at Florida and taught Thompson drills that he continues to use after practice, mostly designed to create separation with his hands or feet. Thompson made the game-winning one-handed touchdown catch in Friday’s win over the Jets. Another aspect that helped on the play: Thompson's baseball background, which enabled him to track the ball well. But what Thompson didn’t do was retrieve the ball. “I tried to keep the game ball, but the equipment guys snatched it from me so I have to hunt it down,” Thompson said.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s outing vs. the Jets was more in line with what we saw of him in training camp: a lot of ups and downs and inaccurate passes. Against Atlanta, he looked different, and that’s why there’s a good chance the Redskins will keep all three quarterbacks. They do think Sudfeld can develop into something, and if that’s the case, why leave him exposed via the practice squad? Sudfeld’s height continues to help him; on one pass Friday, he was able to pump the ball a little with pressure coming right at him because he could see the play developing properly. It led to a completion rather than a panicked incompletion. But Sudfeld seems to still be adjusting to throwing certain passes against NFL speed -- he almost tries to loft throws and guide them, or try to make them too perfect. It leads to throws on the wrong side of the body, which in turn can lead to fewer yards after the catch. But he’s also not afraid to make throws, and he threw his best passes on the game-winning drive. Yeah, it's preseason and all that. But for a sixth-round rookie, those drives mean something.