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Thanks to Vernon Davis, Redskins can adapt without Jordan Reed

ASHBURN, Va. -- They don’t want this scenario because it means losing one of their top offensive players. Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed is that good. They also know they can survive it if it happens, which wasn’t evident in the past. Redskins tight end Vernon Davis has been that good.

And it also means the Redskins don’t have to dramatically alter their game plan because of Reed's shoulder injury. Reed is unlikely to play because of the grade 3 separation of the AC joint in his left shoulder. He hasn’t practiced all week and, while on the sidelines, hasn’t caught any passes using his injured left arm. (Update: Reed has been ruled out.)

Before Davis’ arrival, the Redskins would be in a much worse spot. During games when Reed would get hurt, it would change the plan quite a bit, as happened in the 2014 season opener at Houston. Or if they were uncertain about his status for a game, it would force them to put together two game plans – one with him and one without. Reed is always a pivotal part of any game plan because of his unique talent and the matchup issues he presents.

Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said they have a contingency plan in place. They can still use two- or three-tight end packages, as Derek Carrier is the other tight end and tackle Vinston Painter would play in a three tight-end set – but it would alter what they call in them.

“Fortunately you’re in a situation where you feel really good about Vernon Davis, where he’s playing at an extremely high level in both phases in the run and in the pass game,” McVay said. “And then you’ve got a bunch of depth at the receiver position. So it’s a good situation with the amount of playmakers that we do have. We’d love to have Jordan, but if not, we won’t do a couple of things that kind of make him a difference-maker, but we feel very good about our personnel even if he’s not there.”

The Redskins will be able to keep certain plays for the tight end that they like because of Davis’ presence. Still, the uncertainty during the week can be difficult, especially when compared to losing Reed during a game.

“Sometimes it’s harder because you don’t know if he’s going to be up or not, so you don’t know if you should game plan with him in or with him out,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We’re going to keep the standard concepts, the plays that we have that we like, but we expect Vernon or Derek to be able to do them. We’ll still carry about everything that we have and just let Vernon or Derek do it and hope that Jordan can play.”

Reed draws extra attention from a defense whenever he’s on the field, opening up lanes for others. He’s good enough to get open and lead the team with 59 receptions (also an NFL best for tight ends), despite missing two games. Those two games without Reed also showed Washington what it could still do. The Redskins gained 910 yards of offense. And that receiving depth showed: Davis and slot receiver Jamison Crowder combined for 13 catches and 187 yards vs. Detroit; Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson combined for 10 catches and 132 yards vs. Philadelphia. In that latter game, the Redskins also rushed for 230 yards (and had five pass plays of 20 yards or more; they average 4.4 plays per game).

It also helps that Davis is an all-around tight end -- he’s thrown multiple key blocks in the run game. Reed is inconsistent in this area.

With Davis, the Redskins have a downfield threat at tight end: He’s third in the NFL among tight ends, averaging 14.45 yards on his 31 catches. (Sunday’s opponent, Arizona, ranks first in yards per catch allowed by tight ends.) He’s faster than Reed, though the latter wins with excellent moves and quickness out of his breaks.

“If he doesn’t play, I’ll do what I’ve done all season,” Davis said.

And what he’s done has been good; coaches believe both Davis and Reed are playing at a high level -- a Pro Bowl level. If nothing else, it saves them extra headaches when crafting their game plans, confident there aren’t as many plays they have to shelve.

“You’d love to have Jordan,” McVay said, “but if you don’t, you don’t feel quite as short without him.”