ASHBURN, Virginia – The Washington Redskins want to get the ball to their wide receivers. Honest. They just haven’t been able to, not to the desired level. In the first game, it didn’t matter. In the second game it did.
They might get more – or at least better -- chances Sunday vs. Green Bay.
But the question is: How much will this change over the next 14 games? It’s not just about quarterback Alex Smith and where he’s willing to throw. It’s also about the style of the offense.
The Redskins starting three receivers have combined for 18 catches with 173 yards and no touchdowns. They’ve been targeted 29 times. By comparison, the backs and tight ends have caught a combined 36 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns. They’ve been targeted 41 times. Only three teams have fewer receptions and targets at receiver.
“It's hard looking at the numbers with these first two weeks, just the defenses we played, the style that they've played necessarily hasn’t dictated a lot of balls going outside to those guys,” Smith said. “I feel really good about it. You don't know when that opportunity is going to present itself. It comes in bunches.”
Indianapolis took away the outside game by playing a soft Cover 2, with a lot of Tampa 2 mixed in as the linebackers covered tight end Jordan Reed down the middle of the field. They used a Cover 2 approximately 75 percent of the time.
However, Sunday’s opponent, Green Bay, prefers an aggressive man coverage scheme with blitzing. The Packers have allowed 34 catches by receivers in the first two weeks, third most in the NFL. Last week, they were forced to be patient. The problem is that they only converted five of 15 third downs, limiting more chances.
“Yeah, you do look back at that and are like, maybe this one play in the first half, should I have held it a tick longer and taken a shot?” Smith said. “Or could I have looked this off and gone here?”
But it will be a seasonlong up-and-down with the receivers. In Smith's five years with Kansas City, no team had fewer total targets at receiver; four teams had fewer receptions.
The Redskins want to run more, and in the opening win over Arizona, they managed 182 yards rushing. That will limit the number of receiver targets.
The shocking part is how Washington failed to run well vs. the Colts despite favorable looks -- often six- or seven-man boxes.
The Redskins were in second-and-9 or worse on 15 of their 30 second-down plays. If that doesn’t change Sunday, the overall production won’t as well.
Also, Reed and Thompson have more targets -- 33 -- than all the receivers. And running back Adrian Peterson has more yards receiving (100) than the wideouts.
“You only have one ball, and you obviously want to get your playmakers the ball,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “None of them are going to get any looks if we don’t convert on third down."
Reed said, “We got a lot of weapons. Once everything gets going and we come together fully, it’ll be good.”
Meanwhile, starting wideout Paul Richardson is dealing with a bad shoulder. That could lead to problems. He underwent an MRI this week that, he said, revealed he had a sore shoulder.
“We’ll take the proper steps forward in whatever I need to do,” Richardson said.
He provides the speed, both horizontally and vertically, that Washington lacked last season. The Redskins signed veterans Breshad Perri
man and Michael Floyd this week, but they’re new, and although the former has speed, he also was known for dropping passes in Baltimore.
Jamison Crowder has been consistent in his first three seasons, averaging 64 receptions. Smith loves throwing to him, so his numbers likely will rise. But if Richardson’s shoulder becomes a bigger issue, that means Doctson, the 2016 first-round pick, must produce more.
In two games, Doctson has caught five passes -- the same number as Peterson -- with a long of 14. Sunday, Doctson did drop a pass and there was another he let get knocked out. He’s been targeted only nine times.
“Josh is fine, I’m not worried what people are saying about Josh,” receivers coach Ike Hilliard said. “He’s gotten better; he’s playing faster and getting out of his breaks better on his straight stems. It’s now more a situation that every ball that comes to him, everybody expects him to come down with it.”
The Redskins say things can change on a weekly basis.
“We preach on taking what the defense gives you, and Alex does a great job of that," Gruden said. "There will be a time and place for everything, we will take some shots in another game here soon."
And when that happens…
“When you get the opportunity for chunk plays, you have to come down with them,” Hilliard said. “That will lead to more big play opportunities.”