The Arizona Cardinals are clinging to their playoff life and into the desert rides the high powered Washigton Redskins offense.
To get to know a little more about the Skins, I talked with Hogs Haven about the team, the quarterback and how things have changed in the nations capital.
1. Is there a consensus on Kirk Cousins now, is he the guy moving forward?
I think there is and yes, he's the guy moving forward. Kirk was just named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month. Keeping in mind there are at least five games left this year, Kirk has put together two very successful seasons in a row. He's a very good starting QB in this league and the Redskins would be crazy to let him go. He's going to get paid a lot of money (probably $100M+). I expect the 'Skins FO and Kirk will come to an agreement to make him their highly-paid starter for the next five seasons, but even if they can't agree, I think they'd just tag him again next season. Fans love him and want him back. The 'Skins' offense is crazy good and he's been on fire, especially over the last month. I think the debate is over. Folks have seen enough now. Kirk is the QB of the Redskins and should be for a long time to come.
2. What makes the Washington passing attack so damn good?
It starts with talented players. The Redskins are loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Run through the names: Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams, Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson, Vernon Davis... Weapons on weapons on weapons. Their OL has really stepped up this year and become one of the best in the league. Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses have locked down the right side of the line, Spencer Long has been a revelation at C, and Ty Nsekhe is one of the top reserve OTs in the league and has filled in admirably in the absence of Trent Williams (four-game suspension, Sunday will be game #4). The 'Skins also have really good pass-protecting RBs.
Beyond just having a ton of really great offensive players, Jay Gruden's play-book and Sean McVay's play-calls are really top-notch when it comes to passing. Gruden brought in a sort-of West-Coast style offense that has play designs that do a brilliant job of getting guys open and getting the ball out of Kirk's hands very quickly. There are a lot of quick, short passes that keep the tempo and completion percentage up while getting the ball into the hands of the play-makers early and letting them go to work. Most of the Redskins weapons really excel in YAC. What's taken those plays to the next level is having guys like Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson who can really stretch the field vertically. You've got a couple of guys who are the best in the league at getting open deep and then plays that are designed really well to get guys open in the short and intermediate passing games and well, it all comes together really well. Coupled with great pass protection and Kirk just simply doing a really great job, the passing attack is tough.
3. How did Rob Kelley take the job from Matt Jones? Is he the real deal or another stopgap?
Matt Jones struggled to live up to his third-round billing and massive frame. He's not a terrible RB, but he just didn't seem to improve rapidly enough. He's had issues with fumbles both last year and in his time this year, gets injured a little too often, and has a problem of not using his frame and running like a guy who's much smaller than he is. Rob Kelley had an absolutely outstanding preseason and many fans thought he should be the starter from day one. The staff gave the ball to Jones and he was mediocre. Then he got hurt. Rob Kelley came in, picked right up where he left off in the preseason, and the rest is history. He's durable, takes care of the ball, and gets the tough yards. That's what this offense needs. Additionally, he's excellent picking up blitzes and makes Kirk's job much easier in the passing game. It's hard to say if he's the "real deal" or not as he's only played a couple of games and is an UDFA rookie. He didn't do much in college and while he's looked great in his time as a Redskin, he's coming off of his first real dud of a game (in Dallas on Thanksgiving). We'll see if he can pick it back up Sunday, but I think he's got a little bit of a leash here and will continue as the starter barring a number of terrible games in a row.
4. Preston Smith was a fan favorite over here at RotB in the '15 draft, how do the Skins use him, where do they line him up?
Preston Smith plays as an OLB on the strong-side of the Redskins defense. He's typically going against the other team's LT. The Redskins use him pretty traditionally there and just let him go rush the QB. He's shown some ability to drop into coverage, but he's very rarely asked to. He does a good job of using his strength and size to play the run and is pretty difficult to run at. His sack numbers are down this year after an outstanding rookie season, but he's still done a decent job of applying pressure. He plays in a rotational trio with Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy. Kerrigan and Murphy are both having better years in the sack department, but all three get a lot of PT and in certain obvious pass-rushing situations, all three can be out there together. While Smith hasn't been getting the sacks, his presence on that side of the defense has really freed-up Ryan Kerrigan to go to work against RTs. That's a mismatch that Kerrigan capitalizes on frequently.
5. Can the Cardinals slow down the Skins enough to win? (Prediction)
Of course they can. I just don't think it's likely. The 'Skins aren't some unbeatable juggernaut. They're a good team for the second year in a row for the first time in decades. They're still learning how to be a consistently great team. But their offense is elite. I really think the only team that can slow down the Redskins offense enough to cost them a game is the Redskins. The one weakness of the offense is in the red-zone. They've struggled there all year. They have no problem whatsoever moving the ball between the 20s, but they fail to capitalize far too often in the red-zone and it's been a major problem that's probably cost them a game or two. Still, even with those issues they've been able to light up most of their opponents.
Where the Cardinals can get an advantage is when they're on offense. The Redskins defense is mediocre at best, especially against the run. They can defend the pass well enough, but they really struggle against the run. If the Cardinals can keep the ball and run it a lot, that keeps the Redskins offense off the field. That's any team who plays the Redskins best bet. The Cardinals really don't want a shoot-out.
I'm calling a very close game. I'll say 26-24 in favor of the Redskins. The Cardinals are a desperate team right now. Another loss or two and they could seal their fate. I think they'll be fighting for their season and that should bring out the best. They're also at home. I just don't think they have the horses on defense to really stop the Redskins enough and I question Arians' commitment to running it enough to keep the Redskins offense off the field. Hard to bet against Kirk Cousins right now...