How quickly a season can change. Just two days ago, the Washington Redskins had a chance to be serious contenders in the NFC East. Now, they’re wondering how many players are physically capable of playing on Sunday.
Seven players suffered injuries in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. On a short week against the Dallas Cowboys, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden opted to have just a closed walk-through Wednesday before holding the team’s first practice of the week Thursday.
It’s a depth chart that has been tested often over the last few weeks, and after being bested by the Eagles for a second time, the Redskins’ fortunes have dimmed. Barring a collapse by the Eagles, who have looked like the best team in the league through seven weeks, it will be a daunting task for the Redskins to win the division. Philadelphia is up 2 1/2 games on Washington heading into Week 8, and it also carries an important head-to-head tiebreaker by completing the regular season sweep.
Safe to say there’s plenty to discuss in the mailbag. As a reminder, we switched up the mailbag format from email to Twitter (welcome to 2017). Thanks for tweeting your questions using the #RedskinsWP hashtag.
The Eagles (6-1) are playing so well right now that it’s not even worth looking at the NFC East standings unless they just have a massive collapse. Looking at their schedule though, which includes a home game against the winless San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and a Week 10 bye week, it’s tough to see that happening. The wild card is still very much in play with how bunched up the NFC is with 10 weeks left, though. The Redskins (3-3) are one of eight teams currently at 3-4, 3-3 or 4-3, so the landscape suggests it would be foolish to write them off in October.
However, their roster is in bad shape this week. Four starters along the offensive line, and six of the nine on the active roster, are dealing with injuries. Five defensive backs are hurt. These two spots are very concerning during a portion of the schedule that appeared difficult even without the injuries. Washington is currently 1-1 during the second quarter of the schedule, with a Week 6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Its next two games come against the Dallas Cowboys (3-3) and the Seattle Seahawks (4-2).
If the Redskins can somehow walk away with a split, I think that would be the best-case scenario. That’d put them at 4-4 overall, and 3-3 in the conference, with eight games left. But that’s going to be a tough task. While it’s a home game, Washington faces a division rival on a short week coming off a Monday night. The following week, it travels to the opposite coast to play in one of the toughest environments in the NFL. The Redskins will need a lot to bounce their way to pull off a split. We’ll see how mentally tough this team is during this stretch.
The hope is that Washington’s backup offensive tackle will return next week against the Seattle Seahawks. Multiple people say he still could use about two more practice weeks to continue rehabbing a core muscle injury that required surgery following the team’s Week 3 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Gruden said at the time of the injury it would take three to six weeks for Nsekhe to recover. While Washington wishes he would return sooner, it appears that it will indeed take six weeks.
Nsekhe’s injury, which occurred while he filled in for Shawn Lauvao for a snap after Lauvao’s facemask detached from his helmet, came at a bad time for Washington. Left tackle Trent Williams has played through a right knee injury he suffered the following week and will eventually require surgery. He was replaced by backup T.J. Clemmings near the end of the game, and Williams said he may consider resting because it’s not allowing him to move like he wants to.
On top of all this, right tackle Morgan Moses sprained both of his ankles against the Eagles. Along with injuries to right guard Brandon Scherff (back/knee) and center Spencer Long (knee/quad tendinitis), the Redskins’ offensive line is in bad shape.
While the Redskins could sign tackle Vinston Painter, who was on the 90-man roster this summer and the team’s active roster last year, off the Cardinals’ practice squad for depth, Painter would need to be on the active roster for three weeks. If Nsekhe returns next week, it wouldn’t be ideal to have a roster spot dedicated to an extra tackle considering the injuries at other positions. The two most logical options seem to be either keep playing Williams until Nsekhe returns, and run the risk of doing more damage to his knee, or insert Clemmings against a Cowboys defense with 21 sacks (tied for sixth in the NFL). Yikes.
I don’t think those two things are correlated. Washington has tried to use its depth to create different looks. Jonathan Allen went on injured reserve with a foot injury, but he was part of a rotation defensive line coach Jim Tomsula implemented to keep those guys fresh. Outside linebacker Preston Smith hurt his groin, but he’s also rotated at the position.
Deshazor Everett has missed two games with a hamstring injury, but he was splitting time with Montae Nicholson at strong safety. Nicholson keeps hurting his shoulder but plays through the injury. I think his recurring injury can be chalked up to his style of play. Cornerback Fabian Moreau (hamstring) and safety Stefan McClure (hamstring) have almost exclusively played on special teams.
The injuries to Josh Norman (rib), Bashaud Breeland (knee) and Mason Foster (shoulder)? You just gotta charge those to the game.
I would expect more two- and three-tight end sets moving forward, yes. Jordan Reed is getting healthier, as evident by his two-touchdown performance against the Eagles, and Vernon Davis has been a reliable target for Kirk Cousins this season. Niles Paul even had a nice 32-yard reception. Gruden wanted to incorporate more two-tight end looks in the second half, but the game shifted from a 10-3 lead to a seven-point deficit during the final four minutes of the first half.
At the moment, the Redskins have Doctson starting at the “X” spot and Pryor serving as the backup. Jamison Crowder, who has been a slot receiver, moved over as the starting “Z” receiver with Grant. Washington needs receivers that can do the dirty work underneath at the “Z” spot, a role Pierre Garcon did very well during his tenure in DC. Crowder is a technically sound receiver that’s getting healthier after dealing with a hamstring injury during training camp and a hip issue in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
When incorporating three wide receivers, look for Washington to go with Doctson, Crowder and Grant moving forward. That’s not to say Pryor has been ousted. He’s still expected to have a role offensively, receiving around 20-30 snaps (he received 30 against the Eagles). Pryor just won’t be heavily used as he was against the 49ers, when he played 61 snaps, because the Redskins want to see more of what Doctson, a 2016 first round pick, can bring and they’ve been productive with two and three tight ends. There’s a chance we could see plays sprinkled in with both Doctson and Pryor on the field, but Crowder is better suited at the “Z” moving forward.