It’s not Friday, but since the Dallas Cowboys game is on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, it’s time for Five Questions. This week, it’s the NFC East rivals from Washington in town for a holiday get-together. So let’s see what Hogs Haven has to say about the game.
Blogging The Boys: Back in week 2 I asked this: "Kirk Cousins is going into a year where it's kind of a "prove it" thing as far as being the franchise QB of the future. How do you feel about him as a player and how did he perform in Week 1?" So now I ask the same question but amend it to how has he performed this season?
Hogs Haven: Thus far, he's proven it. I'm not sure how much Scot McCloughan needs to see to be convinced, but I am. Regardless, he has the rest of the year for better or worse and needs to continue his great play (along with the team's winning). If he does that, I don't think anyone would deny that he's the team's QB moving forward long-term. I feel that he's a great QB and his level of play has gone up as the season has progressed (much like last year). First of all (and most importantly), he's leading the team to victories. It's hard to consider moving on from a QB when you're winning with him and at 6-3-1, the Redskins must be pretty pleased with where they're at. A lot of that is on how well Kirk has performed. He's 3rd in the league in passing yardage (3,091), 8th in completion percentage (67.2%), 5th in YPA (8.05), tied for 12th in TDs (17), only has 7 INTs and has only taken 14 sacks, and is 10th in passer rating (98.8). To me, that's proving it. He'll likely get a five-year deal worth anywhere from $100M to $115M... and I expect that deal to be with the Washington Redskins.
BTB: Tell us all about Washington's newest sensation - "Fat Rob" Kelley? What kind of back is he and how does Washington utilize him?
HH: Kelley's a 24-year-old, 6', 228-lb., UDFA rookie out of Tulane. He was born and raised in New Orleans (9th Ward district) and his family lost their home in Katrina. His nickname comes from his final year at Tulane. He wears a backpack all the time that says "Fat Rob" on it. His RB Coach at Tulane gave it to him.
Coming into the season, Kelley was expected to be Matt Jones' primary backup. The 'Skins let Alfred Morris walk (to Dallas) largely due to their confidence in Matt Jones, whom they drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft (out of Florida). They've had Chris Thompson locked-in as their third-down back since the off-season. So, after Kelley earned a spot in training camp, he was competing with 2015 UDFA Mack Brown and 2016 seventh-round pick Keith Marshall for what was likely to be only one or two open RB spots on the Redskins' 53-man roster. Marshall got hurt and had his season end before it started. That opened a whole lot of preseason time for Brown and Kelley and both guys really took advantage.
Kelley was basically a nobody at Tulane. He was half-RB and half-FB and only had 65 carries and 6 receptions his entire senior season. There was never a chance that he was going to be drafted. In fact, it's hard to even find pre-draft info on him. He's a little older than your average rookie, didn't do anything in college, and isn't incredibly athletic. Yet, here we are. He's the Redskins starting RB and has done an incredible job. People were calling for him as the starter since the preseason and another Matt Jones injury opened the door. Kelley smashed threw it. So far, he's amassed 424 rushing yards on 84 carries (5 YPC) for 4 TDs (with a long run of 66 yards). He also caught a TD. 67 of those 84 carries have come in the last three games (he's had 20+ carries in each).
He's a pretty big back (not quite as big as Matt Jones, but bigger than average) and he uses his size/frame well. He's not relatively fast, but he's strong as an ox and does a masterful job of getting yards after contact. He's not used much as a receiver so far, but he has shown some ability there in college, catching 46 passes his sophomore season. Kelley is used as the primary back and is in on most first and second-down plays. Thompson still serves as the third-down/passing situation back. Both are excellent blitz protectors.
BTB: The offensive line seems to be okay without Trent Williams the past couple of games. Talk about the line and his replacement, Ty Nsekhe.
HH: A huge reason behind Rob Kelley's success is the dominant Redskins OL. The term "Hogs 2.0" has been going around since the off-season and the moniker seems fairly accurate. The entire Redskins offense was dominant Sunday night against GB and that stems largely from excellent OL play. Cousins isn't getting sacked much, at all. He has plenty of time to throw typically. He hasn't even been hit much at all lately. The OL group has probably been the 'Skins MVP up to this point.
At the moment, RT Morgan Moses is probably one of the top 10-15 best RTs in the league. However, he's operating at only about 75% due to an ankle injury and it's noticeable. He still did a great job on Sunday night, but the quick turnaround to Thursday may negatively affect his play. Missing Trent Williams (probably one of the top 1-2 LTs in the game right now) is obviously huge. Nobody can replace everything Trent does for this offense, but Ty Nsekhe has done an incredible job trying. He's absolutely massive (6'8", 325 lbs.) and just got done owning Clay Matthews. He's not quite as nimble or athletic as Trent is and can't do some of the things Trent does on the outside runs, but he's a mauler in the run game and has great length and strength in pass protection. Kelley's been running wild the past three games and Kirk's great play has been made possible in large part due to great protection. It's a huge OL all the way across. LG Shaun Lauvao is a solid starter and is the smallest guy on the line at 6'3", 326 lbs. Brandon Scherff was the #5 overall pick in 2015 and has been an iron-man at RG. He's huge and very impressive at that spot. And then the C play, which was the obvious weak link with former starter Kory Lichtensteiger in has been solidified by 6'5", 324-lbs. Spencer Long. He's much younger and bigger than Kory and frankly, just much better. Everyone on the line is 325 lbs. and up and they're impressively coached by a guy you know pretty well... Bill Callahan.
BTB: How is the defense performing? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
HH: The defense has been good. I'd say middle-of-the-road to slightly better than that lately. They started off the season as one of the worst defenses in the league, but they've steadily gotten better as the season has progressed. Right now they're ranked 23rd overall in yardage (18th against the pass and 22nd against the run) and 18th in points. Opponents scored 122 points against the Redskins over the season's first five games (24.4 PPG). That number's been cut down to 111 over the last five games (22.2 PPG).
The strength of the Redskins defense is definitely against the pass. They have an excellent pass rush that's improved as the season has gone on. Ryan Kerrigan leads the way with 8 sacks while Trent Murphy has 7 (along with 3 FFs). While Preston Smith only has 3.5 so far, he had 8 last year to lead all rookies and is still a very dangerous pass rusher, as well. On the interior, the Redskins still have Chris Baker (3 sacks and 2 FFs this year) who is a great pass rusher on the DL. That pass rush pairs very well with a really good and vastly improved secondary... obviously led by Josh Norman. Norman's been great all year and just sealed the victory Sunday night over GB with a brilliant FF of his own. He has a knack for making huge plays in huge moments when they're most needed like that. He more than doubles anyone else on the team with 11 PDs and has 2 FFs, as well. He's been worth the money and is deserving of his spot as one of the top five CBs in the league.
The defense's greatest weakness is along their DL... most notably against the run. While they're playing the run much better than they were in the beginning of the year, it's still not where it needs to be. The DL lacks talent and depth, the ILBs are only average at best, and they don't have any real bonafide, top-notch starters at S. The weak spots in the defense are all in the middle of the field and not surprisingly, that's where they've been most susceptible to being hurt against the run.
BTB: If you were putting together the Cowboys game-plan this week, how would you play Washington's offense? How about their defense?
HH: To slow down the Redskins offense, I would make them one-dimensional and focus on taking away the run game. When the Redskins remained committed to having a balanced offense and actually focus on running the ball (regardless of how successful they are), they typically win. When they abandon the run game, whether that be from being down big on the scoreboard or just because they get caught up in passing too much, they typically lose. Over the first couple of games this year, the Redskins were passing the ball like 80% of the time and it was miserable. They finally appear to have realized the need and importance of balance and it's helped their offense tremendously. Still, if you can bottle up their running game, they have shown that they may abandon the run game to their own detriment.
On offense, the Cowboys should just focus on doing what they do best. Run the ball and then run it some more behind that impressive OL. The Redskins will obviously be focusing on stopping it, but the Cowboys have to make them prove that they can. And I'm not so sure they can. Take the Redskins pass-rush out of the game by keeping second and third downs in manageable yardage situations. Keep your defense fresh by controlling the clock with the run game and wear down the Redskins defense. That's the way to do it. They can hang against the pass, but a serious commitment to running it may prove too much. The DL is thin and not talented and slowing down the pass-rush for even a tiny amount of time could make a huge difference for Dak.
Thanks for the knowledge, Hogs Haven.