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Think the Redskins are flawed? Well, so is nearly everyone else in the NFC

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USA TODAY Sports

Think the Redskins are flawed? Well, so is nearly everyone else in the NFC

One alarming loss in a bland home opener uncovered a few early flaws with the 2018 Redskins: The wide receivers and Alex Smith have yet to really connect, the supposed-to-be-dominant defensive line isn't dominating so far and the running game dropped off big-time following a perfect Week 1.

All of those issues could seriously derail the team's season if they aren't addressed and improved. Luckily for the 'Skins, the rest of the NFC is dealing with their own problems, too.

Through two weeks, the conference — which was supposed to make the NBA's vaunted Western side look average — has just two undefeated teams: The Rams (not surprising) and the Bucs (very, very surprising). Every other organization has one or zero wins.

The Packers and Vikings are still undefeated thanks to a Week 2 tie and they both figure to be relevant through December.

Green Bay, however, has to worry about every single Aaron Rodgers dropback. That is a lot more worrisome than, say, Smith's chemistry with his outside targets.

Now, look around at the NFC East.

The Eagles notched an impressive win vs. the Falcons but then were taken out by the High Flyin' Ryan Fitzpatricks (again, maybe Tampa Bay is actually legit, but it's hard to imagine that this is something that'll carry on all season).

Sure, they're getting Carson Wentz back, and Wentz will give them an enormous boost. But he's returning from a serious knee injury and also won't do anything for their 28th-ranked pass defense.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have a strong defense but an uninspiring offense. Then there's the Giants, who made the wise choice of putting an aging passer behind a decrepit offensive line.

Washington fans who are panicking can take solace in the fact that, for now, the division is jumbled.

So, how's everyone else holding up? 

The Saints were blown out to start the year and needed the Browns to be Browns-y to avoid an 0-2 start.

The Panthers are formidable but will ultimately go as far as Cam Newton can take them, and he could use a pass catcher outside of Christian McCaffrey to step up.

The Falcons have lost a few key defenders to injuries already and Steve Sarkisian makes plenty of questionable playcalls with that talented offense.

The 49ers are finding out that Jimmy Garoppolo isn't the solution to everything.

The Bears are scary with Khalil Mack and Co., but can Mitch Trubisky evolve enough to elevate the offense?

Then there are the Lions, Cardinals and Seahawks, all already in 0-2 holes and possibly already out of contention.

Where the Redskins stand in the NFC is still unclear; they aced their first test then totally flunked their second. But it's necessary to remember that nearly every other franchise is still figuring things out, too. 

The fact of the matter is the Burgundy and Gold are 1-1 and right in the thick of the race.

No one is pulling away in the NFC East and some other preseason contenders are stuck in neutral. Beating the Colts would've been really useful — especially if the standings are still tight come playoff time — but the loss didn't doom them by any stretch. 

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When asked about the defensive decline, DJ Swearinger gives response 'they want' him to give

When asked about the defensive decline, DJ Swearinger gives response 'they want' him to give

A frequent question Redskins players have had to face this past month is, in some form or another, "What's wrong with the defense, and what's changed?"

Washington's defense was, for the most part, effective and at times dominant during the team's 6-3 start.

But in this losing streak that extended to four games after the disgraceful performance against the Giants, the unit has been a trainwreck on top of a dumpster fire. 

DJ Swearinger was the latest 'Skin to be asked the increasingly common question in the FedEx Field locker room postgame. His response was noteworthy.

"We just didn't execute, we just didn't get the job done," he said. "That's the answer they want me to give."

Swearinger attracts some of the largest media crowds when he speaks because he's passionate and never holds back with his quotes.

However, some recent comments from No. 36 about the Redskins' practice habits caught Jay Gruden's attention to the point where the coach explained in one of his weekly pressers he'd prefer the safety keep those thoughts in-house.

So, is Gruden or another coach or front office person the "they" that Swearinger referred to following the Giants blowout? You'd have to assume so.

Regardless, it's obvious that he wanted to say more, but instead, he kept his full, unfiltered opinion to himself — this time. If things continue to trend downward and his frustration continues to trend upward, though, don't expect him to keep giving the answers "they want."

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Basketball court to the NFL: Inside quarterback Josh Johnson's wild week with Redskins

Basketball court to the NFL: Inside quarterback Josh Johnson's wild week with Redskins

FEDEX FIELD — A week ago, Josh Johnson was playing in a charity basketball tournament in his hometown of Oakland. Five-on-five, full court, twenty-minute halves and four games, if you want to know the truth. His squad won the title. 

That’s a pretty good day. It had been a while since Johnson played that much ball. He couldn’t have realized what the next week had in store. Signed and cut by 11 NFL teams, now 32 years old and with his hopes of another chance remote at best, circumstances changed dramatically for Johnson. 

Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy broke his leg in last Monday’s game at Philadelphia. By Tuesday night Johnson was on a red-eye flight to Washington. By Wednesday, he was at practice. By Sunday he was on the field in the second half, replacing ineffective starter Mark Sanchez with Washington down 40-0 to the New York Giants. 

“It’s really something I’ve been doing the last six years. I’ve been cut so much, been picked up one time the day of a game,” Johnson said. “The poise was there within myself because I just had to remember what I did before. Everybody probably would have expected me to go out and not do anything so I really had nothing to lose.”

At this point the 6-7 Redskins probably have nothing to lose, either. Their top two quarterbacks (Alex Smith, McCoy) are lost to broken legs, the offensive line is decimated by injuries again, the defense is fading. Johnson’s presence is the perfect metaphor as a once-promising season slips away during a four-game losing streak. 

Sanchez, who signed himself just last month after Smith’s gruesome leg injury, struggled in the pocket against New York and doesn’t have the mobility to escape when protection breaks down. 

At 5:31 of the third quarter, coach Jay Gruden turned to Johnson. He still has the athleticism to escape trouble and his legs can stress a defense. Gruden used to tease Johnson about his ugly spirals when they were together with the Cincinnati Bengals. Gruden was the offensive coordinator then, Johnson just a reserve.  

It’s fair to point out that Johnson was playing during garbage time against a 4-8 team that had long ago gave up on its own season and was ahead 40-0 and ready to kill the clock and get out of Washington with a win. But he did complete 11 of 16 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He was not sacked. He ran for 45 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown. 

“The guy has been around the league for a while and has been with Jay before. To see him put that on tape was great,” Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses said. “He told us he’d communicate and make sure we’re on the same page - even if we’ve got to go on the same snap count. If we’ve got to dummy it down and make it simple for guys to get the ball out, that’s what it takes.”

That Johnson produced as much as he did was shocking given that he hardly knew anyone’s name other than tight end Vernon Davis, who he played with in San Francisco, running back Adrian Peterson, tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder.  Johnson ran scout team reps in practice as the Redskins scrambled to get Sanchez ready to start. He did not get his own package of plays.  

Teammates didn’t know much about Johnson, either. He spent all week holed up in meetings trying to learn the playbook as fast as he could. It’s an impossible task. He even took to playing Madden football to learn his own teammates’ names. He laughed that it came to that, but wasn’t surprised. You do what you have to when given an unexpected chance.

“Felt fun. It felt fun. I was just really embracing the opportunity,” Johnson said. “When you don’t get to play this game and you love this game then you really appreciate every opportunity that you get. And so I just wanted to enjoy it. And that’s how I’m taking it every day. Come to work. Practice. Weight room. Whatever. Just enjoy it. I’m 32. I’m 32. Just enjoy it.   

And Johnson ultimately gave Gruden what he needed in that moment. The final score was still a brutal 40-16 after a pair of two-point conversions. But Johnson will start next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars - though it is probably too late for the Redskins who look less and less competitive every week.

"The bright spot we had to today was Josh Johnson,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “The rest of it, it is what it is."

For some players, that’s enough to start thinking about the offseason. For Johnson, cut by the Giants at the end of training camp in 2017, the Houston Texans last December, the Oakland Raiders, his hometown team, in May, every minute in the NFL is a gift. He could be back in Oakland, working with cousin Marshawn Lynch and their Family1st Foundation, which helps provide, mentoring, skills, sports and business opportunities and training to kids in inner-city Oakland and beyond. 

Johnson was at a local hospital visiting one of his foundation’s kids, who had a broken leg, when he got the call from the Redskins. He was ready for a chance no one saw coming except himself. Maybe that lesson will stick with the kids back home, too.   

“We’re just trying to do what we do for our community and then spread it to other communities,” Johnson said. “We grew up like a lot of these inner-city kids. If we can be an example of how to keep pushing, stay motivated within yourself, be able to take the good with the bad - that’s how life is. It’s overcoming.”

 

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