Bye week grades: Special teams
Through seven games, the Redskins rank as one of the NFL’s most inconsistent teams—from week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter, heck, play-to-play. But at 3-4, they’re still in the thick of things as they catch a breather at the bye. It’s been an interesting couple of months, indeed, and over the next few days CSN Mid-Atlantic reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will hand out their first half grades, position-by-position.
Tandler: In the first part of the season it looked like it would be the same old, sorry story for the Redskins special teams as they gave up a game-winning punt return for a touchdown in Week 1 and a tone-setting blocked punt for a safety in Week 3. Since then, however, things have gone much better, in part because the kicking units don’t have to do as much. Kicker Dustin Hopkins, signed in Week 2, hammers almost three-quarters of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He has been nearly perfect on field goals, with just one miss in 12 attempts and that coming from beyond 50 yards. Punter Tress Way has been adequate but he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to placement and dropping kicks inside the 20. The Redskins do have an onside kick recovery, a 101-yard Rashad Ross return for a touchdown and a punt block for a TD on their ledger but it should be noted that the latter two plays took place at times when the Redskins were hopelessly behind. There’s a lot to figure out for a grade here so I’ll turn to the numbers crunchers at Football Outsiders. They have the Redskins with a special teams DVOA of 1.2 percent, 13th in the league. That’s a little better than average. With the big plays coming in meaningless situations, I can’t go with a B.
El-Bashir: For the second straight year, the Redskins added a key specialist. Last year, it was punter Tress Way, who went on to lead the league in yards per punt as a rookie. This year, it’s been kicker Dustin Hopkins. Through seven games, Hopkins is 11 of 12 on field goals (91.7 percent, 11th best), including 2 of 3 from 50 or more yards out. He’s also recorded touchbacks on 71-percent of his kickoffs (6th best) and helped convert the first successful onside kick in the NFL this season against Tampa Bay. The coverage and punt protection units, meantime, have been better after allowing a punt return for a touchdown (Miami’s Jarvis Landry) and a blocked punt for a safety (vs. the Giants). The unit has also made some plays of late. In addition to the onside kick recovery, Jeron Johnson blocked a punt in the end zone vs. the Jets and Rashad Ross entered Sunday’s games leading the league in kickoff return yards (400), aided by his 101-yard touchdown return vs. the Giants. There’s still, however, much for Ben Kotwica’s unit to improve upon in the second half now that it seems to have adjusted to life without captains Niles Paul and Adam Hayward, who were lost to injury. One of those areas is the punt return game, where rookie Jamison Crowder ranks 28th (5.1 yards per return). Over the past few weeks, the unit has performed at a B level. But the wretched start drags down the first half grade.
Grading the Redskins at the bye: