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Redskins' third-down play a smash-mouth surprise

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Redskins' third-down play a smash-mouth surprise

Under Jay Gruden, Redskins fans have accused the coach of being predictable in his play calling. Sometimes the criticism has been justified and often it has not. But perhaps the predictability meme turned a corner with a play call in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ win over the Rams.

Here was the situation. The Redskins were holding on to a 17-10 lead with 3:35 left to play. It was third and eight at the St. Louis 13. Last year, the Redskins faced third and eight or longer 92 times. They dropped the quarterback back to pass 85 times. Of the seven handoffs to running backs all but one were either in garbage time or in give-up situations such as third and 21. The other one came on third and 10 in a tie game just before the winning field goal against the Eagles in December.

So, it was rational for the Rams to expect a pass. But they didn’t get it. Rookie Matt Jones was the lone running back and took the handoff and headed off left tackle. The Redskins had lined up all three of their tight ends on that side and they sent left guard Shawn Lauvao pulling in that direction. Center Kory Lichtensteiger got to the second level while left tackle Trent Williams with a pancake block on end Robert Quinn.

Jones had to skirt around a little traffic in the backfield but he quickly got up a head of steam. When he was two yards from the first down line he lunged forward and crashed through a couple of defenders to pick up the first down with a yard to go.

Gruden obviously was pleased with the call and a result and he said a few factors went into the decision to run.

“ We were playing the clock and a field goal there would've given us a 10-point lead, two-possession game,” said Gruden. “We were having success running the ball, so we didn't want to risk putting the ball up in the air – interception, tipped ball, sack-fumble, something like that. We wanted to run the ball, keep them in bounds and eat another 45 seconds off the clock. Worst case scenario, we kick a field goal, go up 10 and that's two possessions and that's tough to overcome with three or four minutes to go and a couple timeouts. That was our thinking there and we had some runs that we liked and Matt Jones got a big first down on it."

Two plays later, Lauvao pulled to the left again, Jones followed him, and crashed the last couple of yards for the clinching TD.

Here’s one more note on the play. As Gruden said, the Redskins were working the clock. It was running as they lined up for the play. Kirk Cousins let the play clock run all the way down to one second before calling for the ball to be snapped. Smart football by a relatively inexperienced player.  

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What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

FEDEX FIELD -- Late in the Redskins win over the Cowboys, when the contest was still very much in question, Alex Smith made an incredibly poor decision. 

It was situational football at its peak. The Redskins had the ball with under 90 seconds left and a three point lead while Dallas had just one timeout left. A first down would end the game, but beyond getting a new set of downs, forcing Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to use his final timeout was the next highest priority. 

Somehow, Smith achieved neither. 

On third-and-9 from his own 36-yard-line, Smith took the snap and worked left on a play-action bootleg. There was room to run for a modest gain, but it seemed obvious Smith would not pick up the first down. 

Only Smith didn't see it that way. 

"I knew a first down would end the game and I did have glimpses of myself getting the first down whatever it took," the quarterback said. 

Instead of getting the first down, Smith got dragged out of bounds by Dallas LB Sean Lee. That stopped the clock for the Cowboys, and allowed Garrett to save his final timeout. 

Barring a turnover, it was the worst possible outcome on the play. 

What makes the situation so strange is that Smith is a very smart player. A 14-year veteran, Smith is known as a guy that won't make mistakes to hurt his team and gives his squad a chance for a win every week. Only late in the game, Smith tried to make the play to go for the win, and made a huge mistake instead. 

"I all of a sudden found myself pretty awkward on the sidelines there and can’t have it," Smith said. "[I] could have obviously cost us the game in hindsight at that point, I think kinda abandon ship and go down there on the sideline.”

The good news for Smith, and for the 4-2 Redskins, is that Cowboys kicker Brett Maher plunked the upright on his game-tying field goal attempt. An attempt that might not have happened if Smith stayed in bounds. 

In the end, it didn't cost the Redskins. 

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Adrian Peterson continues surprising run in Redskins' win over Cowboys

Adrian Peterson continues surprising run in Redskins' win over Cowboys

LANDOVER, Md. -- With 22 starters comprising offensive and defensive players, plus another faction handling special teams, football is the ultimate team sport.

Now imagine where the 2018 Washington Redskins find themselves if the front office never brings in Adrian Peterson for that mid-preseason workout. Even Jamie Lee Curtis finds that frightening.

Peterson’s return to football glory continued with 99 rushing yards on 24 carries in Washington’s 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday evening.

“I won’t say we wouldn’t be as good in the run game, but, yeah,” left tackle Trent Williams said of his former University of Oklahoma teammate.

“Obviously having [Adrian], I won’t say it’s everything, but it’s almost everything,” Williams continued. His eyes widened as the Pro Bowl lineman pondered the potential downside of this offense without the future Hall of Famer. That’s a dark timeline.

Peterson’s Redskins career now spans six regular-season games. Sunday’s display of power in tight spaces and speed when daylight exists wasn’t a one-off. In those six games, Peterson rushed for at least 96 yards four times including the last two games despite playing with a painful shoulder.

“I’m feeling good, man, we just got a W,” the smiling running back said from behind the podium inside the media room at his newish home stadium. “That makes everything feel a lot better. I feel better than I did last week, I’ll say that.”

Washington felt concerned enough about its running attack following the second preseason game to scour the free agent market. Peterson arriving at Redskins Park in August generated the expected “Whoa” from the casual NFL fans, who picture the player hammering silly defenders daring to tackle him. That player no longer existed. At least that’s what many assumed.

Peterson last topped 1,000 yards or 4.0 yards per rush in 2015. Injuries and inefficiency headlined his 2017 stops in New Orleans and Arizona. Running backs capable of carrying an offense aren’t just lying around for the taking like a rogue penny on a sidewalk. Yet, there was Peterson, waiting for a team to show interest. After losing Derrius Guice with a season-ending knee injury and recognizing the in-house options were not enough, the Redskins called.

 “We didn’t have many expectations,” Jay Gruden said after the Redskins improved to 4-2 and took a 1 ½ game lead in the NFC East. “We weren’t expecting him to be on our football team until we had a couple of injuries. Then we got him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know he looked great in that workout.”

That workout led to a signing and almost simultaneously, the starting gig. Now it’s hard contemplating anyone else in those early down and short yardage scenarios. Peterson had runs of 23 and 20 yards against the Cowboys. The latter help set up one of two Dustin Hopkins field goals. His overall production helped move the chains in yet another game where the Alex Smith-led passing game lacked oomph.

This random road to Redskins Park is why Peterson’s renaissance feels shocking to many with one significant exception.

“No, not at all. I think everyone else around is surprised. I’m not,” Peterson said. “I expect greatness from myself. That’s why I put the work in. God has blessed with me this talent. A lot of people see, and a lot of people don’t. … Just keep confidence in myself. When I’m presented with my opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it every Sunday.”

Peterson is taking advantage of this opportunity with the Redskins because necessity is the mother of invention. It turns out Washington’s running attack needed a reboot more than the running back required a makeover.

“There are not many guys like [Adrian] walking around the street,” Williams said, “and luckily, we found a diamond in the rough.”

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