Tarik's Take: Redskins thump Eagles to win NFC East title
5) Start at the top
Kirk Cousins deserves a lot of credit for securing the division title. So does Jay Gruden, who made some shrewd changes to his staff last offseason and seems to be coming into his own as a head coach. But it’s important not to overlook the behind the scenes contributions of first-year GM Scot McCloughan. He brought in veteran leaders such as Terrance Knighton and Dashon Goldson to help shepherd a young locker room. He backed his coach’s controversial decision to switch to Kirk Cousins. Five of this year’s 10 draft picks—Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, Matt Jones, Jamison Crowder and Kyshoen Jarrett are playing major roles as rookies. McCloughan has also instilled a level of accountability that did not previously exist in Ashburn. As one veteran player told me this week, he scrutinizes each snap in practice from the sideline, where he often stands alone, sunglasses on, visor pulled down, hands on knees. The player said McCloughan oozes intensity, and it fuels his players.
4) Fresh legs
Alfred Morris has meant a lot to the Redskins since he arrived as a sixth rounder in 2012. But it’s getting harder and harder to defend his lack of production. On Saturday night, he rushed for 49 yards on 17 carries with a long of eight yards. That’s an average of 2.9 yards per attempt and it marked the eighth time in the past 11 games that he’s averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per carry in a game. Jay Gruden is in a tough spot. Matt Jones, who missed the game with a bruised hip, has struggled with ball security and consistency. Chris Thompson is nursing a shoulder injury and did not record a carry in Philly. Against the Eagles, in fact, Pierre Thomas was the Redskins’ most effective running back, carrying the ball four times for 22 yards (5.5 per) and reeling in seven receptions for 67 yards. Is it time to give Thomas a shot? Is a Week 17 shakeup worth the risk?
3) Moving on
I’m still not sure what Kirk Cousins was thinking on that bizarre play at the end of the first half. But I know this: He responded the way you’d want your quarterback to. He pushed the embarrassing, point-costing miscue out of his head and tossed second-half touchdowns to Chris Thompson and Pierre Garcon to earn his first primetime victory (1-4) and clinch the division. Mental toughness is sometimes an underappreciated aspect of succeeding in pro sports. It’s not an issue for Cousins, who has proven time and again that he thrives in the clutch and has learned to compartmentalize mistakes and move forward.
My word processor says ‘uncoverable’ is not really a word. But I think there needs to be an exception made for Jordan Reed, whose knack for clutch catches has carried the offense during the Redskins’ three-game winning streak. In those wins, the 25-year-old tight end has racked up 25 receptions (on 27 targets), 333 yards and a whopping five touchdowns. He also now owns the single season franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end with 907, despite missing two games with a concussion, and is third in the NFL this season among tight ends in YAC with 411 yards. The key? Reed has played in a career-high 13 games in ’15. “I knew if I could stay healthy that I could produce,” he said last week. Reed also told me he’s assembled his own staff of chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists to help him avoid the soft-tissue injuries that hampered him in previous years.
1) Don't lose the momentum
Sooo…rest the starters or nah? Let me be clear about this: I am not in favor or resting starters, especially not healthy ones. Momentum is a thing. And right now the Redskins are riding a wave of it into the postseason. They’ve won three in a row and four of their past five games. Actually, you can argue they’re a (mis)play vs. the Cowboys away from a five-game winning streak. This team is building something special. This is not the time to put down the hammer, take a breather and admire what’s already been built. Jay Gruden needs to play his starters—all of them—on Sunday in Dallas, and play to win.