Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda provides five things we've learned about the Washington Redskins through Weeks 5-8 -- against the Ravens, Eagles, Lions and Bengals -- of the 2016 regular season.
1. Kirk Cousins is starting to get into a groove.Much like last season – his first as the full-time starting quarterback for the Redskins – it took a little bit of time for Cousins to get into a rhythm.
Through the first four games of the season, Cousins led the Redskins to a 2-2 record behind six touchdown to four interceptions.
In Washington's regular season opener against Pittsburgh, Cousins struggled with his timing and didn't start hitting targets accurately until late in the game when the Steelers had already pulled away. Then against the Dallas Cowboys just six days later, Cousins threw a costly interception in the end zone with the Redskins up by three points. Washington's archrivals would march down the field for an Alfred Morris game-winning touchdown run.
His three best performances have arguably come in the Redskins' last three games, though, as he's managed to string together strong play despite three separate defenses sending tons of pressure his way.
Take the Lions game, for example. While Washington would ultimately lose the game in the final seconds, Cousins was extremely productive – particularly in the second half -- despite immense pressure.
The Michigan State product connected on 30-of-39 pass attempts for 301 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to Robert Kelley early in the fourth quarter only to get another off a 17-yard run.
"When you play on the road the defense is getting off on the snap count pretty effectively, there's going to be games like that where you're going to have to step up, move around, throw the ball away and I think he did a great job," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said the day after. "You know, he put us in position to win, scored a touchdown with about a minute to go. Unfortunately it wasn't enough but I think he had a very good, solid outing."
Then there was last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, where Cousins passed for a career-high 458 yards. While the effort came in a wild 27-27 tie, the offense managing its high offensive output in 25 yards is something Cousins and Co. can build on over the final eight games.
The second half of last season was when Cousins was at his absolute best.
"We'll take from this game from an offensive perspective that a lot of good things happened, a lot of plays were made, a lot of yards were produced and we just need to keep going, keep learning, and hope that the second half of the season we can get in a rhythm where we finish strong," Cousins said.
2. Kendall Fuller has locked down the nickel cornerback position.
After a heated training camp and preseason battled turned in favor of Dashaun Phillips to start the season, it wasn't until injuries to the secondary that Fuller – the team's third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – was placed in the lineup.
With the 84th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected cornerback Kendall Fuller out of Virginia Tech. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
Starting with his NFL regular season debut on Oct. 2 against the Cleveland Browns, Fuller has been productive at the nickel cornerback position, collecting 21 tackles in five games.
While Fuller is just 21 years old, Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry thinks the Virginia Tech product is "very mature for his age." It shows on the field during games.
"[He's] very detailed [and] asks great questions," Barry said last month. "You know, the biggest thing, playing any position but especially playing DB and specifically the nickel corner, you've got have a plan every week on how you attack the guy that you play based on what type of player that is, and usually young guys don't get that. Usually young guys say, 'Oh, I get the call, I've got to play the call.' You know, 'I've got to play my leverage, I've got to do my job.' But you learn as you're in this league, you've got to approach every single wide receiver different. And it's cool that Kendall already understands that. He already really gets it and that's why I talk about his awareness, his savviness, his instincts, whatever you want to call it. He has that and it's really neat."
Over the next few weeks, the Redskins will face some of the league's top slot wide receivers. In return, those receivers will play against a cornerback that's only going to get better and better as time foes on.
"I think he's going to be a nickel here for a long time," Gruden said. "Yes, we loved the way he plays. I love his work ethic. I like the way….He loves football. He studies and he's a football player. He just has great natural instincts for the position and the more he sees, the more reps he gets, the better he is going to get and the more of an impact he is going to have."
3. "Fat Rob" is here to stay.
In early May, the Redskins announced the signing 14 college free agents. Among them was Robert Kelley, a player who didn't exactly have standout numbers during his college career.
In four seasons at Tulane Kelley only started 12 of his 50 appearances and managed to gain only 1,295 yards and six rushing touchdowns.
But as offseason workouts proved, his college statistics don't tell his entire story.
Kelley caught the attention of teammates, coaches and even the beat reporters for his sharp cuts and aggressive running style despite being buried on the depth chart. That only continued in Richmond for training camp and then during the preseason slate when he averaged more than five yards per carry on his 38 rushing attempts.
Earning a spot on the Redskins' initial 53-man roster, Kelley didn't record a carry the first two regular season games and had just five carries for 11 yards at the quarter pole of the season.
It all changed in Week 6, though, as Kelley would burst out for a 45-yard run featuring a perfect cutback and a few broken tackles. In Week 7, he scored his first NFL touchdown, hauling in a one-yard score. And then last Sunday in his first start as a professional, Kelley ran for 87 yards and a touchdown.
"He ran physical and made some nice runs," Gruden said of Kelley's most recent outing. "I think he pre-determined a couple cuts here and there, maybe didn't let the play develop a little bit like we would like, but I think for the most part I was happy the way he ran. He ran physical and he ran hard. I think he had 21 carries for 85 yards, or something like that, 87 yards. That's a pretty darn good first day for the guy as far as being a lead-down back."
4. Ryan Kerrigan is rounding into form.
In the Redskins' 31-20 victory over the Browns, Kerrigan hit a low point in his season.
He appeared on just eight snaps before an elbow injury removed him from the game. At the time, it looked like the Purdue product's consecutive starts streak was in jeopardy.
But with a massive protective brace to secure his elbow, Kerrigan was right back at it just seven days later and breaking out his "HBKerrigan" sack pose like it never left.
On the last play of the first half of the Redskins' 16-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Kerrigan notched his 50th career sack. His best performance of the season came the next week, when the 2011 first-round pick notched 2.5 sacks on Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.
Kerrigan has since extended his sacks streak to four games with takedowns of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. At seven sacks on the season, Kerrigan is tied for fifth-most in the NFL right now.
5. The Redskins have quite the one-two punch at the tight end position.
At the start of the season, it wouldn't have surprised anyone to say that Jordan Reed would lead the all tight ends in receptions (42) and be in the top five for receiving yards (415) at the position through eight weeks.
But it isn't just Reed who has been producing from the Redskins' tight ends room, as Vernon Davis has tallied 23 receptions for 316 yards and a touchdown. Four times already this season Davis has surpassed 50 receiving yards in a game.
It's well documented that Davis keeps his body in peak shape, but the 32-year-old also mixes his physical abilities with superb blocking abilities.
"We're happy as heck to have him because he's been a major factor for us and will continue to be," Gruden said recently of Davis.
Back to Reed for a minute.
The fourth-year pro missed two games due to a concussion in October but returned last Sunday to record 99 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions against the Bengals. His 33-yard touchdown was also the longest of his career.
With the Redskins facing all NFC opponents down the stretch, they'll be counting on Reed – with a little help from Davis – to be a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses.
"He can line up in nickel, defensive back, safety, it doesn't matter who's on him," Gruden said. "He's very, very effective in whatever route he wants to run."