Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Redskins

To get the scoop on the Washington Redskins, who host the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's NFC Wild Card Game, we turn to's Ben Standing.

For sustained success in the NFL, you need a star quarterback. The Redskins, of course, thought they had their man with Robert Griffin with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft. Funny how things worked out, with the Redskins getting their quarterback with Kirk Cousins with the 102nd pick of that draft. What has made Cousins look like such a rising star this season?

Anytime Cousins played during his first three seasons, he always knew the score. In 2014, he went so far as to say this was Griffin's team. That knowledge and awareness I believe curtailed some confidence and dialed up the mistakes as he tried proving he belonged with each pass. This summer, he arrived at camp with a tougher edge while still possessing the arm strength and accuracy to make all the needed throws. Once the Redskins made the correct call and gave him the job late in preseason, Cousins took command. The coaches kept the training wheels on for the first month or so of the season. Around the time DeSean Jackson returned from injury, they opened the playbook. Since Week 7, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. You have to like that.

Unlike counterpart Aaron Rodgers, Cousins hasn’t had to do it alone.  With veteran receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, rookie receiver Jamison Crowder, a budding star in tight end Jordan Reed and about 100 running backs, the supporting cast is loaded. What’s worked so well down the stretch?

What's amazing about the Redskins offense is how well it performed down the stretch with only nominal help from the ground game. Cousins' leading the NFL in completion percentage essentially served as the short game, with tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Pierre Garcon his main mid-range targets and Jackson serving as the deep threat. Crowder shined as a rookie, providing the offense with a change-of-pace weapon. You're right, there were many running backs involved and while none consistently flourished, all had positive moments. (Something tells me Pierre Thomas is the sneaky one to watch Sunday.) All of this took place behind an inexperienced offensive line that allowed the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. Lastly, credit to the play calling. Jay Gruden and his staff often conjured up quality opportunities no matter who was on the field.

At least based on the numbers, Washington’s defense is not very good. The pass rush looks excellent but any team that starts former Packers punt returner Will Blackmon at cornerback must have serious issues. What vulnerabilities would you expect the Packers to attack?

Injuries hampered the Redskins' secondary all season. Another notable one took place last week and slot corner Kyshoen Jarrett won't be available Sunday. That's on top of losing a starting corner and strong safety earlier this season. Injuries are enough of a concern that Washington signed ex-Seahawks CB Cary Williams this week. Bashaud Breeland is a bad man, so Rodgers will likely look elsewhere and elsewhere is where he might find success. Blackmon actually played a big role in helping the defense survive some truly shorthanded weeks. Like the defense overall, he's been a bend-but-don't-break player. I'll be curious to see how the coaches deploy corner-turned-safety DeAngelo Hall with Jarrett out. Lastly, I know the Packers don't always look Richard Rodgers' way, but the Redskins' inside linebackers have given up ample production to tight ends in three of the last four weeks.

Beyond Cousins, how did the Redskins come so far, so fast? They won a total of seven games in 2013 and 2014, and this is their second playoff berth in eight years. What’s been the blueprint for success?

First-year general manager Scot McCloughan arrived with a clear plan: Build an aggressive team on both sides of the ball. He began that goal by signing veteran defensive linemen including nose tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton and Ricky Jean Francois .(The DL unit , including holdovers Jason Hatcher and Chris Baker, served as the emotional leaders throughout the season.) In the draft, McCloughan spent the fifth overall pick on Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. Combined with second-year tackle Morgan Moses, Scherff helped solidify the right side of the line, which in turn helped Cousins progress and allowed talents like Reed and Jackson to flourish. Beyond Scherff, several rookies made big contributions. McCloughan also had a great eye for in-season moves with the additions of kicker Dustin Hopkins, linebacker Mason Foster, running back Pierre Thomas and Blackmon paying off. All these moved combined with a much-improved locker room vibe — and a down year elsewhere in the NFC East — put Washington ahead of schedule.

Here’s a related question: Is this legit or fool’s gold? The Redskins haven’t beaten a good team all year — 0-2 against playoff teams and the worst strength of victory in the playoff field. Do you expect the Redskins to keep on rolling on Sunday and into the future?

It's all true. No wins against teams with a winning record. Nobody should be shocked if Green Bay exits FedEx Field with a win. However, it would be rather surprising if the Redskins went belly up. Even in their lopsided results, Washington impressed at times before a mistake or two did them in. Most of those games occurred earlier in the season. From the point when all the offensive pieces were together, the team took off. That's also around the time Cousins didn't just play quarterback, but flourished in the spotlight role. Taking down an Aaron Rodgers team won't be easy and it's a bit disconcerting how many people in town believe it will happen. Count me among them. Redskins, 27-23.

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