Russell: The surprising aspects of the Washington Redskins after seven games

Chris Russell writes and Ben Standig talks about the unexpected positives from the Washington Redskins so far this season.

The Washington Redskins have hit their bye weekend. Seven down, nine to go when the team returns early next week to prepare for a road game at the New England Patriots.


They hit their vacation with a somewhat unexpected 3-4 record and a legitimate chance inside a watered down NFC East.


The first seven games brought plenty of good and a dose of not so-good for Jay Gruden’s team in his second year as Washington’s head coach.


Here are three surprises that are very noticeable when watching the games live and on coach’s film.


1 – Heart and Character: This Redskins team is far from great, but they have consistently shown a resiliency that was on display this past Sunday, down 24-0 and getting booed, before they bounced back against a Tampa team that did not go quietly and won 31-30.


That’s the easy example. They’ve dominated games in the first half (St. Louis, Philadelphia) before struggling in the third quarter and even into the fourth, before closing the door on the Rams and coming from behind in sure but steady fashion to beat the Eagles.


Don’t forget the last minute field goal drive in Atlanta to force overtime before a brutal end to such a hard-fought game.


A team with no heart and character doesn’t do this.


I’ve even been impressed they didn’t completely roll over and play dead in both losses at MetLife Stadium this year. In the Giants week three loss, if Matt Jones doesn’t fumble going into the end zone – who knows how that game ends. Even with that, Rashad Ross contributed the Redskins first special teams touchdown of any sort since 2010.


Against the Jets, Jamison Crowder had a contested fourth down drop that would have been a touchdown. Mason Foster had his hands on an on-side kick that would have given the offense another chance and then there was the first Redskins blocked punt since 2006 by Jeron Johnson, recovered by Ross for a touchdown.


There’s been no sniping or backstabbing, no pointing of the finger at anyone or anything. Believe it or not, it’s starting to feel like the Redskins are achieving stability.


2- Special Team’s success: We mentioned the blocked punt for a touchdown against the Jets and kickoff return for a score against the Giants, but the onside kick recovery by Washington during Sunday’s comeback win, is by far the most notable contribution on special teams all year.


Why? The Redskins executed it brilliantly based on something they had identified on film, worked on during practice and used in a huge spot.  It was a gutsy call by Jay Gruden, but tremendous execution by Dustin Hopkins and friends.


Hopkins has been very good since replacing Kai Forbath after week one. Hopkins has a huge leg and that came into play on the game-tying field goal in Atlanta as regulation time expired and in every game with kickoffs regularly boomed deep into the end zone or out of it.


Ross has been solid as a kick returner overall and contributed a 33-yard return to fuel the Redskins first touchdown on Sunday.


The negative? Tress Way had a punt blocked (Giants) for a safety, Miami won the season opener on a punt-return touchdown and Tampa nearly blocked three first-half punts on Sunday.


3 – Pass Protection: The Redskins have yielded eight sacks. A lot of that is on Kirk Cousins who gets rid of the ball much quicker than Robert Griffin III or Colt McCoy.


Some of the credit goes to Bill Callahan for working with a mash unit.


A lot of the credit should go to the players. Trent Williams has been quite good in pass protection. Spencer Long has held up. Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff have had a couple of bad moments but overall, this unit has been very good in this area.


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