The Redskins are far from a pretty team. They're miles away before entering any conversation that includes the NFL's elite. And yet by virtue of a tiebreaker over the New York Giants, Washington sits atop the NFC East. First place in December. Win out and hello postseason. Sure, 5-0 is highly unlikely, but the next game looks promising and the overall remaining schedule isn't daunting.
In other words, by this time next week, good chance the focus remains on the division title and not the usual pre-Christmas topic: Who will be the next Redskins head coach and how will that change the franchise's direction.
Talk about a change.
The Redskins (5-6) host the Tony Romo-less Cowboys (3-8) on Monday Night Football. Dallas remains winless wiithout Romo under center this season. Now, upsets happen, especially in division matchups, but Washington, 5-1 at home this season, enters as the favorite.
Now, talk of coaching change could surface if Monday goes wrong and the sour taste remains through the final weeks. That shouldn’t happen, even with a loss
The coaching staff currently in place should'nt be in any danger of losing their jobs. I'm pretty confident Scot McCloughan knows that and would serve as a buffer between any kind of irrational behaivor from the executive branch.
This leads to another question: How much credit does the Redskins’ coaching staff deserve for the first place position? That’s an open ended question that really has no sure fire correct answer.
My philosophy always has been and probably always will be to give the players an overwhelming majority of the credit or blame, in any sport. They are who truly decides results. I absolutely believe that to be true in this case.
In my eyes, the Redskins players are 90-plus percent responsible for where they are. The good and the bad.
For instance, Kirk Cousins' nearly threw a pick-six to Dominique Rodgers Cromartie early in Sunday's meeting with the Giants. That wasn't about coaching. It was a mistake and he got away with it. However, Cousins explained on 106.7 the FAN that his “rules” of coverage, told him to throw that pass to where he did. He told hosts Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier that he should have thrown the ball a split-second earlier.
One huge missed opportunity for the Giants and one extremely fortunate break for the Redskins on a play that simply goes down as an incompletion. Yet it could have changed an entire game and therefore a season.
One dropped interception and a probable touchdown allowed the Redskins to re-group and win a game they desperately needed. Good coaching or good fortune? I say the latter is much more at play.
However, coaching does matter to some degree and that was also evident on Sunday. The Redskins coaching staff on offense concocted a plan and then carried it out. The plan? Shorten the game for the Giants offense. This ball-control approach blends with the general manager's philosophy. The Redskins executed this vision perfectly.
The Giants only had the ball for 24:00 time of possession. Takeaways by the Redskins defense played a role in this stat without question. Going with a ball control plan and sticking with the run game despite having only moderate success played a bigger one.
The Skins ran the ball 37 times for 105 yards. That's only 2.8 yards per carry average, but enough quality runs combined with Cousins' passing kept the ball with the home team and away from Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. New York finally puts points on the board late, but one final clock-churning drive left the Giants virtually no time on the clock at the end of the game.
The philosophy that the Redskins adopted was all coaching. The implementation via play-calling was coaching. The execution of that plan was on the players, who grinded out enough success to make the plan work.
When the Redskins wanted to chew clock and expand their lead from 17-0 to 20-0, they ran the ball seven out of eight times. When they needed a huge first down late in the game to burn Giants’ timeouts, they did both with consecutive six and seven-yard runs by Alfred Morris. This forced New York into using their final timeouts while shortening the amount of time Washington’s defense had to be on the field.
To me, this fundamental philosophy was the most important reason why the Redskins won Sunday and are currently in first place.
Some other examples: Jay Gruden wanted to be aggressive instead of conservative by going for it on fourth down twice Sunday. The first time barely worked, but Cousins' one-yard TD plunge on fourth down ultimately gave Washington its winning margin.
Gruden could have been ultra-conservative and settled for a field goal to make it 13-0. He wasn’t and it was the right choice before and after.
The next time the Redskins faced a tough call on a fourth-down situation early in the third quarter, Gruden rolled the dice again. This time, it didn’t work out. Cousins had the ball slip out of his hands on an exchange to Darrel Young. Bad decision? Bad execution? Or bad luck? I think you know where I fall on that question.
On the defensive side of the ball Sunday, the Redskins asked DeAngelo Hall to play both safety spots and corner. They had rookie Kyshoen Jarrett playing corner, safety and linebacker in certain packages. Washington also had Quinton Dunbar playing different sides of the field on the same series to matchup better with Rueben Randle, which led to a key interception in the end zone.
Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry and secondary coach Perry Fewell were creative and flexible. They played more man coverage. They mixed in a little more two deep safety looks than I’ve seen. They tried to confuse the Giants and perhaps Fewell’s knowledge of the Giants personnel as their former defensive coordinator allowed that.
Ultimately, that plan only works if the pass rush is as good as it was on Sunday and if Dunbar makes a great athletic play by under cutting Randle in the end zone for a huge interception. The plan and design only works if you have Bashaud Breeland on the hip of Odell Beckham Jr.
Ultimately, coaching, good and bad has an influence and an impact, but the bottom-line is determined by players. Last Sunday, this Monday and for the rest of eternity.
The Redskins coaching staff deserves credit for being creative and taking chances, but ultimately the success and failure of the 2015 Redskins is on the backs of the 53 players that are eligible to actually take the field.