Behind Enemy Lines: Washington Redskins open 2018 vs. Cardinals
The 2018 NFL season gets underway this week, and for the new-look Arizona Cardinals of head coach Steve Wilks, that means a visit from the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon in Glendale.
Washington, itself, has a new-look, namely at quarterback. Kirk Cousins followed big free-agent dollars to Minnesota after Washington acquired veteran Alex Smith from Kansas City early in the offseason. Veteran running back Adrian Peterson, who spent time with the Cardinals last season, is expected to play a major role in the running game after a rash of injuries at the position that has two players — Byron Marshall and Derrius Guice — on injured reserve.
All week long, we’ll let you know what’s going on in D.C. as the Redskins prepare for their trip to Arizona to face the Cardinals.
It’s Behind Enemy Lines.
Sunday, September 9
• Need to Know: Final look at Redskins vs. Cardinals (NBC Sports Washington)
The biggest question marks in this game are the quarterbacks. Alex Smith and Sam Bradford are both new to their respective teams and both played fewer than three dozen snaps during the preseason. They are both veterans and should be able to adjust but this is an evenly-matched game a miscommunication with a receiver that results in an interception could be the difference.
• Redskins-Cardinals: how to watch and what to watch for (Washington Times)
The Redskins must start fast after being 0-4 in openers under coach Jay Gruden. Alex Smith will look to be on the same page with his receiving core, particularly Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder — all of whom did not play in the preseason.
• Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals: NFL Week 1 (Washington Post)
The Redskins kick off the Alex Smith Era on Sunday against the Cardinals in a game that will mark the return of two running backs to the desert. Washington’s Adrian Peterson, who is looking to prove he still has something left in the tank at age 33 after being signed in the preseason, will make his Redskins regular season debut against the team with which he spent the final six games of last year. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will welcome back David Johnson, their do-everything running back who missed the final 15 games of 2017 after suffering a wrist injury in Week 1.
Adrian Peterson figures to be the lead back for the Redskins and is in somewhat of a revenge game against his most recent team. Peterson could post big numbers, but either way, the Redskins have to make sure they can establish themselves on the ground one way or another.
Saturday, September 8
• Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Upgraded run defense, Norman excited (NBC Sports Washington)
Here is what you need to know on Saturday, September 8, one day before the Washington Redskins open their 2018 season against the Cardinals.
• Here’s an incredibly corny thing Kirk Cousins is trying to do (Washington Post)
Kirk Cousins may now play for the Minnesota Vikings but he is trying to bring some of his Redskins’ lore with him to his new team.
• Alex Smith feels like a good fit for Redskins. We’ll find out for sure Sunday. (Washington Post)
Alex Smith grinned as if he expected the question. He knows the deal. His NFL career, now in its 14th season, has been defined by transition: three teams, five head coaches. Change seems to make him better, yet every fresh start comes with the same concerns.
Is he the right fit? And how long will it take him to prove it?
Friday, September 7
The Redskins have not ranked higher than 19th in the NFL in rushing under Coach Jay Gruden, but they enter this season intent on improving on the 90.5 yards per game that ranked 28th last season.
• Five preposterously positive Redskins predictions for 2018 (Washington Post)
Expectations are again low for the Redskins in 2018, at least among those outside of Ashburn. Washington is coming off a 7-9 season, shares a division with the defending Super Bowl champions and lost one of the main reasons to be excited about its future to a knee injury in the first quarter of its first preseason game. On the bright side, the Redskins and their fans no longer have to listen to questions about Kirk Cousins’s future in D.C.
• Redskins solution to slow starts? Eliminate turnovers (Washington Times)
Teams always preach the importance of “starting fast,” but for the Redskins in Sunday’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, that means protecting the football.
Through Gruden’s four years at the helm, Week 1 numbers in the turnover category are cover-your-eyes ugly: five interceptions, five lost fumbles and a -5 turnover differential. There have been special teams miscues, as well — including a blocked punt, a fumble on a punt return and an allowed punt return touchdown.
• Media predictions for Redskins’ season a mixed bag (Washington Times)
The Washington Redskins are going to the playoffs, baby. Wait, no — they’re going to finish last in the division.
The football media is split on how the Redskins will fare this season, Year 5 of the Jay Gruden era, with a new quarterback and running back starting Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The rosiest predictions come from Will Brinson of CBS Sports and Walter Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com, who see Washington finishing 10-6. Brinson even picked the Redskins to win the NFC East.
To be clear: the starting quarterback, running back, tight end, slot receiver, third down back and left tackle played a grand total of 59 snaps, according to www.footballfocus.com, in the preseason—and only Smith, Peterson and Williams were on the field at the same time. And even that was just for a handful of plays vs. the Broncos in Week 3.
Here’s what else the Redskins will have to look out for on Sunday and some potential ideas of how to attack the Cardinals’ defense.
This is the second part of our look at the Cardinals’ defense, which Alex Smith and the Redskins open their season against on Sunday. Today we’ll be looking at their blitz and coverage schemes and how the Redskins could look to attack them.
The first impressions haven’t been good. The Washington Redskins have followed a losing pattern during coach Jay Gruden’s first four seasons in the season opener. Wash, rinse, repeat — four times.
They’re 0-4 in openers under Gruden, a coach who enters without a playoff berth the past two years and absent any postseason success. Losing the opener at Arizona wouldn’t necessarily ruin their season, but it would be good to win one for a change.
There are reasons to wonder; he is older, after all, and coming off a season in which he played for two teams, rushed for a combined 529 yards and missed five games with a neck injury. He missed 13 games in 2016 with a torn meniscus.
• Need to Know: Will Redskins QB Alex Smith be ready for the opener? (NBC Sports Washington)
“I mean, yeah, yeah, I’m confident,” he said on Wednesday. “I am and we’re going to find out. There really was no other choice. I mean to get to the point of it, yeah. This date was sitting here. We knew that this was going to come regardless of opponent and you had to be ready to roll, all of us. Certainly, myself, getting caught up to speed, so yeah, there was no other choice and we’ll find out.”
• Trey Quinn may be Redskins’ fourth WR vs. Cardinals (Redskins Wire)
Washington Redskins wideout Trey Quinn — the 2018 Mr. Irrelevant after being the last pick in the draft — has a big role on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals if Maurice Harris can’t play.
Thursday, September 6
• Expert predictions for the Redskins’ 2018 season (Washington Post)
After swapping Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith and signing 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, the Redskins are flying under the radar with low expectations. Only two out of panelists have predicted that the Redskins finish the season with more than eight wins.
• Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson are cleared for Redskins’ opener versus Cardinals (Washington Post)
Neither player participated in any preseason games. Tight end Jordan Reed appeared in six games last season for the Redskins and is recovering from offseason toe surgeries. Chris Thompson is expected to resume his role as the Washington’s third-down running back.
• Reed feels he can withstand 16-game season, ready for Cardinals (Washington Times)
Jordan Reed is expected to play “quite a bit” according to Redskins coach Jay Gruden. With Vernon Davis also in the fold at the position, the Redskins have some flexibility at tight end and the ability to give Reed some rest if need be.
• Josh Norman explains how Allen, Payne will improve Washington’s rush defense (RedskinsWire.com)
The Redskins had the worst rushing defense last season giving up 134.1 yards per game on the ground. To help fix the front line, Washington drafted defensive tackle Daron Payne with the No. 13 overall pick.
• Adrian Peterson: Passing Emmitt Smith on all-time rushing list still a goal (ProFootballTalk.com)
Peterson is 37 yards away from catching Jim Brown for 10th on the all-time list and more than 6,000 yards away from Emmitt Smith.
Wednesday, September 5
• Redskins have built a less glitzy roster, leaving fans without a thing to wear (Washington Post)
“I normally follow the team, but I have no idea who these players are,” said 64-year-old Calvin Lewis of Chesapeake, Va., who was wearing a white Portis jersey during a preseason game at FedEx Field two weeks ago. “Other than Adrian Peterson and Alex Smith, I don’t think I can name another guy on the team.”
• On the eve of the 2018 NFL season, the Redskins don’t look like a playoff team (Washington Post)
The Redskins will contend this season only if two things happen: they maintain perfect health and they’re young players mature ahead of schedule. Defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia would also have to come back to the pack for Washington to possibly steal the NFC East, like it did with a 9-7 record in 2015.
By virtue of signing running back Adrian Peterson in August, it’s easy to fall prey to the trope of this being a “grudge match” after the Cards let him go at the end of the season. But that’s not at all the way Peterson is looking at this matchup.
• The Redskins in the playoffs? Only if these three things happen (The Athletic)
The Redskins were bad when Gruden was hired. They were coming off 13 losses and the team was aging. Washington is more competitive now but Gruden, and more importantly his bosses Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, are impatiently waiting on an overdue leap into contention.
Out of Alabama, Jonathan Allen was one of the best defensive line prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. He played with an awesome combination of hand usage, overall technique and versatility. So when Allen fell to the Washington Redskins at the 17th pick, I was a bit surprised to say the least. I thought, and still believe today, that he has the ability to turn into an All-Pro defensive lineman.
• Need to Know: Redskins’ roster churn is down from 2017 (NBC Sports Washington)
The Redskins’ rate of turnover slowed down this year but there still was significant roster churn. They are welcoming 15 players who were not with the organization last year.
• Jay Gruden struggles in Week 1, but Alex Smith excels; What matters more? (NBC Sports Washington)
For Redskins fans searching for a reason to be optimistic going into Sunday’s game in Arizona, consider this: Alex Smith has been on the wrong side of a season-opener just twice since 2010.
Tuesday, September 4
• Danny Johnson overcomes small-school stigma to make Redskins (Washington Post)
Danny Johnson had to be talked into playing high school football. Basketball was his first love, and the football coach at his Louisiana school had to beg Johnson, a well-known middle-school athlete, to play.
Eight years later, Johnson, a cornerback out of Southern University, is one of two undrafted rookies to make the Washington Redskins’ 53-man roster.
• Redskins sign former Browns draft pick Caleb Brantley (Washington Post)
“He was a good pass rusher and decent against the run,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said about Brantley, adding that the team graded him well going into the draft. “In Cleveland he got a couple sacks, got some experience, got some pass rush ability so we thought we’d bring him in for a look.”
Jay Gruden is running out of time: In his four seasons leading the Washington Redskins, he has produced one playoff appearance, no postseason victories and lifted the franchise only to mediocrity. While he is the first coach to reach a fifth year under owner Daniel Snyder, that fact vacillates between indicating stability and inspiring speculation that Gruden’s tenure has reached a critical overtime period.
“When Alex has a bad play, it won’t affect him for the next play,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden says. “If he has a great game, it won’t affect him for the next game. He’s always going to be the same guy day in and day out — willing to work and be coached. He’s still learning a lot in his 14 years [in the NFL], even though he’s been through a lot.
“He’s that type of guy.”
Thompson, who didn’t play in the preseason, has been practicing in full for several weeks and will be ready for Washington’s opener at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
In six seasons together in San Francisco, Smith threw 30 touchdown passes to Davis — 19 more than he threw to anyone else.
• Allen, Payne ready to lift up Redskins’ defensive line (Washington Times)
Call them “The Bama Boys.” Or call them whatever you’d like. Just don’t ask former Alabama teammates Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne to give themselves a nickname — that’s just not how it’s done.
“That’s up for y’all,” Allen said. “Like someone once told me: You never trust a man who gives himself a nickname. You always let other people do that for you.”
• Redskins offense needs to gel with new faces in important places (Washington Times)
If Peterson, 33, starts for the Redskins in Week 1 — against his most recent employer, the Cardinals — Washington could be one of just three NFL teams to start players at both quarterback and running back who were not on their roster last year. Two rebuilding teams, the New York Jets (Sam Darnold and Isaiah Crowell) and the Cleveland Browns (either Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield along with Carlos Hyde) are the other candidates.
• Caleb Brantley feels like he can make the Redskins defensive line more disruptive (NBC Sports Washington)
“This was one of my pre-draft visits,” Brantley told reporters after wrapping up his first practice with the ‘Skins. “This is one of the places I thought I was going to come, that I liked, but it didn’t end up happening that way. I’m just glad to be here to get the opportunity. Just looking to make the most of it.”
• Five pivotal games for the 2018 Redskins (NBC Sports Washington)
Week 1 @ Cardinals—It may be crazy to call Week 1 pivotal but it fits here. For one thing, Jay Gruden is 0-4 in season openers and he didn’t play his starters much in the preseason. A loss would result is withering criticism for Gruden and his inability to have the team ready to play.
• Mr. Smith goes to Washington as Redskins’ undisputed leader (Associated Press)
Alex Smith doesn’t believe in assigned seats.
As he tried to get to know his new Washington Redskins teammates, Smith sat in a different seat for each meeting.
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula knew that from his time with Smith in San Francisco, and running back Chris Thompson beamed, “That’s a trait from your quarterback that you like to see.”