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Sunday, September 23, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LANDOVER — Washington’s offense showed little ambition and less aggression through the NFL’s first two weeks. It was a dink-dink here and a dunk-dunk there, with a check-down and short passes everywhere and everywhere.

Coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Alex Smith assured us that the unit is capable of more than intermediate strikes. They said the lack of downfield passing and the wideouts’ MIA status was a function of the defenses, not Washington’s philosophical approach.


Trust us, they said. More is coming. They didn’t waste time making good on their word.

In Sunday’s 31-17 victory against Green Bay, they needed just four plays to reach the end zone on their initial possession. It was capped by a 46-yard pass to Paul Richardson, who fell while catching the ball a few yards shy of the end zone, but rolled in untouched.

Put that down as Washington’s longest completion to a wide receiver this season.

Later in the quarter, Smith connected with Vernon Davis — a tight end but a deep shot nonetheless — as he sprinted down the right sideline. Davis caught the ball in stride for a 50-yard gain.

Mark that as Washington’s longest completion to a tight end this season, wiping out Jordan Reed’s 34-yarder earlier in the game.

It all contributed to Smith’s 214 passing yards in the first half and a 28-10 lead at intermission. “They made plays,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “They took shots in one-on-one and converted them. That’s what this league’s about.”

That’s not what Washington seemed about, not after Week 2’s lackluster loss against Indianapolis. Sure, the team had raced to a 21-0 halftime lead in the opener against Arizona without scoring a touchdown in the six quarters since, held to four field goals.

But the offense clicked early and often against the Packers. Halfback Adrian Peterson had rushed for 87 yards at the break, including a carry he bounced outside for a season-high 41-yard run. Between that burst and Davis’ long catch-and-run on the next possession, Washington’s senior citizens proved they’re not quite done yet. The long-gainers got everyone fired up, especially the big guys up front.

“Obviously when we get those big plays downfield, as an offensive lineman that’s extremely exciting for us,” Chase Roullier said. “It really does pump a lot of energy into us when those plays happen, and a lot of energy into the offense as a whole.”

We should note that Washington accomplished all of this with a reshuffled offensive line. Roullier, normally the starting center, started at left guard in place of injured Shawn Lauvao. When starting right tackle Moses Morgan left with a concussion in the first quarter, Casey Dunn was inserted into the mix.

“It’s a testament to the guys we have that aren’t starters, guys who move around and play different positions,” said Peterson, who had 19 carries for 120 yards and a pair of 2-yard touchdowns.

Health is always a concern. But questions about execution and the game plan were just as pressing at kickoff. Could Gruden get the wide receivers involved? Could Smith get the ball to them? Could Peterson and the O-line regain the form the flashed in the opener?

Gruden and Smith told us the offense would come around and they were correct. The next step is proving they can do it in the second half, too. If not for another impressive outing for the defense, containing future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodger, Washington might’ve squandered the early fireworks.

“That’s going to happen from time to time,” Gruden said. “You get a big lead like that, they’re going to play hard. We have to do a better job converting some third downs in those situations.”

The drop-off was significant, from converting 4-of-6 before intermission to 1-of-5 over the final 30 minutes. So, second-half adjustments remain an area for improvement.

Other than that, there wasn’t much to complain about as Washington improved to 2-1 entering its bye week. The offense is still a work-in-progress as Smith adjusts to a new scheme and new team, but there were enough signs Sunday to believe there’s potential.

“If we play with that type of energy and that type of effort every week, we’re pretty dangerous,” Gruden said.

Left unsaid: This level of energy and effort comes and goes for Washington. But Smith does have some weapons. Maybe not the same level at his disposal in Kansas City (where successor Pat Mahomes is lighting up the league), but enough to make things interesting in Washington.

“You just have to ride the wave and keep playing,” wideout Jamison Crowder said.

Now we’ll wait to see if the wave leads to a flood.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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