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ASHBURN, Va. — Dave Gettleman’s trash seems to be the Washington Redskins’ treasure.

Three years after the-then Carolina Panthers general manager let cornerback Josh Norman out of his franchise tag, Gettleman opted for his New York Giants not to use the franchise tag on safety Landon Collins and let him go to free agency. Each time, Washington pounced and now has two big names in the secondary.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” coach Jay Gruden said Thursday. “You see it happening throughout the league a little bit now, but to have a chance to actually get one, it’s great.”

The Redskins actually got two after signing Collins to an $84 million, six-year contract with $45 million guaranteed. They’ve got a very motivated player who will see his former team twice this season and for years to come.

“It’s definitely circled on my schedule because at the end of the day, you always want to show a team why you should’ve kept a player,” Collins said Thursday after his introductory news conference. “It’s always something that pushes a player even more. It’s going to be a great opportunity to just play against them and showcase them why they should have re-signed” me.

Just like when Norman signed for $75 million over five years back in 2016, Collins wasn’t supposed to be available. The Giants could have franchise tagged Collins for $11.2 million or negotiated a long-term deal.

But last season didn’t make Collins enthusiastic about re-signing with New York, and he wound up with an average of $14 million a year.

“When we were going through the turmoil that was going on up there and all the craziness, all the trades, all the cuts, I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m here either,'” Collins said. “No talks was going on, nothing was being said. I was just going out there day by day, practice by practice handling my business. I don’t know what the future holds with the New York Giants, but I’m glad it happened because now I’m in that burgundy and gold.”

Since Gettleman took over as Giants GM, he has traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerback Eli Apple and nose tackle Damon Harrison. Collins wasn’t at all surprised when Gettleman traded receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon earlier this week because things are certainly changing with his old team.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Collins said. “I just feel like (the Giants are) going in a different direction and we just are not in their vision.”

Collins, 25, doesn’t want to think about why he wasn’t in the Giants’ plans and hopes they’re happy about the four years he gave them. In that time, he had eight interceptions, and his 428 tackles lead all safeties since the start of the 2015 season.

Those ball-hawking skills drew the Redskins to Collins to solve an organizational problem of starting 17 different safeties in Gruden’s five years. Senior vice-president of player personnel Doug Williams has been watching Collins the past four years and is now glad to watch him up close for what he hopes will be a long time.

“When you see him on the field, you knew that he was one of the best football players on the field,” Williams said. “You’re talking about a 25-year-old you can see playing for the next six, seven years. And to be able to get him in the mix, put him in this defence with the guys, the young guys that we have up front, it’s hard to not want a guy like that on your football team.”

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The beauty of Alex Smith, and what the Washington Redskins hoped to have in their new quarterback, was evident Sunday. He avoided bad plays and made good ones with his smarts, his legs, as well as with his arm.

Smith was far from the only reason Washington beat Arizona 24-6 on Sunday. But he orchestrated the offense in a performance the Redskins would like to see duplicated. Of course, it helps when a team can run the ball the way Washington did Sunday, finishing with 182 yards. Then again, part of the reason Washington ran well was because of Smith’s ability to handle a heavy dose of run-pass option plays. It’s what they hoped for when making the trade for him, moving on from Kirk Cousins.

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In his first start with the Redskins, Alex Smith averaged 3.2 air yards per attempt, his lowest in a game since Week 8 of 2015 (3.0 vs. Lions). The Redskins capitalized on Smith’s short passes, gaining 179 yards after the catch, including 71 by Adrian Peterson, his most in a game since 2011 (75 at Panthers).

Smith was 13-of-16 for 190 yards and 2 TD targeting running backs and tight ends, the fifth-most such yards in his career.

For a first game with a new quarterback, the Redskins were able to dig deep into their playbook. Why? Because they overloaded Smith at the start of camp with a heavier-than-normal installation of their offense and he showed he could handle it all. The key now will be to continue building on what they showed Sunday. The Week 1 output is even more impressive considering Washington’s offense had several key players either limited or out for much of camp because of lingering injuries and an abundance of caution.

On Sunday, Smith completed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball eight times for 14 more yards and used his legs several other times to avoid danger, either throwing the ball away or running.

“I thought he was sensational,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Smith made strong decisions, which is one reason why they turned the ball over only one time — on a late fumble by Adrian Peterson. In Gruden’s first four openers, the Redskins had lost the turnover battle each time, thanks to 10 combined giveaways. Gruden mentioned the turnover stat leading into the game whenever he was asked about being 0-4 in openers.
Alex Smith executed the run-pass option plays effectively and the Redskins won in Week 1 for the first time in five years. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
Smith also avoided a safety when, with Robert Nkemdiche bursting clean through the middle, he flipped an underhand pass to receiver Josh Doctson. It was a pass that had no chance of being complete, but it saved the Redskins two points.

“That’s what he’s done his whole career,” Gruden said. “He does a great job not making a bad play worse and living to fight another day and moving on to the next play. That’s what he’s always done.”

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The Redskins used a variety of packages on offense, including seven different formations on the first drive alone. The run-pass options rely on Smith reading a defender on the go and then quickly deciding his next move.

The first RPO resulted in a 13-yard Chris Thompson run. Another time, on a third-and-12 in the fourth quarter, Smith saw that the Cardinals were going to blitz a defensive back from the slot. So Smith changed the play, giving slot receiver Jamison Crowder a shot down the seam. He caught a pass that gained 18 yards.
“He’s a great game manager and he gets us in the right calls,” Redskins tackle Morgan Moses said of Smith. “He doesn’t make mistakes and he doesn’t get flustered. He knows he’ll get hit sometimes and he bounces back up and keeps the ball moving.”

But again, it was more than that. His accuracy has been on display throughout his career as well as this summer. It was there again Sunday, notably on a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed, who stretched out for the pass against man coverage before lunging into the end zone.

There was also a 22-yard completion that resulted from Smith spinning out of the pocket, rolling to his left and throwing to Reed.

“He’s fun to watch in that regard,” Gruden said. “You always feel he’s going to make the right decision most of the time.”

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During Friday night’s 26-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, Redskins defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II recorded his first sack of the preseason. Though the takedown of quarterback Case Keenum will only show up in Lanier’s stats, he made sure to credit his fellow linemen for making it possible.

“Tim Settle did a great job putting pressure in the middle so it was open on both sides,” said Lanier. “So I was able to make more movement on this inside.”

Settle, a rookie from Virginia Tech, understood the importance of his role in the play, and was happy to see it pay off for Lanier and the defense.

“It feels good, you know, we help each other on the line. Somebody takes the pressure off of somebody for leaving them 1-on-1,” Settle said. “He took advantage of the situation and to see that flash, that was big time.”

This play — teammates working together to open up a clear path to the quarterback — is an example of something the Redskins defensive line is continuing to work toward: a fluid and cohesive group up front.

 

This defensive unit is a young one. Besides Ziggy Hood, who has been in the league for 10 years, a majority of the depth chart consists of players who only have three years or less of NFL experience.

Two of those are rookie Daron Payne and second-year veteran Jonathan Allen, who were former teammates at Alabama and referred to by many as the “Bama Bros”. Though still early in their careers, both have shown the potential to become dominant forces up front for years to come.

Cornerback Josh Norman has opted for a different nicknames for his two teammates, calling them the two “bulls” or “tanks,” but he also sees their promise, even comparing them to two of his former teammates in Carolina.

“Literally, those two bulls up front [Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne], remind me of KK and Star. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short,” Norman said earlier this week. “When they played, there was a difference. Literally, a difference. They move men, and they got to the quarterback, and even get it out of their hands when they wanted to. That’s when a DB’s main play on the ball. Those two guys remind me of them, they’re just shorter impact tanks, though. Rocked up guys. I look at that and I loved it.”

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Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was steady and efficient on Sunday, building upon an already impressive track record against the New Orleans Saints.

In what ended up as a heartbreaking overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins held his own against what has been a stingy pass defense this year. The 29-year-old completed 22 of his 32 passes for three touchdowns and no turnovers and led the Redskins to a season-high 31 points.

The solid individual performance on Sunday was not the first time the Saints have seen the true potential of Cousins. In two career starts against the Saints, he has completed 42-of-57 passes (73.7 percent) for 646 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, yielding a passer rating of 150.3.
Prior to Cousins’ strong outing, the Saints’ secondary, led by rookie standout Marshon Lattimore, had established itself as one of the better units in the league, allowing just 199 passing yards per game heading into Week 11.

Cousins’ favorite targets on the day were clearly Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson, whom he targeted seven and eight times, respectively.

Redskins fans have to be encouraged by Doctson’s growth as a receiver throughout the season, as he hauled in four receptions for a team-high 81 receiving yards on the day. This week marked the second consecutive game in which he notched seven targets, which is a career-high.

Cousins’ blossoming connection with Doctson has occurred, in part, because he has learned how to best use the tall and speedy wideout. While Crowder is used as more of a short-yardage, high-reception receiver, Cousins has learned to turn to Doctson when looking for a big play.

When asked about Doctson’s big play ability, notably on 50-50 balls, he said “that is something he does really well.” Now, it just becomes a matter of giving him more opportunities to connect.

“Josh did a phenomenal job and we have talked about it,” Cousins said after the game. “We need to continue to give him opportunities.”

The sixth-year quarterback was looking Doctson’s way on a key play at the end of the fourth quarter, but the situation simply wasn’t right.

“On the last play of regulation, when I got hit, I was trying to give him a similar throw. I have to see the film, but I believe I was hot and the blitzer was free and got me, and I couldn’t get the ball to Josh. We were trying throughout the game to get him opportunities, but a lot of times it’s just the play call and the reads,” the quarterback said after the game.

Cousins was able to put up a commendable performance even without his trustworthy weapon Chris Thompson, who left the game with a fractured fibula. The loss was undoubtedly a significant one for Cousins, as the duo had really begun to take off this season. Thompson led the NFL in receiving yards amongst running backs (494) heading into Week 11.
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Offensive Highlights: Redskins – Saints (2017, Week 11)

“Chris was one of our best players, if not our best player, this year,” Cousins said. “He’s just had a phenomenal season and it’s going to be challenging to continue to move the ball with all the guys that we have had injured, but we will find a way.”

Controversy came Cousins’ way later on in the constest, however, on a 1st-and-10 play late in the fourth quarter. The Saints had just tied the game at 31 apiece, but left Cousins and the Redskins’ offense with just about a minute left on the clock.

After a lengthy completion to Crowder, the Redskins found themselves in Saints territory with 31 seconds left and a chance to win. With the ball at the Saints’ 34-yard line, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden signaled for a bubble screen from the sideline, but that is where the miscommunication began.

“I looked over to the sideline out of the corner of my eye, and I just saw the coaches saying, ‘throw it.’ They wanted potentially an audible, get to an actual pass play. I thought they were saying that if you just throw it by Jamison, in the general area of Jamison, there is an eligible in the area and there’s no penalty,” Cousins said.

Cousins ended up throwing the ball away towards the sidelines and was flagged for intentional grounding, pushing the Redskins out of field goal range for the time being.

“I don’t know why that was a penalty, but it was,” Gruden said after the game.

With a Thanksgiving night affair with the New York Giants next on the slate, Cousins will look to improve on his past performances against the divisional foe. The Michigan State product heads into the Week 12 tilt with a 2-4 record and a 57 percent completion rate against the Giants.

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ASHBURN, Virginia — The Washington Redskins’ starting offensive line spent most of Thursday’s practice in a bad position: watching everyone else practice. That’s not what the Redskin need, but it is the reality of their situation.

The lone starter able to practice: left guard Shawn Lauvao. That could lead to a lot of shuffling for Sunday’s game vs. the Dallas Cowboy — or, at the least, a lot of walking wounded. And that could alter what the Redskins do offensively.

The injured starters include left tackle Trent Williams (knee), center Spencer Long (quads), right guard Brandon Scherff (knee) and right tackle Morgan Moses (ankles). Of this group, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he was most concerned about Long’s availability. Indeed, he was the one player not on the field working with the trainers during the portion of practice open to the media.

Williams’ situation isn’t new and he said he’ll keep playing on his knee until he can’t go anymore. But it does impact his game, particularly the ability to react to lateral movement or drive guys off the line. Moses struggled with his ability to move as well, getting beat a few times against the Eagles when he was unable to react to change-of-direction.

If Long can’t play, then rookie Chase Roullier would start. He played in the second half at guard against the Eagle after Scherff went out.

“He’s got a good demeanor,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “He can anchor well and he’s only going to get better. As a rookie is it a challenge? Sure, but we feel good about his potential and we just have to work through the growing pains.”

If Scherff also can’t play, then the Redskins could start undrafted rookie Tyler Catalina. They also have newly-signed veteran Tony Bergstrom and T.J. Clemmings, who has worked at each position but center.

But losing Scherff, combined with an ailing Williams, impacts the screen game. Both players move well in space, helping to create better lanes for running back Chris Thompson in the open field. Without them, the screen game changes, especially against a speedy linebacker group such as Dallas’. The screen has been a big part of Washington’s offensive success, so a drop-off there will result in needing to attack in different ways.

Also, backup tackle Ty Nsekhe did not practice but worked off to the side — light jogging and agility drills. If he were healthy, the Redskins could rest Williams or Moses. But Nsekhe is still recovering from his core muscle injury.

Linemen always point to familiarity with one another as a key reason for success. Sunday, the Redskins will have to hope that success stems from others being ready to fill in.
“It’s difficult but it’s something these guys have to be ready to do,” Gruden said. “Eventually your number is going to be called and you have to prepare that way.”

It’s not just the line that’s hurting. Linebackers Preston Smith (groin) and Mason Foster (shoulder) were limited as were safeties Deshazor Everett (hamstring) and Stefan McClure (hamstring/knee) and corners Josh Norman (rib) and Fabian Moreau (hamstring).

That lengthy list led to Gruden altering practice plans. They worked in shells instead of pads Thursday after having just a walk-through Wednesday.

They might have to have more than just a walk-through Saturday; perhaps, Gruden said, they’d have to jog through plays that they didn’t rep enough of during the week.

“It’s frustrating but it’s pro football and something we have to deal with,” Gruden said. “It’s just unfortunate.”