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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.

Short, Steady Wins Race
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.”