WR Jamison Crowder is second on the team with 40 catches, 56 targets and 21 first downs and leads the team with 498 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. One of those touchdowns was a 55-yard screen pass against the Giants, where Crowder picked up a great block from Trent Williams and did the rest himself. Crowder is a fantastic combination of speed, shiftiness and quick feet. His hands aren’t bad either. The slot receiver is delivering phenomenal returns on investment, considering he was a fourth round pick out of Duke in 2015. Crowder’s rookie season was clearly no fluke — in fact, he’s just getting better. In his last two games Crowder has 16 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown.
CB Josh Norman has been terrific for the Skins, his unfortunate whining about the refs in the London game notwithstanding. He’s not putting up big interception numbers — he should have had two against the Bengals — but he’s as good as it gets in the NFL at knocking the ball loose from wideouts. Norman has created two turnovers, one a pick and the other a forced fumble, but he can do more there. After foolishly leaving Norman on one side of the field to start the season, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry is now moving Norman around, usually to line him up with the other team’s best wide receiver and, for the most part, Norman has been more than equal to the task. His worst game, against the Bengals, came after suffering a concussion and a wrist injury and he still did not allow AJ Green to score a touchdown. Norman is a willing run defender and third on the team with 24 tackles. There was a lot of talk about Norman being a creature of the Carolina Panthers pass rush, but while Norman is still playing at a very high level, the Panthers pass defense has collapsed. The highest-paid cornerback in the world is actually living up to his contract.
MVP SPECIAL TEAMS
PR Jamison Crowder won Special Teams Player of the Week honors against the Baltimore Ravens after he returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in a hard-fought 16-10 Redskins win. After a poor rookie season as a punt returner, Crowder has returned to something more like his college production, averaging a sparkling 19.2 yards per return on 12 punt returns. Crowder is showing his improvement from his rookie to sophomore seasons is not just coming as a slot receiver.
WR/PR Jamison Crowder leads the team with 5 touchdowns (four on offense, one on special teams) and with 719 all purpose yards. I think virtually all Redskins observers expected Crowder to improve on his excellent rookie season, but so far he has exceeded expectations.
RB Chris Thompson is the steadiest pair of hands in the backfield. While debates over Matt Jones v. Robert Kelly dominate discussion of Washington running backs, Thompson just keeps showing up for work and getting it done. He’s stayed healthy (so far) this year, which helps and he’s produced when on the field, catching 27 passes for 211 yard and a touchdown and running for 207 yards (4.6 ypc) and a touchdown. Oh, and he’s the ideal third down back because despite his size, he’s easily the best blocker among all the backs.
OLB Preston Smith is 13th on the team in tackles and his 1.5 sacks through five games ties him with DL Ricky Jean-Francois. Coming off a season in which he led all rookies with 8 sacks, much was expected of Smith, especially after Junior Galette was lost to injury for the second-straight year. Unfortunately, Smith has been very quiet, occasionally showing good ability to get near the QB, but he just isn’t finishing enough plays. He came on strong in the second half of the season in 2015 and the team must hope he does that again.
OLB Trent Murphy has been a revelation, weaving back and forth between outside linebacker and defensive line, he’s second on the team with six sacks. That’s as many sacks as he had in his first two seasons combined. Maybe the extra weight on Murphy works. In any case, if he can provide 10-12 sacks this season it will go a long way to replacing what the Skins lost when Galette was lost to injury again.
LB/S Su’a Cravens leads a so-far lackluster group of rookies in contributing to Washington’s current success. He’s missed time with a concussion and he’s clearly still learning the defense, but Cravens has also shown a knack and ability for making plays. His fourth quarter interception of Eli Manning in Washington’s first win can arguably be called a turning point in the season for the Skins.
I should note that rookie CB Kendall Fuller is coming along very nicely since being installed as the nickel cornerback and could very well win this award by the end of the season.
WR Josh Doctson doesn’t play. It’s not his fault he is injured and the coaching staff was thrilled with him during the month they actually got to see him practice. But if you don’t play, you can’t help.
TOP NEWCOMER, OFFENSE
TE Vernon Davis has been everything the Skins could have hoped for and more. Apart from being a solid blocker, Davis has exceeded expectations as a receiver, proving he’s got plenty left in the tank and the problems he’s had the last two seasons probably had more to do with poor quarterback play in San Francisco and Denver. Davis has 23 catches for 316 yards and a TD and his 13.7 yards per reception average is second on the team, behind only DeSean Jackson. The Skins should move to re-sign Davis ASAP, particularly considering Jordan’s Reed’s injury history.
TOP NEWCOMER, DEFENSE
CB Josh Norman (see above)
THAT WENT RIGHT
Offensive Line play has been superb. The Skins have allowed only 11 sacks all season, tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders for best in the NFL. However, the big area of improvement has been blocking for the running backs. Washington averages 4.5 yards per carry, a huge improvement over last season and tied the the Green Bay Packers for 7th-best in the league. However, the Skins are tied for 23rd in the NFL in rushing attempts, so they should probably give Rob Kelly, Chris Thompson and Matt Jones more opportunities.
THAT WENT WRONG
Red Zone Woes continue to plague the team. It’s a very unfortunate development, considering the importance of this stat and the fact that Washington and QB Kirk Cousins were pretty good in the red zone last season, finishing 11th in the league. This year, the Skins are 30th, scoring a touchdown on 40.6 percent of their drives inside the red zone. Last season, they converted 58.5 percent of those drives into touchdowns, so that’s a steep decline the team can scarcely afford. Washington would be 6-2 or 7-1 if they were even halfway decent in the red zone.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The offense is fourth in the NFL in yardage offense, outpacing teams like Oakland, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Clearly, this is an offense that can move the ball and the best two games of Kirk Cousins’ season have come in his last two games. The potential for a very explosive offense is there, but it is being held back by red zone woes. The Skins were a good red zone team last season so if they can just return to that level, they should be able to win some big games in the last two months of the season.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM
The team’s best player (Trent Williams) was just suspended for four games, the defense continues to struggle against the run and to get off the field on third down and the schedule, at least in theory, should get tougher. The Cowboys will almost certainly win the division so Washington is hoping for a wild card invitation and they can’t afford to blow games the way they did against the Lions and Bengals.