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Washington Redskins’ Pierre Garcon (88) tries to break a tackle by Washington Redskins’ Tracy Porter (22) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The overall philosophy of Jay Gruden’s passing attack is simple: the coach wants the quarterback to get the ball in his playmakers’ hands as quickly as possible.
Kirk Cousins showed Sunday that a combination of trust, a quick release and a good sense of timing can make that West Coast derivation successful. Having players who can catch the ball and do something with it afterward helps, too.
The Redskins threw for 427 yards in a 37-34 road loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, which was the most they’d gained through the air in nearly 15 years. Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson each finished with more than 100 receiving yards, marking the first time two Redskins wide receivers surpassed that mark since Rod Gardner and Laveranues Coles did so in 2003.
And though it took three games and a backup quarterback, the receivers believe they have the talent and ability to accomplish similar feats on a consistent basis.
“It definitely helps when you open up, when you spread the field and get defenders scared of the deep ball,” Garçon said. “As receivers, we know that almost everything could be open regardless of what they call. We have to win, and that’s what they have us out there to do — to win on that play. We’re making plays. Deep balls definitely open the short routes, and once you do a lot of short routes, it gets them vulnerable for the deep balls.”
Jackson and Garçon each had their highlight play, with Jackson going 81 yards for a touchdown in his Philadelphia homecoming before Garçon improbably snagged a 43-yard pass along the left sideline two drives later.
For the Redskins to have those kinds of opportunities, though, they needed to sustain drives by chipping away underneath — something they did consistently well on Sunday.
On the Redskins’ first drive, their 10th snap of the afternoon, they faced third-and-3 from the Eagles’ 10-yard line. Andre Roberts, originally in the right slot, went in motion to the left side of the field, where Jackson and tight end Niles Paul were already waiting. With Garçon split out alone on the right, Cousins took the shotgun snap, with Jackson open on a drag route, Paul heading downfield on a corner route and Roberts cutting back over the middle.
Cousins connected with Roberts, who was a step inside of safety Nate Allen, for 10 yards and the conversion. Two plays later, Cousins threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Darrel Young.
“Any time you’re able to get in some of those bunches and stacks and teams play some of those man coverage principles, you’re able to create leverage and do some things that you like,” offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “They actually did a little bit different thing [defensively] than we expected, but Andre did an excellent job, recognizing it where Nate Allen came off pressing that point man initially. He ran a great route and Kirk delivered a good ball.”
The Redskins faced a similar situation in the second quarter, going trips left again with Garçon, Jackson and Roberts and ending up with an 11-yard completion to Garçon on a hook route on second down.
Sometimes, it didn’t even need to be that complicated. Four plays earlier, with Washington facing third-and-3 from its own 47-yard line, Roberts initially headed off to the left before he motioned inward and settled in two yards behind Garçon and a hair to his right.
When Cousins took the shotgun snap, Garçon broke off into the right flat, and Roberts darted over the middle of the field on a quick slant, forcing Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin to make a choice.
He broke inside, covering Roberts, forcing teammate Bradley Fletcher to shadow Garçon on the outside. That slight moment of hesitation was enough for Cousins to get the ball to Garçon — and for Garçon to get enough yards to pick up the first down.
“I think that Jay’s an outstanding playcaller, and he does a really good job of keeping defenses on their toes — and always giving me as a quarterback, and us as an offense, a chance to be successful,” Cousins said. “Hopefully, that’s going to show itself in having a lot of variety on third-and-short.
Entering the season, the Redskins’ strength was undoubtedly in its running game, which was mostly bottled up by the Eagles on Sunday. It was clear, however, that the additions of Jackson and Roberts, each offseason signees, would help boost the aerial attack.
The next step is, of course, winning — and a performance like that against Philadelphia should typically lead to such a result.
“I think he’s going to do any and everything he can do to get the ball into players’ hands so they can make plays to help this team win,” Jackson said. “[If] we can keep winning, we can play that way. Everybody just has to do their job.”
By Zac Boyer | The Washington Times | September 23, 2014