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REDSKINS MATURING AS A TEAM

REDSKINS MATURING AS A TEAM

     After two weeks of the 2015 season, it's clear the Washington Redskins are growing up as a team.

     The latest sign of that was Sunday's 24-10 thumping of the St. Louis Rams. The Redskins turned in solid performances on offense, defense and special teams and dominated nearly the entire game. It's been a long time since they crafted such a decisive victory, but they embarrassed a Rams team that destroyed them the year before, 24-0, and its coach, Jeff Fisher, who sent the six players acquired in the 2012 trade that enabled the Redskins to draft Robert Griffin for the coin toss before the 2014 game.

     Quarterback Kirk Cousins was on point after Sunday's game, saying his Redskins are learning how to win.

     ”As a young player, you learn how to win, and you learn what it takes, and I feel like we’re in this process now," Cousins said. "I don’t know if I as a young player last year knew how to win. I think I’m still in that process trying to get there, and it’s something that I think if we keep playing through it with some of these young guys and keep growing and learning together. I’m excited about what the future could hold if we could keep growing and learning and pushing through things together.”

     Not often does an NFL team face a “must-win” situation in its second game of the season, but the Redskins did on Sunday. Coming off a 17-10 season-opening loss to Miami, a game they were in position to win, they knew that losing their first two games at home could derail their season. Plus, things may have gotten bleaker with the division-rival Giants ahead on Thursday, for it's always tough to play in the Meadowlands. A series of early losses would certainly trigger questions about the future of coach Jay Gruden, who produced a 4-12 mark in his first season.

     But this Redskin team is noticeably different from the past two disastrous seasons. It's a deeper squad because of general manager Scot McCloughan's acquisition of rookies who are playing impactful roles such as guard Brandon Scherff, running back Matt Jones, linebacker Preston Smith and punt returner-receiver Jamison Crowder.  McCloughan also orchestrated the signing of key free agents such as defensive linemen Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. His keen sense for talent, which he displayed in previous stops in San Francisco and Seattle, is showing.

     For the second straight week, the Redskins owned their opponent statistically. They outgained St. Louis in yards, 373-213, and had a 37:44 to 22:16 edge in time of possession. Those numbers are largely attributable to their emphasis on the ground game with their one-two punch of rookie Matt Jones and fourth-year man Alfred Morris.

     Cousins, for his part, played his best game as a Redskin. He completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for a 110.3 quarterback rating against one of the better defenses in the NFL. He also led the defining drive of the game, one that shows the Redskins are learning how to put the dagger in opponents.

     The Redskins, holding a precarious 17-10 lead, began the drive on their 23 with 9:27 to play. Twelve plays later, they were in the end zone on Jones’ 3-yard scoring run and leading, 24-10. The pivotal play was a 29-yard pass from Cousins to tight end Jordan Reed on a 3rd and 5 from the Washington 40.

     It was the type of emphatic drive and play that the Redskins couldn’t execute with any regularity in past years but worked to perfection against the Rams. The season is only two games old, but it’s clear this is a much more confident Redskin team. As Cousins put it, “We found a way to win.”

     “That drive definitely shows we’re getting better,” said Reed, who caught six passes for 82 yards after being a little gimpy in practice leading up to the game. “We’re executing. The coaches are getting us in the right situations.”

     A force emerged for the Redskins against the Rams. Jones, using his violent downhill running style, rushed for 123 yards on 19 carries (6.5 average) with two touchdowns. He left no doubt that he’ll be a load for defenses. The Redskins are going to be very run-oriented this season, and we’re going to be seeing a lot of Jones and Morris. That sounds good to me because, as Gruden put it, the run game is the “blueprint” for most successful teams in the NFL.

     “You look at all of the successful teams in the history of this league, very few of them are throwing 70 times a game,” he said. “We have a young quarterback, we don’t want to throw the ball 50 times. We want to run the ball, be physical. (It) opens up a lot of things for us, controls the clock like it did again today.”

     I must also give accolades to the Redskins’ defense. The unit yielded only 213 yards to the Rams and handcuffed quarterback Nick Foles, applying constant pressure on him. Foles, often looking flummoxed, completed 17 of 32 passes for only 150 yards with a touchdown and a 76.3 passer rating. Through two weeks, the defense has allowed a measly 20 points.

     We’re watching a Redskin squad that’s on the right track – one with a swagger that we haven’t seen in years. It’s going to be entertaining this season. Stay tuned.