LANDOVER, Md. – The real issue isn’t whether Washington’s glass is half full or half empty. Because no matter your perspective, the fact is there’s space for more.
More improvement in the red zone. More get-off-the-field stops. More focus, more consistency, more dominance.
There’s a better question to ask about the Skins: What’s keeping them from the brim of their potential? Sunday’s 26-20 victory against the Minnesota Vikings beats the alternative, but it doesn’t provide any answers.
“We just have to try to put a complete game together,” safety Will Blackmon said after Washington went up by two touchdowns, fell behind at halftime and rallied to win. “I don’t know if we’re doing it for ratings, but when we have a team down, we have to take advantage and finish them off.”
We wouldn’t know how to react if that happened. Coach Jay Gruden said every game would come down to the wire and this team seems intent on proving him right.
Washington opened with 159 yards and two touchdowns on its first two possessions, while Minnesota countered with 27 yards and two punts. But that wasn’t the beginning of a trend – unless you mean the Skins’ tendency to make each outing a white-knuckle affair.
If only they could bottle those high-efficiency periods, such as four scores on four second-half possessions (not counting the victory-formation knee to end the game). Such as the defense holding Minnesota scoreless … aside from a five-minute and 39-second span just before intermission.
The letdown was eerily similar to Week 6, when Washington dominated Philadelphia in the first half yet enjoyed a slim lead, thanks to yielding touchdowns on a kickoff and interception return. It’s all part of a disquieting pattern appears to be unavoidable.
“We just had to keep our poise,” Gruden said of the halftime message after a 14-0 lead became a 20-14 deficit. “I reminded them that every game this year, we’ve been leading and we’ve been trailing. Today was no different.”
The half-full camp points out that the Skins are better than .500. Washington improved to 5-3-1. Twenty-one of the other 27 NFL teams entered Sunday with more than three losses. In a league where mediocrity reigns and average is the new good, Washington appears to be in the upper echelon.
But the half-empty camp has plenty of arguments to bolster its case. Washington’s resiliency merely highlights the lack of killer instinct. Winnable games against Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas weren’t put away and tucked into the desired column. Gruden still makes you nervous regarding his clock management.
Put it together and you have a team that isn’t what it can be, but not what it used to be, either. That’s not good enough for defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, especially with the caliber of upcoming opponents (Green Bay, Dallas, Arizona and Philadelphia).
“We have to find a way to keep the lead and knock teams out of being in position to win,” he said. “We keep going through this every week and it feels like we’re not learning. There are no sorry teams left on our schedule. We have to catch fire.”
Remaining on fire is a bigger problem. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has his moments and Sunday was no exception. Missing his All-Pro left tackle (Trent Williams) and best deep threat (DeSean Jackson), Cousins completed 66 percent of his passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked just once and didn’t throw an interception for the second time in three games. The Skins failed to reach the end zone in the second half but continued to put points on the board.
A bright spot was the emergence of Robert Kelley at halfback. He barely missed his first 100-yard rushing game (22 carries for 97 yards), but likely supplanted Matt Jones as the starter thanks to nimble feet, churning legs and a tendency to make something out of nothing.
The defense isn’t maxing out but it’s doing enough to keep Washington in games. Former Maryland Terrapin Stefon Diggs was virtually unstoppable – gouging the Skins for 13 receptions and 164 yards – but Washington came up with the big, timely plays. Preston Smith’s one-handed interception set-up the final score and his sack with four seconds left sealed the win.
Rookie linebacker Su’a Cravens said the team’s glass is full because they won, but it will be empty if Green Bay pours it out next week. He makes his assessment on a game-by-game basis, period. At the end of the day, nothing else matters,” he said. “I don’t care if the opposing offense has 1,000 yards against us. I don’t care if we kick one million field goals in the red zone. If we get the dub (win), we get the dub.”
So here are two things we can agree on, whether you lean toward optimism or pessimism:
The Skins aren’t all-good.
But they aren’t half-bad, either.