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Redskins at Dolphins: Previewing the team after Jay Gruden fired, why not Dwayne Haskins, and where is the running game

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are set to host the Washington Redskins on Sunday in a matchup between two winless teams. At 0-4, the Dolphins are coming off their bye week looking to show improvement and shake the talking point that they could be the worst team in league history. The Redskins are 0-5, and just fored head coach Jay Gruden, and have a quarterback in Dwayne Haskins that no one seems to know when he will be ready to play.

With two teams heading toward early first-round picks facing off, I took an opportunity to speak with Eboracum from SB Nation’s Redskins site, Hogs Haven, to get a preview of Washington. We talked about Gruden, Haskins, the lack of a running game, how Miami can establish their ground attack, and a couple of interesting players on the Redskins’ roster.

You can check out the Dolphins half of the conversation on Hogs Haven.

1. The obvious top story for the Redskins this week is the coaching change. Why did Jay Gruden fail? What is expected from the league’s designated Gruden replacement coach, Bill Callahan?

Any answer to the first question should always start with the fundamental problem with the team, which is its owner Dan Snyder and his proxy Team President Bruce Allen. I don’t think any NFL owner blends the same combination of incompetence, arrogance, and unlikeability as him. For a more detailed explanation of how Dan Snyder has created a culture of dysfunction that flares up the more he gets involved, see this article that says it better than I, but a very short list of actions that made Jay’s job more difficult were: trading away a fortune in draft picks to trade up for RG3 (leaving the team talent-poor for years after, including into Jay’s tenure), possibly poisoning the well with Kirk Cousins (but refusing to trade him for draft capital), and most recently (according to reporters close to the team) forcing the pick of Dwayne Haskins at 15 overall when his scouts and coaches said Haskins would need a lot of time to develop to become a starter in the NFL and should be taken later in the draft.

However, there are also reasons specific to Jay Gruden that he failed. First and foremost was his seeming inability to coach the defensive side of the ball coupled with his inability to choose a good DC. He rejected Wade Phillips in order to hire Joe Barry, then later rejected Mike Pettine in order to hire Greg Manusky (the current DC). To me, it seemed as if he hired his defensive coaches based more on who he liked personally rather than who had a track record and understanding of successful defenses. Jay was also very stubborn about his scheme, and did a poor job tailoring the scheme to the strengths and weaknesses of the players available. Although he had a good mind for the passing offense (being a former QB), he relied on OL coach Bill Callahan (now interim HC) to develop the rushing offense, and the two never quite meshed (one of several reasons the rushing offense was never especially good under Jay). His playcalling had some obvious tendencies, for example calling runs on first down at a higher rate than any other NFL team in 2018 and he often abandoned the run game when we were down by two scores. He was terrible at halftime adjustments, and we rarely won a game if we weren’t leading at the half (and indeed often needed a cushion). He was a poor in-game clock manager. His teams were often undisciplined; the Redskins have been one of the more penalized teams in the NFL the last few years and always seemed to fall apart in primetime games. All that being said, he had his good qualities too, but I think was ultimately the roughly 8-8 coach his record indicates the last few years. The wheels really fell off this year though, somewhat similar to Jeff Fisher’s last year with the Rams.

What is expected from Callahan? Whereas Jay was known as a “players’ coach”, Callahan is known as a hardass and is more old school than Jay. Even in previous years, Callahan was known for demanding his OL stay extra hours working on drills if he wasn’t satisfied with their practice. This week, he’s already had players doing wind sprints at the end of practice to improve their conditioning, and claims to be trying to instill a culture of greater accountability among players. He also says he will really commit to the run game and (as the designer of the rushing offense) that claim is somewhat credible. I’m personally skeptical that any of this results in a big bounce back in the team’s performance, but given how shockingly the team seems to have regressed this season, I think any change will be something of an improvement.

2. There are so many reports, rumors, speculations, and tales about Dwayne Haskins and his status with the team. Is he ready to play? What are the issues that are keeping him sidelined? While it does not appear Haskins is going to start this week, when would you expect him to take the job?

Basically every member of the coaching staff, player, former player, and anonymous source from the front office who is asked about Haskins says he should not be playing yet. Indeed, ever since he was drafted, reports from the coaching staff and front office preached “patience” with the young QB. The basic problem is that he only started 1 year at Ohio State and is extremely raw as a QB. In addition to that, he was surrounded by NFL talent in Ohio State’s offense, often with plenty of time in the pocket and wide open WRs to throw to. He still needs a lot refinement with footwork, cadence, calling protections, and going through progressions, not to mention learning a pro offense that Jay Gruden was unwilling to simplify. This was evident in practice and early preseason games. His footwork caused the occasional errant throw, problems with cadence caused false starts by the OL, calling poor protections led to unblocked rushers, and slowness going through progressions caused him to hold onto the ball too long and take hits. However, his arm talent and playmaking ability were equally evident. His first pass in a preseason game was a flick of the wrist that sailed over 30 yards and landed right on his receiver’s hands. He has all the basic traits (arm talent, intelligence, work ethic, etc) to eventually become a starting QB, but has a long way to go refining his technique before he’s there. And indeed, Redskins fans will have to cross our fingers hoping he isn’t the next Paxton Lynch: a big-armed QB with great traits who never quite translates to the pros because he lacks the nuances of the position.

In terms of when he starts, I think two dates make the most sense: our week 11 matchup with the Jets (after our week 10 bye) or week 17 against the Cowboys. Basically, either he develops well enough that there is some use seeing him play meaningful games this season (in which case he starts after the bye against a weak secondary), or he’s so bad that they only let him start at the very end of the season, just to see him in one full game.

3. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson have been quiet this year - in part due to Gruden’s play calling seemingly ignoring the running game. With Callahan and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell more likely to commit to the run, what should we expect to see from Peterson and Thompson?

As mentioned before, Callahan is more old school and has promised greater commitment to the run game. I think this will primarily result in more opportunities for Adrian Peterson, and I expect to see him line up in I-formation and run between the tackles quite a bit. I’m not sure how this will affect Chris Thompson, as he’s more of a pass catching back, great in space, but not the best between-the-tackles runner. Thompson was a better fit for Gruden’s ability to use him creatively in space in the passing game. We’ll see though, with Kevin O’Connell calling the plays, there should still be many elements of Jay’s passing offense involved. O’Connell is also a former QB, is well-versed in Jay’s offense, and was responsible for bringing more play action and misdirection into the offense. The breakdown of traditional runs vs play action passes and misdirection plays will give us an early idea who is controlling the offense: Callahan or O’Connell.

4. On the other side of that discussion, the Dolphins are last in the league in rushing, averaging just 51.8 yards per game on the ground. The Redskins are 28th in the league, allowing 144.0 yards per game rushing. If the Dolphins remember to hand the ball to Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, or Mark Walton in the game, where can they find the most success? Why are the Redskins ranked so low against the run thus far?

I think the Redskins are much better at stopping runs up the middle than the numbers indicate. Former 1st round pick DT Jonathan Allen got injured early in week 1 and missed the next 2 games, which was part of the reason for the collapse of our run defense. The DL looked much better once he returned healthy. The defense as a whole has also suffered from getting gassed in the 2nd half due to being on the field all of the time the last few games. As an example, the Redskins were only down 7-12 against the Patriots at halftime, then gave up 21 unanswered points in the 2nd half. If the Redskins offense can find some success against the Dolphins and win time of possession, I think it will keep the defense better rested and help them avoid collapse in the 2nd half. I think the Dolphins would have more success with outside zone runs and screens (avoiding our somewhat stout IDL). However, you’d be much more successful with passes to RBs. Our LBs have been terrible in coverage this year, giving up an awful lot of yardage and points to crossing routes and pass-catching RBs.

5. I’m going to give you free reign here to talk about two players who intrigue me from Washington. Can you tell us what you have seen from and what we should expect from Steven Sims, Jr. and Terry McLaurin?

Terry McLaurin played WR at Ohio State with Dwayne Haskins, but split receptions in a WR corps that also included Parris Campbell and KJ Hill. “Scary Terry” as he’s nicknamed is 6’0” tall and has 4.35 speed, but is also a very polished route runner with good hands and surprising physicality. Like Dwayne Haskins, he didn’t earn a starting role until 2018, and didn’t compile a lot of stats that year due to the number of mouths to feed in that offense, which probably explains why he slid to the 3rd round. Fans love him, he’s been one of the few bright spots on offense this year. He gives us the field-stretching ability we were sorely lacking last year, but is more than just a deep threat. He’s able to win with polished routes, physicality, and good hands at the catch point. Most importantly, he changes the way defenses have to play us, forcing them to play safeties deep and opening up the run game and horizontal pass game as well. It’s no coincidence that our worst offensive performance was week 4 against the Giants when Scary Terry couldn’t play due to a hamstring injury. I’d normally think of a deep threat WR as a lightweight, but Terry is physical too. One of my favorite videos of him is his blocking at Ohio State.

Steve Sims Jr is a UDFA WR out of Kansas who probably fell in the draft due to being on a terrible college offense with poor QB play. Before the draft, he was being compared by some scouts to Tyreek Hill, and although that’s a bit ambitious, it’s not a bad comp. He’s 5’10” with a slight frame, but has lots of agility and deep speed. He’s primarily served as the Redskins kick returner (with an 81 yard return in week 4 that was called back due to penalty), but has begun to see increased snaps on offense due to his playmaking ability. He still isn’t used very much in the passing game due to McLaurin’s ability as a field stretcher, but Sims has seen more involvement catching screen passes and being used on misdirection runs in the backfield. In week 5 against the Patriots, he broke a 65 yard TD on a misdirection run, breaking numerous tackles on his way to the endzone (and securing our only score of the game).