The 2017 Washington Redskins at the Quarter Pole

D.J. Swearinger, shown here in training camp, has been an emerging defensive star thusfar this season. Photo credit: Thomas Lawrence

October 8, 2017

by Steve Thomas

Here we are, another season, another 2 – 2 record.  If this sounds familiar, that’s because it should.  In the last 20 seasons, the Redskins have been 2 – 2 after the first 4 games on 9 separate occasions.[1]  They’ve been at .500 or below at the quarter-season mark 14 times.  They  have only built a winning record after 4 games on 6 occasions since the 1998 season.  They’ve had no 4 – 0 seasons, and two 0 – 4 seasons.  So…..this isn’t a new experience for Redskins fans.  The million dollar question is whether this season is going to be any different than most of the previous 20 – that is to say, mediocre at best.[2] In other words, what have we learned about the Redskins thusfar? I’m no all-knowing soothsayer, but I do have some thoughts.


To start with, let’s take a look at the 2017 offense vs the 2016 offense after week 4 of each season:

  2016 2017
Points (rank) 10 15
Total Yards  (rank) 8 8
Passing Yards (rank) 5 13
Passing Yards per Attempt  (rank) 5 4
Rushing Yards  (rank) 19 8
Rushing Yards per Attempt  (rank) 7 8
Total rushing attempts (raw number/rank) 85 / 28 116 / 8
Total passing attempts (raw number/rank) 152 / 12 123 / 23

What this data shows is that the 2016 offense was a higher scoring offense in the first 4 games than was the 2017 version, and was significantly more prolific in the air, whereas the 2017 team runs more.  It isn’t necessarily “better” or more efficient than 2016, mind you – the Redskins have just been running more this year as compared to last year.  The reason for these changes isn’t exactly a state secret: the loss of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson has had a profound impact on the effectiveness of the offense.  Jay Gruden promised that this team will run more seemingly every week for 2 years now, and he’s finally delivered.

This chart shows some of the relevant comparison data for the 2016 and 2017 defenses after week 4:

  2016 2017
Points surrendered (rank) 26 18
Total Yards surrendered  (rank) 29 13
Passing Yards surrendered (rank) 26 19
Passing Yards per Attempt surrendered (rank) 25 18
Rushing Yards surrendered  (rank) 30 11
Rushing Yards per Attempt surrendered (rank) 31 11
Opponent’s total rushing attempts (raw number/rank) 109 / 23 90 / 8
Opponent’s total passing attempts (raw number/rank) 145 / 19 132 / 14

Unlike the offensive numbers, there’s no debate that, after four games, the 2017 defense has performed significantly better than did the 2016 defense, by almost every measure.  Most startling is the difference in rushing yards surrendered and rushing yards per attempt surrendered – the Redskins have jumped a massive 20 places, from 31 to 11, in the latter.  Most clearly, the impact of first round pick Jonathan Allen and the new, improved version of Matt Ioannidis has been great.

Now that we’ve examined the team’s overall performance, let’s take a quick look at some of the major issues that have arisen over the course of this short season:

Wide Receivers

At first glance, this season, Terrelle Pryor, Sr., who the Redskins brought in to replace some combination of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson, has not lived up to expectations.  To date, Pryor has 13 receptions, 186 yards, and 1 touchdown on 24 targets, for an average of 14.3 yards per reception and a 54.2% catch percentage.  In contrast, Pierre Garcon has 20 receptions, 285 yards, and 0 touchdowns on 33 targets, for an average of 14.3 yards per reception and a 60.6% catch percentage.  Desean Jackson has 14 receptions, 249 yards, and 1 touchdown on 29 targets, for an average of 17.8 yards per reception and a 48.3% catch percentage.  What these numbers show is what we already knew – for whatever reason, Pryor catches a smaller number of balls thrown his way than other #1 caliber receivers.  Certainly, Desean Jackson has not had a particularly good start to his season in Tampa, as his catch percentage reflects, but some of that is due to Desean being primarily a long-ball receiver.  The point is, though, that Garcon has been somewhat more productive than Pryor in the first four games of this season.  Let me ask you this: are you surprised?  Did you reasonably expect Terrelle Pryor, in his second year of his entire life at wide receiver, to come in and immediately replicate what a pro like Garcon brought to the team?  If you did, you shouldn’t have.  That wasn’t a reasonable expectation.  The million dollar question is whether Pryor can eventually become what an experienced veteran player like Pierre Garcon is.  Thusfar, there hasn’t been much reason for optimism, but it’s only been four games.

2016 1st round draft pick Josh Doctson has produced 3 receptions for 79 yards and one touchdown on 6 targets, for a deceptive 26.3 yards per reception and a 50% completion percentage.  This most certainly does not seem like the type of production that was expected from a 1st round pick in his second year.  For comparison’s sake, this is the production thusfar this season for the other receivers taken in the 1st round of the 2016 draft:

Name                           team    targets             receptions        yards   TDs     Y/C     catch %

Corey Coleman           Cle       13                           6                  62     1          10.33   46.2

Will Fuller                   Hou     6                             4                  35     2          8.75    66.7

Laquon Treadwell       Min      10                           5                  42     0          8.40    50.0

All of a sudden, Docston’s numbers don’t seem quite so bad, do they?  His number of targets is a bit low compared to his peers, but otherwise, he’s actually more or less in line with what his principal peer group has produced this quarter.  This is another player who needs time to develop.  It’s entirely possible that when it’s time for me to write the “Redskins at the Halfway Mark” column in a month, both Terrelle Pryor, Sr., and Josh Doctson might just have become a more productive duo.  Time will tell.

Running Backs 

I am comfortable in saying that, for me at least, Samaje Perine has been a profound disappointment thusfar.  It’s not that he hasn’t had occasional flashes of potential, but overall, he has failed to perform at a level expected of someone of his elite collegiate background, at a position in which rookies frequently excel.  His 2017 numbers: 46 rushes, 143 yards, 3.1 yards per carry, and no touchdowns.  Also, he has one fumble assigned to him, although his also fumbled a simple pitch from quarterback Kirk Cousins against Kansas City that was assessed to Cousins despite the real fault residing with Perine.  Robert Kelley’s injuries have provided Perine with adequate opportunity, but for whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened for him.  Speaking of Kelley, on the year, he’s gained 131 yards and no touchdowns on 29 carries, for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.  Chris Thompson, of course, has been the team’s breakout star amongst the national media this year, gaining 142 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 20 carries, for an average of 7.1 yards per carry.

Let me make this simple: 3.1 yards per carry and 1 turnovers / 4.5 yards per carry / 7.1 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns.  Of that group, who are the backs who have shown they should get the bulk of the carries?  Will Perine improve?  I’m sure he will – after all, he’s only a rookie.  But in the meantime, the Redskins have better options.  Even Mack Brown averaged 4.5 yards per carry, albeit on just 6 carries.  The Redskins would be wise to dole out the carries in a different manner than they did in the first quarter of the season.

Defensive line

No fancy stats here: you can see in the team stats above just how much the performance of the defensive line has improved.  It is, frankly, almost unbelievable that the Redskins defensive line has risen to 11th in the NFL against the run.  The increased performance seems to be the result of a combination of a new, more aggressive attitude courtesy of new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, and (perhaps more importantly) better talent.  Star rookie Jonathan Allen hasn’t filled up the stat sheet (1 sack, 3 solo tackles and 7 assisted tackles), but has shown his immense potential and versatility.  Second year player Matt Ioannidis is perhaps the most improved player on the team, going from a player on the practice squad in 2016 to a regular rotational player in the first quarter of this season.  The future appears to be bright for this unit.

Emerging defensive stars

Two newcomers, D.J. Swearinger and Zach Brown, have emerged as defensive leaders in this young season.  Zach Brown, in particular, has performed at an extremely high level, showing his incredible speed, vision, and knack for playmaking.  Before the week 5 games (the Redskins’ bye week), Brown was leading the NFL in total tackles, with 42, which includes 25 solo and 17 assisted.  He’s seemingly involved in nearly every play and has been worth every penny.  Swearinger, on the other hand, doesn’t have off-the-charts stats, necessarily, with 16 total tackles, but he’s clearly taken charge of the secondary and is its undisputed leader.  He, also, has been worth every penny the Redskins have paid him.  There’s no reason why these two players won’t continue to be the best players on this defense as we move into the second quarter.

Overall, we can talk about whether the Redskins are improving, whether they have shown themselves to be one of the better teams in the NFL, or whether the “showed something” in their loss to the Chiefs, but the bottom line is that they are 2 – 2.  A .500 team, no more, no less.  The next four games – San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Seattle – will go a long way towards shaping the 2017 season.  It’s going to take improved production amongst the wide receiver corps and more consistent efficiency in the ground game.  I look forward to finding out if this happens.



[1] All data in this column is courtesy of

[2] In terms of overall records between 1998 – 2016, here’s the breakdown: 3 seasons at 10 – 6; 2 seasons at 9 – 7; 1 season at 8 – 7 – 1; 3 seasons at 8 – 8; and 10 seasons at below .500.  The team last won more than 10 games in a single season in the 1991 Super Bowl year.