Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Alex Smith's media session with reporters on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
1. Backups stepped in well on Sunday.
It’s never easy to have to adjust to a few major injuries in the middle of a football game. Without knowing the severe repercussions at the time, the Redskins offense acquitted itself rather nicely against the Falcons once Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff had to leave the game.
For more than a quarter, rookie Geron Christian Sr. stepped in at left tackle, Ty Nsekhe moved to left guard, Chase Roullier pivoted to right guard and the offensive line did its best to plug and play. Quarterback Alex Smith thought it handled everything well.
“I didn’t think anybody blinked twice,” Smith said. “You certainly hate to see those guys go down with injuries and during the game you are hoping for the best. But I thought guys, as far as young bucks stepping up, guys moving around, and the shuffle that has to take place up front, really a credit to those guys up front. Being prepared as a unit to be able to handle that, I thought to be able to handle all that stuff, the plays that we continue to play, to be able to have virtually all the game plan still at our disposal despite those injuries is really a credit to those guys up front."
2. The challenge this week will be getting new offensive linemen up to speed.
Once the injuries were deemed season-ending, Smith knew that this week would be busy.
The Redskins signed three offensive linemen on Monday – Austin Howard, Jonathan Cooper and Luke Bowanko – and will likely insert one of them into game action this Sunday. Because injuries are unpredictable, each of them will need to prepare to play and condense a lot of terminology and scheme into a short period of time.
Smith believes that playing on the road will present some further challenges as they relate to crowd noise and a formidable Tampa Bay defensive line.
“I think those things, all the calls, all the communication that has to take place – run, pass, third down. All the different looks, the thousands and thousands of reps that we've had, you try to condense into a few days to get ready,” Smith said. “I think communication is a key. There's going to be a lot of times its nonverbal communication there on the road, loud. You have to be able to…everybody be on the same page, locked in, even though you can't hear. So, I think that kind of makes it even tougher, then once again, going against a good D-line [there is] even more of an emphasis on it."
3. Though it’s a week to week league, Smith believes halfway through the season he’s made improvements in the offense.
Smith passed for 306 yards on Sunday, the first time he threw for more than 300 yards in his tyoung Redskins career. It took until Week 9, which would suggest the passing offense hasn’t been very strong. That’s a fair assessment, as the Redskins' formula for winning has relied on establishing the run game and relying on the defense.
Though Smith was hesitant to call Sunday’s game his best in a Redskins uniform, he did admit that he’s improved since Week 1.
“It's a fine line because you do live so week to week in this business that sometimes it's hard to see trends overall,” Smith said. “I do think definitely from looking back to the start of the season, where we are, just the things we've been through situationally, I think that we have grown a ton in a good way.
“Week to week the highs and lows are so big. I think you do the best you can not to ride that roller coaster so to speak, try not to. Try to come in even-keeled – go about your business every day – continue working for that end goal obviously with the focus weekly on winning…Certainly, you learn from the mistakes and things you did wrong individually and as a group. But yeah, I do think there was plenty to build on for sure."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 10 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
4. He thinks big plays are still important for the offensive recipe.
The Redskins offense has thrived taking up time on the clock, methodically driving down the field and scoring first. When that doesn’t happen, like against the Falcons, big plays become a necessary component to fighting back into the game.
A few big plays to wide receiver Maurice Harris and tight end Vernon Davis in the second half resembled some sparks, and the Redskins had the opportunity to cut the lead to just seven points late in the third quarter. That ultimately didn’t happen, but Smith knows how vital plays of more than 20 yards can be in changing the tenor of a drive.
“Without chunks your scoring probably goes down,” Smith said. “I think any time you add a chunk play into a drive; your chances of scoring greatly increase. It's tough against any defense in this league to march it. I mean I think we had some great examples of that in the last few weeks. I think anytime we've gotten off schedule with a penalty, with a sack, with a negative play, those are things that are hard to overcome. I think chunk plays allow you to sometimes bypass that a little bit. All the sudden you add a chunk play and depending on where you started, all the sudden you're on the edge of field goal, you're in the red zone – you're in striking distance.”
Speed definitely helps. The Redskins also lost wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. for the season this week, meaning big-play opportunities might decrease. The team does still have wide receiver Jehu Chesson as a viable speed threat, but he’s mostly been used on special teams to this point. Brian Quick and Michael Floyd are other big targets for Smith, but they don’t have the speed of Richardson.
“Speed is a factor, whether it is running across the field, whether it is running down the field. It's always a factor in any offense as far as a matchup goes for sure,” Smith said.
5. Being in tight games down to the wire will only help the team moving forward.
Aside from the team’s two blowout losses, the Redskins have played in tight games, often coming down to the last play or sequence. Smith knows that scoring consistently is a less risky proposition for the team, but does think that Washington's ability to win close games will help it in the second half of the season.
The adversity that comes in playing to the final whistle should effectively help when the team falls behind early. That wasn't the case against the Saints or Falcons, but Smith is confident that his teammates aren’t letting up on effort.
“We realize the games we've gotten down a few scores and those are a tall task in this league anyway,” Smith said. “But, certainly we have been in a lot of games that have been back and forth and come down to the wire so I think those are almost even more beneficial. I think being in those big situations, finding a way to win, whatever side of it you are on, whether it is offense four minute, whether it be two minute situations when you have to score to take a lead, whether it be defense out there in either of those situations. I think those are things you continue to bank and we've been in those situations and they'll only help us moving forward."