Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Alex Smith's media session with reporters on Wednesday, September 5, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
1. The Redskins run game opened up a lot of passing opportunities for Smith.
Entering Sunday’s season opener, it was unclear just what the Redskins would get out of their running backs group, with Adrian Peterson having only played one preseason game and Chris Thompson taking on contact for the first time since he broke his leg last year.
The result was 186 total rushing yards – 96 from Peterson and 65 from Thompson – and an offense that drove down the field methodically. That naturally changed the tenor of the game, opening up the passing options as the Cardinals concerned themselves with stacking the box.
"I think as a quarterback when you’re throwing the football, anytime you have a run game like that, a defense has got to defend it,” Smith said. “It opens up a lot of opportunities for us on the edge, in the perimeter, whether it's play-action pass, just spacing the field. A lot of favorable matchups I felt like we had [was] because of the run game going so well. I mean you love to have balance, any good offense has balance and obviously with us running the ball the way we did – I think kind of setting that tone – certainly a lot of stuff in the pass game came off it."
2. Smith is comfortable running RPOs because of his experience.
In a similar way, the Redskins’ solid run game on Sunday helped Smith during run-pass option plays, something he has grown accustomed to over the last couple years.
They aren’t always perfect, Smith cautions, but they’ve given him the ability to make reads off the defense and not be locked into a certain play call.
“I think the nice thing is that as a play caller, all of a sudden now you don’t have to be right,” he said. “In the past if you were having to choose between run and pass, you had to make that decision and kind of play that chess game as a play caller. Now, not as much, you kind of have them built into the same play call and the defense really dictates where the ball goes. So, like I said, some weeks they make a ton of sense based on what you are seeing scheme wise and from a personnel standpoint. Other weeks they don’t and won’t be as good.”
3. Having Jordan Reed in the offense helps tremendously, especially because of his versatility.
Once he made his first catch – a slant route followed by a big hit – and promptly popped up after collecting a first down, it was clear that Jordan Reed had returned to form, back healthy after last year was marred by various injuries.
Just in practice, Smith knows how valuable Reed is as a tight end, lining up all over the field and being tasked with different responsibilities.
“These guys are tweeners. They all do a little bit of everything,” Smith said. “They have to block in the run game. They have to block in the pass game. They have to obviously be involved in route running as well and we move them around with shifts and motions and those kinds of things. I think these guys all have a lot on their plate, and in Jordan, you have a guy that is really special and unique at doing all those things. His ability to do a lot as a tight end – I mean he is capable of doing about all there is because he has obviously the skillset to do it. I think mentally he works really hard at knowing all those facets of his game. I think he’s a difference maker without a doubt at the tight end position. It’s different when he’s on the field."
Reed has continued to get better as a blocker, too, which only helps the offense as he can be used in more personnel sets and confuse the defense as to whether the Redskins choose to run or pass. If wide receiver Maurice Harris is unable to play for the second straight week against the Colts, head coach Jay Gruden even mentioned that Reed could fill in as the slot receiver. It all helps the versatility of the offense.
“You don’t know who is going to have that moment in that key situation and I think good offenses prepare every single guy included to do their job that when your number is called you make the play,” Smith said. “You are accountable to the other guys on the offensive side and the team that you piece it together through playmakers and schemes – that you can’t stop us all. That kind of mentality, I think you have to develop that and work at it."
4. Smith has been impressed with Trent Williams and the offensive line’s play as a whole.
Another player returning to the team after surgery last winter, Trent Williams showed he hadn’t missed a beat during the season opener, pulling around the line and manhandling defensive backs aiming to blitz and attack the edge.
“I don’t want to necessarily compare the other guys I’ve played with but same thing, he’s a special player,” Smith said. “He’s a difference maker as well when he’s on the field. I don’t feel like there is anything he is really limited in doing. I think as a left tackle, he can do it all. He’s great in the open field. I mean, he’s so strong handling any guys his size or bull rush or things like that. He’s got great feet. I think all those things obviously make him that special."
Williams understandably is the leader of the room, having been an offensive captain for the past seven years, and sets the proper standard amongst his peers. Smith has noticed how dedicated and detail-oriented the group protecting him has been, and how they work as a team.
"Yeah, I’ve been really impressed with those guys and not just the starting five as a unit but I think that whole room,” Smith said. “The kind of pride they take. The detail they have at their position and as a whole and I think the detail is in all aspects. I feel like they can do about everything and they take a lot of pride in being able to do a whole lot and they don’t get pigeon-holed as a single player or as a group. They can do it all. They are good in space. They can pound it. They are good in pass pro [protection]. I think that’s a strength, not only theirs, but as an offense and a team."
5. The wide receivers group is a selfless bunch, which helps when the passing game is directed elsewhere.
Of Alex Smith’s 255 passing yards, only 65 went to three combined receivers. That’s a testament to how promising and successful the short and intermediate pass game quickly became against the Cardinals, and may be a slight aberration as the season unfolds.
Each defense is different, each game plan will be, too. The Redskins adapted to their opponent on Sunday but that doesn’t mean wide receivers will be left out of the proceedings come Sunday against the Colts.
Smith, so far, hasn’t needed to talk to anyone in particular about why certain players didn’t receive a certain amount of targets. Everyone in the room is team-oriented in that way, and each week could be a different scenario for how Smith runs the offense.
“There’s going to be other weeks where it comes in bunches and all of a sudden we are going to lean on them offensively and we are going to need them and the ball is going to [thrown to a different receiver] a bunch,” Smith said. “That’s the nature I think of week to week and just who you are playing. I think the great thing is we got a bunch of selfless guys out there. I think all they care about is winning. Obviously, they want to be involved and included but [they are] team first guys. I think that’s not always the case at that position around the league and I think it's kind of a credit to the mindset of those guys we have outside [at the wide receiver position]."