LANDOVER, Md. — The Washington Redskins lose playmakers and find more.
But there’s a reason coach Jay Gruden, a day before beating the New York Giants 20-10, said he wasn’t worried about the team’s offense. No one was more aware of what the offense was missing. But, no one was more aware of what it still had.
So here was receiver Jamison Crowder, continuing his recent solid stretch of play that many expected games ago. And here was Samaje Perine, running the way the Redskins had hoped he would when they made him a fourth-round pick. And here was receiver Josh Doctson, setting up one score by drawing a pass-interference flag and then catching the game-winning touchdown.
In some cases, it’s what the Redskins (5-6) expected this season: Coaches considered Crowder their best receiver at times, and Doctson their most talented.
This was an offense missing 60 percent of its original offensive line. That led to rocky moments, as you would expect. It also led to a game in which quarterback Kirk Cousins needed to be smart and accurate in delivering what plays were available. More often than not, he did.
But the Redskins also were without tight end Jordan Reed, out a fourth straight game with a hamstring injury, and running back Chris Thompson, out for the season with a broken leg. Reed was the focal point of the passing game entering the season. Thompson was the spunk and energy this season.
However, when they needed someone else, Crowder stepped up. While the rest of the team is breaking down, Crowder is getting healthy. Or, at least, healthier. A hamstring bothered him early this season. But in his past four games, the Redskins’ slot receiver has caught 27 passes for 412 yards.
“Jamison and I have had a good rapport since he showed up as a rookie [in 2015],” Cousins said. “Last year he had incredible games. There were times when even with Pierre [Garcon] and DeSean [Jackson] we would walk away from a game saying, ‘Crowder may have been our best receiver today.’ He’s very talented. We just got to get him opportunities.”
Cousins says he goes where the coverage takes him. Lately, it has been taking him to a wide-open Crowder. He has been good at setting up defenders, and the Redskins’ scheme has created holes for him in the middle. The result: catch-and-runs to help Washington. He caught a 33-yard pass to set up his own 15-yard touchdown reception.
“He was able to find me and I was able to make some plays,” Crowder said.
That play also provided a glimpse of the improved Cousins. The coaches have long wanted him to extend plays in the red zone, particularly on third down. Even last year there were times Cousins wouldn’t do this. Now? He’s using his legs more. And it was evident on this touchdown as he scrambled to his right. Oftentimes he’ll run in that situation, but a run would not have worked. Crowder found an opening, and Cousins found him.
The defense gets a nod during a game in which they held the Giants’ woeful offense to three points. They were more disciplined and prevented big plays. New York managed seven first downs and was 2-of-14 on third down.
But this was more about the Redskins’ offense finding a way to survive the loss of many key parts. Perine was one of the reasons they could. He’s not going to hit a bunch of home runs, but he’s running well enough — and a patchwork line made enough good blocks. Credit Gruden for not going away from the run. In the past, the Redskins would have done just that.
But Gruden stuck with it because the combination of New York’s pass rush and the Redskins having three new starters on the line. That’s a bad recipe for success.
It wasn’t working in the first half as Perine gained 3 yards on five carries. However, with such a depleted group the Redskins wouldn’t have survived dropping back and throwing all the time. The result: Perine rushed 19 times for 97 yards in the second half.
“He had explosiveness, was really sudden, ran with heavy pads and he has a good forward lean to him,” Cousins said. “We were able to repeat run plays over and over and get productive yards, productive gains and it made a big difference in the outcome.”
The Redskins have never doubted what their offense could do, not even when it looked bleak from the outside. It helped Thursday when facing the Giants. It also helped having playmakers who were still healthy.