Washington coach Jay Gruden is doing business differently this year.
But what he’s doing now is clearly working.
After beating the Raiders 27-10, there’s reason to think this new way of calling plays could work.
With Gruden back on the microphone after former coordinator Sean McVay left to become the Rams head coach, things have changed in a number of regards.
They lost big-play receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency this offseason, which took some of the vertical element out of the passing game, and created some long-term uncertainty in Kirk Cousins. The franchise-tagged quarterback admitted he wanted to see how this year developed before signing a long-term deal, but if it went this way more often, he’d probably be happy to stay.
Between the emergence of 2016 first-rounder Josh Doctson (who made his first touchdown a memorable one) and the way they utilized running back Chris Thompson in the passing game (six catches for 150 yards), it’s a different look. They’ll need to get more from Terrelle Pryor at some point, but it was an interesting mix of play-calls for Cousins.
And he made the most of the new looks, completing 25-of-30 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. That 150.7 passer rating is pretty suggestive of his night, considering 158.3 is perfect. All told, Washington outgained Oakland 472-128, a thorough domination.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Washington has put together a stout-looking defense out of an odd lot of big-ticket players, short-timers, journeymen and kids.
While they have a few legitimate veteran stars in cornerback Josh Norman and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, they’re short on household names (though first-round defensive end Jonathan Allen looks like he’ll become one).
Linebacker Zach Brown came on a one-year deal after making the Pro Bowl last year, and could be closer to a payday with the way he’s playing now.
Safety D.J. Swearinger just walked in the door but was voted a captain, and made the kind of hard-hitting plays he’s shown himself capable of. (Of course, he’s also shown himself to be unreliable at times, which is why this is his fourth team in five years).
They’re also relying on a number of young players, specifically in the secondary (second-year corner Kendall Fuller and rookie safety Montae Nicholson had interceptions). Coupled with the comeback (from two years of Achilles injuries) from outside linebacker Junior Galette, and they have an intriguing mix of talent, which manhandled one of the league’s better offensive lines.
Oakland ran for just 32 yards, which threw the whole process out of whack.
2. The Raiders wanted to stay in the locker room for the national anthem. Perhaps they did and we didn’t realize it.
It’s hard to understate how flat the Raiders were in the first half.
They were outgained 223-47, and managed just two first downs before the break. They only crossed midfield once, by a whole 2 yards, and promptly threw an interception. They didn’t convert a single third down.
Then again, it didn’t get that much better after halftime.
The rookie from Oklahoma fumbled deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter, which could have been more damaging if the defense didn’t stand up and force an Oakland field goal.
It’s hard to blame Perine too much for having a helmet put directly on the ball, but he got on their radar for fumbling in the preseason opener, and they’ve put backs in the doghouse for ball security before. It’s not a problem yet, but it’s worth watching.
He went to the locker room after the play and came back with a wrap around his hand, leaving Mack Brown to finish up the game.
4. Speaking of running backs, Raiders veteran Marshawn Lynch got just one touch in the second half.
Part of that was the margin of the game, which wasn’t conducive to power running.
But it was still curious to see him parked on the bench for most of the second half. He finished with six carries for 18 yards, and was a complete non-factor.
5. It was extremely odd seeing Carr throw two interceptions in the first half.
The Raiders quarterback hadn’t had multiple interceptions in a game since Dec. 20, 2015. Since that game, he had thrown 35 touchdowns against just eight picks entering Sunday’s game. But there were no big plays to be found, and with the run game not working, there was not much time for him to get comfortable.