Mon, 30 Nov 2020

Washington Football Bye Week Superlatives

Washington Redskins
29 Oct 2020, 16:03 GMT+10

Kyle Stackpole

For the Washington Football Team, the bye week is a time to reflect on the opening seven weeks and recharge for the second half of the season. With the underperforming NFC East still up for grabs, the next month will dictate whether it is in the playoff hunt or in contention for a top 10 draft pick.

For those of us at WashingtonFootball.com, this is a chance to assess the players, coaches and overall performances. These are the bye week superlatives:

Terry McLaurin was the overwhelming favorite for this award entering the season, yet he has further separated himself from the pack with his excellence over the first seven games.

McLaurin is currently second in the NFL in yards after catch (291), sixth in yards (577) and 10th in receptions (44). He has received at least seven targets in every game and finished below 60 yards once to go with two contests of 100-plus yards. He's done all of this against some of the league's best cornerbacks, namely Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters and Darius Slay.

McLaurin is on pace to catch just over 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, which would equate to one of the best receiving seasons in franchise history.

"[He's] just everything that was advertised," head coach Ron Rivera said in late September. "I know when we were in Carolina, we liked him enough that we wanted to pick him and the Washington Football Team picked him before us. He's a guy that exceeded expectations obviously and it's one of those things that if everybody knew he was going to be like this, he would've been a first rounder or a second rounder. Just fortunate to have him. Everything he works on he excels at."

Montez Sweat has picked up right where he left off after racking up 5.5 sacks over the final half of his rookie campaign.

He leads Washington with 5.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 16 quarterback pressures -- both of which are among the top 10 in the NFL -- and has been stout against the run. On one play against the Los Angeles Rams, his freakish speed and unrelenting effort helped him track down running back Cam Akers to prevent a touchdown.

No. 2 overall pick Chase Young garnered most of the offseason headlines, but Sweat has been one of the most impressive defenders since the beginning of the training camp.

"I think he's getting an understanding of D-line play, having his hand in the dirt going forward a majority of the time and being disruptive -- I think not just in the passing game, but in the run game as well with some [tackles for loss] and setting an edge for the defense and doing some of the things he's done a nice job of," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said of Sweat after Week 3.

"The arrow's up. He's improving," he added. "He's understanding better and better what we're asking him to do and where he can help our defense by doing things and being disruptive. I think he's continued to do that and grow with that, and he's continued to develop."

Washington shocked the NFL when it released Adrian Peterson during final roster cuts, but it showed the confidence it had in third-round rookie Antonio Gibson. Through seven weeks, that gamble has paid off.

Gibson currently leads Washington with 371 rushing yards on 84 carries, which is 51 more attempts than he had in two seasons at Memphis. He's also fourth on the team in receptions (19) and fifth in receiving yards (147).

Gibson already has the power and speed to compete at the NFL level; he's tied for fourth in the league with 14 broken tackles, and he has broken off two plays of at least 40 yards.

But with every game, Gibson is becoming more comfortable as an every-down running back. His progress was evident against the Cowboys, when he set career-highs in carries (20) and yards (128) in a much-needed division victory.

"He's gotten more and more confident as a guy coming out of the backfield as far as having to run inside," Rivera said. "We saw him running off the edges for the most part coming out of college. They ran the jet sweeps with him. They did line him up in the backfield. For the most part he was running off tackle, he was running inside zone plays. We have him running traps and counters and powers that are kind of more inside. He seems to be learning that more and more and getting better with it."

In terms of his overall pick, the No. 2 overall pick has been advertised. Just ask his defensive coordinator.

"Chase is playing great," Del Rio said Monday. "He's not getting the numbers necessarily right now that would represent the impact that he's having on the game. I think he's playing very well for us. He's forceful on his side of the ball. He's had multiple games where the beneficiary is Jonathan Allen. The unselfishness for him to do some things, game-wise, for him to free up his teammate and things like that. I think he's impactful in the run game. I think he's a really good football player. I just want him to continue to be able to do what he does."

Young has not had a sack in three games since returning from a groin injury, and he only has 2.5 sacks and one quarterback hit. Sweat, as was mentioned above, leads Washington with 5.0 sacks and 11 quarterback hits. But for someone as talented as Young, the sacks will likely come in bunches during the second half of the season.

Jevon Kearse set the rookie sack record in 1999, but only three of his eventual 14.5 sacks came during the first six games, and all of those occurred in Week 2. After a bye week, he recorded at least a half sack in every contest the rest of the way. That's not to say Young will break the rookie sack record, but the sacks will come. His impact has been too great for them not to.

It was too hard to pick between the two, as both are remarkable accomplishments.

When Alex Smith suffered a catastrophic leg injury Nov. 18, 2018. hardly anyone expected him to play again. But after 17 surgeries and 693 days without game action, Smith completed his miraculous comeback when he replaced the injured Kyle Allen in the second quarter of the Rams' game Oct. 11.

"It was great to be out there," said Smith, whose harrowing recovery was the subject of an E:60 documentary. "The feeling, the range of emotions -- the good and the bad -- is why I fought so hard to come back. I think sometimes you can take it for granted, and certainly being away from it for a couple of years, I've missed it, so good to be back in it rolling."

As Smith worked tirelessly to get back onto the field, Rivera did everything in his power to continue coaching while battling squamous cell carcinoma, which is a form of skin cancer. And since announcing his diagnosis in August, he only missed a few practices but did not miss a game.

He completed his cancer treatment Monday, and while there will be follow-up tests, he said doctors told him, "it's headed in the right direction."

"It's just the toughness," Allen said Sunday of the team's identity. "It starts with our head coach. Our head coach is going through cancer right now. He's getting treatment, he's getting chemo, and then he's showing up the next day at work. He's setting the example for us, and it's right in front of our eyes, and I just want to do my part and I think everyone on this team wants to do their part, too, and transfer that onto the field. You want to see that toughness, you want to see that grit, you want to see that fight."

Special Teams MVP: P Tress Way Most Improved: T Geron Christian Sr. Most Underappreciated: DT Daron Payne Biggest Surprise: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis Biggest Disappointment: Injuries to rookies Biggest Strength: Passing defense Biggest Weakness: Passing offense

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