Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Alex Smith's media session with reporters on Wednesday, October 10, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
1. Smith is still progressing in the offense
The Redskins quarterback showed signs in New Orleans, during a few plays, that he was late on some of his reads. The obvious play that comes to mind is the interception, which Smith threw in the vicinity of Maurice Harris, who had been open at the start of his route but had little room to operate once the ball was thrown.
Though Washington jumped out to an early lead against the Panthers on Sunday, some of those issues – being a tad late in his progression – were still there for Smith. On the final drive of the half, with the Redskins looking to kick a field goal and time winding down, Smith was called for intentional grounding.
The Panthers used a stunt and the offensive line had a tough time handling it, but wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. ended up wide open on a crossing route that could have provided a nice gain and instant field goal range.
"I think all those little situations, you know, where you're holding on just a fraction too long or you don't cut it loose. That's the name of the game in the NFL too," Smith said. "That's playing quarterback. I mean there's always going to be pressure, every front, every week's usually pretty good. Timing and anticipation are critical. Yeah, it also has to do with concepts and the defense we're going against, all those things, in game adjustments. There's a lot that goes into that and cutting that ball loose that fraction earlier."
2. Stunting on the Cowboys defensive line will provide a tough challenge
When the Redskins looked back on their Week 2 loss to the Colts, the defensive line's stunting was an issue that the majority of coaches and players acknowledged. It certainly limited the run game. Adrian Peterson only had 20 yards rushing on 11 carries.
The Cowboys do something similar on their defensive front, and Smith knows the importance in everyone on the line of scrimmage being on the same page to effectively limit the opposition's rushes.
"We all have to be on the same page, right, on how we're seeing things, our identification of all the fronts, anticipating what's coming," Smith said. "Not only in the run game, but obviously pass protection as well. I think the biggest thing for us there is preparation through the week, seeing the same things, speaking the same language up there, all being on the same page. I think any time your front… everybody's on the same page good things happen."
That being said, Smith wasn't sure that watching the Colts tape would help prepare them anymore against Dallas. "I think we have 50-plus snaps of Cover-2 in that game," he said. "It's not really what Dallas has been doing."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 7 game against the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
Somebody they'll need to keep an eye on is defense end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has 5.5 sacks through the first six games along with 23 tackles.
"He's a disruptive player, a really disruptive player," Lawrence said. "He jumps out on film; he's been doing this now for a couple of years, so he's a guy that certainly commands attention from the opposing offense."
3. The lack of second half production doesn't have a consistent thread
The Redskins have scored just one touchdown in the second half this season – that one coming late against New Orleans with the game out of hand – and it nearly cost them last Sunday against the Panthers.
As Smith will tell you, each game is its own entity, and so he hasn't seen a consistent thread about why the offense has stumbled more in the third and fourth quarter.
"To lump them all together is unfair," Smith said. "I think they all happen for different reasons. It's not the same thing going on. Certainly something we want to want to get remedied though. But, like I said, I think there are a ton of different reasons that change from week to week and each week presents a completely different challenge for us to figure out."
This is not a sustainable practice, but the Redskins, on the flip side, have at least countered that with strong first half performances. In their last two victories, they've started fast, scoring early and often and putting opponents into a hole that's made them become more predictable and abandon the run.
"You love to come out starting fast, getting into a rhythm," Smith said. "Love to play four-quarter football, but obviously this is an NFL game, it's going to be a division game, it's going to be a physical game, hard fought. To expect that it's going to be smooth is unrealistic."
4. He knows about the heightened importance of Cowboys week
It's his first time playing in this rivalry, but Smith is already aware of its significance to people in the region.
"Anytime you have a storied rivalry like this that goes back that long, there is obviously a lot on the line," Smith said. "A lot of history there on both sides, for us, we've got them at home, we've got them here, a chance to get them in our place and take advantage."
Smith then pivoted, reminded of the energy in the stadium near the end of the game on Sunday.
"Thinking back to this last Sunday and what that looked like in the fourth quarter, FedEx[Field] was pretty sweet," Smith said. "It was rocking and we certainly hope to carry that over to this next week. But, we've got to go out and prove it. There is nothing we can really say or talk about, we've just got to go out and do it."
5. The team's inconsistency doesn't come from a lack of effort
Throughout his short tenure in Washington, Smith has repeatedly expressed his satisfaction in the way that every player on the roster has committed themselves to getting better each day. He reiterated that on Wednesday when asked about why the team has played inconsistently, oscillating wins and losses each week.
"I've yet to see a lack of effort or work ethic," Smith said. "I mean this team works really, really hard to prepare, going about their business, from top to bottom, the entire building, I'm lumping in to that. I think if anything, you hope, maybe our sense of urgency on the details, the sense of urgency, period, on everything that we are doing. I think that it's only natural as the week goes on that mounts. That's good, I think that's healthy, it's what you want. Hopefully we can carry that with us."
Talk to enough players in the locker room and the sentiment stays the same. Each week is its own entity, and deserves total focus. If the urgency on details is there, it should portend a better fate this Sunday.