LANDOVER, Md. — The Washington Redskins’ goal for the remaining three weeks is to stop a disappointing season from becoming a disastrous one.
Officially out of the playoff race and losers of two straight games to the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers by a combined score of 68-27, the Redskins (5-8) now face three teams with losing records, beginning with the Arizona Cardinals (6-7) on Sunday at FedEx Field.
The bad losses have only magnified the talk about the long-term value of quarterback Kirk Cousins and the future of the free agent to be.
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In addition, a player has questioned the team’s preparation for games, sports radio is speculating whether or not three more losses would endanger the future of head coach Jay Gruden, and, off the field, somebody created fake websites with reports the team was changing its name.
The Cardinals meanwhile — despite having just one more win and only a microscopic chance of making the playoffs — are rolling by comparison after stopping a three-game losing streak. Motivation doesn’t seem to be a problem following Sunday’s 12-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.
“We have a lot of resolve on this ball club,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald told the Arizona Republic. “Guys care. It matters to them. We have a lot of pride in what we do and how we do it.”
The Cardinals’ 261 yards of total offense against Tennessee was their second-fewest this season. They are ranked 13th in the NFC, averaging only 322.5 yards per game.
Their defense, however, is ranked fifth, and held the Titans to 204 total yards. Marcus Mariota finished 16 of 31 for 159 yards and no touchdowns. Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones had a sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He leads the NFL with 14 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and 27 quarterback hits.
That doesn’t bode well for the always-under-the-microscope Cousins, who is operating behind a decimated offensive line that has seen 11 different players take over 100 snaps thus far.
The Redskins have not been able to run the ball and Cousins himself is coming off a bad day at the office. Against San Diego, he completed 15 of 27 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His 68.6 passer rating was his lowest of the season.
“Very good defense,” Cousins said of the Cardinals. “Chandler Jones is an outstanding pass-rusher. They’ve had some injuries on the defensive side much like any other defense, but still a lot of good players out there that are making plays. I think there’s a lot of smart players — crafty guys — and they’ll provide a good challenge.”
Washington’s offense continues to struggle on third down, ranking 27th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate.
“It’s hard to have a very productive game as an offense when you only have 51 plays, but we have no one to blame but ourselves because you’re not going to run many plays if you’re not staying on the field and you’re not converting third downs,” Cousins said of Sunday’s loss.
The Redskins defense, fairly stout early on, is suddenly being shredded. One week after Alfred Morris of the Cowboys ran through and around them, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns before leaving early in the fourth quarter. San Diego rushed for 174 yards as well.
Washington has lost four of five and has given up 30 or more points in each of the losses.
Injuries have hurt Washington’s defense, especially at linebacker, but it goes beyond that.
After the San Diego game, safety D.J. Swearinger again said his team wasn’t ready to play and didn’t practice well during the week, while cornerback Josh Norman expressed frustration about his role.
“I think it’s my job to make sure they’re prepared and obviously they didn’t look prepared, so that’s on me,” Gruden said. “We have to do a better job to give them a better game plan to sink their teeth into. What we did last week didn’t really work that well, but it’s not because it was a lack of preparation.”
Arizona can sympathize with Washington’s injuries woes, having over a dozen players on injured reserve, including running back David Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer. On Monday, head coach Bruce Arians announced starting left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) would go on injure reserve and that starting right guard Earl Watford (high ankle sprain) will miss some time.
Veldheer is the third Arizona starting lineman to suffer a season-ending injury
“We finally had a little cohesiveness — that group that had played together for about a month — and now we’re going to have one, maybe two of those out,” Arians said. “So it’s hard. That’s the one place that you really need cohesiveness, for guys to play together, especially going on the road in a stadium like FedExField.”
Quarterback Blaine Gabbart has completed 79 or 130 passes (60.8 percent) for 897 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
Adrian Peterson leads the Cardinals with 448 rushing yards on 129 carries, but missed the last two games with a neck injury. Arians said Wednesday he did not know if Peterson will return this season.