3 Stars: Rookie Cole Holcomb shines in Redskins' loss

Lynn Pierce

The Washington Redskins' first regular season game of 2019 ended with a 32-27 loss to NFC East rival, Philadelphia. 

The game was truly a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Redskins dominated the Eagles by controlling the tempo of the game. In the second, the Eagles rallied from a 17-point deficit behind a masterful performance from Carson Wentz. Despite a lackluster second stanza, the Redskins' organization and fans should take notice to a few flashing stars. 

Third Star: RB Adrian Peterson

To not play and be starred says a lot about what Peterson means to the Redskin's offense, but his being a late healthy scratch was probably the biggest story heading into today's game. The fact Peterson did not play, was his best case for sharing carries with the LSU standout, Derrius Guice. To judge Guice's play on his poor statical numbers, 10 carries for 18 yards, would not be fair. His hard runs, particularly on first down, and steady blocking, set up the play action; most noticeably, on the 70-yard TD bomb to rookie WR Terry McLaurin from Case Keenum. AP was needed for other reasons. 

The Redskins' lead was captured and held because they controlled time-of-possession throughout the first half. However, this was with Keenum picking a part Eagle's secondary, and not with an effective running attack. Teams normally like to milk the clock with a lead and Peterson's,  who rushed for 1,042 yards and seven TDs last year, presence was missed in the running game. In the second half, as the Eagles applied more pressure on Keenum, the ground game was needed to cool off those flying defenders. Until late in the fourth quarter, the Redskins longest drive of the second half was just four plays. 

After the game Peterson admitted "it was tough," referring to being inactive. Coach Jay Gruden added, "if we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in I-formation then for sure I'll get him up." 

It could be perceived that Gruden is saying there's not much chance Peterson will be activated next week, as 55 I-formation runs haven't been called since the forward pass was invented. There's a strong possibility that once Gruden watches the film from Sunday though, he could find reason to change his tune about whether or not Peterson plays next week against the Dallas Cowboys.

Second Star: LB Cole Holcomb

Zach Brown who? Now an Eagle, Brown has been replaced at linebacker by Holcomb. Coincidently both LBs played for the University of North Carolina. A fifth-round selection in this year's draft, Holcomb flashed as he dominated with nine total tackles (eight solo and two TFLs).  Most storylines will focus on the Eagles' second half offensive terror and the Redskins' defensive lapses when it should be on Holcomb. There's an old saying, two things can be true. Let's include a third. 

Yes, the Eagles' flexed their offensive muscles, they are stacked and jacked. Philadelphia lined up in numerous offensive packages in hopes to exploit mismatches and just to get all of their offensive talent on the field. In the second half, Wentz played tagged with his receivers. Tag who's it? the Redskins did not know. 

Yes, the Redskins made critical mistakes on defense, but only after the offense disappeared, leading to short rest breaks for the Redskins' defense. On 3rd & 15 in the fourth quarter, there appeared to be a miscommunication that left TE Zach Ertz open for 16 yards. It seemed cornerback, Quinton Dunbar was expecting nickel help underneath in the flat. There was also miscommunication that led to a 53-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson. 

Post game, both secondary players, cornerback, Josh Norman and safety, Montae Nicholson addressed the communication issues. 

"That miscommunication will kill you every time...We'll get it corrected." Norman said. Nicholson attributed the lapses to the lack of playing together a lot thus far. 

Finally, yes, Holcomb is a reason why the Redskins' front seven will be trouble for opposing teams on most Sundays. 

You could not tell it was Holcomb's first NFL regular season game. He played instinctive and made plays as they came to him. His ability to fill in his gap and play his assignments is why the Eagles struggle on the ground for most of the game. His ability to defend in coverage is a question that is yet to be answered; however, he is certainly a tackling machine. Redskins have found a promising talent at LB. 

First Star: Case Keenum

Who would have known the team's new quarterback would dissect the Eagles' defense to this degree? In the first quarter, the offseason trade acquisition was blazing hot as he completed seven passes to six different receivers. The offensive line deserves a lot credit for Keenum's hot start as the Eagles' defensive line, ranked first by Pro Football Focus, was non-existent in the first half. Keenum finished the game with 33 completions in 44 attempts, 380 passing yards, and 3 TDs.

Keenum's ability to extend plays out of the pocket will be a catalyst for the Redskins offense. It will also provide opportunities for his young receivers to make plays. Today's example is Ohio State rookie wideout, Terry McLaurin. McLaurin led the team with 125 yards while snagging five catches including the 69-yard TD. 

Keenum has won the starting job for the last three teams he's played on: the Minnesota Vikings, the Denver Broncos, and recently, the Redskins. His competitive nature is admirable. Sunday, he again displayed what makes him difficult to game plan against. Include an effective running game, and the Redskins could make some noise in the NFC East this season after all.

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