The Skins Finally were Special!

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The Washington Redskins actually won a game last week. And, it was a home win. The win moved the Redskins to 2-9 on the season with just five games left.

In the 19-16 win over the struggling Detroit Lions, it was surprisingly the much-maligned special teams units that gave the Redskins their second win of the season.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins connected on all four of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winner, on a day where the wind played a factor in Detroit kicker Matt Prater missing a field goal. And punter Tress Way was his usual outstanding self, averaging 52 yards per punt with one downed inside of the 20-yard line and no touchbacks.

But the hero for the Redskins last Sunday was rookie return man Steven Sims, Jr. The 5’10” un-drafted rookie returned one kickoff for a touchdown—Washington’s only touchdown of the day—and also had another spectacular 71-yard return in the game to give the Redskins terrific field position.

For anyone who has followed the Redskins for years you’ll remember the struggles of this unit. Whether it’s the kicker missing clutch kicks, like Hopkins did back in 2016 against the Bengals in London, or the coverage units consistently allowing big returns to set up the opposing offense with advantageous field position, it’s been a struggle for this group.

Hopkins has developed into a solid kicker worth keeping around and Way is one of Washington’s top performers. When you struggle as badly as the Redskins do on offense you need a punter like Way.

The emergence of Sims gives this unit something it hasn’t had in awhile. Moving forward, the new coaching staff should consider Sims as a possible solution at punt returner, too. His game is quickness, not necessarily long speed, although he has that, too. Quickness—and catching the football consistently—are the most important elements of being a good punt returner.

The Redskins have generally struggled the most with their coverage units for years. In a lost season with a laundry list of issues on both offense and defense, new special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor has done a good job with his unit. Kaczor has arguably been Washington’s top assistant this season and earned himself an opportunity to stay on staff with the next regime.

Washington’s special teams is ranked No. 5 over at Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, over at teamrankings.com, the Redskins rank No. 2 in special teams right behind New England. 

While each site uses a different formula to rank special teams, the Redskins consistently rank among the league’s best. What other unit on this team could say something similar?

If the Redskins are going to pull out another win or two this season, it will be because their special teams units played a large role. And that’s a far cry from seasons past when this unit was costing this team wins.

In a lost season, consider the special teams a bright spot. 

Bryan Manning has covered the NFL, MLB, NBA, college football and college basketball for almost 10 years for various outlets such as Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today SMG, and others. Bryan has covered the Washington Redskins for different outlets and currently co-hosts a podcast on the Virginia Tech Hokies for SB Nation. For his day job, Bryan works in engineering for a major communications company. 

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