His favorite catch against Chicago occurred on the game-winning drive, the 26-yarder that moved the ball to the Chicago 49-yard line. He caught the ball on a crossing route, then as he approached safety Chris Conte, Reed planted and cut back inside for seven more yards. “That was my favorite play in the game,” he said, “because it was my first time making someone miss after the catch. I liked that play.”
Reed contributed two catches for 36 yards on that final drive, with another grab on third-and-4 that put the ball at the Bears’ 3-yard line. Situations like this matter in a young player’s development. “It was good for us as a staff and for him to know that when it’s a clutch situation, I can come through,” tight ends coach Sean McVay said. “It was a good confidence booster.”
The fade route that he caught for a touchdown had given him problems during the week. “I was rushing it all week in practice,” Reed said. “They would come up and press me and I would hurry up my release off the line. [In the game] I took my time and sold it more on the slant.”
He always stays after practice to work on his game. Always. Thursday, for example, he was the last player off the field by a good 15 minutes as he ran various routes and caught passes from McVay. Reed said, “To walk through those reps, you get a physical feel for it and it gives you confidence that if you put in the work, you deserve to do well in the game because of it.”
Reed missed games every season in college because of injury, causing concern regarding his durability. But he returned from a hip injury Sunday. So, naturally, Reed said he learned Sunday, “that I could play through some injury and still be effective. Not only do I want to prove [that] to everyone else, but I want to prove to myself that I can do it. So when I do get nicked up in the future I can look back at that time and know I can get through.”
Most, if not all, of his passes in the first five games occurred on underneath routes. Not so Sunday. Some of that was based on coverages, but the other part was his natural development. Two days before the game, McVay said a next step for Reed was to become a downfield threat.
The Redskins can also move him around, giving him the chance to run routes from split wide, tight, the backfield, on the line or just off the tackle. And defenses often tip their hand when playing him: if a safety is over him, chances are it’s man coverage; if it’s a cornerback, then it’s likely zone. Basic stuff, but it matters.
Reed, a former quarterback, has fared well against man coverage because of his quick feet and receiver-like movements (teams can’t get too comfortable that he’ll always break inside; plenty of routes from the same look will result in outside cuts). I wrote about this in the past, but he’ll often incorporate moves he used to make in basketball, applying footwork from, say, a crossover, onto the field. But McVay said he also likes how Reed handles zone coverage. “He has a great feel for how to work edges on guys,” McVay said. “He’s able to separate and to be able to explode in and out of breaks. But the things that show up consistently is that he does have really good recognition. He has good zone awareness. That goes back to playing quarterback. He’s one of the guys that year-round you enjoy to coach and coach hard in the passing game, because he sees the back end. He sees how coverages work and he understands how to work man and leverages on guys.”
Reed has blocked better than the Redskins imagined, but he’s still a definite work in progress. Reed blocks well in space, as he showed against Dallas two weeks ago, getting his feet around on a screen to block linebacker Sean Lee. Another time he blocked safety Barry Church, staying low as he approached. “He’s getting more comfortable understanding angles and pad level and getting his weight underneath him,” McVay said. “He’s undersized from a weight standpoint, but he has strong legs and some length to where he can get underneath guys and press guys on angles.” And McVay loved that after blocking Dallas’ Ernie Sims on one successful run, Reed pumped his fist. “That gets you excited as a coach,” McVay said.
Against Dallas, there was one block in which he allowed linebacker DeMarcus Ware to get inside on a handoff to Alfred Morris. The play was designed to possibly cut outside Reed, but he needed to do a better job of not just blocking for one cut. “DeMarcus is a great player,” McVay said, “but I thought it wasn’t as much of him getting beat as just trying to really pin him down, positioning for the cutback as opposed to getting a hat in front and cutting off the C gap [between the tackle and tight end] so we can get back to the D gap [outside the tight end]. We ran the same play against Detroit and had a lot of success. The difference was [Ware] was playing head-up while their end was playing [wider] so he could block him out. What Jordan has to understand is that you have to get your hat inside, cut off that C gap so [Morris] can still press it one gap at a time if the play dictates.”