WASHINGTON -- The San Francisco 49ers might have traded him. Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos might not have trusted him. But Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan believed tight end Vernon Davis could still contribute despite declining numbers and signed him to a one-year contract this offseason.
Davis, at age 32, has had a resurgence in his hometown. He has teamed Jordan Reed to give the Redskins a lethal pass-catching duo at tight end.
Davis might be called upon again this Sunday at Arizona. Reed is recovering slowly from a Grade 3 separation of his left shoulder and hasn't practiced yet this week. But his presence has given Washington some insurance.
"Over the years, production declined and when the production's not there everyone starts to worry," Davis said. "That's to be expected...But I feel like the older I get, the better I get. I tell everyone the same thing -- when I lose my speed then I'll hang it up. But I still have my speed, I can still run. With that, I can continue to play this game."
Davis has 31 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns and has filled in for Reed already during the two games he missed because of a concussion. Those are strong numbers for a secondary tight end, especially given that Reed has 59 catches for 630 yards and quarterback Kirk Cousins has offensive weapons all over the field. Davis' blocking has helped the running game improve on last season's pedestrian numbers.
"When a player plays for two different teams and then becomes a free agent, and we picked him up, you always wonder what's left in the tank if two teams have allowed him to leave," Cousins said. "But from the day he showed up, at a high school in April we were throwing and I realized right away this guy can still play. I'm still trying to figure out what the catch is or why two teams let him go."
SERIES HISTORY: The 122nd regular-season meeting between the Cardinals and Redskins. Washington holds a 74-45-2 advantage and has won eight of the last nine meetings. Arizona won the last game 30-20 on Oct. 12, 2014 in Glendale and Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions.
GAME PLAN: The Cardinals seem suited to at least slowing Washington's passing attack. After all, they rank second in the league in fewest passing yards allowed and have generally held tight ends in check much of the year. But that didn't help them much against Atlanta, the NFL's top-ranked offense, in a 38-19 loss last week.
But undisciplined play has proven costly so the Redskins can use that against Arizona, which takes unnecessary penalties and frustrates its coaching staff.
Washington does need more from its rushing attack this week. Robert Kelley finally had a down game against Dallas after three strong weeks. But the offense should be able to put points up against the Cardinals. Even if tight end Jordan Reed doesn't play, Vernon Davis helped make up for that loss in two previous games Reed missed in October with a concussion.
The real key is on the other side of the ball. Running back David Johnson is a matchup nightmare both in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Washington's safeties and linebackers have been exposed in coverage in recent weeks against Green Bay and Dallas. The Redskins also aren't particularly adept at stopping the run (25th in rushing yards allowed per game).
One area Washington can take advantage is Arizona's patchwork offensive line. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been pummeled over the past two weeks and been sacked 32 times this season. The Redskins pass rush -- especially linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy -- have to find a way to get pressure on Palmer and take advantage of a porous line.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: K Dustin Hopkins was so consistent for the first year-plus of his time in Washington. But he's still fighting to get out of a slump. Hopkins made the first 12 field goals of the season, but then missed four of 10, including a 34-yarder in overtime of a tie against Cincinnati. Hopkins responded with five in a row over the next two weeks, but he hit just two of four against Dallas in a 31-26 loss on Thursday. Another concern: He's missed two extra points over the last seven games. Given their red zone struggles, Washington needs Hopkins to get right.