John: Great coverage of the team, love the studs and duds weekly articles. Per Lorenzo Alexander’s comment this week which was something to the effect of ”games come down to the last quarter and that’s when we fade.” I think that’s true and it’s been the case for a long time. The most mystifying aspect of it is that it seemed to be true even in the years when the defense was highly ranked. If the “other” team needed a big drive at the end of the game to win, they tend to get it done. Ditto last week. Whereas the Redskins tend to come up short. Now, RG3 seems to have the talent and the will to change that trend. I get the team just hasn’t been that good and that’s the main issue. But in addition, do you think there is anything to the idea that deep down in crunch time the team expects to lose and that there is a certain lack of mental toughness with the team? Just look at all the mistakes and penalties that happen in the last 2 drives of the typical close game on both sides of the ball.
Mike: Thank you… I think there may have been times in the past where that mentality might have crept in, an uh-oh, here-we-go-again sort of thing. Players have said that (usually admitting it a year later). But the biggest problem in the past: a lack of playmakers. The Falcons drove down in part because they’re just better (and the Redskins’ defense is rather average). They have players making a mistake at the wrong time (Perry Riley vs. Atlanta on the 13-yard TD run for example when he fills the wrong gap). Thing is, this has happened over different coaching regimes, different defensive systems and coaches. So it’s tough to say it’s just a mentality. Sometimes I think it’s easier to cite a mentality rather than look at the real issue, whether it’s the system or the players. I will say, with Robert here they definitely feel they can win any game if it’s close.
John: You mentioned that the Redskins are only three of twenty on third downs in the last two weeks, and have needed more than seven yards on thirty-eight percent of their third downs for the entire year. These statistics convince me more than ever that we need to commit as a team to a running back pounding the ball.
Here’s my point. You protect young QB’s with a running game and a strong defense. You get into good third down situations by being physical and winning in the running game. Well, we don’t have a good defense, so why do we not protect our QB with a violent rushing attack? Why not make an opposing defense have to defend a run on every play, instead of defending a system? Shanahan says that a young QB needs to learn to protect himself after one of those hits, what kind of hit does Griffin have to take before the coaching staff learns how to protect him?
I’m tired of watching the Kyle Shanahan” I think I’m smarter than anyone else” offense. Give me the old real running game of Mike Shanahan, so that in two to three years we have a dominant running game with a confident offense and a quarterback who is healthy and in full command of all his skills and talent. I know Mike Shanahan is involved in the offense, but will he ever take full control back from Kyle? Or is he fully comfortable with how his son calls the game?
Chris: One small point first: Griffin’s appeal is his mobility. He’s a good passer, but that part of his game is enhanced by his legs – it’s why they traded up and made him the No. 2 pick and why fans were so excited. That means he’ll be exposed to more hits. Just something fans will have to get used to. Thing is, he was barely hit Sunday (three times), but one vicious blast knocked him out of the game. I’m not trying to diminish these hits; they’re brutal. And what happened vs. the Bengals was ridiculous. But you can’t remove that aspect all together – you don’t buy a Porsche to drive 55 all the time, do you? (Not that I would know). Sometimes he’ll get hit because of the play calls; sometimes it’s just about football. No quarterback can ever be completely protected, though they can help by making quick decisions/throws (something Griffin did last week).
Now, onto the run game. There’s little doubt Kyle gets away from the run; people around the league know this very well. The Rams, for example, knew not to fall for fakes on inside zones because they felt the Redskins wouldn’t consistently run them. He seems to be sticking with it a little better this season because of the success it has had (last week, for example, they called 11 first-down runs and 11 first down passes; also, they’ve run the ball 159 times this season compared to 148 pass attempts, though Griffin has 42 of those runs so it’s a little skewed). Part of the reason the run game has flourished is because of receiver blocking, Alfred Morris’ vision and … Griffin’s ability to run or pass. This is not the sort of team that will just line up and play smashmouth. They’re not built that way. So you do have to defend a system because it all ties together. You can’t win just running the ball every play. One reason they get in third and longs is because the run game is a bit sporadic. Against the Falcons, for example, Morris gained 83 yards on five carries and 32 on the other 13. With a lesser quarterback I’d be more inclined to agree, but Griffin is a talented player and they gave up a lot for him to do more than just hand off, even as a rookie. Look what happened vs. Cincy in the first half (not using his legs) and the second. And the Falcons game – 115 yards rushing from Morris, but only 10 points. You need more to win.
Mike Shanahan never relinquishes full control of anything. Kyle calls the plays, but this is not his doing alone.
Having said all that, Minnesota must be your kind of team. That’s how the Vikings are winning. But Christian Ponder is not the same talent as Griffin.
Hope that helps.
John: Quick question. With all the talk about our QB and concussions this week, give us a little insight and some examples of the types of testing he’ll have to pass before he’s allowed to play Sunday. It’s been well documented that the initial test that he failed was not knowing the score or what quarter the game was in, but what other testing is he having to go through this week? Also, why wasn’t he permitted to talk to the media after the game. I believe he wasn’t permitted to talk until cleared by doctors.
Bryan: When a player has a concussion, they don’t allow them to talk. That’s understandable. As for the tests, I’m sure you’ve read by now that he had to pass cardio tests on Tuesday as well as answer questions, count backwards and then answer a question that was asked a few questions earlier and then walk a straight line. They’ve been doing this after each practice and also making sure no symptoms have returned. Thus far they haven’t.
John: Thanks for the mailbag each week. Do you think the Redskins should hold onto Kirk Cousins or trade him for draft picks? Given the cap situation this would help but on the flipside it appears Griffin could face injuries given the numerous hits he takes. Tough spot to be in I guess. Thanks
Taurus: It’s too soon to trade him for max value so they really won’t have much of a choice. I’m not sure what he’s shown yet to command any real sort of value. So they’ll hold onto him for at least a few years. I wouldn’t be in a rush to trade him partly for the reason you stated: Griffin’s durability could be an issue. If Cousins is any good, why weaken the most important position? Losing him wouldn’t really have a big impact on the cap. You’d replace him with a guy making about the same sort of money.
John: Love the articles. After watching Sunday’s game, I think the skins have a curse on their kickers. Brett Conway, John Hall, Gano….they all miss their fg with the skins. Then when they cut someone like David Akers and he plays awesome someplace else. Do the skins have the worst field goal percentage in the nfl since 99? I hold my breath every time they attempt one. Please bring back Mark Moseley!
Richard: I think if you asked Moseley he’d say he can still kick. I don’t know their percentage relative to other teams over that time, but since Chip Lohmiller they’ve had just two kickers who have finished their Redskins career with a percentage of 80.0 or higher – Shaun Suisham (80.2) and Jeff Chandler (83.3 – but he was just five of six). In other words, every one of them has been below average compared to the rest of the league. They’ve had 10 placekickers during this time who have finished with a 75.0 percentage or lower. Add it up and it’s ugly. That’s why a lot of these kickers go on to other teams, though few of them have succeeded once they left Washington.
John: Would you evaluate the Redskins’ tight ends as of now? How good is each of them at both receiving and blocking?
Darin, Silver Spring
Darin: The blocking has been solid, more consistent in past years because of improvement from Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen. Both of them have had key blocks on some of Alfred Morris’ better runs. Paulsen is much better at using his feet to seal the end; watch how quickly he now gets them around his target and turns them inside. He’s not a receiving threat, except for the occasional pass down the seam. Davis is an excellent receiver and exceptional after the catch. Niles Paul is still developing. I’m surprised he hasn’t been more of a factor in the pass game, but he’s struggled with it since the first preseason game. His speed hasn’t helped here, though the routes he typically runs don’t put him in the same position as, say, Davis. Paul’s quickness helps as a blocker, especially when getting downfield. He’s still best at blocking in space, or pulling around the end, than along the line.
John: Was the situation that happened versus the Falcons the only reason why Rex Grossman is still on the roster. RGIII gets knocked out of a close game and ideally Grossman comes in and plays well for a couple of quarters and we get the win. Cousins will be good someday, but he is a rookie 4th round pick and wasn’t ready for the situation he was placed in. In my opinion Grossman should have been the 2nd quarterback. Also, did Billy Cundiff really have the respect and stature to demand that he would only sign with a team that guaranteed him the starting kicking job?
JKC: Apparently he did because the Redskins granted him that wish. However, I also think they clearly didn’t want to keep Graham Gano and felt Cundiff was better than Neil Rackers. As for the first question, I tend to agree with you. They think otherwise and it’s not as if Rex Grossman hasn’t thrown a pick or two. He and Cousins have a similar mindset in terms of trying to force the action at times. Rex is still here as an insurance policy; it’s also good to have a veteran around, especially when you have a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator who know the position but never played in the NFL. They can only tell a guy so much.
John: To kind of follow up on my question last week about Orakpo, I’m convinced, more than ever, that our biggest offseason need is not right tackle, but rather, pass rusher. It seems clear that Kerrigan is our best LB, but I still don’t get the feel that he’s going to be spectacular. Being that I’ve jumped off the Orakpo bandwagon (2-3 yrs ago), I really believe our biggest need is going to be an “elite” level pass rushing OLB. Followed by a top level free safety.
Matt Ryan threw 50 times this week and we sacked him once. This is the same guy who was sacked 7-8 times the week prior. We get close, but never get THERE. Haslett’s defense is predicated on the pass rush and we don’t have one. Hence, big plays. BTW, how do you feel about the linebackers, in general? So far, The Captain hasn’t had much of an impact that I can see. Perry Riley, who I thought had a great deal of potential, has been invisible for the most part.
Aaron: It depends on what Orakpo’s prognosis is, but, yes, it’s clear they need more rush help from the front seven. And I agree they lack an elite player here; scouts and evaluators that I’ve spoken with agree with that notion as well. But it’s tough to find elite pass rushers, which is why they don’t come free too often (and without a first-round pick you won’t find one in the draft).The defense also needs more help in the back end and for now that’s a bigger issue. They definitely need more speed at safety and keep in mind that they would have pursued corner Cortland Finnegan if not for the cap issues a year ago. As for the linebackers in general, it’s been a mixed bag. London Fletcher is doing fine, but is he playing as well as last season? Tough to say. Can’t just measure this by tackles; his coverage isn’t bad but his size is an issue against tall tight ends. That’s nothing new. Riley has good plays and bad, but seems to have a bad run fit every game that leads to a big play (the Falcons’ 13-yard touchdown run last week for example). Ryan Kerrigan has played well and made big plays and is developing into a better all-around player. He misses Orakpo on the other side; Kerrigan feasts on others pushing QBs up in the pocket. That’s not a knock, but it’s one of the things he does well. Their coverage is spotty and that’s a problem in a 3-4.
John: Absolutely love your columns. I was wondering if you had access to the following stat: win percentage by an NFL team when they score a defensive TD. I have to assume that the winning percentage for any team whose defense scores a TD is pretty good, but the Skins are an almost unfathomable ZERO and 3 when their much maligned defense scores a TD this season. Fumble return against the Rams and a loss; INT “return” against the Bengals and a loss; INT return against the Falcons and a loss.
I am at the point where I want any defensive player to fall down at the opponent’s 1-yard line and let the offense punch it in. LOL
Keep up the really great work.
Harvey: Thank you. Alas, I let you down. I searched around and could not find. I’m sure that answer is out there and I’ll see if I can find it. Suffice to say, most teams don’t lose every time they score on defense. It’s very bizarre. As Jim Haslett said, maybe they have to score twice.
John: You really provide great insight and analysis. My question is about the Redskins’ defensive philosophy and personnel. Can you provide an overview of the entire defensive system/strategy, how unique is it, how well and quickly the coaches are making adjustments during the game, how well it fits the current personnel, and what would be top position (or two) to upgrade next year in the draft or free agency?
Kevin: If you want to know their defensive philosophy, look at Pittsburgh. They borrowed the Steelers’ playbook and run a lot of the same scheme. They want to stop the run and pressure – what defense doesn’t, right? But they’ll do so by mixing coverages – and with the fire-zone blitz popularized by Pittsburgh coordinator Dick LeBeau. They will vary coverages and sometimes play a trap look – as they did on the 22-yard completion to Tony Gonzalez last week (so the trap failed, but it could have been played better). Pittsburgh’s defense, especially its front, is all about stopping the run. The Redskins want to be that way too. So it’s not unique and it’s really not their system. Sometimes when you basically borrow another system what gets lost is the ability to adjust the way, say, LeBeau and his staff can. It’s having a philosophy vs. having a defense. It’s real hard to sometimes get a feel for adjustments during a game because sometimes they’re very subtle but meaningful, but I will say from talking to others around the league they don’t think it’s a strength of the Redskins. Is it fair? Well, they’re not winning and the defense is still middle of the road. I think it fits most of their personnel; Jarvis Jenkins is still transitioning to a 3-4 end, but he’s improving. Takes time. I’ve talked to a few personnel people who like Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo better as 4-3 ends, but they also think they’re good 3-4 linebackers. I think the area they struggle with is linebackers in coverage (a must for a 3-4). London Fletcher can be good in coverage, but not when tight ends are eight inches taller. But the front seven is good. The top positions? I’d find another corner and definitely a safety and keep looking for Fletcher’s eventual replacement. Maybe Keenan Robinson could be that guy, but for now he looks like a backup who can help on special teams rather than the budding leader of a D.