Redskins vs. Cowboys: Ten Observations

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

1. Now we can start talking playoffs, especially if the Giants lose to Green Bay Sunday night. The Redskins can legitimately enter every game the rest of the season thinking they can win. The AFC North hasn’t been kind to the NFC East this season so the game vs. Baltimore will be the toughest one. But it’s at home and it could be that the Redskins are on a three-game win streak. Otherwise, their only road games are at Cleveland and at Philadelphia (combined wins: 5). Meanwhile, the Giants still have games vs. Green Bay, a resurgent Saints team and play at Atlanta and Baltimore. The Giants have four games left against teams that are .500 or better; the Redskins have two. If New York loses Sunday, the Redskins have the easier path to the postseason.  However, it would largely ride on that Monday night game. The Redskins would absolutely have to beat New York to have a shot (otherwise, the Giants would have a two-game lead plus the tiebreaker with four to play). There’s a long ways to go, but it’s amazing when you think where they were two weeks ago.

2. Of the three teams since 1990 that have gone from 3-6 to the postseason, they’ve followed a similar path, one the Redskins are going down as well. The Patriots, Lions and Jaguars all turned their seasons around via turnover differential. In each case they went from having a negative differential to all posting a positive one over the final seven weeks. In the last two games the Redskins have caused six turnovers and lost one. Granted, they had done well in this area for most of the season but in their three-game losing streak, the Redskins had a minus-2 differential. Sunday, they scored 14 points off three turnovers.

3. What’s obvious, too, is the confidence held by the players. When you’re 3-6, there’s always grumbling and guys start to wonder about the direction you’re headed, especially if it’s the third year of a program. But they still maintained that they were good. Thing is, players always say this. I’ve heard those lines uttered during all kinds of seasons, mostly bad. But sometimes there’s a different resolve and then you can tell it’s not just words. After the bye week, Darrel Young said, “We’re going to do something special.” When he said that, you could tell he meant it. But at the time Pierre Garcon wasn’t playing and the defense was struggling. I never doubted their resolve, but their ability to even reach this point? Yeah, there was serious doubt.

4. You can point to any number of stats that show just how different this offense is than last year. But one of the biggest is this: They’ve now scored 10 touchdowns that have traveled 30 yards or more. They had three such plays last season. Maybe this is a better comparison: Last year, the Redskins had six touchdowns for 20 yards or more; this year the Redskins have eight scoring plays of 59 yards or more. That’s astounding. This is why it’s hard to knock a coordinator – and even praise them – because it all comes down to guys making plays. The Redskins have playmakers this year and last year they did not. Did Kyle Shanahan call a great play on Pierre Garcon’s 59-yarder or did Garcon make an unreal play? Conversely, Shanahan’s play design, fueled by Robert Griffin III’s fakes and Aldrick Robinson’s speed led to the 68-yard scoring toss. A full team effort.

5. Garcon makes a tremendous difference (you’re welcome for the obvious analysis by the way). It’s not just that circus catch he made, either. It’s the burst he had after the catch, stumbling out of the break yet sprinting through the defense. It’s the ability to get inside a corner when he has inside leverage; that’s what Garcon did on a 19-yard pickup by a hard stem to the outside and then a strong cut inside. But it’s just the presence of a big-play guy and the trickle-down effect he has. Robinson is not ready for anything other than the role of speed-guy-who-makes-occasional big play. But he plays that well and when Garcon is around that’s all Robinson needs to do. Here’s how effective he’s been playing with Garcon: In the four games they’ve played together Robinson has caught eight passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. In the five games they did not (Robinson was inactive once), Robinson caught a combined four passes for 54 yards and no scores. I’m not sure why this is – Leonard Hankerson was on the other side on his 68-yard touchdown pass. But there’s no doubt Robinson is more productive. Heck, the Redskins have averaged 30 points per game with Garcon (they still average 24.2 without him). Now, he just has to stay healthy.

6. I really liked what the defense did until the end, much like the New Orleans game. And I know we’ll hear more comments about how, if they hadn’t let up this big play or that one, they would have played a great game. Well, Dallas could say the same thing. For most of the game the defense did an excellent job of pressuring Tony Romo, forcing him into quick throws to players who weren’t going to hurt them. The Redskins ran an awful lot of stunts, which was to be expected vs. a line that is not very good and is new together. On Stephen Bowen’s sack, that’s how he got free – former Redskin Derrick Dockery didn’t pick him up coming on a little twist with Barry Cofield ducking inside. I have no idea how many stunts the Redskins ran, but it was quite a few. But late in the game, the big plays bit them and it lead to a near improbable comeback. I’m not going into details on the defensive issues right now, but it was a disappointing way to finish the game. I just wonder if they can continue applying pressure when not facing makeshift lines. But a major reason why they built that big lead was because of the turnovers caused by the defense. And because the defense held them to three on that first series when the Cowboys started inside the 50.

7. Said this after Kai Forbath’s debut and I’ll say it again: The guy doesn’t worry about any outside factors when he’s kicking, he just kicks. The Redskins used to get frustrated with Graham Gano because of how he’d explain his misses or what he needed to work on. He was a bit detailed (which, of course, we appreciated). Then there was Billy Cundiff, who didn’t like to make excuses but he would always point out and discuss the “timing issues”. But Forbath just kicks. It might be a surprise to many outside the organization that he’s perfect on all 10 attempts, but I think when you know his personality you know he has a good mindset to handle this job. At some point he’ll miss a kick, but given his demeanor he won’t fret about it. The Redskins should be thankful that Cundiff struggled early in his tenure here; they found something much better. One more word on special teams: It’s a bit amazing that Brandon Banks’ blunders haven’t hurt the Redskins in a big way, between fumbles in other games and trying to return a punt from the goal-line. But now that the games will start becoming more important, how nervous will he make you back deep?

8. The offensive line did an excellent job of opening holes in the run game. I’ll wait to watch it again before I start singling guys out, but it was an excellent job overall. And it helps, too, having a back like Alfred Morris. Time and again he pressed the hole in textbook fashion: getting right on the heels of the line and cutting back. On his 16-yard run late in the first half, Morris was patient and pressed the hole and, when linebacker Bruce Carter stepped to his left, Morris cut back to his left and through an opening. Center Will Montgomery sealed Carter inside. Morris does so many things as a runner that are subtle. He’s not explosive, but he’s smart, patient, quick and tough. All good attributes for a runner.

9. Santana Moss has become quite a clutch target for Griffin. Moss only caught four passes for 42 yards, but here are his catches: 23 yards on second and 11; four yards on third and 1; a six-yard touchdown and nine yards on third and 2 late in the game. Moss will drop a pass here and there, but he’s a reliable target and knows how to get open. He nearly wasn’t here this season and the guy who was thiiiiiis close to replacing him, Eddie Royal, has 16 catches for 134 yards with San Diego. Meanwhile, Moss is averaging 14.3 yards per catch – his best figure since 2006. And his seven touchdowns are his most since 2005. It helps that Moss is limited to slot duty. That, combined with his weight loss, has enabled him to stay fresh.

10. Before I get to DeAngelo Hall’s last play, I have to say he played well again. On the interception he did an excellent job of staying patient at the line, staying inside the receiver and giving Romo no window to throw to; just good coverage. Anyway, on the onsides kick he could have scored a touchdown and nobody would have said he was wrong for doing so. A two touchdown lead with 18 seconds left is sort of safe. But this is a player nicknamed MeAngelo in college – and it wasn’t just by the media. One play doesn’t erase a reputation, but Hall, whether you think he was right or not, took the unselfish route and slid before the goal line. Dallas would not get the ball back. Of course, had there been a fumble in Victory formation and Dallas recovered and … OK, that wasn’t going to happen (I know, I know: Eagles/Giants, Herm Edwards/Joe Pisarcik). Still, it’s hard to get mad at a guy who took the unselfish route. Of course, in a rivalry game the more you win by, the better. My man, Woody Hayes, was once asked why he went for 2 at the end of a blowout win vs. Michigan and his response was, “Because I couldn’t go for three.” Yes, I just worked Woody Hayes into Ten Observations. My work is done.

 

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John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner