Redskins vs. Browns film review: offense

Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim


Hate to keep doing it this way, but for time purposes — holidays, kids events — it’s easier. Suffice to say Kirk Cousins would have been a stud. A lot of others played well, but nobody stood out the way he did.

Kirk Cousins played well, which of course is no secret. When you watch his play fakes and compare them to Brandon Weeden’s, it’s obvious why one could sell it and the other did not, at least not as well. Cousins’ poise, the way he recovered from a shaky start – he did not look as poised early – and the way he sold the fakes and executed the game plan were impressive. It shows you what a quarterback can do when you just follow the plan. I know he had an interception, but he really didn’t make many bad decisions. And it’s debatable that the interception was a bad decision (see below).

…Thought TE Logan Paulsen had a really good game, not just because he caught four passes for 47 yards, but because he also blocked well; he had excellent blocks on back-to-back plays in the fourth – first driving the end inside and then cutting end Jabaal Sheard on the backside. By the way, in the previous five games Paulsen had caught just five passes.

…It’s funny because the Redskins are not a traditional smash-mouth attack in terms of just lining up and ramming it down a defense’s throat.  They fool you as much as they run over you. But they can play both in part because of guys like Paulsen, who is anything but a finesse player. Not just as a blocker, but also as a pass-catcher. Go back and look at his last catch, a 15-yarder on third and six. A Cleveland DB, Sheldon Brown, was about to level him as he caught ball. Paulsen knew this, but held onto the ball. Fortunately for him, Brown somehow missed on what should have been a big-time hit.

Robert Griffin III spends the bulk of his time taking snaps in the pistol formation or shotgun. But Kirk Cousins operated in a more traditional manner: He lined up under center 56 times (27 came with the Redskins in I-formation. Cousins was in shotgun 17 times and once in the pistol.

…On Cousins’ interception my initial take was that he made a poor decision. Pierre Garcon was not open so why throw the ball? But after hearing Mike Shanahan in the press conference and re-watching the game (even analyst Mike Martz called it the right read, for what it’s worth), I completely understand why they didn’t blame Cousins. Garcon had man coverage and, if he’s your best receiver, he needs to win on the play. He did not. And when Cousins starts to deliver the ball, Garcon can still win with a strong cut inside. Instead, with the corner on his hip, he drifts five yards upfield (could be what the route called for, but it also enabled the corner to gain position). Cousins placed a great deal of trust in Garcon on the route. Cousins did eye Garcon most of the way, but because it was man coverage you can get away with that (the corner isn’t looking at the QB anyway).

…The Browns often slanted their defensive line and had their linebackers overselling to stop the run. One example: on a two-yard Alfred Morris run in the first quarter, the Browns slanted to the strong side. Before the snap, the linebacker to that side moved from four to three yards and shot the gap to prevent a cutback alley. But that eventually left the Browns vulnerable to the bootleg. What also happened is that their desire to stop the run also left them even more out of position than normal vs. play-action. And that’s why those backside tosses worked so well out of play-action off a stretch zone.

…The Browns did adjust, somewhat, to the bootlegs by sending corner blitzes to the area Cousins would roll. But Cousins did a good job against these looks – his second touchdown to Leonard Hankerson came vs. such a blitz.

Another time early in the second half the Browns backside end, Sheard, adjusted to the bootleg and was running at Cousins. But on this play, they had blitzed the slot corner from the right. That left Santana Moss running a crossing route vs. a safety who was 10 yards off and hesitated – briefly – at the snap because of the play fake. One word for that scenario: mismatch. So the fact that Sheard was in his face didn’t hurt because Moss was open. Still, an excellent play by Cousins.

The Browns slanted their line to the strongside once more on the first time Washington ran a bootleg. And that’s partly why the Redskins scored a TD on the play. Cousins had no one to worry about in front of him. Hankerson did nothing special on the play and was open from the start. Again: scheme. But when you’re given an opportunity to make a play you must capitalize and he did that twice. I think that’s one thing the receiver group is doing well. Ever since the Pittsburgh game when they have chances they’re producing. The scheme helps get them open, but they’re taking it from there.

…I don’t want to minimize the play of the offensive line because this group has done a lot of things well. But there’s no doubt the Redskins coaches help them immensely with the play calls; all the zone read option fakes and play-action freezes the line and gets them out of position to rush the passer. Having linemen who have worked together for a while, combined with playing in a scheme that helps them usually yields positive results.

…The turnover differential is among the key reasons why Washington has won five straight. It could have been worse for the Redskins on Sunday. I’m not just talking about the fumble recovery by Garcon inside the Cleveland 10-yard line. Even if the Browns had recovered, I’d have a hard time seeing them drive 90 yards. So while that play was big, there were two other plays with Cousins in the pocket that were bigger. On one he didn’t fumble; on the other he did.

The first one:  On third and six from the Cleveland 24, one possession after the interception, Cousins did a good job protecting the ball and preventing a fumble. Really, it might have been more about luck than anything, but still… Regardless, defensive end Jabaal Sheard blew past right tackle Tyler Polumbus. Cousins wanted to hit Garcon off a double route down the left side. I don’t think he ever saw Sheard. But as Cousins pump faked, the ball was exposed and about a foot from Sheard’s outstretched hand. Cousins then brought the ball down to reset and that’s when Sheard hit him. Doing so enabled Cousins to protect the ball. If not, it could have been an easy fumble deep in Browns territory with the Redskins already trailing 7-0. Instead, it was just a nine-yard sack.

On the second one, Cousins did fumble but had a fortunate bounce for a recovery. Three Cleveland rushers applied heavy pressure and Cousins did not do a good job protecting the ball as remained free while he tried to run right. Had the ball skidded out at all, Sheard was right there and in position to scoop and run about 27 yards for a touchdown and 21-10 lead. Changes the game. If Cleveland had recovered and kicked a field goal, I don’t think it has the same impact, but a two-score lead (not insurmountable, mind you) makes it much tougher.

…Didn’t like Cousins’ decision on a first and 10 from the Cleveland 28 midway through the second half. Running a bootleg back to the left, he had a shot at Hankerson running and out and up vs. a cover-2 look. Hankerson might have been open for a brief moment. That’s not the issue.  Cousins is typically decisive and if he didn’t make the throw then he wasn’t comfortable. But he then made a dangerous throw throwing incomplete back to the middle for Moss. Cousins put it to Moss’ left; if he leaves it inside, there’s a DB who could have made a play on the ball. Those throws eventually lead to trouble.

…There’s no better example of the Redskins’ offensive rhythm than their third down success. In the first half they converted just one of seven third downs (the 25-yard dump and run to Evan Royster). But in the second half they converted six of eight third downs (all on passes). And here’s how well it went for them: one third down was the Moss fumble in which he would have been stopped short had he not lost the ball. There was a difference in the yardage, but not always. In the first half they needed at least five yards on every third down. In the second half, three times they needed four yards or less and five times they faced third and six or more.

…I know there were a couple times when Cousins appeared to leave a throw short in part because he was unloading the ball while trying to avoid a kill shot. But there was one time in particular where he didn’t have that luxury and he stood in strong. It was a rather meaningless play, too, as it resulted in only a three-yard completion to Paulsen. But the Browns blitzed a linebacker – Paulsen tried to nudge him with little success as he went out on his route – and Cousins had no chance to avoid the hit. After his play fake to Morris, Cousins turned around and linebacker Craig Robertson was about three steps away. Cousins planted and threw to Paulsen without looking at Robertson; he never flinched. The Redskins still ended up punting, but plays like this show teammates what you’re about.

…Left tackle Trent Williams said his injury is hurting him enough that two years ago he likely would have gone on injured reserve. It’s impressive that he continues to play. That said, you can see the impact of the injury at times, especially when he needs to move to his right and push off the injured left leg. Williams pressure inside, though it didn’t matter as the Redskins gained 15 yards on a pass.  On a sack late in the first half Williams got off-balance and was beaten inside. Didn’t look like he could push hard off his left leg to recover. Another time he went to block a linebacker, but did not arrive with the same sort of pop he normally does. Williams makes more than his share of good plays so he’s a big benefit to the team even playing hurt. He still can do things others can’t, but the injury does make things tougher for him.

…OK, I now know why Garcon was frustrated as he walked off the field at halftime. There was a little holding going on, like on the play in which his feet got tangled up with corner Joe Haden. And on the play in the end zone that was an incompletion. If you watched the game on TV, you probably already knew it, but now I do too. So there you go.

One reason the boot worked well in some cases was Cleveland’s man coverage.

On the Garcon no-catch play, Cousins has a wide open Santana Moss over the middle for what would have been a 17-yard gain at the least, to the Cleveland 30. Had the Garcon non-catch been reversed, that’s where the Redskins would have had the ball anyway. But when Moss was open, Cousins stood firm in the pocket and could have made a better throw. After hesitating down the middle, Cousins slid to his left and was not as patient, and his feet weren’t as calm, on the throw as he probably wanted to be, leading to a low pass.

…OK, yet another example of how play-action hurts a team. Cleveland weakside linebacker bit hard on a play fake, coming up-field and engaging with Trent Williams. When the ‘backer realized it was a pass, he ran to the middle to cover fullback Darrel Young. But as the ‘backer was running inside, Young cut to the outside, causing Robertson to turn and run with him. But that created separation and allowed Cousins to dump it to Young for an eight-yard gain.  I also saw times in which the linebackers spun around in a circle and got out of position after a fake. The threat of the run helps, but Cousins also sold it well.

…Loved two passes and then I’m done: The first was a 12-yard toss to Joshua Morgan after the Rob Jackson interception. The second was the two-yard touchdown pass to Hankerson. Both accomplished the same thing: they got the corner in charge of covering the receiver to get bumped in traffic.

Morgan, aligned on the weak side in the slot, stepped closer to the line before the snap and even pointed at the end on that side. The corner on him, Sheldon Brown, hesitated briefly at the snap because of the fake stretch zone to that side. Morgan then runs behind the line to the other flat and Brown bumps into a Cleveland linebacker. Morgan is wide open in the flat for an easy catch and run.

The same thing happened on Hankerson’s play. Hankerson starts on the right and goes in motion to the left, away from the tight end side, and is just off the tackle. As Cousins fakes to Morris, Hankerson runs behind the line. The corner covering him, Joe Haden, tries to run with him but bumps into Santana Moss and Brown. An unfortunate collision for the Browns as Hankerson is wide open.


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