Redskins 24, Bucs 22: Ten Observations

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

1. On Thursday I watched Trent Williams limp to his car and thought, “No way.” It wasn’t like he was moving a whole lot better the next day. During a mini-scrum in front of his locker on Friday, it was pointed out to Williams that he was still having a hard time moving around and then was asked how much his bruised knee was bothering him. He replied, “It’s not bad.” Then he flashed a big smile, as if he was concealing a whole lot from us. But Williams clearly takes his captain role seriously and that’s why he wanted to play. A few guys won major points in that locker room for their performance today; Williams is at the top of the list.

2. He actually played well. Very well, all things considered. Or even not considered. There were some missed blocks in which it was clear he couldn’t move as well as he wanted, especially in the open field against a defensive back. Williams had a hard time reacting on one such play and his man made the tackle. Clearly he wasn’t himself. And yet: no sacks allowed by him and plenty of holes opened. And he still showed enough athleticism to make a difference (like he did on a pass back to Fred Davis in which a zone read fake caused the linebacker to hesitate, allowing Williams to seal the outside). Williams had a key block on Alfred Morris’ 39-yard touchdown run too. After missing the last four games last season because of the drug suspension it’s surprising Williams would be elected a captain. After Sunday, it’s not surprising at all.

3. Here’s the scary part about the Redskins’ offense: It can get a lot better. A lot better. They have two rookies in prime positions, including at the most important one. Their top receiver hasn’t played a full game healthy. Their No. 2 receiver is still learning the game. Their No. 2 receiving tight end is new to the position. And yet they’ve scored at least 24 points in every game thus far, something they haven’t done since the first four games of the 1999 season (which ended with an NFC East title. By the way, the defense struggled that year, too. Incidentally, the other year with a hot start like this? Jim Zorn’s first year when they scored 23 or more points in four straight games early in the season. Feel free to forget the rest of that year). The Redskins are terrible on third down, converting only 2 of 11 Sunday and 13 of 51 for the season. Yet they’re moving the ball and scoring. But this is why it’s important to keep guys like Williams healthy. The continuity up front is starting to pay off and it’s showing in the run game. But the run game is motoring too because the tight end blocking has been better the past couple games and the wideouts are blocking exceptionally well. And when the Redskins can get an early lead, they don’t need to rely on Robert Griffin III’s legs as much. Washington stayed in control on offense because of Morris’ legs.

4. But these issues will bite them in the rear at times. So, too, will the big plays allowed by the defense. Of the Bucs 373 yards, 119 came on two pass plays. OK, so the other plays were fine right? Sorry it doesn’t work like that. In the NFL they grade you for every play. A pitcher doesn’t come back after giving up a homer on an 0-2 pitch and say, ‘Well, you take away that third pitch and it’s a good at-bat.’ Especially not when giving up pass plays for 20 yards or more was an issue at the end of last season and it hasn’t gone away. They’re now at 20 and counting in 2012, putting them on pace for 80 (last week they were on pace for 85 so this represents improvement). The Redskins were hurt by their lack of size at corner. It’s no consolation that the safety position was not the issue this time…. At least they got a much-needed win. It would have been hard for the players this week after a third straight loss with a game vs. Atlanta on Sunday. This was a must-win game and the Redskins managed to blow it then get it back. I’d say it’s a testament to their mental strength, but it’s also a testament to drafting Griffin. He was the difference in the end.

5. Also, Bucs QB Josh Freeman dropped back to pass 39 times and was sacked only once. Do you really need me to tell you that’s unacceptable? Once again the Redskins let a quarterback get comfortable in the pocket. In the first half Freeman looked like a future backup. Unlike Griffin, he showed little ability to adjust in the pocket. On one play in the first half he was drifting to his right as he threw the ball back toward the middle for Vincent Jackson. The throw was off-target because of this. It happened time and again. Part of the issue for him was the Redskins changing looks, using press man, man/zone combinations, zone and off-man. They covered a lot with seven defenders. They showed looks where outside linebackers Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson lined up at defensive tackle and dropped in the nickel package. Nothing mattered. It only took a couple completions and no pass rush in the second half to settle him down. The Bucs also did a good job targeting the Redskins’ small corners – Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were targeted a combined 19 times and finished with 10 catches for 215 yards. They will be facing more consistent offenses (read: good) soon. Like next week against Atlanta. The Redskins still have too many defensive breakdowns.

6. Billy Cundiff has a reputation for being confident. Even when maybe he shouldn’t be. Like Sunday. This isn’t meant to be a joke, but it’s hard work for a kicker to remain confident for too long in this league. That’s why Cundiff said after the game that he kept telling himself that he’s been through these situations in the past and come through. That confidence made a difference in the end. But let’s be real about Cundiff: he’s made more than 80 percent of his kicks only once in the six seasons he’s attempted at least 17. That means he’s an ordinary kicker at best. His kickoffs are excellent, but he has struggled as a placekicker throughout his career. In the last four years he’s made 80 percent of his kicks under 49 yards, but that’s far from elite and if a guy is going to miss all the time beyond 50 (13 of last 15), he’d better be more automatic from closer distances.

7. The Redskins are a different sort of team with their attitudes on offense. Niles Paul talked before the season opener about the difference Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan made with their attitudes and how it trickled down to the others. You saw it in the opener with Garcon’s blocking and physical play (when he did play, that is). You saw it again today with Garcon’s contact after his first catch and Morgan’s blocking. Do you have to put up with a couple untimely and bad penalties because of this? Apparently so as they both have drawn 15-yard penalties in the first four games. They had one such penalty by their wideouts all of last season. They were rather unimpressive a year ago and did not have this same attitude. Does this mean it’s acceptable? No. Unlike last year the Redskins now can overcome penalties, whether on that drive or in the game. Last year, especially in the first half of the season, a penalty on any drive was a killer. It’s not quite that bad now. But back to the attitude. The blocking has been very good at receiver – Leonard Hankerson’s downfield block helped spring Morris and Morgan had a mostly good day in this area too. That’s part of the attitude as well. But there has to be some sort of happy medium; Morris runs with attitude yet I can’t imagine he’ll ever draw a 15-yard penalty and doesn’t need to for that matter. You display that attitude at the appropriate times, like when you’re running with the ball or blocking. Garcon’s 15-yard penalty – when he de-cleated a defender away from the ball — in the third quarter left the Redskins in a third and 19 rather than third and four. In close games against better teams those yards matter.

8. Speaking of the run game, I’m still waiting for Alfred Morris to run like a sixth-round pick. His touchdown run was set up by good blocks, but Morris helped his downfield blockers, which makes the difference between a decent run and a scoring run. Morris pressed the hole hard, not cutting back until he was a yard behind the line. In addition to the linebackers staying too far inside, it caused the backside safety to come a half-yard or so too much to the inside, enabling a blocker to seal him. Morris cut off that block, slipped through a tackle at the 35 and was gone. He’s not the fastest guy, but he plays to his speed and that’s what matters most. If you can press the hole and cut back hard, you can make a lot of yards in this league.

9. It’s a good thing Tampa Bay didn’t call a time out before the Redskins went for it on fourth and 1 midway through the second quarter. Maybe they would have changed Mike Shanahan’s mind and he would have settled for a 44-yard field goal attempt instead. But instead there was no time out and Griffin induced the Bucs to jump offsides, then handing to Alfred Morris for six yards. At this point Cundiff had only missed one field goal so another attempt would not have been a wrong choice. But the way the Redskins are running the ball, and the threat Griffin poses with his arm or legs, there’s no reason not to go for a first down. That’s why I wouldn’t have knocked Shanahan for going for the fourth down a week ago, but instead punting (after a time out). This was, finally, an aggressive move by an aggressive coach. The Redskins were rewarded with a touchdown on this drive. Three points, it turns out, would not have helped them win.

10. I haven’t added it up yet, but in both of the Redskins’ wins yards after the catch and yards after first contact proved critical. It wasn’t just one player, either, nor did it come on one or two runs. Many of the passes resulted in YAC. Those yards add up quickly. And Garcon also had some hidden yardage by drawing a 32-yard pass interference penalty. That would put them over 500 yards for the game.

Plus one: No blocked kicks again. May have to create a Special Teams report to chart that stat. Kidding aside the coverage units were excellent as Sav Rocca punted well (40.7 net) and Lorenzo Alexander had a strong day. The return game did little. I like Niles Paul as a kick returner, though he hesitated for a split second on his second return and was tackled inside the 20.

Plus two: Shanahan wasn’t bothered by all the penalties with the replacement officials. However, they were flagged eight times for 73 yards Sunday, the first game with the real officials back. Maybe it wasn’t all the replacements’ fault.

 

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