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Redskins mailbag: Ask John

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

John: I realize that injuries can affect game planning, but in game adjustments, especially by the defense seem slow to come if they come at all.  Leaving the left tackle Black alone without help to get Griffin to be squashed repeatedly like a bug is inexcusable by the offensive staff.
As much as I like much of what this coaching staff is doing, it seems that they don’t always play to the strengths (or mask the deficiencies) of their players.  Your thoughts?

Steve Davis

Steve: It’s funny because some games I think they do and other times they do not. Brandon Banks is being used well offensively and there’s little doubt they’re using Robert Griffin III’s strengths well, too. They use Niles Paul’s blocking, with his quickness serving as a key. But other times I think they have things they want to do regardless if it meshes with other parts of their philosophy or the talent. At times last year I thought they called games based on who they wanted to be vs. who they were. I think the same is true to a degree on defense. They allow big plays and points using the scheme that they do (some say it’s because they change their minds on what they want). And I wondered about the lack of help for both tackles Sunday. Black, by the way, should only be charged with one sack allowed. The first came off a big mistake by Alfred Morris, who cut between Black and end Michael Johnson. Never seen that before.

JK

 

John: I was at the home opener yesterday, and there was some confusion in my section about the clock in regards to the final few minutes of the game–I’m hoping you can clarify.

Going by memory and without the benefit of replays in front of me: On the final drive of the game, within the last 5 minutes, with the Skins threatening to score, it seems that at least once, if not twice, the Redskins either completed a pass to a receiver who then got out of bounds, or had an incompletion, but in both scenarios, the clock never completely stopped. In one scenario, I think I remember seeing the clock stop when the receiver went out of bounds, but it started again when the official spotted the ball–well before the snap (maybe 8-10 seconds lost on this alone). Since this was within the last 5 minutes of the game, it seems the Redskins were robbed of some significant clock time. Maybe my view wasn’t good enough from the nosebleeds–did you notice anything?

Also, on the final play, my understanding is: 1. The refs let time expire (erroneously), 2. The Bengals entered the field as if the game were over, quickly followed by an irate Kyle Shanahan, 3. The clock was fixed, the field cleared, and penalties on Fred Davis (5 yards) and Shanahan (20 yards, though it should have been 15) were assessed. 4. We know what happened next. My question is: Forgetting that the refs docked us an extra 5 yards by mistake, how can anyone be penalized for entering the field if the clock expired thinking the game was over due to the ref’s negligence? It’s like punishing a team for not knowing better than the refs. I understand Shanahan was there to argue, but the Bengals were all on the field, and you can’t flag him for arguing if the clock has expired and he is pointing out this is incorrect, can you? Furthermore, if you accept that Shanahan gets flagged for entering the field, how do the Bengals not also get flagged? Their entire bench was on the field! Shouldn’t those penalties, however bogus they were in the first place, offset, and then we are left with a 5yrd false start penalty on Davis?

Unless I’m misunderstanding the basic facts, it seems the refs had a serious impact on the final outcome of a game that could have been tied–first, by letting the clock run when it shouldn’t have, then, by mishandling the clock on the final play, and mishandling the penalties given out.

Thoughts?

Cheers,
Tim

Tim: Kyle Shanahan was docked for what he said, not where he said it. Right or wrong he lost his cool and the Redskins lost 15 yards. We didn’t talk to the officials but my guess is they didn’t dock the Bengals because it was their mistake in saying the game was over. According to the official play-by-play, the Redskins went out of bounds three times in the final five minutes. I reviewed each play and, no, there was no loss of time. There was one play in which Aldrick Robinson was tackled near the out-of-bounds line, but was ruled in-bounds so the clock continued. Also, the Redskins gained 10 seconds because there should have been a run-off after play was stopped due to Leonard Hankerson’s injury with 1:07 remaining. So they benefitted.

JK

 

Hi John: Everything you post is well researched and worth reading.  If the skins have another double digit losing season should Shanahan be fired?  I was willing to give Mike Shanahan a pass this season figuring that we were starting a rookie quarterback who would go through growing pains.  Our problem this season definitely is not the play of our quarterback!!!  Onto RGlll, I think we have an emerging superstar.  He pretty much is carrying this franchise on his shoulders and hasn’t had his #1 receiver for two games.  He has almost succeeded in two miraculous game winning drives in the final two minutes if not for stupid, bone headed penalties by others.  What more can you say about his mental toughness than the way he played in the second half of the Bengals game after absolutely nothing went right in the first half.  On another topic, it seems that the Rams and Bengals were far more successful in exploiting the replacement refs than the Skins.  The Skins just seemed to be out-physicalled by their last two opponents while playing like the regular officials were calling the game.

JKC

JKC: Thank you. 1: I don’t think he should get a free pass. If the Redskins lose, say, 11 games and Griffin actually has a really good year? Tough to say the program is headed in the right direction. There’s a long way to go before we reach that point however. I remember how dreadful they were under Marty Schottenheimer, yet they won eight of their last 11.  But they need to start showing legitimate progress. My guess is that if they go 6-10 someone will pay. It may not be the head coach, but it’s hard to believe there wouldn’t be a change. 2: Agree on Griffin. He has a long way to go as a quarterback, starting with his ability to pass in the pocket. But he’s still making big plays as he learns. And, yes, he had a bad first half yet stayed calm and patient and nearly led a quality comeback. 3: Not sure if other teams were more physical as they just capitalized on a handful of Redskins mistakes. Their D-line is physical; their O-line is built more on finesse than power.

JK

 

John: Would it be to much to ask RG3 to also play corner?  Maybe just in the nickel package, so he stays fresh? Of course I’m kidding, my real question is: why does Tyler Polumbus wear roller skates during the game?  Seems like he’d be more effective if he wore cleats.

Tim Murray

 

Tim: Not pleased with the tackle play (or corners for that matter), huh? Remember, the Redskins likely would have pursued Eric Winston in free agency if not for the cap penalties and they had hoped Jammal Brown would be healthy enough to play. So Polumbus can be called a third option. The guy works hard etc., but the knock on him coming out of college is that he didn’t play with enough power and you see that even now at times. This is a leverage league and it’s tough being a 6-foot-8 tackle. He tries to get low, but it’s difficult and leads to issues. And there have been issues opening up cutback lanes, especially when facing quicker linemen. Despite all this the offense has scored at least 24 points in each game.

JK

 

John: This is year 3 of Shanahan; three years to redo the roster and build depth. If the skins remain a 5-6 win team will his job be in jeopardy? I certainly think it should. I’ve never been a big fan of his game management and numbers wise the decision to not go for that 4 down in bengals territory is almost indefensible (compounded by an extremely unwise challenge on the punt – with one timeout left you had to be ABSOLUTELY sure you were correct, and the ball clearly hit the line). It wouldn’t be ideal to start over again but when should patience run out with this coaching staff?

Brian H

Brian: When? If they remain a five-win team and Griffin isn’t the reason why. As I said in a previous answer I think someone will pay if that’s the case. Again, too early for speculation but there’s no way owner Dan Snyder would stand for another season like that (nor should he). I know they’re rebuilding, but the offense is at least scoring. The defense really has no excuses for its poor play the past two games. I, too, was surprised he changed his mind on that fourth down. Had they gone for it and missed, I would have still applauded the decision.

JK

 

John: Thanks for clearing up a misperception I had last week. Your detailed analysis is great to read and thanks for taking my question(s).

First of all, this is year three of Mike Shanahan’s offense. Shouldn’t we be able to run a consistent zone stretch running play by now? That was a staple of his Denver teams, but we see very little of it here, along with the boot-action off of it.

That leads to my second question. I believe we should be physically running the ball and making the defense respect that, then let RG3 work off that running game, to protect him from hits and help him mature as QB. Instead (from your column earlier this week) Mike Shanahan said:

“You’re trying to keep defenses off-balance, and we’ll do what we think gives us the best chance to win,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “No, you don’t want a quarterback taking as many shots as he did yesterday, that’s for sure.”

I beg to differ, if Mike is calling pistol zone reads and 5 yard pitches to Banks, then Mike does want RG3 taking those shots.

So where in Mike’s third year is our zone blocking running game? Why does Mike insist on scheming vs. making the defense respect the run and work off that?

Thanks,
Chris

Chris: Just about every play is some sort of zone run so I’m not sure I’d agree on this one. Talked to one coach last year who said they really only have two run plays: an inside zone and an outside zone, but they vary the looks and assignments on them. Even those option plays are basically another variation of a stretch zone. I do think people before the season (Rich Gannon, for one) were wondering the same thing about why the stretch zone hadn’t worked better in the first two seasons considering Shanahan’s success in the past. They ran a decent amount of bootlegs off this last year. I haven’t broken things down to see how many boots they’ve called thus far; but the offense ranks sixth in yards and first in points. They do very well off play-action throws – their issue comes on straight drop-backs. Their run game is helped by the zone fakes, creating lanes at times because defenders hesitate or overplay. I will be curious to see how things go when they start facing better defenses. Teams might let them have certain yards by the running back to protect themselves from Griffin’s playmaking ability.

JK

 

John: For the most part I think Shanahan has done a good job with personnel but in my opinion he has made mistakes every year as to the free safety and right tackle positions. He acquired Jammal Brown coming off of a major injury and on the Redskins he’s been either injured or hampered by injury each season. Instead of going after let’s say Eric Winston in the off season (yes they had cap issues but arguably they could have signed him over Morgan), they instead bet on Brown’s new yoga regime helping him foster a comeback in his 30s. As for free safety, I recall in year #1 Shanahan raved about Kareem Moore in the preseason who ended up a bust, in year #2 he signs Atogwe for a big contract, he was on the downside of his career and played poorly, and thus far 30 year old Madieu Williams doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

 

The offensive line play and secondary play has been inconsistent at best under Shanahan – do you agree or disagree that it’s driven to some degree by him continuing to strike out big at those 2 positions?

Mike

Mike: Injuries and personnel decisions have combined to produce the inconsistencies at both spots. So did the lack of a quality QB and a playmaking receiver. Several linemen have said too that the newness of the scheme for them provided issues in the first year and that they’re much more comfortable now (Kory Lichtensteiger’s play is much better in years 2 and 3 than in his first year here). The Redskins seem to have drafted well the past two years, though I don’t think the 2011 class will produce the number of starters many originally predicted. But we’ll know better in another year or two. The Brown trade, in hindsight though perhaps for many it isn’t hindsight, smacks of desperation.

Winston received a four-year, $22-million contract from Kansas City while Morgan’s deal is for two years and $12 million. It may have been tougher to fit in Winston’s deal. But they had some room to maneuver had they wanted to do so (could they have cut Chris Cooley at that time? Sure. Then again, they needed insurance in case Fred Davis was suspended again before the season). I was initially surprised by the Morgan signing only because they were so high on Leonard Hankerson, but it also spoke to concerns about his hip. The Redskins, right or wrong, wanted more weapons – more than they wanted to beef up the line. The quest for a right tackle will continue in the offseason, unless one of the young backups develops. They’re still moving the ball and scoring with this current line, but there are also yards/points left on the field. As for Atogwe, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett coached him in St. Louis and it’s safe to say is the one who wanted him. Madieu Williams has played better than Atogwe, which isn’t saying a whole lot but the issues the past two weeks haven’t been about him. I do think the secondary issues are keeping this defense from being a top-10 unit. Josh Wilson has been better than I anticipated (his stumble last week notwithstanding).

 

John: Thanks as always for doing this.  My question is about the offensive line.  With Trent likely out, how much different of a game do you expect Kyle to call?  Also, I was a little disappointed they let Willie Smith go, but I’m sure they had their reasons for keeping an old Jordan Black over him. Based on what you saw in camp, why do you think they decided a young guy they kept on last year’s 53 was no longer worth developing long-term?

Adam

NY, NY

Adam: I think they’ll alter it a little bit; you have to considering what they sometimes ask of Williams in terms of getting out in space is tougher for Black. And the biggest issue is in pass protection on drop-backs. The Bucs will blitz quite a bit and I’m sure they’ll try to get the tackles in one-on-one situations. … As for Smith, yes he looked bad in camp, especially early. Thought he got better in the last couple weeks (and thought he played fine in the third preseason game) but every time I saw him against a quality player he struggled. Whether it was Smith or Black, they’d have issues.  And if you don’t think the young guy will improve, you go with a guy who has experience. Here’s the thing; they want to keep as many young players as possible – four of their nine are 25 or younger, plus Tom Compton is on the practice squad — so when they cut one of them for a guy who was out of the league a year ago it speaks volumes. Motivation, I believe, was an issue in their minds. And it wasn’t until camp opened that they even signed Black. Yes it was because their backup swing tackle, Tyler Polumbus, was needed to start. But that was a clear warning about Smith, too.

JK

 

John: After the egregious game Madieu Williams played in the first game, I thought he’d be gone when the Redskins plane landed in Washington, but the coaches had other plans – maybe he was forgiven because the Redskins won. He wasn’t noted in the next two games, but the secondary did and it was not for good reasons. That said, I actually have three questions: What is the point of having a veteran DB other than Doughty only playing in the special teams? Isn’t there any FA DB in the market that could represent an improvement over Williams or at least could help more? And finally, does Haslett really believe Meriweather is so good he will turn the things around? He doesn’t seem to be looking for help and I can only think he is waiting for Brandon to be back.

Cheers!

Paulo Scopacasa

Sao Paulo, Brazil

 

Paulo: 1: If a guy is worthy of being a quality starter they’d be on a team right now. They gambled on Tanard Jackson, who had potential but was a big risk, and lost. Williams was not the issue in the past two games, but he hasn’t made plays to help either (save for the tackle on the fake field goal). Does he believe Meriweather will turn things around? I don’t know what Haslett really thinks, but I can’t imagine he sees him as someone who will turn things around. But someone who will be an upgrade over DeJon Gomes? Yes. Gomes is a backup at best. Haslett isn’t the one who should be out looking for help; that’s why they have a pro scouting department. His job is only to coach the guys on the roster. I think they’ll have to live with this situation for the season…. By the way, my wife will be in your country next week. She can’t wait.

JK

 

John: What if the on-field official had ruled an interception, would the replay official have reversed it to a touchdown?

This hypothetical question I believe supports my argument that the main reason for the Packers/Seahawks officiating travesty was not only due to the obviously poor on-field decision, but to Instant Replay itself, which has since its inception been needlessly limiting because of the ridiculous rule of needing ” indisputable visual evidence”. This “technicality” is at the core of the problem and is similar to deficiencies in the judicial system which allows criminals to escape punishment on “technicalities” when it is unmistakably obvious to the whole world that the crime was committed.

I  never understood why the NFL by their own doing have handicapped Instant Replay Officials by not allowing them to  use their ” human judgment” when looking at replays, and instead insisting on “indisputable visual evidence” which is in itself technically dependent on high definition camera work, right angles, etc…..?  Why do they let humans judge the action on the field and then deny them that right when it comes to replays? The purpose of Replay is to use technology to maximize human judgment of a game played by humans. Replay officials are still “referees” and should be allowed to make a judgment and not act like robots because a technicality of “indisputable evidence” has to be met.  Continuing with the present rules will undoubtedly lead to more future missed opportunities to make necessary corrections to any bad on-field calls.

Players, fans and yes, even officials, deserve much better.

Fares in Beirut

 

Fares: There are times when it’s difficult to tell what the right call is or should be. I see this as more of an issue in college than the NFL, which seems to do a better job of getting it right. College refs seem to rely more on the “indisputable evidence” aspect. Part of the problem is there are rules that the refs must adhere to that most people are clueless about. That means fans, players, coaches, media. I think the rules sometimes go away from common sense (tuck rule) and that’s where I have some issues. The Monday night game is a tough example because they were replacement officials so it was doomed from the moment it occurred. There are times when I wonder the same as you, but I’m not sure any situation will ever be perfect.

JK

 

John: I was just reading your RGIII report, and I thought it was interesting that you were noting that he is having trouble with plays in which he drops straight back. Obviously, this is a common problem with rookies, but I was wondering if it is an inherent weakness in the Shanahan offense. I remember how there was a big difference between Grossman’s statistical performance on 1st and 2nd downs vs. 3rd downs. I was thinking that this offense is built so much around play-action and the threat of the running game that it puts the QBs at a greater disadvantage in obvious passing situations.

Best,

Andrew

 

Andrew: I think most QBs have a tougher time in obvious passing situations, as will a lot of lines. But think part of the issue here is that this line is built to play on the move. They’re a little smaller because the emphasis is on quickness. When there are obvious passing downs, it’s tougher for them sometimes to stonewall defenders in straight drop-back situations. But with Griffin that’s only part of it. He’s best when he drops back and delivers right away. He can go to other options, but the more any rookie QB has to read the tougher it will be. And the more likely he’ll throw under duress. He’s still figuring out how to move in an NFL pocket and getting used to knowing when to unload the ball.

JK

 

John:  Do you think this zone read, qb keeper, Baylor spread is going to be weaned off? Or are all my Sundays going to be filled with me cringing every time Robert Griffin has the ball? I’ve never watched football games like this where I’m cringing and wondering “is he getting up this time” before now.  Also, I’ve never seen an athlete fall more awkwardly than Robert Griffin III. His falls just look painful and awkward every time. Anyway, am I wasting brain cells in the hope that the Shanaclowns will smarten up and wean him off this spread offense? The only way he’s going to develop as a pro-style qb…………is to get under center and drop-back and read a defense. They are stunting that growth for short-term success…and possible long term damage to his body and career. Not one single quote this week has made me think they are going to reel this offense in. He needs to protect himself better? He’s going to raise his arms and wave them? Am I at a Run DMC concert? Really? The main point of the zone read is the deception of it. The shift has already begun to this offense. Spread your defense ends…………and key on RG3. Whether he has the ball or not…take him out. He’s the player that can do the most damage to the defense.

Can you talk me off this ledge…or should I set up a cot here and sleep until my worse fears come true on Griffin? lol

Have a good one John. Keep up the exemplary work.

SP

SP: Thank you. Sorry, the zone read is here to stay. There are ways that Griffin can lessen the hits, but we’re still talking about a guy who will get hit a lot. Some of those shots last week could not be helped and likely will continue. He’s not equipped yet to just sit in the pocket, read and make good strong decisions all game while moving the ball. If teams want to spread their ends, the Redskins will run inside more, as they did vs. the Bengals. It’s a big problem because his strength is forcing teams to defend all aspects of his game. If he’s a drop-back passer only he’s not the guy you drafted. My fear is that he’d get hit a lot in that situation, too. Looks like you’ll be stuck on that ledge for a while.

JK

 

 

 

 

 

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