Redskins vs. Cowboys: Studs and Duds (offense)

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

Studs

QB Robert Griffin III. You saw the game, right? Because the game was last Thursday, I’m skipping the RG3 report. But there are throws and plays worth talking about with him, starting with the 68-yard touchdown. There’s more on that play below, but it was a terrific fake and throw by Griffin, who enabled Aldrick Robinson to run under the ball and catch it in stride. Griffin made a handful of throws that I’m not sure he would have been comfortable making a month or so ago, fitting the ball into tighter windows. There was the back shoulder toss to Santana Moss in the end zone, giving the corner no chance to make a play. There was another pass to Moss on a third and 2 in which Morris Claiborne made a perfect read but the ball arrived a split second before he did. One of his best throws came when DeMarcus Ware closed hard on Griffin running a boot to the right and hit him as he threw, yet the ball was perfectly thrown to Joshua Morgan in the flat. Griffin threw another pass to Moss that was dead-on while on the run, just over the corner’s head, but Moss was unable to get both feet in-bounds. Still, the sort of throw you make when you’re in that so-called zone.

Griffin’s lone interception occurred because tight end Logan Paulsen was shoved into Griffin by linebacker DeMarcus Ware (Darrel Young was trying to help block) as he threw the ball. Griffin also made a high pass.

Aside from the interception, the one throw that could have landed him in trouble actually resulted in a  59-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon. Griffin could not lead Garcon because linebacker Bruce Carter had good position in zone coverage. So Griffin threw behind and Garcon made a terrific catch, reaching back and high for the ball. If he doesn’t catch that ball, the safety has a shot at an interception (though it might have fallen short of him). For now, I’ll write this off as a quarterback with a lot of faith in what his receiver could do on the play. That trust led to a touchdown.

The only other pass where he was truly off was the pass he threw low on a naked bootleg to Leonard Hankerson while rolling to his left. The play is designed for him to throw on the move, but it seemed like he got a little lazy on the throw. We saw it this summer when he had to throw on the run to his left that he’s better when he slows down a bit before he throws. He did not do so on this play.

RB Alfred Morris. Nothing surprises me anymore with Morris, but I continue to be impressed by how mature he is as a runner. His patience, his vision, his quick cuts. It’s funny how, at the beginning of the season, there was worry about his speed. Maybe he’s not explosive like some other backs, but he consistently gets extra yards because of his other attributes. Speed is not the most important attribute for a back. Morris did an excellent job pressing the hole Thursday and consistently forced the linebackers, Bruce Carter in particular, to overcommit. Here’s a good example: on the first play of the fourth quarter, an inside zone read, Carter commits to the hole where Morris appears headed. But in a textbook example of pressing the hole, just as Morris is on the heels of guard Kory Lichtensteiger, he cuts to his left. Carter is out of position to make a play and center Will Montgomery seals the other linebacker, Ernie Sims. But this play is made by Morris’ running style.  And, by the way, it’s not just Griffin who has stood out in NFC East games. Morris has rushed for 309 yards on 66 carries (4.7 yards per pop) in the three division games.

WR Pierre Garcon. Um, about that sore toe… It didn’t seem to hold him back on the 59-yard catch-and-run. To watch him not only make a circus catch, but to hit the ground, stumble and then get up to full speed in a hurry was impressive. Garcon plays to his speed all the time because he plays with urgency, which means he’s always physical and plays fast. I liked how easily Garcon got open on the 19-yard catch over the middle. The corner had inside leverage, but Garcon threw him off with a good hard plant outside. He was open by three yards off the line because of the move. This is not to knock Leonard Hankerson, but on the incompletion to him in the end zone, I wonder if he would have been more open had he sold an out cut the way Garcon did. Instead, the corner didn’t flinch on Hankerson’s attempt and was able to quickly close. It’s all about creating separation in this league. Garcon also blocked well, as usual, including on Morris Claiborne on a 14-yard Griffin run around left end.

WR Santana Moss. His catch and yardage totals are paltry: four for 42 yards.  But three of Moss’ catches resulted in first downs and the fourth was a touchdown. Moss has become the clutch receiver for Washington, with 20 of his 29 receptions going for first downs. He averages a touchdown every 4.1 receptions (to put this in perspective, his career average is a TD catch every 10.6 receptions). Again, it’s about trust and there’s no doubt that Moss provides Griffin a security blanket.

C Will Montgomery. Trent Williams receives a lot of the praise, but Montgomery has been their most consistent lineman all season. He had a fantastic game Thursday and consistently worked to the second level to seal off blocks (helped at times by Morris’ ability to press the hole). Montgomery drove out the nose tackle on a nine-yard Morris run; he sealed the linebacker on a 16-yard gain (one of his better blocks). When Montgomery came off his combo blocks and reached the linebackers, he was able to do so with leverage, leading to good blocks. Montgomery is having a standout season; after last season he was viewed by the organization as an average center in the NFC East. But he’s playing better than that right now.

WR Aldrick Robinson. For one play. And, really, that 68-yarder was not made by Robinson it was made by the fake. But Robinson’s speed makes a difference and Griffin led him a long way. When you have speed with several receivers, the Redskins can stay true to their offense even when rotating wideouts during the game. Robinson has caught 11 passes; three have gone for touchdowns. He’s a developing weapon. Plays like this provide a sense that this offense can hurt you anywhere, anytime. It’s akin to a baseball team full of sluggers; one bad pitch and it’s a homer as opposed to the Redskins’ offense last year that would have required four singles to score a run. Robinson failed to hold some blocks (like on Griffin’s run around the right end late in the game), but let’s be honest: he’s on the field for plays like this. It was the third straight game in which Robinson was open deep and the second consecutive one in which he caught a long touchdown pass.

Duds

PR Brandon Banks. Just for one play. Banks put the Redskins in a bad spot with his decision to return a punt from his own end zone, reaching only the 7-yard line. Not only did he return the ball, but he ran to the middle where there were two Cowboys running free. If he had started inside and then quickly cut back outside he might have had a shot to reach the 15 or 20. Still, Banks backpedaled more than 15 yards to field the ball at the goal line (his momentum carried him two yards into the end zone). This was a 64-yarder with a hang-time of 4.6 seconds. The No. 1 job for a returner is to make good decisions (and every punt returner says you don’t catch it inside the 10). As the games get tighter down the stretch, Banks can’t repeat a decision such as this one. Banks is fortunate this did not hurt the Redskins. The offense is now good enough to recover from such a play as they scored a touchdown on this series (the one to Aldrick Robinson).  Banks’ impact has been minimal this season: 1.9 yards per reception; 5.1 per run (that includes a 21-yarder among the seven carries); 6.8 per punt return and 24.1 per kick return. He did have a catch on third down but his main function is returning punts. There’s no doubt he would agree that it wasn’t the best decision.

Notes

…LG Kory Lichtensteiger helped prevent an eight-yard sack of Griffin in the second quarter when he dragged him forward while Ware was trying to tackle him. Ware didn’t have a great hold of Griffin so perhaps he would have wiggled free to prevent such a steep loss, but ‘Steiger helped as well. Instead of second and 17 or 18, it was second and 11. The Redskins eventually converted a first down and capped the series with the Garcon touchdown.

…The Redskins’ offensive versatility makes it difficult to cover. There are many examples of that, but here’s another: On the 13-yard pass to Joshua Morgan in which Griffin was drilled by Ware, that’s a play often designed for a fullback. It’s essentially a swap boot in which the fullback runs the same route Morgan did to the boot side. But having a receiver run it provides a tougher cover for a defense and a chance at more yards for the offense. Having Brandon Banks run a route out of the backfield falls under the same category, creating a matchup issue through alignment.

…Left tackle Trent Williams did not have his best game and it left me wondering how much he might have been hurt, or slowed at least by knee and ankle issues. Sure enough, Monday we found out that he suffered a deep thigh bruise on the third play of the game. Williams did not adjust as well as he usually does and when you’re facing a player such as DeMarcus Ware, that can be a problem. Williams had problems vs. everyone, which is why it wasn’t surprising to hear later that he was injured.

…Tight end Logan Paulsen has had better games; he had a drop and his blocking was not as strong (or, perhaps better, as consistent) as in other games. But he was able to help at times. The Redskins hurt the ends in the zone read by sometimes blocking them with a tight end from the backside (aligned a yard deep in the backfield). Paulsen did that to Ware.

…Right tackle Tyler Polumbus had a solid game. Got to the linebacker on a few occasions; a couple nice cut blocks allowing Griffin to throw quick to his side. Polumbus wasn’t perfect, but he more than held his own (but he didn’t hold anyone from Dallas; that would have been a penalty).

…Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the Cowboys did fine with the “college stuff.” I’m not sure I agree with him on this one. I guess if it makes him feel better then he can say such a thing, but there was a trickle-down impact of the “college stuff” that hurt Dallas.

Like on the 68-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson. It wasn’t just a play-action pass that froze the safety. No, it was the fake zone read. And Griffin rode the ball into Morris’ belly long enough that the receivers were 5-7 yards downfield before he was done. And they were at 10 yards before the safeties knew it was a pass. Safety Danny McCray, who was aligned 14 yards off the ball, was 12-13 yards off by the time he realized what was happening. Robinson was a yard away from him when McCray finally started to turn around. Too late. He had no chance to catch Robinson at that point. Oh, and McCray kept his eyes in the backfield way too long. So, yeah, it wasn’t a 40-yard QB run off a zone read, but this play occurred indirectly because of the “college stuff”. Yes, play design always helps. The Redskins typically throw that in-route off this play and Griffin was looking at Hankerson running that route on the left side; faking the handoff to that side also froze the backside safety; they fool your eyes. But the ability to sell the fake, stemming from Griffin’s patience, made this play. This is what Griffin does to defenders.

…It seemed like Dallas’ ability to play the zone read depended in part on the positioning of the outside linebackers. DeMarcus Ware, for example, would get about three yards upfield, but would not stay flat. That really hurt him late in the third quarter when Griffin faked to Morris as Ware was perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. It enabled Griffin to get outside for a 14-yard run. Ware played it differently; I’m not sure if he was trying to figure out the best way or that sometimes he was too aggressive. Regardless, he was uneven vs. this look as was Anthony Spencer. The latter played it better initially, staying square to the backfield and not getting too far upfield. But Spencer was fooled, too, like on the play before Niles Paul’s touchdown. Spencer bit hard on the fake to Morris. If Hankerson had maintained his block on the outside it’s a solid gain.

…On the touchdown pass to Paul, I still can’t believe how open he was. It appears that Sims was to blame. That can be difficult to know, but everyone else in coverage is on someone. Sims was lost. I don’t know how big a difference this made, but Paul’s stance at the line was a little angled inside, as if he were going to block down. Perhaps that’s what the ‘backer read and ignored him. Guess you can say that was a bad decision.

…Another benefit to the play fakes is the scramble drill it causes by the linebackers. On Moss’ 23-yard catch, for example, the linebackers were frozen by a zone read fake. Both inside linebackers turned their backs to the quarterback on the play, though Sims did so only briefly, first turning to his left, then around, then back the other way. Point is, they had no chance to see the ball and or the man. They were lost. Pass completed. End of story.

…For those who wonder why they run those inside zone toss plays, here’s what it did when they ran it vs. Dallas. Once more, it has to do with Dallas being overaggressive trying to fill the hole. Carter sped four to five steps to his left after Griffin made the inside toss to Morris, who then cut back to where Carter had been. Though Carter hit him, he had no power and Morris drove forward for a six-yard gain. The play doesn’t work all the time, but it did here.

… One reason the 17-yard screen to Morgan worked in the second quarter was that Ware, lined up on the right side, sprinted hard toward Morris, running the other way, on the stretch zone fake. It left Griffin with a clean pass to Morgan. Makes a difference. Also, the safety on Morgan’s side McCray bit hard on the fake, too, and sprinted six yards to his left, enabling Trent Williams to get in front of him as he came out to block.

 

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Author:

John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner