RB Alfred Morris. His impact on the game wasn’t big enough despite 76 yards on only 13 carries. But he was having a terrific game and even though 34 yards came on two carries, that still leaves him with 11 runs for 42 yards. And the key stat for me: 57 of his 76 yards came after first contact. In one case it was an arm tackle attempt in the backfield by a backside end three yards deep. Morris gained 18 yards on the play so 21 came after contact; but because he took a good angle after the handoff he again made the first defender miss. Happens all the time. Two plays stood out (the first two of the second quarter). On the first, out of the pistol formation vs. an eight-man box, Morris ran an outside zone to the left. Penetration forced him to cut back inside three yards deep. He then had to make two quick cuts, but did so while moving forward, and slipped out of a tackle attempt for a nine-yard run. A combination of vision and footwork. On the next play he ran a zone to the right and cut inside Logan Paulsen’s block, but not before juking outside, which took care of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who went a bit wide and created another lane. Morris broke a tackle at the 38, another at the 41 and after getting swarmed still fell forward for about 2-3 more yards. The Redskins got what they needed from Morris last week.
RT Tyler Polumbus. The Redskins’ line is not put together to protect one-on-one on drop-backs too often. The play design – rollouts, zone read fakes, bootlegs, etc. — has prevented that from happening a lot this season. Polumbus had been playing better the past three to four games and, really, this is about a handful of plays. He had nice blocks on a couple of Morris’ runs, sealing the end on his 16-yarder, for example and on the 12-yarder taking a linebacker out of the play. But Polumbus didn’t have his best day in protection. He allowed Charles Johnson to come upfield, knock him off-balance and dip inside to get a sack in the third quarter (length of play: 3.3 seconds). Johnson recorded the second sack (3.6 seconds) by getting upfield and knocking Polumbus down as he cut back inside. Yes, those are longer plays but that’s life in the NFL. On the fourth and 10 sack in the final quarter, guard Chris Chester tried to help Polumbus by shoving Johnson, but that only served to help the Panther get around the end faster to Griffin. Polumbus allowed a pressure earlier on this drive. He lost his man on Morris’ four-yard run to the 2 early in the game (but had a good cut block on Evan Royster’s touchdown).
WR Aldrick Robinson. He earned a start and responded by doing nothing. Robinson ran a nice route on the first play of the game, but the ball zipped right through his hands. He did catch a six-yard pass late in the game, but otherwise made no contributions. He was open on one deep post, though he could have run his route more patient to get in better sync with Robert Griffin III, running a play-fake to the other side. However: Griffin saw him for a second and even paused momentarily as if readying to throw – on the All-22, Robinson has the corner beat by about seven yards and the backside corner is still about 10 yards away. Griffin then tucked and ran as he started to feel pressure from the rush. It would have been a touchdown, but woulda, coulda, shoulda. Robinson rotated with Leonard Hankerson, but did nothing to suggest he should start after the bye week.
RB Evan Royster. It’s for the same reason he was on the list last week: pass protection. As the third-down back, that’s a rather important job for Royster, but he continues to let blitzers come free. The Panthers did not send extra rushers often, but they still managed to hit Griffin off blitzes a couple times because Royster failed to stop them. The first time, a corner blitzed from the slot and Royster, after taking a fake handoff, runs to his upfield shoulder, allowing the corner to come inside for a hit on Griffin after the pass. On the next play, the Panthers blitzed a safety. Royster came up to hit him, but the safety easily used a swim move to get inside and hit Griffin as he threw, causing a flutter ball and near interception. He and Polumbus failed to execute on the fourth and goal from the 2.
…RG3 report. He’s still growing, but you see what he can do from the pocket when he’s certain of the route and the coverage. There also are examples where he’s still hesitating a little bit, losing a chance for good plays.
...Trent Williams was called for a crucial holding penalty, but there was little pressure generated from his side throughout the game, even when the Redskins were in obvious pass situations. He was very solid.
…I continue to like the toughness shown by Joshua Morgan. Nobody takes more shots after the catch than he does, yet he never shies away from the ball to avoid contact. He catches, secures and braces for the pop. It would be good to get more yards after the catch from him, but he’s helping. Between he and Logan Paulsen, Griffin has two (mostly) reliable players to hit in traffic. Morgan did drop a ball that was slightly off-target, but definitely catchable.
…The Redskins ran a variation of their heavy backfield triple-option look – with two players on either side of Griffin and another behind him – eight times. They gained 75 yards on those plays – there was a ninth time that gained five yards, but that was negated by a penalty. But they made it difficult on the Panthers by not running the same plays from this look.
Here’s what they ran: a zone read to the left; zone read right; speed option right; outside zone; QB keeper (twice); fake zone read/pass (twice) and a fake handoff, pitch left. The two passes gained a combined 38 yards.
They also didn’t use the same personnel in this look. Chris Cooley, Darrel Young, Alfred Morris, Niles Paul, Joshua Morgan, Dezmon Briscoe, Logan Paulsen and Santana Moss all lined up in this set.
I don’t normally use quotes in Studs/Duds, but because I wrote about this set and we talked to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan Tuesday about this, it’s worth passing along why he likes this formation:
“When you have three guys back there you can run the same play either way. You can have each guy do two different things from the offset position. You can have the guy from the deep part get the handoff or the guy from the side spot get the handoff and do an option with the guy who’s deep. You can do three different types of play-pass protections. You can also do movements. A defense can’t know what’s coming. They can’t set their fronts or set their coverages to where the ball is going to go. They have to defend both sides of the field and that usually causes some problems.
“It’s really impossible for the defense to pre-snap know where you’re going. When there’s just one guy, sometimes two, based where the backs are offset they have a good idea of what plays you can run to one side of the field and what play they can run to the other. When the back is in the pistol position and two guys are to both sides, they can’t guess. They have to play their defense and do what they do and it becomes a matter of execution.”
…The Redskins ran 27 plays in the fourth quarter and gained 10 yards or more on only three of them. It’s a big reason why they averaged only 4.5 yards per play (the same figure as last week). Those are their lowest averages of the season. In six games they’ve averaged at least 6.3 yards per play and their previous low before Pittsburgh was 5.1 (vs. Cincinnati).
…The Panthers’ ability to pressure with four – they rarely blitzed — and keep Griffin in the pocket most of the time was instrumental. It allowed them to mostly play zone so if he ran they were around him. And covering with seven vs. four was a huge plus. When the Redskins used their formation in the above section the Panthers would counter with eight in the box.
…On the final play of the game, Brandon Banks clearly went the wrong way on the pass (you can see Griffin gesturing to the sidelines during the play, as if to say, ‘What the heck happened there?’). The Redskins, starting at their own 17, had looong odds to begin with on this series. But the Redskins had it set up to where he would have gained substantial yards the other way. Guard Kory Lichtensteiger and center Will Montgomery both released to the other side and there was plenty of open space had Banks gone that way at the start. Even a 25-yard gain, assuming he’d get out of bounds, would have set them up for a Hail Mary.
…Banks didn’t cost them the game by any means. But the one reason I considered him as a Dud was for letting a punt drop at the 35-yard line in the third quarter when he was standing right there. Perhaps he felt the defense was on him and would have leveled him. A Panther defender was about three yards away when the ball hit the ground. Banks was credited with a five-yard loss, but in reality the Redskins lost 12 yards because of his decision. However, they recovered and drove for a field goal.
Red zone issues
A big reason for the offensive failures? The inability to convert in the red zone. For a second straight week the Redskins scored one touchdown on three trips inside the 20. That had been a problem area last season, but not for much of this season.
Here’s a look at their three trips:
- Like most of the day the Redskins had to grind it out in the red zone on their first attempt. They ran eight plays inside the 20 with the final four coming inside the 7. After Morris ran five yards to the two, the problems started. He lost two yards when tight end Logan Paulsen was driven back into his path and had to cut inside into traffic. By the way, for those who think the Redskins always get held defensive and it’s never called: Trent Williams had a lot of Luke Kuechly on this one. But those two yards proved crucial. Brandon Banks gained two yards on third down, setting up a fourth and 2.The play wasn’t bad, putting the ball in Griffin’s hands. He’s their playmaker so why not. And the play isn’t bad, either. If it’s executed well, then Griffin probably scores. But Polumbus and Royster attempt to block the same defender. That left no one to block the safety racing to the outside. I don’t know who should have blocked whom, but based on the angles Polumbus could have easily taken the second guy, leaving Royster to block the safety with a good angle. Had that happened, Griffin would have scored easily.
- This time the Redskins only ran three plays inside the 20 on their second drive of the third quarter. They ran out of their heavy triple option look, with Niles Paul to the left, Darrel Young to the right and Morris behind Griffin. The QB rolled right, had no one open and ran for five yards. Next play, Griffin threw behind Morgan on a slant, allowing the corner to break it up. On third and six from the 11, this is the play that I’m not crazy about. I understand what the Redskins were doing; they had Banks to Griffin’s left and Santana Moss on the right. They ran Moss on a shovel pass to occupy the end, but it didn’t make any difference as the end ran aggressively at Griffin. Banks carried around left end and actually did well to gain three yards. Banks seems to do better running the ball when there’s more chance to open the field, which it’s tough to do in the red zone. He’s not exactly tearing it up on offense, either. He’s touched the ball on offense 12 times (six passes, six runs) and gained 37 yards. But 21 came on one play vs. Cincinnati. The other 11 have gained 16 yards. And his last seven touches have produced minus-3 yards.
- Finally, a successful trip. In fact, the Redskins scored three times on this trip inside the 20, but two were negated by penalties (a hold on center Will Montgomery and an illegal formation penalty). And what bailed out the Redskins here was an unnecessary roughness penalty on third and 13 when Griffin scrambled around right end for seven yards and was shoved while out of bounds. The Redskins were a little more conventional with their offense on this trip, though it’s not as if they weren’t running non-traditional plays all the time on the first two trips.
Some of them hurt more than others. Here are three:
- Second and 2, Carolina 21, first quarter. With the Redskins driving, left tackle Trent Williams was called for holding against end Greg Hardy. Griffin had completed a one-yard pass to fullback Darrel Young. The Redskins couldn’t recover as Royster gained no yards on second down and then a pass to Santana Moss gained two yards. A promising drive ended in a field goal.
- Second and 10, Carolina 36, third quarter. The Redskins already had overcome one penalty on this drive (a hold on Young), but a second one was too much. On a six-yard pass to Young, guard Kory Lichtensteiger was called for an ineligible man downfield. There appeared to be a miscommunication with the play as ‘Steiger and guard Chris Chester both released as if they were expecting some sort of screen to Royster (looked like it would have worked, too, but ‘Steiger was about five yards downfield). On second and 15 Griffin was sacked and he then threw incomplete to Morgan on third down.
- Third and three, Carolina 3, fourth quarter. Griffin scored on a pretty run off a QB draw, starting up right, pausing as the hole collapsed and then cutting back to the left. But center Will Montgomery was called for holding. The Redskins still scored on this drive, but had they done so on this play they would have saved themselves 29 seconds and a time out. They likely would have started possession on the last drive with about a minute left rather than 17 seconds.