QB Kirk Cousins: He only threw three passes. But, in baseball, sometimes Mariano Rivera only threw three pitches. Know what I mean? Cousins proved to be an effective closer as each of those passes resulted in a positive play for the Redskins. Let’s start with how much poise he showed when entering the game in a crucial spot. First, after Robert Griffin III was hurt with one minute, 56 seconds left, Cousins entered and threw a pass to Pierre Garcon that resulted in a pass interference penalty (and first down). His next pass was a 15-yard toss to Leonard Hankerson. And the third pass was the best one because of all that was involved. He pump faked to Santana Moss in the slot (see below), drawing corner Chris Johnson inside. Cousins then slid to his right and dropped a perfect pass over Johnson — the ball was less than a foot over his outstretched hand – to Garcon. Cousins said he learned a lesson vs. Atlanta about trying to force a pass (ironically, he did that to Moss and it was picked off vs. the Falcons). His savvy and poise made a difference in this game.
RB Alfred Morris: He had a fumble, I know. And it cost the Redskins seven points. I don’t like that one bit. Morris initially had the ball in his wrong arm, so that didn’t help. But Morris did more than compensate for the second-quarter mistake. He consistently broke tackles and made defenders miss; h is hard running style makes him a good matchup vs. physical defenses. Morris consistently forced the Ravens’ backers to commit as he pressed the hole. On the first play of the game, for example, he got on the heels of his O-linemen, forcing the ‘backers to flow hard that way and then Morris cut back for a 29-yard gain. On his one-yard touchdown run, the linebacker filled the hole, but Morris fell forward to the inside to cross the goal-line. Morris also upended a blitzing linebacker with a cut block. Finally, I loved the second-half run in which linebacker Jameel McClain was in position as Morris came through the hole. But Morris lowered his shoulder as McClain tried to wrap his legs. But McClain could not drive into him because he bounced off his shoulder and Morris gained another eight yards.
QB Robert Griffin III: He wasn’t spectacular, but he was very good and despite some pressure, Griffin took care of the ball with no turnovers. And he gutted out the last drive. Without his scramble on a botched play – see below with Evan Royster – the Redskins likely don’t win the game and would have faced a third and long. After returning from the injury Griffin, with a right leg on which he could not plant, delivered two nice passes for 37 yards. Heck, on the final play if Will Montgomery does not snap early, Griffin might have been able to deliver to an open Logan Paulsen over the middle (with the Ravens blitzing). Earlier, Griffin extended the play in the red zone and finished with a scoring pass to Joshua Morgan (he also missed an open Leonard Hankerson in part, I wonder, because he did not get his hips around while throwing on the run to the left). On that same drive he threw a perfect pass to Pierre Garcon while being hit. There were times he was a little inconsistent with his footwork and I didn’t like the two-handed pitch. Honestly, I debated long and hard (with myself, of course) for putting him as a Stud. But his presence always must be factored in because of how it creates opportunities for all. He completely screws with the defenders’ eyes.
PR Richard Crawford: Look who ended up on the offensive list? The Redskins deactivated Brandon Banks to see what Crawford could do as a punt returner. I liked what Crawford did in the preseason in this role and he showed once more that he can do it well, with three returns for 100 yards (or 78 fewer yards than Banks has had on his 26 returns). Crawford is more decisive with his cuts. He lacks Banks’ breakaway speed, but Crawford made good decisions on each punt return (I know, the rule is not to field the ball inside the 10, as he did, but: it was a long punt and when he fielded the ball nobody was within five yards). On that punt, he made a move and cut upfield, and made another defender miss for a 20-yard gain. On the 64-yarder, he also made a defender miss and used a block by Keiland Williams to clear the last path. Perhaps Brandon Banks scores on that one, but all I know is that Banks has just two punt returns for 20 yards or more. That’s how many Crawford had in one game.
PK Kai Forbath: His kickoffs aren’t good. Low line drives lead to big returns and the Ravens had one for 38 yards. Returners are able to sometimes get a running start before catching the ball. But this kid is clutch and now has made 14 straight field goals to start his career. Here’s what’s most impressive: nine of his 14 field goals have been between 43-50 yards. He’s not just hitting chip shots. Without Forbath drilling a 48- and then 49-yarder in the third quarter, there are no last-minute heroics. He needs to keep working on kickoffs and I’m surprised those low liners haven’t hurt them more (major credit to the coverage unit), but the automatic three points is making a difference each week.
LT Trent Williams: You have to credit the line for doing a solid job overall, especially in the run game, and Williams was the most consistent of the front five. Others did well in one area (or not at all), but Williams had a solid day in the ground game and as a blocker. He was beaten in the fourth quarter and it would have been a sack had another defender not arrived to Griffin first. But Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger both did a good job in the run with their combo blocks and Williams ability to reach the linebackers and execute his blocks helped.
KR/TE Niles Paul: He’s one of my favorites simply because of his attitude and willingness to do whatever. I did not think he’d be a stud tight end right away by any means. It takes time. But I understand the position switch and I know why the Redskins want to keep guys like this around. But he did not have his best game. I’m overlooking the penalty on special teams for a good reason. He didn’t interfere with the returner; he never touched him. But his fumble on the kick return was inches from ending the game. Had it been recovered in bounds, as it nearly was, then the Redskins are almost assuredly 6-7 and hanging on for dear life. He also slipped and dropped another pass at tight end. Chris Cooley played more than he did in the second half. I don’t know if that was because of some dissatisfaction or what, but that is what occurred.
…Right tackle Tyler Polumbus allowed more pressure than I’m sure he would have liked. His run blocking wasn’t bad as he was able to seal the end on occasion and get to the linebackers. On the play in which Polumbus allowed a sack, left tackle Trent Williams also was beaten and his man jumped in on the tackle. Chris Chester also was beaten on the play. Polumbus was beaten first, but he was far from alone on this breakdown. But Polumbus allowed more pressure than just that one time. On at least one pressure allowed he was too upright, causing him to be driven back. Still inconsistent.
…Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger did an excellent job in the run game, consistently turning his man or getting to the linebacker. His only problems came on drop-backs in which he needed to anchor against bigger linemen. That’ll always be a problem for him because of his size, so you should expect some pressure allowed. But ‘Steiger definitely helped as a run blocker.
…Tight end Logan Paulsen has slowed down. He’s caught a combined five passes in the past four games, though with the receivers starting to contribute more – and with Griffin throwing downfield a bit more – it hasn’t held back the offense. Paulsen is committing too many penalties: he had two more in this game and now seven for the season. But of those seven penalties, six have occurred in the last six games. That’s too many. Paulsen allowed Haloti Ngata to get around him for a sack, but the play took 4.2 seconds because of slow-developing routes that ended up covered.
…One reason Johnson might have jumped at the pump fake to Moss on the out-and-in? It was the same route Garcon ran on the third and 6 that resulted in pass interference. The corner who committed the penalty? Johnson. It’s a route the Redskins often run in key situations.
…I don’t understand why the Ravens didn’t bring more pressure after Griffin hurt his leg. On the next three passes, with a QB throwing all upper body and hobbling downfield, the Ravens rushed just four defenders. On the botched snap, a linebacker did blitz, though I don’t know if that was because of the ill-timed snap or because he was supposed to rush (I think it was the latter). But the Ravens did bring a good amount of pressure earlier in the game. Maybe they didn’t notice how injured he was on those plays, though that’s a little tough to believe. It also looked like the official, as he walked down the field with Griffin, was asking him if he was OK.
…I like how the Redskins use fullback Darrel Young in the passing game. You can look at his numbers and say he could do even more. But this is a less-is-more philosophy. Newman was a great bit character on Seinfeld, but would he have been as good had he been the centerpiece of the show? No. The Redskins’ offense works because they get the ball downfield to playmakers. And the way they’re using Young has turned him into an effective occasional weapon. It goes back to fooling a defense’s eyes and when throwing to him off a zone read fake it’s even more effective.
On his 28-yard catch Sunday, for example, by the time the linebacker realizes it’s a pass, Young already is a step behind him. Griffin makes a perfect pass to Young down the seam. Young typically is open when he catches the ball because the defense must focus first on Morris and then on Griffin.
…Running back Evan Royster had an excellent blitz pickup, upending a blitzing Ed Reed on a third and four in the third quarter. The pass was incomplete, but Royster did a good job. However, on Griffin’s scramble in which he got hurt Royster was either supposed to go to the flat or pick up the blitzing linebacker. He started to go out on the route, then saw the linebacker and tried to get back inside. In the end, he was unable to do much of anything.
…On the sixth play of the game, you see how just a little movement creates a problem for a defense. Garcon motioned from split right into the backfield. This caused safety Bernard Pollard to widen a half-step. But on the play, a zone read handoff to the left to Morris, Pollard froze. He looked at Morris, back at Griffin and then back at Morris. By the time he realized Morris had the ball it was too late. The rookie was past him for a six-yard gain. Oh, yeah, Pollard definitely led with his helmet on the sideline tackle attempt of a sliding Griffin. Not sure there was really any doubt about that, was there?
…The Ravens did send two players on some zone read runs, but it was not a constant. And the one time they did it still could have resulted in a big play had Griffin and Morris been able to execute a pitch on the third and 1 in the second quarter. Morris had plenty of room to run, with blockers on the only two defenders on that side of the field.
…Leonard Hankerson played one of his better games in a while; still not a Stud, but he had a productive day. He was, finally, a visible part of the passing attack as he finished with four catches – his most since the Oct. 21 loss at New York. And the four catches matched his total from the previous three games combined. He should have had a touchdown catch, but Griffin threw high and behind him in the end zone; the ball glanced off Hankerson’s hands, but it was not a drop.
All of his catches came vs. zone coverage. Hankerson ran a nice route on the third-and-6 catch in the fourth quarter to extend the game-tying drive. And he caught a 15-yarder in which all he had to do was cut inside on a post; nobody impeded his path and he found the open area.
…After the game Crawford credited Jerome Murphy with a key block on his punt return. But Murphy didn’t actually block anyone on the punt, save for grazing a defender before the ball was caught. (Can’t blame Crawford for not knowing; he was sort of busy on the play). The guy who cleared the final path? Keiland Williams. Murphy wears 45; Williams wears 25. Williams was close to a block in the back; but the defender turns right before getting hit so no penalty should have been called.
…The Ravens did a good job of taking away the zone read pass in the second half. There were at least two times where they defended this well, mainly because their inside linebackers did not bite hard on fakes. They were helped the first time the Redskins ran this in the third quarter by the situation: a second and 13 from the Washington 11-yard line. But the Redskins have fooled teams in those spots in previous games. Not this time and the linebackers drops took away the passing lanes. Not that Baltimore took care of it every time; Hankerson caught a 17-yard pass off a zone read fake on their second possession of the third quarter.
…Early in the game the Redskins ran a different variation of the zone read pass. Typically, they’ll throw over the middle off this fake. But in the first half they sent both receivers on deep outside routes. Baltimore’s defense, though, was disciplined and the corners, who shaded both wideouts to the outside from the start, took away the pass. Their safeties were in a cover-2. Griffin was forced to hold the ball and was eventually sacked. By the way, the linebackers bit hard on the fake so the middle was open. But I understand why they sent them outside; a little variety on the routes.
…Still love watching the zone read handoffs because of the defensive players’ reactions. On the first play of the game, Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger sprinted upfield fast, racing inside at Morris. Then Kruger turned toward Griffin – too bad Morris had the ball.
…Another effect of the zone read: On Santana Moss’ 31-yard catch, corner Corey Graham, assigned to him, spent too much time looking in the backfield at the fake. Again, by the time he realized it wasn’t a run, Moss had a step to the inside. And with the linebackers scrambling to get into coverage, it was another easy catch-and-run.