Redskins vs. Saints: Ten observations

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

1. One game sets a tone for the season; it doesn’t define it. Nor does it always serve as an accurate foreshadowing. The Redskins know this. Said it the other day but one difference between this year’s team and Mike Shanahan’s other two is that they didn’t spend training camp talking about how different things were and why this time was different than the other umpteen years those words have been uttered. Instead, they got ready and played ball. Maybe having a QB who can play the way Griffin does enabled them to perhaps take an approach that, finally, lets their actions do the talking. They know they have a guy in charge who works hard and has terrific ability. Veterans know that’s a recipe for success and that it’s a matter of time. It’s way too early to say that time is now, but as Griffin matures it’s hard to see him doing anything other than taking this team along for quite a ride. The Redskins went 3-1 last year, but no win ever felt like this one. OK, maybe the Giants game had people giddy, but at the most important position you knew they still lagged behind other teams. The hope was in a miracle. This year Griffin provides the hope.

1A. OK, that’s enough on RG3. He has his own report.

2. Talked to one talent evaluator after the last preseason game and his take on Alfred Morris was that his preseason success would carry over. I agreed. It did. Morris is not a flashy runner, but he carries the ball with an attitude. I can’t say what I would call his second TD run because, well, I can’t use those words in print. But there are two of them, one of which is unprintable. The other is a pronoun. Translated, that run said, ‘Kind sir, you are not going to stop me or my team today; please move. Now.’ Point is, Morris brings a punch to the offense. They’ve added playmakers, which usually means speed and finesse. Morris is not that sort of guy. But he complements this style well and showed Sunday that he could deliver a blow (which he showed this summer too). Of his 28 carries, only two lost yardage (and one came on the final series). His longest run was 18 yards so there was a lot of consistent grind-it-out runs. It wasn’t a pretty ground game, but three yards on first down goes a long way.  But I liked his vision and he continues to get yards after contact. When the line finally gave him some cutback lanes he was able to get better gains. On the 18-yard run Morris ran an inside zone, cut back and around the end and broke a tackle. Next play: Roy Helu seemed to blow an opportunity for a good outside run. Tyler Polumbus and Niles Paul had the edge sealed, yet he cut inside. Not sure why.

3. Anyway, as for Morris, he’s a blue-collar runner in a growing white-collar offense. Good to have a back like him around. Tough to say how good he’ll be, but he more than helped in his debut. Like Griffin, he didn’t shrink from the moment. Heck, just look at the offense and how many young guys contributed: Griffin, Morris, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Williams. Those were key players. Then you had role players such as Niles Paul and Pierre Garcon is only 25 years old himself. It’s not just Griffin who’s going to get better.  The line, too, did a solid job. It’s hard to say how good until watching the game again and I think they were helped by the fakes and confusion in the Saints’ defense. The cutback lanes weren’t there early. But they certainly weren’t a problem. As has been stated: the scheme and a quarterback who makes quick decision can help the line. And: Kyle Shanahan stuck with the run game and that helped too. A balanced attack, which isn’t surprising given the score and the need to control the clock. The other key to that was getting touchdowns and four of the six trips inside the 20 that’s what happened.

4. Speaking of Robinson and Garcon…. The Redskins finally appear to have some playmakers. Maybe Robinson doesn’t become a star, but he is a threat and he does add something to this offense that had been lacking. Same with Garcon. Both have good speed. Add Griffin into that mix and now you have three players who threaten a defense. No, I haven’t forgotten Fred Davis either. Two years ago – heck, last year for that matter – this was a slow offense. No longer. Davis had a 26-yard catch; Robinson had a 29-yard grab and drew a 32-yard pass interference penalty and Garcon had his 88-yard grab. Even Helu had a 21-yard catch and run. The Redskins the past two years made the majority of their plays down the middle of the field in the 18-yard range. Sunday, thanks to speed that’s spread out, they could attack different areas of the field.

5. Field position matters, especially when you’re facing a high-powered offense. I don’t care how good a team is, if they’re forced to drive 80 yards to score consistently, it’s tough. You can thank Billy Cundiff and his eight kickoffs, only one of which was returned past the 20. Sure enough, the Saints started nine of their 12 drives at their own 20 yard line or worse. They scored 17 points off those drives, a tremendous advantage for the Redskins. Meanwhile, Washington started five of its 13 drives from the 20 or worse. The Redskins did score 10 points off those five series, one being the 88-yard strike to Garcon. Oh, and the Saints had five three-and-outs. They had only 23 such plays last season.

6. Major kudos to the defense for not only the game plan but also for the execution. Even on plays that resulted in big gains, the Redskins had tight coverage. London Fletcher was “beaten” by tight end Jimmy Graham twice for long gains. I put beaten in quotes because he was anything but. Fletcher had terrific coverage and forced a perfect pass. But he’s 5-foot-10 and Graham is 6-foot-7. But it wasn’t just him. It was DeJon Gomes in the flats and downfield at safety, using his eyes well on the interception. He read Drew Brees, broke well on the ball and took advantage of the overthrow. They did a terrific job of covering running back Darren Sproles, who had 35 yards on five catches – but 17 came on one play. It was one of the few times he broke free from coverage. He also caught a touchdown pass in which linebacker Perry Riley had no chance, falling for a fake inside as Sproles then cut wide. But Fletcher made his usual excellent read and then broke up a pass to him inside the 5.

7. Anyway, more on the game plan. It’s tough to confuse a quarterback such as Drew Brees. But if nothing else they forced him to hesitate and disrupt his rhythm. The Saints had zero rhythm in the first half and really didn’t find it until the fourth quarter. The Redskins provided him different looks, blitzed him – DeAngelo Hall got a sack, coming from the slot – and stayed aggressive. There are two schools of thought when facing Brees: let him try and dink-and-dunk his way downfield by playing zone and keeping everything underneath. Or be aggressive, force him to try and go long and then apply pressure. That’s what the Redskins did with their man coverage schemes. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan switched sides often – Kerrigan even rushed with his hand down on one pressure (hasn’t done that much). The Redskins were aggressive in the past, but sometimes the coverage didn’t match. It did Sunday. Is that Raheem Morris’ influence? Maybe. They still gave up six pass plays of 20 yards or more. But, again, in most cases the coverage was sound and there was little yards after the catch.

8. Cedric Griffin was criticized for his play this summer, but Jim Haslett said Thursday how excited he was to see him play. Griffin responded with a strong game. He was turned around by Marques Colston near the end of the first half. But not only did he quickly get back into the play, he knocked the ball free for a touchback. Griffin overall played a solid game.

9. The Redskins had some issues. The blocked punt obviously was one of them. It appeared Chris Wilson blocked down on the play and the Saints rusher came right through his alley. Others were engaged in blocks; upback Reed Doughty went inside and Darrel Young stayed wide. I know the Danny Smith angst will start all over again and there’s no doubt he needs to get this fixed. Speaking of special teams, Cundiff was perfect on four field goals, none of which looked to be anything but dead perfect down the middle. And a give credit to long snapper Nick Sundberg for continuing to play despite a broken arm… Back to some negatives: I also didn’t like some of the costly penalties, a block in the back by Helu on a long catch-and-run by Santana Moss; a personal foul on DeJon Gomes; a personal foul on Madieu Williams.

10. The defensive line did an excellent job getting some push up the middle. Stephen Bowen played a strong game and Barry Cofield got into the backfield on occasion. Bowen’s play was probably stronger vs. the run than the pass, but time and again he seemed to move guard Ben Grubbs back a yard or two off the snap, forcing the backs to cut much sooner than desired. Bowen did knock down two passes, thanks in part to penetration. Linebacker Brian Orakpo batted down three, one of which should have been intercepted. But two others came at the line. The Redskins did a good job collapsing the pocket up the middle vs. Brees. A couple times it resulted in high throws, such as the one to Gomes that was intercepted. For one of the few times Brees’ size finally worked against him.

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John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner