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Redskins vs. Steelers: Studs and Duds (offense)

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

Studs

 

RT Tyler Polumbus. Nobody has improved up front as much as Polumbus over the last month, though, in truth, no one had as far to go, either. But he’s done a much better job lately of staying balanced in the pass rush. The only legitimate pressure he surrendered occurred on the flea flicker against LaMarr Woodley. But Polumbus had some really good stretches, especially in the third. He did a good job blocking backside on a few occasions. He drove Woodley out on a screen to the right, allowing Joshua Morgan to cut inside (for not much gain). On the last play of the third quarter he buried Woodley, who tried to cut inside him after starting upfield, but had no leverage and lost his balance. Finally, in the fourth quarter. Liked how he aggressively met Woodley on a couple rushes, just to change things up a little bit.

On the deep ball to Niles Paul, the action of the play helps Polumbus gain an advantage. But once Woodley realizes it’s a pass and tries to bull rush him, then get inside, Polumbus is in complete control. Polumbus did a good job anticipating what Woodley wanted to do, like on a third and six in the first quarter. Woodley lines up wide and takes off wide. Polumbus is patient; has his arms locked tight and once contact is made keeps a strong base.

RG Chris Chester. Really, the entire line did a solid job against a good defensive front. There were some issues, but there should be against one of the NFL’s best defenses. But Chester didn’t have any major breakdowns and was consistent in winning his battles. He helped seal the inside on Darrel Young’s 10-yard run; he picked up James Harrison when he looped from right outside linebacker through Chester’s area; he drove out a defensive lineman (couldn’t get the number) after a combo block on a five-yard gain and he was solid on the backside. He got to the second level enough to be effective vs. Lawrence Timmons a couple times. On a six-yard Morris run to the right, Chester blocked down, spun out and took care of Foote to create extra yards. Chester’s blemish was losing his block on the QB draw inside the 10, which led to a missed potential TD.

Duds

WR Leonard Hankerson. It’s been an up-and-down season for Hankerson, but this was not one of his better games. If you’re going to start, you’d best do more than one catch for 16 yards. He would have, too, if not for a drop right before the goal-line in the first quarter for what would have been an easy score. The ball was right there, but Hankerson failed to make the catch. He had another chance to make a play, but wasn’t looking for the ball. There was another play that’s hard to tell where the ball hit (on the third and 17 late in the game) so it’s tough to say whether or not he should have caught the low pass. 

WR Dez Briscoe. Yep, one play. But he’s had issues with drops this season, albeit in limited duty, and they showed up again Sunday. It was a tough catch because there was a defender’s arm in front of him. But it’s not as if every catch in the NFL is completely clean. Receivers separate themselves by their ability to make all sorts of catches and Briscoe hasn’t done that – especially not on this play in the end zone. The Redskins recovered from this drop, but that’s not because of Briscoe. He did make a catch later, but he can add value in the red zone – not just because of fades, but because of his size and ability to get position on corners – if he makes plays such as this one.


RB Evan Royster. He doesn’t get many opportunities so when he does he must take advantage. Royster didn’t capitalize on one thrown his way (see below) that might have resulted in a first down. Royster also failed to pick up a blitz leading to a sack of Griffin. He lunged at linebacker Larry Foote and lost balance.  And on a screen pass to Joshua Morgan, Royster couldn’t sustain his block against defensive back Curtis Brown. Morgan only gained two yards in part because of it. This did not prevent a long gain, but it was a third and 12 and if Morgan breaks one tackle after the first wave it could be a first down.

 

Notes

…Decided at the last minute not to put receiver Santana Moss on the Dud list. The reality is he at least made some plays in key spots that did not make up for his drops, but at least he contributed offensively. He did catch a touchdown pass with a good, patient route underneath, working off fellow receiver Joshua Morgan. And he caught a fourth-down pass for a first down.  Another catch came on a third down. So three of his four grabs resulted in first downs.  But Moss also symbolized the drop issue and near misses. If he’s going to be Robert Griffin III’s trusted target, then he can’t afford games like Sunday. Moss dropped two passes that would have resulted in first downs (see below). Another pass was thrown to him that was low and it’s tough to tell if he should have caught the ball. And the fourth and 17 pass (again, see below) was catchable, not that it would have mattered.

…The line continues to do a solid job and is developing into a solid unit. But you also have to credit the play designs and the reality of having a multi-threat quarterback. It absolutely slows the rush down when defenders aren’t sure if they can rush or how hard. The Redskins kept the rush away with bootlegs and rollouts and play-action passes. They don’t force the line to often sit in a pocket and pass protect.

…Why does that leak pass work so well with the tight ends? It completely messes with the eyes of the defense. It worked once with Niles Paul catching it for 37 yards (off a different action than when Logan Paulsen dropped his). On the play, there are five Steelers defenders on the side of the field Paul is headed. None of them see Paul. It appears the Steelers are in a cover-3 so the corner on the right side takes Hankerson running a go-route; that also occupies the safety. The linebacker in the flat isn’t aware of Paul and instead is focused on Joshua Morgan, having faked an end around. The two inside linebackers read Griffin and drop as he starts to throw toward Paul. If you’re playing zone in basketball and there’s a cutter you don’t see, it doesn’t matter that you know where the man with the ball is. The guy he wants to hit is open. Same as on this play. A well-designed play. There’s so much going on it’s tough to notice the backside tight end.

…Liked Paulsen’s day for the most part, aside from the two false start penalties. He was moved back on one block, but was overall solid. I honestly am surprised how much he’s improved over last year. The staff deserves a good job for seeing something in him early on and keeping him around, but he also deserves credit for how he works to improve. Guys like this become solid contributors for a number of years.

…The Redskins used an unbalanced line – to both sides — on a couple of occasions. They had Polumbus line up at left tackle, between Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger, with Paulsen next to Chester. Both inside linebackers stayed to the defense’s right side, anticipating the play coming that way. This enabled Paulsen and Chester to seal the inside so fullback Darrel Young could slip through the right side for 10 yards.

The next time they used an unbalanced line occurred in the fourth quarter, on the failed screen to Paulsen, this time aligned next to Lichtensteiger on the left side with Williams next to Polumbus on the right. But the Steelers weren’t fooled at all and did not overcommit to the Redskins’ right side as end Brett Keisel slid and stayed in the middle and read Griffin, breaking to Paulsen.

Alfred Morris didn’t have enough carries to get Stud status (13) but he did gain 59 yards and had a solid day. Morris’ physical running style is a good match for the Steelers’ defense. That’s not to say they abandoned the run too early– when you trail by 18 in the fourth quarter, you can only run so many times (and they in fact ran on three of the first four plays in the fourth). But he was having a solid day — he also picked up a blitz on the failed deep ball to Paulsen.

…The flea flicker midway through the fourth quarter. Initially I thought this play had no shot. The safeties didn’t bite on the deep ball so getting the ball to Aldrick Robinson down the middle would have been tough. However, the guy who appeared to be coming free was Briscoe. The NFL Game Rewind’s All-22 isn’t up yet so it’s hard to tell how open he was. But you can see Briscoe free around the Pittsburgh 35 as Griffin is forced up into the pocket with pressure off both edges.  The key is that linebacker Larry Foote had to hesitate after the flea flicker action and that opened up an area for receiver Dez Briscoe to catch a pass, had it come. Would he have scored? Tough to say, but he would have gained a lot of yards.  What I’m not sure of is this: Could Griffin just stepped up in the pocket and kept his eyes downfield? If he had, he’d have spotted Briscoe. Again, the angle on the TV replay makes it tough to know how close the rush was to him – inches or feet.

…The zone read fooled linebacker James Harrison twice in three plays at the start of the fourth quarter. The first time occurred on third and 3 when he ran right at Griffin and wrapped him up – just after he handed the ball off to Morris for a six-yard gain. Two plays later Harrison played it differently, not coming upfield. But he still leaned toward his right after the handoff, as if playing for Griffin. That was enough hesitation to keep a hole open for Morris en route to 11 yards.

…A zone read fake fooled the linebackers on the first play of the next series. The two inside ‘backers as well as a safety bit hard on it and they looked awkward trying to get back into coverage. Foote, for example, opens his hips to his right, then turns his back to the play, then he opens his hips the other way before turning back around. The inside ‘backer on the right, Lawrence Timmons, momentarily drifted to his right because Morgan ran a fake end around. That created enough of a gap for Griffin to throw a 16-yard strike to Hankerson. Earlier in the game, Foote had dropped perfectly on a second-and-12 despite a fake and it prevented Griffin from hitting Hankerson; instead, he rolled left and threw it away.

…OK, so there were a lot of drops/missed opportunities. But not every drop was the same. Here’s a look at those that would qualify and their impact on the game:

1. Second and 6, Steelers’ 23-yard line, first quarter. Griffin rolls to his right and throws a perfect pass to Hankerson in stride. But right before he reaches the end zone Hankerson drops the ball as he turned his head upfield too soon (a common culprit for him; it’s not his hands, it’s his eyes/focus).

The impact: It obviously would have been a touchdown, but the Redskins still scored a touchdown on this drive. So it did not cost them points.

2. First and 10, Steelers’ 14-yard line, first quarter. Griffin froze the safety on the right side with a play-fake to Alfred Morris out of the pistol formation. He stuck a pass to Briscoe that could have been caught. It wasn’t as bad as Hankerson’s because corner Keenan Lewis had his hand in Briscoe’s line of vision. But it still should have been caught.

The impact: Again, another lost touchdown. Again, it’s the same series as Hankerson’s drop so the Redskins still scored six points.

3. First and 10, Redskins’ 37-yard line, second quarter. Griffin checks down to tight end Chris Cooley at the 40-yard line. It’s hard to consider this a drop considering the safety arrived just as the ball did. Cooley got his hands on it, yes, but this was not like the others. There are a couple examples like this.

The impact: They would have gained three yards. The Redskins did not get a first down on this series and punted.

4. First and 10, Redskins’ 23, second quarter. Griffin hits Royster on the screen pass. A simple case of the drops.

The impact: Hard to tell because the safety, Will Allen, is on the outside and after Royster misses it, Allen comes up and would have tackled him. However, had Royster caught the ball cleanly from the get-go, he had guard Kory Lichtensteiger to obscure Allen and a cutback lane available with center Will Montgomery blocking another defender about 10 yards away. Royster might have picked up a first down. Instead, a three-and-out as you’ll see from the next two drops.

5. Second and 10, Redskins’ 23, second quarter. Quite a series. Griffin throws high to Joshua Morgan, causing him to jump. He’s hit as the ball arrives, jarring it free. Yeah the throw was a little off; yeah it could have been caught. Sometimes the defenders make a play. I’ve heard once or twice – or a hundred times – that they get paid, too.

The impact: Morgan would have gained six yards, but unless he broke free that would have been all.

6. Third and 10, Redskins’ 23, second quarter. Three in a row. Griffin stands in the pocket, then slides to his right, keeping his eyes downfield. He hits Moss on an out route about 13 yards downfield. Had Griffin led him, Moss could have turned upfield for more. But the pass was behind and Moss dropped the ball. Should have been caught.

The impact: Moss would have gotten a first down if nothing else. Instead they punted. So this qualifies as a bad drop.

7. First and 15, Redskins’ 26, third quarter. Moss runs a crossing route and is open at the 38-yard line. The Steelers’ defensive discipline vs. the bootleg hurts Washington here as Griffin can’t put as much on the throw with pressure coming at him. The ball is low and Moss can’t pull it in.

The impact: If it’s up, and he catches it on the move, it’s an easy first down.  The Redskins fail to pick up a first down. Another key miss.

8. First and 10, Steelers’ 29, fourth quarter. Griffin off play-action throws deep to the end zone for receiver Aldrick Robinson against corner Keenan Lewis. If the pass is thrown a little more to the back, then Robinson’s speed would have made a bigger difference. But Lewis has his right arm on Robinson’s left arm; he might have prevented him from being able to use both hands to reign in the pass. This is not a classic drop, but it is a missed chance and, again, guys who make these plays end up making a lot of money.

The impact: No points. When you’re down 18, that matters. The Redskins had to settle for a field goal on this drive.

9. Second and 11, Steelers’ 19, fourth quarter.  Three plays after Robinson’s miss, Morgan had one of his own.  Griffin, in shotgun, looks right and then back to the middle where Morgan is running a route. But pressure off the right side – an unblocked Foote is bearing down on him – forces Griffin to slide a little to his left and throw back to the middle. The pass is a little behind Morgan, who nonetheless could have caught the ball. He doesn’t. Give the Steelers credit: They caught the Redskins with five blockers against six rushers.

The impact: Morgan was at the 17-yard line and likely would have picked up a few more yards. It did not cost them points, but it would have set up a better third down situation. Next play: sack.

10. Third and four, Redskins’ 43, fourth quarter. Griffin throws a quick pass to Moss at the Steelers’ 49-yard line. Moss jumps, but is able to catch it in the middle of his body. But he’s hit as he cradles the ball and it’s jarred free.

The impact: It cost the Redskins time as much as anything. The Redskins picked up a first down on the next play. However, it took them another minute to go past where Moss was when he dropped the ball. A huge impact? Not really because the Redskins didn’t score on this drive and they managed to continue the series.

11. First and 10, Redskins’ 37, fourth quarter. Griffin is under duress on another bootleg and must elude LaMarr Woodley deep in the backfield. He does, but then more pressure is coming so he flings the ball to Darrel Young while going into a slide. It’s slightly behind Young, but that’s understandable given the pressure. Young drops the ball.

The impact: Young dropped the ball at the 35; he might have gotten to the 40 before the Steelers would have had a tackle attempt. The Redskins still drove downfield so it wasn’t a big impact.

12. First and 10, Steelers’ 17, fourth quarter. This isn’t a drop, but it’s the same as one. Hankerson runs a shallow crossing route but doesn’t look for the ball until the last second, almost as if he wasn’t anything other than a decoy. He puts up his left hand just as the ball crosses his face.

The impact: Hankerson would have caught the ball at the 15 with room to run. He might have been able to pick up a first down. So this was another key miss as the Redskins ended up failing to get another first down and turned the ball over on downs.

13. Fourth and 17, fourth quarter. Three plays after Hankerson’s miss came another. This time Griffin threw to a covered Moss, who couldn’t hang onto the ball. A tough catch in traffic, but it hit his hands.

The impact: None. Had Moss caught the ball he had two defenders on him and would have been stopped two yards shy of a first down. One way or another the Steelers were getting the ball back.

 

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