Steelers 27, Redskins 12: Ten Observations

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

 

  1. The Redskins’ defensive failures are an organizational failure. They wanted to build a 3-4 defense that was ultra-aggressive, modeling them after Pittsburgh. But if you want to blame talent as the problem, then you can only do one thing after that: blame the guys bringing in that talent. But all I heard from scouts and other evaluators before the season was how much they liked their front seven. A good front seven should be enough to cover up certain sins. The Steelers did not have their best player in the secondary (safety Troy Polamalu) yet they still shut down the Redskins. Heck, Ryan Clark is very good vs. the run, but not as strong against the pass. So you can make the case that the only other strong starter in this group is corner Ike Taylor. Yet the Steelers still flourish. The Redskins do not. They don’t hang their hats lately on shutting teams down; rather, they hang it on not giving up a ton of points to good offenses – New Orleans, New York. Everyone wants to blame the cap penalties. OK, that hurt. But how many times were they hurt by their signings in the past? So there’s no guarantee anything in free agency would have worked. Maybe it would have, but to only blame that is just wrong. I think if we’ve learned anything in the Dan Snyder era it’s that free agency is not the cure all.
  2. Talked to a very knowledgeable NFL guy after the game and his point summed up some differences between the teams. The Redskins and Steelers run the same defense, right? Well, this person said that’s true only to a point. The Steelers are much more basic on early downs and it shows in their execution. While they will change things up and they will blitz a lot, most of their so-called exotic looks come on third down. They rarely learn anything new. It’s a major key to why they execute so well. That, and having a top nose tackle in Casey Hampton – who had major penetration early in the game to cause a loss. This person didn’t think either secondary was anything special and actually thought the Redskins front three was better. But they have Hampton. The Steelers also have a big front and did a good job diagnosing plays and causing problems. The Redskins hit them a couple times but could not stick with the run because of the score. I did like how physical the Steelers played them; probably more than any other D this year. I will say, Alfred Morris matched their physical style. I have a feeling he likes that sort of game.
  3. Back to the differences. An NFL source said it’s the difference between having a philosophy and just installing a system.  The Steelers, the source said, have a philosophy. Is that fair? When you’re not going well anything is fair. You want to blame coordinator Jim Haslett? Go ahead. This isn’t about one game or one play. It’s now about a body of work. This defense does not come close to comparing to the Gregg Williams’ units. In my time covering the Redskins, that group was as prepared as any. Yes, they got burned at times but could you imagine that D with this quarterback?
  4. Let’s look at the last 16 games. It’s not pretty. And I’ll just go by the most important stat: points allowed. In that time the Redskins have allowed 17 or more points 15 times. Defenses that want to flirt with being a top-10 unit don’t do anything like that – you can’t just blame injuries to Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, either, because the defense was healthy in the front seven all of last season. There’s more: they’ve allowed 25 or more points 11 times. Eleven! Maybe the offense contributed to that last season by not sustaining drives or scoring enough or putting them in bad spots with turnovers. Well, the Redskins are scoring more, not turning the ball over … and the defense is still giving up points. The fewest points they’ve allowed this year is 22. There’s just no proof that they’re improving.  They’ve played better games than others and they’ll look good for stretches, but rarely for an entire game. Something isn’t working, though I think you’re smart enough to know that already.
  5. Last word on the defensive side of the ball. Talked to someone last week who is very familiar with DeAngelo Hall and, though he liked him, he said there’s no way he should be one of your team leaders. Here’s what he told me for my email report:  “He thinks he’s a leader. He plays hard and he’s not a rabble rouser, but he has a way he wants to do it and nobody is strong enough to force him to do it the way it should be done.” You can’t lose your cool, even on a day where there’s a lot of frustration. I know people don’t necessarily care about this, but Hall has been a stand-up guy. He initially did not want to talk to the media after the game, but did so (he would have been fined by the league for refusing). He did not address questions about his incident in which he was ejected from the game after a profanity-laced tirade at an official. In eight games the Redskins have had a late-game incident three times. That’s too much.
  6. I know the special teams again had issues, but when it comes to the kicking game it’s tough to blame a coach for a placekicker who kicks way too low or a punter who shanks one 12 yards. The problem is the same as it is with Haslett. When things have been going wrong for a while, nobody gets cut any slack for any mishap.
  7. Ten drops is an unbelievable amount and for any player to simply blame it on the rain is just wrong. Leonard Hankerson dropped the ball for the same reason he does so in dry weather: he turned his head up too soon. That’s just one and perhaps a ball or two was dropped because it was a little wet, but it’s not like we’re talking a driving rainstorm. Aren’t those gloves supposed to help? But what was noticeable about the Redskins’ receivers compared to Pittsburgh’s: speed. The Steelers have it (one of their drops came when Antonio Brown ran away from Hall on a crossing route). With Pierre Garcon out, Aldrick Robinson’s speed would be welcomed. So, too, would Brandon Banks’. But neither plays much and it makes you wonder. With Banks, his hands are an issue and his plays have come when he’s been in the backfield, not really at receiver. With Robinson, I have to believe there are other issues with him developing as a receiver. His speed keeps him around, but it’s clear they don’t view him as a full-time solution. Still, while the offense can get guys open, sometimes you just need a fast guy to get the ball in his hands and make a play. Like the Steelers did. Speed scares any coordinator or defensive back.
  8. Just a wild thought, but a flea flicker down by 15 late in the game against a defense that has shown itself to be disciplined is probably not the best call. I’ve praised, quite often, the play-calling and have enjoyed watching this offense. But you’re in a situation where they don’t care about the run and don’t want to give up big plays. Sure enough, the safeties didn’t bite on the fake. Next play: a tight end screen in which the Steelers, again, were disciplined and didn’t fall for any of the fakes. They’re disciplined. The pass to Griffin? I’ve seen that work in the past – and if it had worked Sunday you would have heard what a great call it was. But the Steelers were in a zone which caused it to fail. It also put their quarterback in a vulnerable spot. Maybe with a quarterback who doesn’t run quite as often as Griffin it would have had a better chance. I think when Griffin starts moving toward the line, you have to keep an eye on him. This also happened to be a game where Griffin seemed to get hit a lot. In hindsight, of course you don’t like the call. It almost needs to be said not to throw the ball if they’re in a zone – or unless he’s wide open. Again, why force your QB to be a receiver fighting defensive backs anxious to pummel him? Joshua Morgan might have been able to pick up the first down (it was third and four) had he checked Griffin, then tucked and ran to the right. There were defenders; there were also blockers.
  9. As for Griffin, his full game was not in view. The Redskins just aren’t ready against a defense such as this to line up and try to have him under center quite often. His passes were a little off at times, but they weren’t that far off to cause him to be 16 of 34, as he was. I did like his pass to Santana Moss on the fourth down for a touchdown. I liked how patient Moss was at the line, as he must be, and how decisive Griffin was in looking for him. I know Moss had a drop and had another ball jarred free, but he’s still a trustworthy option for Griffin. There were times Griffin caused hesitation in the ‘backers or ends with his fakes, but 10 drops will kill any offense. I’m anxious to watch the game again to see how the Steelers dealt with him – his longest run was seven yards, it came because the end was too slow to get him.
  10. The Redskins can recover from games like this, though it always seems worse because of how thorough the beating was. Pittsburgh was in control and the Redskins can say they would have been in it had they scored on their one drive late in the game. But they didn’t score so they weren’t in it. But if the Redskins can win vs. Carolina next week and be 4-5 heading into the bye week. That’s about what most realistic expectations had them being after nine games. They lost Sunday to a team that’s better from the top of the organization to the bottom.  The problem is, even though they now have the quarterback, their defense has not played the way anyone anticipated – and that’s put a damper on some of the enthusiasm (some?). I figured they’d be around the middle of the pack. They’re not. Now you have to wonder what it will realistically take for them to climb back up and provide what the Redskins need, now and in the future. They won’t have a lot of cap space, but when you draft 21 players over two years you’d better develop them for reasons such as this. What we saw Sunday was a typical game by the defense and what we saw Sunday is what happens when the offense has a bad game. It wasn’t pretty. One win next week won’t alter the direction of the season — a win in one of the last two games could have done so. But for a coach in the third year of a program, with a rookie quarterback who is excelling, a third straight loss would hardly be validation of going in the right direction.

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John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner