Some of my thoughts and observations after the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks:
The feeling inside the locker room after the game was exactly what you’d expect from a team that just ended a six-game losing streak. RB Roy Helu and RG Chris Chester bumped fists in passing between their lockers and the training room. WRs Donté Stallworth and Terrence Austin nodded to the music playing in their headphones. The volume of chatter was above the funeral-parlor level we’ve gotten accustomed to over the last six weeks. Players enjoyed a buffet dinner at tables set up in the bowels of CenturyLink Field before heading to the airport for the 5-hour overnight flight home. They discussed plays and laughed the way winners do. It was a major relief after the last six work weeks culminated in disappointment.
It was an empty victory in terms of postseason aspirations and possibly a Pyrrhic one when you consider how it will affect the Redskins’ slot in next year’s draft order. However, the win is important and valuable because it keeps the peace.
If the Redskins had finished the year with 12 straight losses, a real possibility, that would have increased doubt among players – and quite possibly the owner – about Mike Shanahan’s plan and, by extension, the whole coaching staff. As Redskins fans are well aware, losing breeds discontent, which breeds dissension and, ultimately, turmoil. Avoiding that is essential, even if that means the Redskins pick eighth instead of fourth next April.
Besides, there’s no guarantee that quarterback prospects Matt Barkley, Landry Jones or even Robert Griffin III will enter the draft. Draft boards change during the winter/spring vetting process as coaches meet players and perform background checks. Team needs change based on free agent acquisitions. The situation is too fluid to say: “The Redskins need to keep losing so they can draft [insert prospect].”
Fans should savor the fight their team showed in clawing back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Such resilience is essential to building a winning organization.
RB Roy Helu proved that he’s capable of handling and expanded role, at least in a single game.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said it best afterward: “He ran hard against a really good run defense. He kept grinding it. He had a bunch of good 3-yard runs. Eventually he got that long one to change everything.”
Helu was physical, gained yards after contact and finally showed the big-play ability coaches believe he possesses. The offensive line undoubtedly was better opening holes for him, but Helu still pounded it. He’s very determined when he runs, and his quick feet help him salvage gains at times when he’s hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Helu fits into the Redskins’ plans as a solid No. 2 back. They’re still looking for that Terrell Davis-, Arian Foster-type back who has the perfect feel for the zone scheme. My educated guess is that they’ll look for that back in free agency this offseason or perhaps a trade.
Meanwhile, Helu should continue to play the majority of snaps so he can develop his pass protection skills and hone the timing and vision required for successful cutback runs. He occasionally missed some lanes against Seattle, but the 28-yard touchdown makes up for that on the final stat sheet.
We should see his hurdle of CB Roy Lewis on the highlight reel for years. It was a special play, the type the Redskins’ offense hasn’t had enough of this season. Hurdling a defender won’t always work, but Helu reacted quickly and literally hit the ground running to bounce off of SS Kam Chancellor.
QB Rex Grossman has thrown a lot of interceptions in his career – 54 in 49 games, to be exact, after two more picks on Sunday. He also has had 54 opportunities to rebound from them. Mike Shanahan mentioned it earlier this season, but it’s worth noting again after Sunday’s comeback: Rex is resilient because he has been through – or, more accurately, put himself through – many negative situations.
He continually throws the ball down the field no matter which team caught his last pass, and his teammates truly appreciate his aggressive approach. It’s a major reason why players wanted him reinstated as the starter.
“He’s not afraid to take chances,” C Will Montgomery said after the game. That quote could easily be attributed to a dozen other players.
Speaking of resilience, WR Anthony Armstrong maximized his opportunity and reminded us that he’s still capable of making a significant contribution.
I don’t think he played much – his 50-yard touchdown was the only pass on which he was targeted – but, like Helu, he made the type of individual play that has escaped the Redskins for much of the season.
There is a place on this roster for a hard-working receiver who can take the top off the defense. You could tell in the locker room afterward that he felt relieved, if not vindicated.
“It’s been a long, stressful kind of season, the last few weeks, especially losing and not really being able to get on track,” he said. “To be able to make a play is huge.”
Armstrong’s touchdown catch and Helu’s touchdown run were super individual efforts. They prove what such plays can do for an offense. Helu didn’t have a running lane, so he created one through the air. Armstrong didn’t separate from CB Brandon Browner, but he made the catch anyway. Coaches know they need players who more consistently make plays like this, which is why the Redskins will be aggressive upgrading their offensive personnel this offseason.
In recently discussing the Redskins’ low interceptions total (as of Monday morning their eight picks rank 24th in the NFL) CB DeAngelo Hall and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett insisted the interceptions would come once the Redskins led late in a game and the opposing offense was forced to become one-dimensional.
Only twice during the losing streak did an opponent throw more than 30 passes, and in each game the opponent ran at least 32 times. In other words, deficits limited opportunities for picks.
So what happened Sunday? Seahawks trailing by 6 with 44 seconds left, third-and-9 from the Seattle 21. Interception, DeAngelo Hall.
For the record, Seattle rushed 30 times and passed 30 times.
I’m looking forward to watching second-year ILB Perry Riley when I go through the game again this week. He led the team with 14 tackles and now has double-digit stops in each of his three starts, according to the coaches’ review. He’s still without a forced fumble or sack, but those will come in time. For now he must continue to sharpen the mental aspect of the game. At least the Redskins appear to have found a long-term solution at one of the two inside linebacker spots, and in the fourth round, no less.
K Graham Gano had two kicks blocked, which reflects badly on his stats. How much he’s to blame for those, however, is uncertain. The protection up front broke down. Seahawks DE Red Bryant bulled through Will Montgomery for both blocks. This is another area in which injuries hurt. LT Trent Williams sprained the MCL in his left knee against Dallas while blocking for a field goal, so coaches shuffled personnel on that unit against Seattle. It didn’t go well, obviously.
Gano can’t escape blame, though, for his kickoff out of bounds. The Redskins kick off directionally, and one got away from him on Sunday. Gano’s luck ran out in that regard. He also kicked a kickoff out of bounds to the left against Dallas last week, but the referee inexplicably called the play a touchback.
Ultimately, there aren’t better kicking options on the street right now, so expect Gano to at least finish out the year, barring a total meltdown.
How about a round of applause for P Sav Rocca? He went 44 punts spanning 10 games without a touchback until his 39-yarder in the first quarter. Twenty of those 44 punts landed inside the 20, too. Impressive.
Also impressive: the Redskins did not commit a false start in a stadium that has produced an NFL-high 107 false starts since 2005.
For me, all the trash talking and extracurricular exchanges Sunday isn’t a problem until players start incurring penalties. That happened when TE Fred Davis was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following a 20-yard first-quarter reception. The Redskins – ahem, LT Trent Williams – have been undisciplined in several similar scenarios this year. Williams was a steady presence in the back-and-forth Sunday, and he was nonchalant about it afterward, but at least he wasn’t flagged for anything.
Fortunately for the Redskins, the Seahawks crossed the line more often and paid for it.