Redskins game review: Buffalo Bills - OFFENSE

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Some thoughts and observations about the Redskins’ offense after re-watching the television broadcast of Washington’s 7-6 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills:

You can read most of my thoughts on quarterback Robert Griffin III’s performance by clicking here, but there are a few more.

The Buffalo telecast showed a replay of WR Pierre Garcon dragging both feet in bounds while he had possession of Griffin’s first pass near the left sideline. That should have been ruled a completion. And considering TE Niles Paul had both hands on Griffin’s other incompletion before he was hit and dropped it, Griffin could have been a perfect 6-for-6 passing. It doesn’t mean much, of course, but Griffin did throw the ball that well.

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Griffin touch was excellent. His two passes to Garcon over the middle weren’t underthrown or overthrown. They weren’t too hot and they didn’t hang up. They were on time with deft touch. What a positive sign for Griffin’s ability to be relaxed and be himself when the spotlight is on him.

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His quick releases helped make the patchwork offensive line look good. On Griffin’s first completion, a 12-yard catch-and-run by WR Leonard Hankerson, DE Mario Williams got his right hand into RT Tyler Polumbus’ chest and pushed Polumbus back. Although Polumbus was beaten, Williams didn’t get to Griffin because Griffin got rid of the ball 1.5 seconds after the shotgun snap. Quick throws and sharp decision making compensate for shortcomings along the line, and considering the Redskins’ injury problems and lack of established depth, that’s especially important for Griffin this season if he is to stay upright and healthy.

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The threat Griffin poses as a runner prompted a Buffalo defender to follow him on multiple plays even though Griffin had already handed the ball off. On the second play from scrimmage, DE Mario Williams took an extra step after Griffin. On RB Evan Royster’s 3-yard run on the third series, DT Marcell Dareus went with Griffin on a keeper fake while Royster carried the ball up field. This is going to help open backside cutback lanes for Redskins running backs.

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TE Fred Davis insists he’s an improved blocker, but the inconsistency he’s known for in that area showed against Buffalo. He began the game with two breakdowns.

The game’s opening carry went for 1 yard partly because Davis was too high on the edge and DE Chris Kelsay got into his chest. Davis was pushed back on the next play and failed to win the edge because he wasn’t explosive off the snap. The defender initiated the contact and drove him back.

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Mike and Kyle Shanahan have emphasized the importance of establishing a quality running game to take pressure off of QB Robert Griffin III and open up certain parts of the offense that play off that. The first play of the touchdown drive supported that notion.

Griffin faked a handoff and began to roll to his left when he encountered LB Nick Barnett, who pursued Griffin instead of the play fake. Griffin’s speed will prompt defenses to try to contain him with a backside linebacker or end, but it’s up to the Redskins’ offensive line and running backs to make teams pay for that. The more successful Washington is running the ball, the more times Griffin will be able to escape the pocket on bootlegs and keepers because the backside defender has to respect the run.

On that play against Buffalo, Griffin had to hurry a short throw to TE Niles Paul, and a defender popped Paul as the ball arrived. Incomplete.

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WR Pierre Garcon offered fans a lot to like in his Redskins’ debut. He showed one reason why Mike Shanahan loves his ability after the catch by brilliantly setting up LT Trent Williams’ monster block on a 20-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

Even though slot WR Santana Moss sealed a running lane to the inside, Garcon took two steps toward the left sideline to get CB Stephon Gilmore to overrun the play and put him in position for Williams to take him out downfield.

“He’s a very smart player,” Williams said of Garcon. “He’s very instinctive. He does stuff like that without much coaching. It’s just natural.”

Garcon also was physical in finishing his run after QB Robert Griffin III hit him over the middle for a 20-yard reception on the third series. Garcon sought out SS George Wilson and lowered his shoulder, plowing forward for an extra two yards.

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Chris Cooley had a quiet night at fullback. His backside cut block was excellent on RB Evan Royster’s 3-yard carry on the touchdown drive, but Royster didn’t use the lane it created.

On the following play, Cooley picked up LB Nick Barnett’s blitz. Barnett gave it away by shuffling toward the line of scrimmage before the snap (Bills linemen were flagged for being offsides on the play). Cooley recognized it and stepped up into the hole to successfully block him.

On a play-action pass on a first down early in the second quarter, Cooley set early against LB Arthur Moats rushing from the left edge of the defense. Cooley afforded Moats enough space to adjust and go around him. Cooley did OK in his attempt to ride Moats past QB Rex Grossman, but Grossman had to step up.

On first-and-10 from the 1-yard line on the next series, Cooley didn’t get enough of Moats when he tried to chip Moats and release to the flat on a pass route. Moats managed to still hit Grossman.

Cooley’s ability to back up Darrel Young at fullback will help his roster chances, but Logan Paulsen, one of Cooley’s main competitors for a spot, has become an important special teams contributor. Paulsen played on the kickoff return unit and had a tackle on punt coverage –areas in which he would contribute more frequently than Cooley would as a backup fullback. So perhaps the versatility check mark goes to Paulsen.

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LT Trent Williams’ speed in blocking downfield is so valuable. On RB Evan Royster’s 12-yard run on the third series, Williams engaged S Jairus Byrd 12 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. We’re talking about a 325-pound tackle who can get to the third level. That’s big-time.

Williams also made WR Pierre Garcon’s touchdown possible with a downfield block that took out two defenders. He kicked out and got downfield so quickly that Garcon was able to set up Williams’ block against the deep defensive back. Williams has had an excellent camp as a pass blocker, and this is another facet of his game the Redskins can’t do without.

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Fifth-round rookie RG Adam Gettis continues to show physical tools that coaches could develop into a solid contributor. He’s strong, and he can run. His consistency with timing and technique should develop over time.

The Redskins converted third-and-12 in the second quarter when the second-string offensive line picked up a pair of stunts by the defensive linemen. Gettis so strongly punched DT Dwan Edwards to the right that he had a clear look at DE Shawne Merriman looping around. Gettis blocked Merriman, and QB Rex Grossman found WR Josh Morgan for a bobbled catch.

Gettis got off his combination block at the line to meet a charging linebacker in the hole on RB Evan Royster’s 12-yard run. Gettis knew his responsibility and was close to executing it, but the defensive lineman latched onto him when he helped C Will Montgomery. Gettis released just in time and absorbed contact from the linebacker. He ended up on his backside, but he still helped create the running lane.

The chemistry and technique on the combination block should develop eventually, but Gettis at least knew his responsibility and positively contributed to the play.

“The game is faster at this level,” Gettis said. “You want to help out your center with that block but also get up at the same time. Once we get that cohesiveness down, it’ll get taken care of.”

Gettis said he has been talking to veteran linemen about how to release from defensive linemen who try to disrupt the timing of combination blocks by grabbing jerseys or whatever. Chopping or spinning off blocks are options, Gettis said.

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Third-round rookie LG Josh LeRibeus struggled in his debut. He, too, had some difficulty with timing on combination blocks, which is to be expected given his inexperience and all the changes on the injury-riddled offensive line.

LeRibeus and LT Tom Compton attempted a combination block of Bills DT Spencer Johnson in the second quarter, but LeRibeus didn’t release in time to get to LB Kelvin Sheppard and prevent him from scraping along the line and closing the running lane.

On a third-quarter running play, Bills DE Kyle Moore pushed LeRibeus back when LeRibeus engaged him too high while pulling. Four plays later, DE Jay Ross swam past LeRibeus and disrupted QB Kirk Cousins on a third-and-5 pass that was incomplete. Ross’ hands were too quick and strong.

“You do realize now how fast they are and how strong they are,” LeRibeus said. “And just getting used to the speed of the game, it’s really good to get one under your belt.”

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We saw several examples of how Brandon Banks’ diminutive stature (5-7, 153 pounds) puts him at a disadvantage at wide receiver.

He lost two jump ball situations on deep passes. It’s also difficult for Banks to shield defenders with his body. He dropped one pass when a defender popped him from behind as the ball arrived. 

On a third quarter running play, FS Delano Howell simply ran through Banks’ block and helped stop RB Alfred Morris for only 2 yards.

One positive play by Banks: he beat a safety with a double move in order to separate on a deep route. Banks is quick and explosive with great straight line speed, so you expect him to excel on such routes. QB Kirk Cousins underthrew him, though.

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Banks’ down night seemed to open the door for WR Aldrick Robinson, whose lackluster camp has included some drops. Robinson, like Banks, has terrific straight line speed, and he beat the CB Cris Hill to induce a game-clinching pass interference call after the 2-minute warning.

Earlier on that drive, Robinson converted third-and-8 with a stellar out cut. He sprinted downfield hard enough so that Hill opened his hips to run with Robinson on the deep route. When Hill turned his back to the line of scrimmage, Robinson squared off his cut to the sideline and separated from Hill.

Earlier in the third quarter, Robinson caught a 17-yard reception over the middle. He stutter-stepped off the line to win an inside release, then he separated from the defender with an explosive in cut. Those two receptions showed that Robinson can be more than just a deep threat, an essential component of his push to make the roster.

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TE Niles Paul dropped three passes. That was surprising because he has excelled as a pass catcher in training camp. Needless to say, that can’t continue. Paul caught two passes downfield during practice Saturday, looking more like the player we’re familiar with.

His blocking against Buffalo was mixed. He won at the point of attack on RB Roy Helu Jr.’s 4-yard run in the second quarter by getting his hands into DE Shawne Merriman’s chest. But later, Paul didn’t finish his block against LB Kyle Moore, and a possible big run by RB Alfred Morris was limited to 6 yards when Moore got off to make the tackle. On the first play of the next series, Paul didn’t engage S Delano Howell, who came up to make the tackle.

Paul has been an effective blocker after going in motion before the snap, but the Redskins didn’t use him that way much in the second half against Buffalo.

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QB Kirk Cousins’ accuracy was inconsistent while throwing on the move. In the second half, he overthrew an open TE Logan Paulsen on what would have been a third-down conversion. Cousins ran up in the pocket because he was pressured. A couple times, including on his interception, he misfired when pass rushers affected his follow through.

Cousins did have several bright moments, though. The best was his third-down conversion to WR Aldrick Robinson near the right sideline in the second half. Cousins had to reset and step up in the pocket because of the pass rush, but he did so quickly and still accurately delivered the ball to Robinson just as Robinson came out of his break and separated from the cornerback.

Like RG Adam Gettis, he showed some tools that can be developed. That’s what the Redskins want from mid-round draft picks.

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Put RB Alfred Morris in that category, too. He gained 6 yards on a third-quarter run on which he redirected his path 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. A defender penetrated the backfield, but Morris quickly shifted his feet to keep the play a positive one.

Coach Mike Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner have praised Morris’ forward body lean, and Morris demonstrated that throughout the game. He consistently fell forward after being hit, gaining extra yards after contact. He gained 4 yards after LB Chris White tried to tackle him up high on a third quarter run.

…Let me know your take on the offense by posting a comment, emailing me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or by hitting me up on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

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