Some thoughts and observations about the Redskins’ offense after re-watching the television broadcast of Washington’s 33-31 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears:
I’m conflicted about QB Robert Griffin III’s performance. On one hand, rookie mistakes – especially mental ones – are to be expected, tolerated and even welcomed as learning opportunities. On the other hand, he missed a couple easy throws because of basic mechanical breakdowns that were not forced by the defense.
I wrote about some of his mental mistakes in the story for Monday’s paper, which you can read here. I won’t rehash them now, but Griffin after the game vowed to improve his decisions about when to try to make a play. If some of his mistakes against Chicago help him hone his decision-making, then they’re worth it.
Chicago was more aggressive with its fronts, frequently showing an 8-man box and blitzing more than Buffalo did a week earlier. Also, the first-string linebackers Griffin faced were more effective dropping in coverage than the ones backup QB Kirk Cousins went against during the second half. But we’re not talking about Griffin making bad reads or throwing into coverage. We’re talking about minimizing damage or health risk by throwing the ball away.
As he said after the game: “It’s not that I’ve never been in those situations before.” So if Griffin is familiar with the situations, why was he trying to extend plays when he knew better? Was it nerves? Was it because he has so much to process at the NFL level? Whatever the case, he now knows he has to fix it.
Two inaccurate throws, in particular, have me scratching my head. The first was his third-down lob behind TE Niles Paul. Griffin early in training camp struggled with his accuracy on throws while rolling to his left. Redskins coaches had the quarterbacks practice that throw more this year than in their previous two seasons because they identified it as problematic. Griffin was patient on the throw to Paul, but he didn’t close his front shoulder enough to get the pass out in front of Paul. In a critical moment, his mechanics betrayed him.
The other one was the quick slant he threw incomplete behind WR Pierre Garcon late in the first half. (I’m curious about whether Griffin audibled to this play at the line based on something he saw. He speaks to reporters Monday, so we’ll find out.) Griffin didn’t step toward Garcon and drive the throw. Instead, his left foot lingered wide, his front shoulder opened up, and the ball was behind the receiver. Again, his mechanics betrayed him.
Coaches and Griffin have preached the importance of repetition to ensure such mechanical breakdowns don’t occur. Is it a major problem that we’re seeing still seeing them in mid-August? I’m not sure. The assumption is that they won’t be an issue once the game slows down and he’s comfortable with all the mental elements of a quarterback’s transition to the NFL. It’s something to monitor, at least.
I wrote Saturday night my belief that Griffin was jittery at times against the pass rush. After watching his snaps again, I’ll back off that. There were plays on which I thought he could have stayed in a throwing position and moved in the pocket with better presence, but he did do that a couple times.
On the fifth series, when WR Pierre Garcon drew a pass interference penalty deep down the left sideline, Griffin kept his eyes downfield when DE Julius Peppers got inside LT Trent Williams. He slid left to avoid contact, and he made a throw that resulted in a positive play.
One of those jittery moments, though, was second-and-13 on the sixth series. As the pocket formed and Griffin’s first reads weren’t open, his instinct was to run. But just as he started to tuck the ball, he noticed FB Dorson Boyce in the right flat; Boyce had just gotten up from the turf after a block. Griffin completed the pass for a 9-yard gain.
Griffin’s decisions whether to tuck the ball and run, and how quickly he bails on a pass and chooses to run, will be an ongoing measure of his composure and poise. At this early stage, the results are mixed, as you’d expect.
RB Alfred Morris didn’t just gain 20 yards after contact on his first carry. He ran through seven-time Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs’ tackle to get those yards. That’s one way for a sixth-round rookie to make the roster.
You could see exactly why coaches like Morris’ body lean. As Briggs tried to wrap Morris up around his thighs, Morris lowered his shoulder and was far enough forward that Briggs wasn’t able to reach Morris’ legs when they collided.
Morris’ legs are so strong that he broke some quality form tackles. It wasn’t as though the Bears were trying to arm tackle him. Morris just churned through some defenders who tried to wrap him up low.
Take away Morris’ 21-yard carry to start the game, and he had only 13 yards on nine attempts. Ineffective run blocking was a major factor. Failure to execute cut blocks was a problem with some linemen. Some were pushed back at the point of attack. No lineman was perfect. More on that in a bit, though.
Considering the injuries to RBs Tim Hightower and Roy Helu, Jr., Morris’ roster chances are trending in the right direction. But they’d be even better if he hadn’t broken down in pass protection on the sack-fumble in the first quarter. When S Major Wright hesitated on his blitz, Morris gave up on him and released on his pass route. “He kind of baited me,” Morris said.
Chris Cooley played 11 snaps, including those negated by penalty. He lined up as a tight end on 10 of those; on the other he motioned from tight end to fullback. He stayed in to block on eight snaps and went out on a pass route on three. Without the coaches’ film, it’s tough to say whether he got separation and was open on his three routes.
Cooley had a curious role in the sack-fumble. He lined up to TE Fred Davis’ right on the right edge of the line. Cooley, however, did not help Davis against DE Israel Idonije. Cooley actually didn’t do anything on the play. He started to chip Idonije, but then he didn’t. And he didn’t run a pass route. This is worth getting to the bottom of this week.
Redskins’ offensive linemen don’t cut block in practice because it involves a significant injury risk to the defensive player, but it’s an important part of Mike Shanahan’s running scheme. Some failed cut blocks contributed to some busted running plays against the Bears.
RT Tyler Polumbus threw too high at DL Henry Melton on a running play that went for only 3 yards on the second series. Polumbus’ helmet was up around Melton’s jersey numbers instead of at the hip or thigh, and Melton didn’t go down. Melton staggered back a step but then ran untouched to make the tackle.
Rookie RG Adam Gettis also looked a bit uncomfortable with the timing and execution of his cut block on a 1-yard run by RB Alfred Morris on the fifth series.
If you ever get a chance to watch the Houston Texans’ line, watch them cut guys down on the back side. They’re the answer key.
Speaking of Gettis, his inconsistencies stood out among the many up front. Brian Price, Chicago’s second-string nose tackle, got off the ball with a lower pad level than Gettis on a second-quarter running play. Gettis was too high, and Price pushed him back into RB Alfred Morris, who fell for a loss of 3.
Gettis was flagged for holding on the first series when he overextended and leaned too far forward against DT Henry Melton. Gettis’s base was compromised, and he couldn’t move his feet to stay in front of Melton, and he resorted to holding.
Gettis also allowed some blockers to get into his chest and push him back. The Bears’ defensive line is not an easy matchup for anyone, let alone a rookie. Here’s thinking Gettis will be better off for the experience.
One of QB Robert Griffin III’s best plays was a 16-yard completion to WR Santana Moss on third-and-3 in the third quarter. Griffin stood tall in the pocket and threw accurately to Moss, who held on despite being popped after the catch.
RB Evan Royster deserves some credit for that completion. He recognized blitzing LB Nick Roach and stood Roach up in the hole. Score one for Royster on the pass-protection scorecard.
TE Niles Paul should have caught the pass that QB Robert Griffin III lobbed behind him on third-and-2 on the second drive. Paul tried to reach back and make the catch instead of completely opening his hips and turning back for the ball.
Paul discussed that adjustment with position coach Sean McVay on the sideline, and he made it on a similar throw from QB Kirk Cousins in the second half. On second-and-7, Paul opened his hips and inside shoulder to fully square his body to make the catch. He sacrificed yards after the catch, which was something Paul said McVay told him to do. The gain went for only 1 yard, but at least it was a positive play.
Other than the first drop, Paul’s hands were better in his second game at tight end. He was Cousins’ second read on the 5-yard touchdown catch, but he outran the linebacker so cleanly that Cousins’ choice was easy.
RB Tristan Davis bailed Paul out on a failed run block in the third quarter. Paul’s technique on the right edge against DE Derek Walker wasn’t obviously flawed, but Walker overpowered Paul, shed him and got to Davis at the line of scrimmage. Davis, however, broke Walker’s tackle and gained 7 yards.
Paul was concerned this offseason about his strength blocking defensive linemen. He focused on weight lifting to make sure it wouldn’t be a problem, but that adjustment won’t be easy.
The quality of WR Aldrick Robinson’s routes was superb. He consistently was explosive in and out of his breaks, which enabled him to separate from five-year veteran CB Jonathan Wilhite.
QB Kirk Cousins’ hit Robinson with a back shoulder throw to convert third-and-3 on the first touchdown drive of the second half. Robinson stopped so quickly that Wilhite overran the play.
And how about Robinson’s concentration on his 49-yard touchdown? He stayed locked in on the pass even after it was tipped on the second level. “I just concentrated,” Robinson said after the game.
You can’t cut a guy who plays as well against a veteran corner as Robinson did Saturday.
It’s difficult to say which was more impressive: QB Kirk Cousins’ accuracy or his pocket presence. The two are interconnected, so it’s no surprise he put up such fantastic numbers.
He was unflappable in the pocket against the Bears’ pass rush. You can’t say the same about Robert Griffin III, but Griffin was facing much better competition. Is that just an excuse or is there something to that? We’ll find out over time.
Cousins completed a 7-yard throw to TE Logan Paulsen on which a defensive end slapped Cousins in the helmet when he went around LT Tom Compton. It didn’t affect Cousins at all, though. He calmly stepped forward in the pocket and threw a perfect ball. Incredible poise from a rookie.
Third-round rookie LG Josh LeRibeus showed his inexperience again this week. He was inconsistent, but he did positively impact some plays.
On the second play of the second half, he released to the second level to block a linebacker and help RB Tristan Davis gain 8 yards. On the next play, though, LeRibeus got the second level again but didn’t block anyone. Davis managed 3 yards.
LeRibeus got off the ball too high and was pushed back on a 1-yard loss on a third-quarter running play. On another play, though, he effectively pulled from left guard around the right side of the line and helped RB Antwon Bailey gain 7 yards.
LeRibeus, like fellow rookie RG Adam Gettis, is a work in progress. If either of those guys has to play in the regular season, it wouldn’t be a comfortable situation.
If looks could kill, RB Antwon Bailey would not have made it to the team charter after his second-half fumble. He tried to hurdle the Bears defensive line, which is unfathomable. Mike Shanahan apparently thought so, too, because he gave Bailey the death stare and benched him for the rest of the game. Here’s thinking this is the last time you’ll read about Bailey in this space.