Observations, analysis and conclusions about the Washington Redskins’ offense after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 27-23 loss to the New York Giants.
QB Robert Griffin III helped positioned the Redskins for a comeback victory with some terrific throws and timely runs in the fourth quarter. Despite a dominant running attack led by RB Alfred Morris, they made too many mistakes throughout the game to overcome. Washington turned the ball over four times (three lost fumbles, one interception) against the Giants after losing only five turnovers total through the first six games. The Redskins had possession for almost 5 and a half minutes longer than New York, partly because they converted 6 of 13 third downs and all three of their fourth downs. Two first-half drives inside the red zone, however, netted only 6 points.
QB Robert Griffin III’s playmaking on the Redskins’ penultimate drive. Griffin has excelled in late-game situations, and Sunday was among his finest work.
His 19-yard completion to TE Logan Paulsen on fourth-and-10 from the Washington 23-yard line with 2:07 remaining would have been an iconic play if the Redskins had won. Heck, it still might be.
When Griffin didn’t like his options downfield, he escaped the pocket by rolling to his left. His body control in avoiding DE Jason Pierre-Paul made the play possible — Pierre-Paul floated past Griffin when he slammed on the brakes near the boundary. Credit LT Trent Williams for not giving up on the play, too. He tracked down DE Osi Umenyiora in pursuit and delivered a wicked block right before Griffin threw. Griffin threw 8.7 seconds after the snap, which equates to about five eternities for defenders in coverage. LB Chase Blackburn, S Antrel Rolle became preoccupied with containing Griffin and a possible shorter thrown to WR Santana Moss. Meanwhile, Paulsen made himself available to Griffin by running back toward him and settling into open space while waiving his hands.
On the next play, Griffin scrambled for 24 yards to the Giants’ 34, positioning the Redskins to score. New York sent a five-man rush. Behind that, the outside corners ran deep with Redskins receivers on two vertical routes. Griffin was decisive in tucking and attacking the vacant right edge. His speed is lethal, and he got out of bounds to avoid a nasty hit.
Two plays later, Griffin made one of the best throws of his nascent career. He recognized WR Santana Moss one-on-one in the left slot against rookie CB Jayron Hosley. When single high safety Antrel Rolle remained stationary at the 16-yard line after the snap, Griffin knew he wanted Moss’ matchup. He put the perfect amount of air under the throw, enabling Moss to run under it. Rolle didn’t move until the ball was in the air and it was too late, and Moss beat the rookie corner.
Those three plays exemplified why he is so special: Poise, body control, speed, throwing accuracy, decision making and intelligence. He is the total package.
Griffin completed some passes with greater degrees of difficulty than we had previously seen, specifically two passes outside the numbers. On third-and-17 early in the fourth quarter, he hit TE Logan Paulsen at the left sideline for 15 yards with S Antrel Rolle only two steps behind Paulsen. Earlier in the game, he dropped a 23-yard completion over LB Michael Boley and into WR Leonard Hankerson’s hands at the left sideline.
Griffin was accurate, on time and put the perfect touch on those throws. We’ve seen him do that repeatedly on throws over the middle off of play-action, but the throws to the sideline are longer and often require better accuracy because of the boundary.
WR Santana Moss’ two touchdown catches. The 12-year veteran caught three of the four passes on which he was targeted, and two produced touchdowns. He didn’t have to do much on the 26-yard screen pass for a score in the second quarter. The blocking was masterful. LT Trent Williams hooked DE Osi Umenyiora, preventing him from kicking out to tackle Moss in the flat. WR Leonard Hankerson sealed CB Prince Amukamara out of the play by running inside and getting his body turned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. RG Chris Chester and C Will Montgomery cut linebackers downfield, and TE Logan Paulsen ensured a touchdown by engaging S Antrel Rolle.
Moss’ concentration on the go-ahead 30-yard touchdown in the final two minutes was superb. QB Robert Griffin III threw it over Moss’ outside shoulder after Moss got an outside release against CB Jayron Hosley. That’s a difficult catch because of how the receiver has to turn his head while following the ball, but Moss tracked it all the way into his lap.
The Redskins’ run blocking, especially in the first half. Washington averaged 7.4 yards per attempt (140 yards on 19 carries) on designed runs in the first half.
One example: RB Alfred Morris’ 8-yard carry to the right that finished at New York’s 3-yard line on the opening series. RT Tyler Polumbus engaged DE Jason Pierre-Paul and set the edge. TE Fred Davis got to LB Michael Boley downfield, and FB Darrel Young led the way off tackle and blocked CB Corey Webster outside.
And on some zone-read runs, the fake(s) in the backfield allows the Redskins to leave a blocker unaccounted for. Consider QB Robert Griffin III’s 28-yard run in the second quarter. DE Justin Tuck crashed down on RB Alfred Morris, who pretended to have the handoff running up the middle. TE Niles Paul ran past Tuck because the fake to Morris had already taken Tuck out of the play. That enabled Paul to block LB Keith Rivers scraping outside instead. And with TE Logan Paulsen engaged with Webster outside and Polumbus on LB Chase Blackburn, Griffin got into the open field and turned on the jets.
Of course, that can be a double-edged sword. When DE Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t bite on the faked inside draw in the fourth quarter, he forced a fumble by running unblocked and hitting the Griffin before Griffin secured the ball.
Alfred Morris continues to prove he has tools to be the solution at running back. He surged for yards with defenders draped on him on several carries. On his 30-yard run in the first half, he was patient in waiting for a hole as he approached the line of scrimmage. When RT Tyler Polumbus and TE Logan Paulsen’s combination block against DE Justin Tuck was successful and Polumbus pushed Tuck inside, Morris saw the hole to his right and quickly shuffled his feet, keeping his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage the whole time. He burst through the hole when he got there, and, thanks to a zone-read fake that froze the linebackers, the play resulted in a big gain.
We’re seeing it every week from Morris: physical runs, yards after contact, great vision and cutting ability. He even caught a pass near the right sideline to convert third-and-2.
The Redskins had another good week converting on third and fourth downs. They were 6 of 13 on third down, and three of those failures preceded fourth-down conversions.
QB Robert Griffin III completed 7 of 9 third-down passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, and he was sacked once. He was 2-for-2 for 29 yards on fourth down. So on third and fourth downs, Griffin’s passer rating was 139.0. That’s why the Redskins were able to remain competitive despite four turnovers.
Just as there were many reasons for the Redskins third-down woes through five games, so were there many for their success against the Giants. Griffin’s accuracy was a boon. The blocking was great on the third-and-7 screen WR Santana Moss ran in for a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan deftly used speedy WR Aldrick Robinson on a reverse that converted third-and-4 in the second half. LT Trent Williams and RB Evan Royster effectively blocked to free space for Robinson around the left edge.
Griffin’s ability to run gives the Redskins a big advantage in third-and-medium. He converted third-and-4 to TE Fred Davis on the opening series despite the fact the Redskins sent only two possible receivers out on pass routes. A fake zone-read run held the linebackers and S Antrel Rolle. Griffin zipped a pass through the linebackers, and Davis extended to catch it.
TE Logan Paulsen minimized the dropoff after TE Fred Davis ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter. His downfield block against S Antrel Rolle secured the last few yards of WR Santana Moss’ run into the end zone on a 26-yard screen in the second quarter. Paulsen came back toward the line of scrimmage and found an opening in the secondary to make himself available to QB Robert Griffin III on fourth-and-10 on Washington’s penultimate drive.
Paulsen has pretty good hands, even if he’s not nearly as explosive as Davis is after the catch. He has capitalized this season on some defenses’ tendency to disrespect him as a pass-catching threat — beating linebackers or safeties that are playing the run first, for example. It will be interesting to see if those opportunities persist with Paulsen establishing himself as a receiving threat and the Redskins needing him to be one with Fred Davis out.
It wasn’t all smooth for Paulsen on Sunday. He and Griffin were not thinking the same thing on Griffin’s third-quarter interception. Neither divulged what they expected the other to do. Griffin double-clutched and threw over the middle to an area Paulsen was not in. Still, Paulsen has become more consistent as a blocker, particularly with his hand placement. The Redskins are going to rely on him to contribute, even with Chris Cooley back on the team.
K Kai Forbath is now perfect on four field-goal attempts. He made three against the Giants, including kicks from 43 and 45 yards. Billy Cundiff is a distant memory.
LT Trent Williams provoked LB Michael Boley into committing a 15-yard personal foul.They got into each others’ faces after one play, and Williams stuck his pointer finger inside Boley’s facemask. Williams, no doubt, told Boley what a gentleman he considers him to be, and Boley smacked Williams in the head. Boley was the only one penalized, so, um, good play, Trent.
The Redskins turned the ball over four times. Let’s review them:
RB Alfred Morris lost a fumble for the first time as a pro. On that play, RG Chris Chester and RT Tyler Polumbus attempted a combination block against Giants DL Linval Joseph. Chester released to the second level, and usually on such blocks, the remaining lineman uses the leverage gained by the double-team to position himself to finish the block alone. However, Polumbus didn’t get his body inside enough to prevent Joseph from getting off the block and hacking the ball out of Morris’ possession.
QB Robert Griffin III and TE Logan Paulsen were not in synch on a third-quarter interception. Griffin faked the inside draw and reset to pass. The Giants played with a single high safety, and Paulsen had an inside release on CB Corey Webster from the right. The Giants’ linebackers vacated the middle of the field, just as we’ve seen defenses do repeatedly against his play all season. However, Griffin double-clutched. Paulsen then slowed and took his route further up the field instead of breaking it off to the inside. Griffin threw over the middle, trying to pull Paulsen away from Webster on his back. Paulsen was too vertical, though, and Griffin threw directly to S Stevie Brown.
Griffin fumbled in the fourth quarter when DE Jason Pierre-Paul went after him on a zone-read keeper. Perhaps that was a misread and Griffin should have handed off, but Pierre-Paul did break down his steps after the run fake and simply reacted to Griffin having the ball. That’s the danger of leaving the defensive end unblocked. If he doesn’t bite on the fake, the play could be a disaster.
WR Santana Moss’s fumble on the final drive occurred despite him cradling the ball with two hands after the catch. LB Chase Blackburn just overpowered Moss during the tackle and pulled the ball free.
Washington’s red zone inefficiency. The Redskins scored only six points on two drives inside the Giants’ 20, while New York scored touchdowns on two of its three red zone possessions.
Washington had first-and-goal at the 3 on the opening possession, but the drive stalled. RB Alfred Morris gained only one yard on first down when LB Chase Blackburn got inside RG Chris Chester, and LG Kory Lichtensteiger’s attempt to cut block DT Chris Canty failed.
A second-down slant to TE Niles Paul had no chance against CB Prince Amukamara — I’m not sure why they ran that play with a tight end positioned as a wide receiver. Griffin threw the ball away on third down; he appeared to have WR Josh Morgan open to the post with a step on Amukamara, but Griffin either didn’t see him or didn’t feel comfortable throwing it.
A sack on third-and-5 thwarted Washington’s other drive inside the 20. The Redskins emptied the backfield, spread the field and ran a quarterback draw. DE Justin Tuck used superior hand placement to push RT Tyler Polumbus back into the running lane Griffin had chosen.
QB Robert Griffin III’s hesitation on some throws. Griffin through seven games has been extremely careful with the ball. The Redskins have benefited from that; he has thrown only three interceptions. However, he also sacrifices some opportunities for big gains. As we’ve discussed in this space, his timing and confidence will improve as he amasses experience. For now, though, there are plays like his 6-yard scramble on Sunday’s opening series.
He had TE Fred Davis on a corner route running behind LB Michael Boley and away from S Antrel Rolle, but he waited to see whether Rolle was going to run with Davis or go cover WR Leonard Hankerson, who also ran a downfield route. An ideal play would have been Griffin anticipating Davis’ break to the sideline away from Rolle and throwing the ball to a place where Davis could run underneath it.
TE Niles Paul was used in some curious ways. He lined up as the flanker to the left on second-and-goal from the 2 on the opening drive. Paul ran a slant, and he never separated from CB Prince Amukamara, his former teammate at Nebraska. Amukamara never was off balance or felt threatened to the outside. Paul didn’t get his shoulders turned enough to shield Amukamara with his body, and the former first-round pick easily batted down QB Robert Griffin III’s pass. On that play, WR Josh Morgan lined up in the slot and WR Leonard Hankerson was the split end on the other side. Why not use Morgan or Hankerson as the Z receiver there and bring Santana Moss in the game? Paul isn’t shifty enough to beat a first-round cornerback.
Paul also received an option pitch on third-and-4 in the fourth quarter. Griffin pitched it too early, with the linebacker still four yards away, but Paul probably wasn’t going to get around the edge anyway.
Paul’s ongoing transition to tight end will be highly scrutinized now that Fred Davis is out for the season. In the offseason, we heard comparisons of Paul to Shannon Sharpe. Those were unfair then and they’re not even close to true now. Paul still is getting acclimated to blocking bigger defenders and all the nuances of playing the game closer to the center. He contributed effective blocks to several successful runs against the Giants — he got LB Keith Rivers in space on Griffin’s 28-yard keeper around the right edge in the second quarter — but he also missed a block on a sack by DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Niles tried to cut him on the backside, but Pierre-Paul rushed wide from a standing position and Niles fell on his face a few feet short of impeding Pierre-Paul’s path to the quarterback.
TE Fred Davis’ illegal shift cost the Redskins a touchdown on the opening drive. Davis came in motion along the line of scrimmage, then motioned to the backfield and never got set before running forward after the snap. It was close, but it did appear to be the right call. That negated a 35-yard touchdown pass to WR Joshua Morgan. The Redskins settled for 3 points instead of 7, and it just so happens that the margin of defeat was 4. It was one mistake on a long list.
WR Leonard Hankerson’s lack of awareness left the Redskins one yard short on separate third downs. On the opening drive of the second half, Hankerson got six yards on third-and-7 when he stopped his route short of the marker. CB Corey Webster had backed off enough that Hankerson would have gotten the first down if he had taken an additional step before hooking up his route. Instead, he was gang-tackled short.
In the fourth quarter on third-and-14, Hankerson caught a slant from the left and would have run for the first down after the catch if he hadn’t ducked and gotten on the ground to avoid a hit from LB Chase Blackburn. My guess is Hankerson thought he had the first down already because he got up, looked at the marker and clapped his hands in frustration.
Hankerson did convert Washington’s first third down of the game with an excellent route to the right flat. He dipped his left (inside) shoulder to push Webster up the field, then sharply broke his route off to the sideline. QB Robert Griffin III delivered an accurate, on-time throw.
The Giants were credited with three sacks. One of those was a designed run that DE Justin Tuck blew up by pushing RT Tyler Polumbus back. Tuck used his hands to stop Polumbus’ punch, then got into Polumbus’ chest and closed the running lane.
TE Niles Paul missed a cut block on DE Jason Pierre-Paul’s sack. DE Osi Umenyiora’s sack was basically a coverage sack. The Redskins deployed only two receivers on routes, and when LB Michael Boley maintained his depth against a zone-read fake, QB Robert Griffin III had nowhere to go with the ball. Umenyiora motored around LT Trent Williams in 3.2 seconds.