The Washington Times - October 9, 2012, 09:36PM

ANALYSIS/OPINION

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the FOX telecast of their 24-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

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GAME BALLS

RB ALFRED MORRIS: Morris consistently produces those coveted chunk plays when the blocking in front of him is good. His blockers helped him pile up six carries of at least 11 yards against the Falcons. Morris presses cutback lanes well, usually is patient in setting up his blocks and always is physical when finishing his runs.

On his first carry, an 11-yard gain on a toss left, he set up WR Joshua Morgan’s downfield block of S Thomas DeCoud by getting as close to WR Pierre Garcon’s back as possible before cutting upfield. DeCoud overran the cutback a bit, which positioned Morgan to block him. (Garcon was engaged with CB Dunta Robinson on the perimeter.)

On the next play, a 16-yard toss left, Morris pressed the hole again to make S William Moore overrun the play toward the sideline. Morris’ feet were sharp in and out of his cut, and he accelerated well up the field. Moore dove and got only air as Morris ran past him.

Morris said last week that he wants to improve as a receiver so he can be a greater threat and stay on the field more often in passing situations. Well, his 20-yard catch-and-run was QB Robert Griffin III’s longest completion. Griffin checked down to him in the left flat after faking an inside handoff to FB Darrel Young in the second quarter. Morris gained 6 yards after he cut back inside to avoid Robinson’s tackle at the sideline, and he gained 4 with two defenders draped on his back.

I loved this quote from Falcons’ coach Mike Smith last week. He said of Morris: “He’s thick, and when he runs there’s nothing to hit. It’s shins and shoulder pads. That’s not a good thing.” “Shins and shoulder pads” is such great imagery of the challenge Morris presents to potential tacklers.

Morris’ pass protection helped give QB Kirk Cousins a chance to complete an intermediate dig to WR Pierre Garcon in the fourth quarter. Falcons DT Peria Jerry swam inside RG Chris Chester with quick hands, but Morris was in position after the play-action fake to block Jerry. Garcon dropped Cousins’ accurate throw, but Cousins hit WR Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown on the next play.

On the downside, nine of Morris’ 18 rushes gained 2 or fewer yards. That’s a major reason why the Redskins faced six third downs on which they needed at least 7 yards. Blocking breakdowns by several different players are the culprit for most of those short gains.

One of those short gains went for 2 yards on a direct snap on second-and-goal from the 5 in the third quarter. LT Trent Williams and LG Kory Lichtensteiger kicked out wide to the left, but Morris cut it up inside when DT Jonathan Babineaux pushed back C Will Montgomery 1 yard after the snap. If Morris had stayed on his path outside behind Williams and Lichtensteiger, perhaps he would have scored. On the next play, Griffin suffered a concussion.

WR SANTANA MOSS: Moss caught a 77-yard touchdown reception that gave the Redskins a 17-14 lead with 12:24 remaining. From the right slot, he ran through the defense between the hash marks. S William Moore didn’t get deep enough to defend a pass over the top, and QB Kirk Cousins exploited the blown coverage with a perfect throw. All Moss had to do was catch it.

Moss is on this list as much for how he has handled his reduced role in the offense. Before this year, he was the Redskins’ featured wide receiver in every season since he arrived in 2005. Moss, 33, hasn’t publicly complained, though. He’s a classy teammate who cares about winning. Good for him scoring that touchdown Sunday.

“Everyone has a role on your football team,” coach Mike Shanahan said last week. “You don’t always have to accept it. You don’t always have to like it…When I did approach him, it didn’t surprise me that he was 100 percent in. Not only did he lose the weight, it’s been the way he has handled himself since Day 1. He’s a competitor. He could care less if he catches a pass if we win. When you have that type of mindset, then good things normally happen with a guy like that.”   

C WILL MONTGOMERY: Montgomery blocked well against DT Jonathan Babineaux, whose quickness and ability to stay low posed problems for the Redskins’ offense all game.

On RB Alfred Morris’ first carry, which went for 11 yards, Montgomery got inside Babineaux to slow his pursuit of the toss left. On the next play, another toss left for 16 yards, Montgomery’s footwork was enabled him to get his body around to hook Babineaux inside.

And on Morris’ 29-yard run in the second quarter, Montgomery executed a perfect combination block with RG Chris Chester, who also played quite well against Atlanta. Chester engaged DT Peria Jerry off the snap and stood him up long enough for Montgomery to slide to his right and take over the block. Montgomery then blocked Jerry inside while Chester climbed to block LB Akeem Dent. Their timing was excellent, and Morris had a huge hole to run through.

GASSERS

K BILLY CUNDIFF: Cundiff was released Tuesday after missing three field goal attempts of 41 yards or shorter in Washington’s last two games. There’s no use in piling on him for missing a 31-yarder Sunday. Simply put, kickers can’t miss those and keep their jobs. The bigger question is why coach Mike Shanahan chose him over Graham Gano in the first place.

RT TYLER POLUMBUS: Polumbus blocked well on some running plays, especially in the first half, but a few high-impact pass protection breakdowns in the second half have him on this list. Most notably, he gave up pressure to DE John Abraham, which forced QB Robert Griffin III to scramble on the third-quarter play on which he suffered a concussion.

Abraham beat Polumbus with an inside move. Polumbus kicked out wide and set hard on his right (outside) foot as Abraham cut inside. Polumbus wasn’t balanced well enough to recover, and he had to reach for Abraham to slow him down. Abraham didn’t hit Griffin, but he collapsed the pocket and prompted Griffin to extend the play by scrambling. Not only did that end up putting Griffin in harm’s way, it appeared to cost the Redskins a touchdown.

The Redskins lined three receivers to the right in a bunch formation. WR Josh Morgan was open in the back of the end zone because CB Dunta Robinson came forward  to cover WR Santana Moss’ shallow cross underneath. If Griffin had another half second, he could have seen and thrown to Morgan for a score that would have put the Redskins ahead 14-7.

And since the Redskins’ failures on third downs were the main reason for scoring only 10 points on offense, two other breakdowns are worth noting here.

On third-and-7 late in the third quarter, Abraham beat Polumbus around the edge and hit QB Kirk Cousins as he threw. Abraham used a stutter move, and Polumbus’ feet were not quick enough to match Abraham’s burst. He got around the edge and hit Cousins 2.5 seconds after the snap. The throw barely got past the line of scrimmage.

DT Jonathan Babineaux lined up against Polumbus at left defensive end on a second-and-4 in the fourth quarter. His quick, strong hands thwarted Polumbus’ punch, and then he collapsed the pocket by keeping his pad level lower than Polumbus’. Cousins held the ball for 3.4 seconds, a long time, on the play because Atlanta rushed only four defenders. Defenses that can generate pressure with only three or four defenders, as Atlanta did in the second half, usually shut down an offense’s passing attack. The sack put the Redskins into a third-and-10 they failed to convert.

QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III: A little insult to injury here, I suppose. Redskins coaches have preached to Griffin the importance of making smart decisions that prioritize protecting himself and preserving his availability. So why did it have to come to this, a concussion that cost him the final 21 minutes of play and jeopardized his status going forward?

If Griffin had heeded his coaching, he would have run out of bounds or thrown the ball away at the end of his scramble on third-and-goal from the 3. He had ample opportunity to do both, which is why I don’t think he was trying to give himself up when he was hit. To me, it appeared Griffin’s feet slipped out as he tried to cut upfield inside LB Sean Weatherspoon. We’ll soon find out more about his intent on the play.

I think it’s fair to chalk this up to Griffin’s competitive drive, as coach Mike Shanahan has done in the post-concussion conversation about what a good lesson this is. But when competitiveness becomes stubbornness or recklessness, it’s a big problem. Griffin had better apply this lesson, or else he could end up being the poster boy for concussions in this new era of hyperawareness about the issue.

Before the injury, Griffin wasn’t the explosive player we came to know through the first four games. He double clutched as the Falcons blitzed six defenders on third-and-7 on the second series. Atlanta pushed the pocket a bit, but RB Evan Royster did pick up LB Sean Weatherspoon to protect enough space for Griffin to throw. The throw was too low for Moss, who had a step on the defender over the middle.

Griffin also threw incomplete behind WR Pierre Garcon early in the second quarter. Garcon lined up wide left and ran an in route underneath the slot receiver’s deeper route. It appeared Griffin tried to throw to Garcon’s back shoulder in order to keep the ball away from an inside defender, but Garcon couldn’t bring it in.

Griffin did not carry the ball on any designed runs. He did gain 7 yards on a bootleg to the left on which he scrambled. Moss was open briefly while crossing behind the linebackers after the play-action fake, but that’s tough for Griffin to turn his shoulders 180 degrees and control that throw.

OBSERVATIONS

A 1-for-9 third-down conversion rate is a losing statistic. The Redskins earned it Sunday, though, with a variety of breakdowns on first, second and third downs. Because no scheme reliably converts third-and-long, the key is staying out of such situations. The Redskins faced six third downs on which they needed at least 7 yards, which tell us the problems weren’t limited to third down. Let’s look at all nine third downs, in order:

1. Third-and-7, 50: A sack on first down put the Redskins in second-and-17.

CB Dunta Robinson blitzed off the right edge. He was unblocked, and he paid no attention to the run fake and had QB Robert Griffin III in his sights the whole time. DT Jordan Babineaux got through LG Kory Lichtensteiger to apply pressure inside. TE Fred Davis had Griffin’s third-down pass in his hands over the middle beyond the yard-to-gain, but S William Moore hit Davis as the ball arrived.

2. Third-and-7, WAS 24: Runs on first and second down gained a total of 3 yards.

On first down, the Redskins ran an end around to WR Leonard Hankerson. He was a bit stiff and slow in space, without the wiggle of a Brandon Banks, Santana Moss or even Fred Davis. Hankerson has good straight-line speed, but not as much quick-twitch, change-of-direction elusiveness and explosivness as Banks, Moss or Davis. LB Stephen Nicholas got past LT Trent Williams in space to take away Hankerson’s running room. RB Alfred Morris got only 1 yard on the next play. The Falcons had 8 in the box, and unblocked LB Sean Weatherspoon made the tackle after FB Darrel Young and RG Chris Chester blocked the same guy, Nicholas. On QB Robert Griffin’s third-down pass, he double clutched as the Falcons blitzed six and pushed the pocket. His throw to Moss was too low, incomplete.

3. Third-and-8, WAS 49: A run for only 2 yards and an incomplete pass put the Redskins in third-and-long again.

On first down, LB Sean Weatherspoon blocked WR Leonard Hankerson to his backside and then shed TE Logan Paulsen’s block to stop RB Alfred Morris. On the second down incompletion, Robert Griffin threw behind WR Pierre Garcon on a short, quick in route, and Garcon couldn’t bring it in. Griffin completed a 5-yard pass to TE Fred Davis on third down. He extended the play when he felt pressure from his right. This was the type of play on which Griffin scrambled for first downs in the first month of the season. But Atlanta spied him with DL Kroy Biermann. Biermann closed quickly on Griffin once he started to scramble, and Griffin had to throw it short of the yard-to-gain.

4. Third-and-2, ATL 11: A manageable distance following a run and short completion.

DL Kroy Biermann stopped RB Alfred Morris on zone-read run. He effectively controlled RT Tyler Polumbus’ arms with quick, strong hands, which enabled him to get off Polumbus’ block to make the tackle for a loss of 2. Griffin might have kept the ball instead of handing it to Morris. LT Trent Williams committed a holding penalty, which Atlanta declined. On the next play, K Billy Cundiff missed a 31-yard field goal attempt.

5. Third-and-2, WAS 44: A manageable distance following an 18-yard completion on a second-and-20 that resulted from WR Aldrick Robinson’s illegal block in the back.

LB Sean Weatherspoon stopped RB Alfred Morris short for a gain of only 1. LT Trent Williams chipped DE Kroy Biermann on the left edge but didn’t get off that combination block in time to stop Weatherspoon from fitting in the gap between him and LG Kory Lichtensteiger. Also, FB Darrel Young blocked the outside of S William Moore’s body instead of the inside. That allowed Moore to shed the block inside and help with the tackle. Redskins coaches preach the important of “hat placement” while blocking. A player gets his head to a specific side of the defender to create leverage. Young’s head (and, as a result, body) wasn’t on the correct side to prevent Moore from making the play.

6. Third-and-goal, ATL 3: A manageable distance following a 4-yard completion and 2-yard run.

This is the play on which QB Robert Griffin was concussed. Details of that are above, as are details of the direct snap Morris took on second down. The Redskins, though, might have missed a touchdowns on first down, as well. WR Pierre Garcon made a juggling catch on a slant. The throw was behind him, and Griffin reacted demonstratively after the play. I don’t know if he expected Garcon to stop his route and break back outside based on the coverage, but if Garcon had done that, he might have scored. He would have been one-on-one with CB Asante Samuel with room to get to the sideline.

7. Third-and-7, WAS 14: Back to third-and-long thanks to a 1-yard loss on a second-down run.

On second down, CB Dunta Robinson tackled RB Alfred Morris for a loss after WR Pierre Garcon ran to block a run-blitzing safety. The Falcons outnumbered the Redskins on the left side. QB Kirk Cousins’ third-down pass failed because DE John Abraham hit him as he threw. Abraham went around RT Tyler Polumbus.

8. Third-and-9, WAS 23: A 1-yard run and incomplete pass set up a 77-yard touchdown on Washington’s only third-down conversion. Success!

The Redskins faced another third-and-long. On a 1-yard run on first down, DT Peria Jerry occupied two blockers, C Will Montgomery and RG Chris Chester, which enabled a linebacker to fit and string out the play. WR Pierre Garcon dropped what would have been a 23-yard completion on second down.

9. Third-and-9, WAS 22: A second-down sack cost the Redskins 6 yards and set up another third-and-long.

The sack on second down is described in detail in RT Tyler Polumbus’ write-up above. DL Jonathan Babineaux beat Polumbus to collapse the pocket, but QB Kirk Cousins held the ball for 3.4 seconds against seven defenders in coverage. On third down, Cousins checked down to RB Evan Royster short of the yard-to-gain against backed-off coverage.

…So, what are some threads that tie these failures together?

The biggest problem is individual blocking losses/breakdowns on first, second and third downs. Beyond that, it’s a mix of penalties, dropped passes, inaccurate throws, and so on. There’s a lot to clean up. Running the ball effectively on first and second down is a must. Griffin helped with that during the first four games, but he did not carry on a designed run against Atlanta.

***

QB Robert Griffin III dropped back to pass 18 times. He was 10-of-15 passing for 91 yards and two sacks; a passer rating of 82.9

On 8 dropbacks using play-action, Griffin was 5-of-6 passing for 51 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 102.1.

On 10 dropbacks without a run fake, Griffin was 5-of-9 passing for 40 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 66.9.

On 13 dropbacks from the shotgun, Griffin was 9-of-12 passing for 84 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 93.6.

On 5 dropbacks from under center, Griffin was 2-of-3 passing for 7 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 70.1.

Griffin completed 1 of 3 passes for 5 yards on third down, and he was injured when he was sacked while scrambling on his fourth third-down dropback.

***

QB Kirk Cousins admittedly “tried to do too much” in finishing his NFL debut with two interceptions that clinched the loss. He knows he has to be more patient in the hurry-up offense and take the short throws the defense gives him. QB Robert Griffin did that well in late-game drives against Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, and the Redskins missed that Sunday.

Cousins’ 77-yard touchdown pass to WR Santana Moss on third-and-9 was Washington’s only third-down conversion. He put the perfect amount of air under the ball to get it over the safety. Also, his read was correct.

“It’s a progression where we alert [Moss] and if he ends up popping, you take him, otherwise you progress on,” Cousins said after the game. “Obviously he popped open.”

On the first interception, Cousins should have checked the ball down to RB Alfred Morris against coverage that had backed off of short throws, Cousins and coach Mike Shanahan said after the game. Instead, he tried to pull TE Fred Davis away from the inside defender outside the left numbers. CB Dunta Robinson came off the wide receiver near the sideline and stepped in front of the throw.

Shanahan said he was content with Cousins’ decision on the second interception. He deep pass sailed too high for Moss, who was surrounded by three defenders. Shanahan said Cousins’ timing was good, and he implied Moss was illegally contacted beyond the 5-yard buffer area.

“You have to anticipate that throw, and there’s nothing you can do about a throw like that,” Shanahan said.

***

TE Fred Davis would have had a game ball except his unfinished block on RB Alfred Morris’ 13-yard run to the left in the third quarter appeared to have cost the Redskins a touchdown and, as a result, extended the drive on which QB Robert Griffin III was concussed.

Overall, Davis’ blocking has been very good this season. He’s blocking better than he ever has, and he contributed to some of Morris’ long runs against the Falcons.

However, he didn’t finish his backside block against DL Jonathan Babineaux on Morris’ run to the left from the Atlanta 22-yard line. As the play went left and the Redskins’ line moved in unison, Davis shoved Babineaux. It slowed Babineaux down a bit, but he kept pursuing the play. As it turned out, Babineaux caught Morris from behind at the 9 when there was no defender left to stop him from scoring. Three plays later, Griffin suffered his concussion.

So when FB Darrel Young said Monday that the Redskins need to protect Griffin from taking big hits by putting “him in a better situation, whether it be us running routes, us blocking,” that applies to Davis’ unfinished block.