Initial Thoughts & Observations: Rams 31, Redskins 28

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ST. LOUIS | Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 31-28 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 2:

As several Redskins said in the locker room afterwards, there are many reasons they lost this game. But despite everything they did wrong – poor tackling, coverage woes, LB Perry Riley’s missed block on the blocked punt, QB Robert Griffin III’s interception before halftime – they would have had a chance to win if WR Joshua Morgan had kept his composure with 78 seconds remaining. It just proves the elements that go into winning a football game are extensive and varied.

It was such a terrible lapse in poise. The replay shows Rams CB Cortland Finnegan shove Morgan in the face as he gets up from the turf at the 29-yard line. Morgan in that situation – down 3 points with the clock running on what would have been fourth-and-1 – has to ignore Finnegan and hand the ball to an official so the field goal unit can attempt a tying 47-yard field goal. Easier said than done, apparently. Morgan didn’t, and it’s one of many reasons why Washington lost. Morgan has to learn from his mistake so it wasn’t in vain.

The Redskins shouldn’t cut Morgan, nor will they. He’s a talented receiver who also contributes as a blocker. Washington signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason, so he’s part of the team’s plan going forward. He couldn’t have been more contrite after the game. He must have said some variation of “I should have kept my calm,” about a million times. Be careful not to make him the scapegoat him for this defeat, but he does deserve a portion of the blame. Just keep in mind there’s a lot of blame to go around.

***

The Redskins, and especially Morgan, must identify the lessons from such a tough loss and become a better team because of them. That’s true after every defeat, but for a team to become a playoff contender, it’s essential. Players after the game had the right mindset, which is a positive sign for what’s ahead.

“I’m excited because this is what every great team has to go through to be great,” FB Darrel Young said of the adversity. He was careful to emphasize how upset he was about the loss, but he chose to view it as a learning tool.

“It’s a learning experience,” CB DeAngelo Hall said. “[Morgan] will learn from it. It’s a good thing this wasn’t a playoff game.”

***

It’s hypocritical for the NFL to preach the value of integrity of the game in some instances while locking out its officials. Who knows whether Sunday’s game would have been as chippy as it was if it were officiated by a regular crew? But that shouldn’t be part of the conversation. And it wasn’t just this game. It was part of postgame conversations around the league on Sunday. I’m thinking of Baltimore-Philadelphia, in particular.

At best, the referee lockout distracts from the games. At worst, it’s unsafe for players. I’m eager to rewatch the hit TE Fred Davis absorbed in the fourth quarter – the Redskins obviously believed it was a helmet-to-helmet hit against a defenseless receiver that was not called.

The replacement crew did try to take control of the game early by penalizing both teams for late hits, and it penalized Rams DE Robert Quinn for punching LT Trent Williams in the face after a play. It wasn’t enough, though. They needed to do more. They should have kept throwing flags during all the post-play skirmishes until they stopped.

That’s not to blame the referees for creating an atmosphere that led to WR Joshua Morgan’s gaffe at the end. Maybe it did, but it’s up to Morgan to keep his composure. WR Santana Moss made a good point about human nature, sympathizing for Morgan. Controlling one’s emotions can be difficult.

“It weighs on you as a person and as a player,” Moss said. “You just can’t tolerate someone just keep—I was poked in the eye and all that stuff on the bottom of piles. But what can you do about it? Tell the refs? That’s what they want, but at the end of the day if they’re not responding what can you do? You retaliate in certain ways, and you would hate to be the guy to do that. At the end of the day, it happened. It’s all in the heat of the moment, and you don’t know if you would have did different.”

***

This game busts the myth that the Redskins were just a quarterback and some offensive playmakers away from solving their problems. The defense struggled after the first quarter to pressure Rams QB Sam Bradford, and this secondary as currently constructed can’t withstand a passing attack led by a quarterback who has a lot of time to scan the field and throw.

Rams WR Danny Amendola was Washington’s biggest problem. A fast, shifty receiver like him is lethal if he has time to run away from defenders. He can be covered only for so long (and the Redskins didn’t even do that.) The Redskins didn’t press him much, if at all, and I wonder why. Amendola’s shiftiness, perhaps. SS DeJon Gomes and CB DeAngelo Hall noted Amendola ran option routes against man coverage and found holes in zones.

“He has a lot of freedom, and he’s a shifty dude in the slot,” Gomes said. “Anytime you have a guy like that, you just have to be extra tight. Even in tight coverage, Bradford was sticking it in.”

The point is the Redskins’ defense obviously has some holes after giving up 63 points in two games. When the front seven isn’t harassing the quarterback, the secondary is going to be exposed in coverage.

***

The Redskins’ defensive front seven was a strength last season partly because it stayed healthy. Not one starter in the front seven missed a game due to injury. That’s about to change.

DE Adam Carriker believes he suffered a serious right knee injury. There’s a chance he could miss the rest of the season, pending the results of an MRI Monday. OLB Brian Orakpo also injured his shoulder and missed much of the second half.

We’re about to see if the depth up front is legit. DE Jarvis Jenkins has not consistently been the powerful player we saw last summer. OLB Rob Jackson has been an intriguing pass-rushing prospect blocked by Orakpo. Now could be their chance to make a positive impact.

***

QB Robert Griffin III made some terrific plays again this week and, like a rookie will sometimes do, threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that was intercepted.

Griffin’s running ability is a huge asset in the red zone, which he proved on two touchdown runs. The 7-yard draw was a run/pass read, Griffin said. The Rams showed him the defense that prompted him to run, and it worked. He is patient behind his blockers, and his speed helps him avoid tacklers. It’s very difficult to stop.

His deep throw on the 68-yard touchdown to WR Leonard Hankerson was gorgeous. He put enough air under it to enable Hankerson to run under the ball. Griffin also extended some positive plays by moving in the pocket to avoid pressure. Something as subtle as stepping forward and to the right a few feet can be the difference between a sack and a first down, and Griffin did that at times.

Griffin’s interception was uncharacteristic. He threw weakly off his back foot when he was pressured. “I was just trying to make a play when I shouldn’t make a play,” Griffin said. “It’s what we talked about during the preseason. It’s just a mistake I can’t make. I’ll learn from that.”

It’s fair to wonder whether Griffin felt himself on the play. He took a vicious hit from CB Janoris Jenkins while running the ball on the previous play. Griffin, though, said that had no affect on the interception.

***

The blocked kicks are incredible. Just baffling. Again this week, a mental mistake resulted in a blocked punt, which St. Louis turned into seven points. Players deserve part of the blame. So does special teams coach Danny Smith.

“It was a six-man rush and there was a bit of an overload,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “One of our guys took off a little too early and they blocked the punt.  You have to stay in place to protect it longer.”

The guy who blocked the punt initially engaged ILB Perry Riley, but Riley quickly released down field.

“We just have to continue to work on it,” Shanahan said. “We knew that they would come after us. It always happens after you have a blocked punt, people are going to keep coming after you until you stop it. When someone takes off a little too quick you have to work on it obviously.  This is another situation that we talk to, it is a difference in winning and losing a game.”

***

Sorry, but I don’t get Mike Shanahan’s reasoning for having K Billy Cundiff attempt a 62-yard field goal at the end of the game. Shanahan doesn’t have many enticing options on fourth-and-15 from the Rams’ 44, but putting the ball in QB Robert Griffin III’s hands gives the Redskins a chance to convert the first down or, in this unruly game, draw some sort of penalty to extend the drive. The field goal, on the other hand was from an impossible distance.

“He can kick it out of the endzone pretty consistently from the 35-yard line, so that means he could kick a 62-yard if he hits it right,” Shanahan said.

The physics of kickoffs, though, are different from that on field goals. Cundiff’s run-up on a field goal is shorter, and he doesn’t kick off a tee. Surely Shanahan recognizes that. It’s worth following up on that with him Monday.

…that’s it for now. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, emailing me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hitting me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

 

 

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