The Washington Times - September 19, 2012, 07:29PM

ANALYSIS/OPINION

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the NFL.com coaches’ film and FOX TV broadcast of their 31-28 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

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GAME BALLS

QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III: There’s so much to like about what Griffin did against the Rams. He’s the reason the Redskins can believe they’re in every game until the clock expires. Players on both sides of the ball, specifically WR Santana Moss and CB DeAngelo Hall, shared that sentiment in the locker room after the game. That type of belief is proof this team is making progress.

Let’s start with Griffin’s passing. The 68-yard touchdown to WR Leonard Hankerson exemplified why he came out of Baylor with a reputation for throwing a great deep ball. Griffin put the perfect amount of air under it, and Hankerson caught it in stride behind the defense. Griffin makes such throws seems effortless. He missed on three deep passes against Indianapolis in the third preseason game, including one intended for Hankerson. Afterward, he spoke of the need for repetition to sharpen the timing and feel of the throw. Whatever he and his receivers did to practice that, it worked.

Griffin also completed some throws into tight windows. He’s 39-of-55 passing through two games; that 70.9 completion percentage is fourth-best in the NFL. Griffin converted third-and-5 on the Redskins’ first series with a pinpoint throw over the middle to WR Aldrick Robinson. He began going through his progressions by looking to the right, but he came back to Robinson cutting in from the left when the middle of the field opened. Robinson was covered, but Griffin placed the ball in the perfect spot for Robinson to catch it in stride away from CB Janoris Jenkins.

Griffin’s running was even better than his passing. He effectively ran quarterback draws to exploit how widely St. Louis’ defensive linemen were split. Griffin was patient selling the pass, and he did well to set up his blocks. On the 14-yard draw he ran from the Redskins’ 31 in the fourth quarter, he drifted to his right to suck LB James Laurinaitis into RB Evan Royster’s lead block, and then he cut left into open space.

His second touchdown run was a 7-yard draw on which he came to the line with the option to pass or run depending on what the defense showed before the snap, he said. Whatever he read, he read correctly. When the defensive tackles are split so wide they’re outside the two guards, that’s just asking for Griffin to run it up the middle.

Griffin finished his touchdown runs well. On the first one, a 5-yard carry on zone read, he explosively cut upfield to split two defenders. On the second, he turned to make himself narrow as he lunged through defenders at the goal line. Then there’s the stiff-arm of DE Jermelle Cudjo in space that earned him an extra 10 yards on the Redskins’ final drive.

And it’s not just his ability to run for yardage; it’s his ability to extend plays. He converted third-and-7 in the second quarter on a completion to WR Joshua Morgan that was possible because he kept his eyes downfield as DE Chris Long brought pressure from Griffin’s right (this was a major problem all game), sensed the rush and escaped the pocket to the right without ever taking his eyes off his receivers. Griffin also avoided a sack in the fourth quarter when he spun away from CB Cortland Finnegan, who followed a receiver into the backfield to pursue a possible end around. Griffin converted third-and-1 from the St. Louis 9 with a perfectly placed low pass on the run to TE Fred Davis, who made an exceptional sliding catch.

OK, now some negatives. Griffin forced the throw over the middle on his interception. He can’t get away with throwing off balance under pressure with his shoulders open like they were, and he has to know the game situation. It was first-and-10 from the Redskins’ 36 with less than a minute remaining in the first half half and Washington leading 21-13. The only thing that can’t happen in that situation is a turnover. Griffin was hard on himself after the game about it. For now, that’s a learning moment.

Griffin missed another slant pass to his left, this one low and behind Hankerson in the first quarter. He occasionally struggled to place that throw in preseason games. It’s a matter of stepping toward his target and driving the ball.

Griffin appeared to get a bit jittery or have happy feet or whatever you want to call it late in the game when DE Chris Long was teeing off on RT Tyler Polumbus. Long was running Polumbus ragged, and it affected Griffin’s composure in the pocket and ability to coolly go through his reads. Griffin’s instinct in such situations is to rely on his athleticism to make a play, and we saw that in how he often he escaped the pocket in the fourth quarter. There were plays on which he could have passed to outlets before he did. Twice he could have dumped the ball off to Fred Davis but instead ran – and took a hit – gaining the same yardage with his legs that Davis would have gained with a catch. Griffin has to be smarter about that in order to preserve his body.

Another thing from the second half, Griffin got up on his tiptoes to throw on at least one throw when the pocket collapsed. He lost power on the pass, which was over the middle to Santana Moss for 2 yards. Perhaps that’s a function of Griffin’s height (he’s only 6-2), but those are risky throwing mechanics.

Overall, Griffin is transforming the offense as expected. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and you can’t help but wonder what he’s going to do next. He’s the main reason why the Redskins are consistently moving the ball.

WR LEONARD HANKERSON: Hankerson had a terrific game after playing sparingly in Week 1. He ran away from CB Janoris Jenkins on his 68-yard touchdown, taking advantage of Jenkins looking into the backfield at a pair of run fakes. Hankerson almost dropped QB Robert Griffin III’s deep pass on the play, but he didn’t, and he finished the play well by stepping out of Jenkins’ swipe at his feet.

That was Hankerson’s only reception for positive yardage, but he positively impacted the game with several effective blocks, which was crucial with WR Pierre Garcon out. On Griffin’s first touchdown run, he ran inside from his position wide left to block S Craig Dahl from getting outside to make the stop. He also blocked a Jenkins 12 yards downfield near the left sideline to help spring RB Alfred Morris on his 29-yard run in the third quarter.

It’ll be interesting to see if Hankerson’s effective play, along with WR Joshua Morgan’s costly tantrum, means more playing time for Hankerson against Cincinnati this week.

RB ALFRED MORRIS: Morris averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 16 attempts thanks to runs of 27 and 29 yards. In Week 1, 71.4 percent (20 of 28) of his carries were for 3 yards or less. Against St. Louis, that was down to 56.3 (9 of 16). He’s physical finishing his runs, as usual. Coach Mike Shanahan said Morris improved taking a wider track on outside runs, and you know Shanahan always tells the truth.

Morris gained 17 additional yards after setting up WR Leonard Hankerson’s block of CB Janoris Jenkins on his 29-yarder in the third quarter. Near the left sideline, Morris faked going to Hankerson’s left, which got Jenkins to step outside. Morris then fluidly changed his path inside of Hankerson, making Hankerson’s block easier.

Morris blocked LB Rocky McIntosh’s pass rush to secure a clean throw for QB Robert Griffin on the 68-yard touchdown to Hankerson. Morris following through on the fake handoff to him by squaring McIntosh up. However, on the first quarter play on which the Redskins were flagged for intentional grounding, Morris missed his block. He appeared surprised that LT Trent Williams blocked down on the play, which left two free rushers on the left edge of the offense. Morris initially positioned himself to take the outside one, assuming Williams would take the inside guy. Morris couldn’t adjust in time, and he didn’t block anybody.

C WILL MONTGOMERY: Montgomery was perfect on shotgun snaps for the second straight week inside a loud dome. The non-verbal communication between Montgomery and QB Robert Griffin III was effective again. Montgomery also successfully led the blocking on Griffin’s quarterback draws. On Griffin’s 14-yard run, Montgomery shoved DT Eugene Sims out to the left, then redirected to engage S Quintin Mikell 12 yards downfield.

Montgomery helped RB Alfred Morris gain six yards on a first-quarter run by climbing to block LB Rocky McIntosh. On the next play, Morris’ 27-yarder, Montgomery and RG Chris Chester teamed on a successful combination block against DT Jermelle Cudjo. Once Chester chipped Cudjo, Montgomery was quick enough to get outside him and help seal the running lane.

GASSERS

WR JOSHUA MORGAN: Enough has been written about Morgan’s outburst in the decisive moments, so I’ll just say it was a losing football play. Good players don’t make that mistake. He knows he screwed up. He has to grow from it.

I’d be impressed, and surprised, if coach Mike Shanahan disciplines Morgan by taking away playing time on Sunday against Cincinnati. The Redskins are the most penalized team in the league entering Week 3. I’m not sure Shanahan needs to send a message, but could it hurt?

As far as the rest of the game went, Morgan was productive. He converted a first down in the second quarter by continuing his crossing route all the way across the field, making himself available as QB Robert Griffin III extended the play. He also caught a 14-yard reception and took a hit over the middle on a play-action pass in the fourth quarter.

RT TYLER POLUMBUS: Rams DE Chris Long gave Polumbus trouble all game with his outside rush from the wide 9 technique. Polumbus consistently failed to kick out in time, which forced him to try to ride Polumbus behind QB Robert Griffin III. By the end of the game, Griffin was sensing pressure coming from Polumbus’ side before it even got there.

Long beat Polumbus to pressure Griffin into the interception near the end of the first half. Polumbus punched before Long was within reach, so his hands were down when Long engaged. Long got into Polumbus’ body was able to push him back to disrupt the pocket.

The Redskins eventually started helping Polumbus in the second half. RG Chris Chester, TE Fred Davis and running backs each helped chip Long. It didn’t always help.

WR ALDRICK ROBINSON: Robinson’s drop of a 57-yard throw with the Redskins down 31-28 in the fourth quarter was more costly than WR Joshua Morgan’s tantrum. Robinson had to adjust to the pass, which was over his outside shoulder, but it hit him in his hands and chest. Because S Quintin Mikell lost sight of the ball, a catch would have either been a touchdown, or it would have given the Redskins possession inside the Rams’ 10-yard line.

Robinson also missed a couple of blocks, which highlights how the Redskins missed WR Pierre Garcon, who has been an exceptional blocker since he signed. A quick throw to WR Santana Moss in the left flat went for only 3 yards after Robinson missed a block on CB Janoris Jenkins.

After Robinson’s failed cut block against Jenkins on a designed run by QB Robert Griffin III late in the first half, Jenkins delivered a vicious hit to Griffin’s back as Griffin went to the ground.

Robinson did change direction well and accelerate on his 28-yard catch-and-run. It was reminiscent of his touchdown in the Chicago preseason game.

LT TRENT WILLIAMS: Williams is on this list because has ascended to a level at which it’s surprising if he doesn’t shut down his opponent. He surrendered a sack to DE Robert Quinn early in the game and incurred a holding penalty against him late.

On the sack, Quinn’s quick hands mitigated Williams’ punch, and Quinn got around the edge. On the holding penalty, Williams, who normally excels changing direction, slipped when Quinn faked outside and rushed inside. Williams grabbed him as a last resort.

LB Rocky McIntosh fought through Williams’ and TE Fred Davis’ double team to stop RB Alfred Morris for a 3-yard gain early in the second half. On a screen pass to WR Leonard Hankerson to start the Redskins’ last drive of the first half, Williams didn’t kick out in time to prevent Hankerson from being tackled for no gain. To be fair, I’m not sure Williams could have made it unless he had jetpacks on his ankles.

OBSERVATIONS

Play of the Game: First-and-10 from the Redskins’ 31-yard line. 10:44 Fourth quarter. 31-28, Rams.

WR Aldrick Robinson dropped a 57-yard throw at the Rams’ 11 yard line after separating from S Quintin Mikell. That missed opportunity was as close as the Redskins would get to re-taking the lead in the fourth quarter.

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RG3 Breakdown

Griffin in the game was 20-of-29 passing for 206 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one sack; a passer rating of 86.3.

Out of shotgun, he was: 14 of 21 for 84 yards, an interception and a sack; a passer rating of 54.5. He also scrambled three times for 19 yards and was penalized for intentional grounding.

From under center, he was: 6 of 8 for 122 yards and a touchdown; a passer rating of 156.3. Each of his passes from under center used play action.

On play-action passes, he was: 8 of 10 for 134 yards, a touchdown; a passer rating of 152.1.

On straight passes (no run fakes), he was: 12 of 19 for 72 yards, an interception, a sack and an intentional grounding penalty; a passer rating of 48.6.

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By my count, the Rams contacted QB Robert Griffin III to the ground 13 times. He was knocked down six times on designed runs, four times throwing the ball and three times scrambling away from pressure on designed passes.

Griffin has now been contacted to the ground 26 times in two games, 12 times on designed runs.

Griffin has 20 rushing attempts this season. Among the players with less: Tennessee RB Chris Johnson, Carolina QB Cam Newton, Philadelphia QB Michael Vick.

“I think it’ll die down over the course of the year,” Griffin said Wednesday. “I think from game to game it will be different. Sometimes I’ll carry the ball 10 times, sometimes I’ll carry the ball two times. It’s just a matter of how defenses are going to play. I don’t expect to carry that many times.”

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With 11 penalties against the Rams (on both sides of the ball), the Redskins have been penalized 23 times for 223 yards. They enter Week 3 the most penalized team in the NFL, ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 19 penalties for 168 yards.

Some of the penalties have been bogus. DE Stephen Bowen, for example, was flagged for offside in the fourth quarter when it obviously was a false start by the offense. LG Kory Lichtensteiger twice was called for phantom holding penalties in Week 1. Still, the Redskins are suffering from this.

Mike Shanahan on Wednesday emphasized the importance of considering officials’ incorrect calls in evaluating the high penalty total, but he also guaranteed improvement.

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The Rams’ defensive ends consistently lined up in a wide 9 technique, which seemed to discourage the Redskins from using zone read runs. The defensive ends’ wide alignment helped them resist getting sucked inside and losing contain on the quarterback.

After running it 10 times against the Saints, Washington ran only four against St. Louis. QB Robert Griffin III’s first touchdown run was on a zone read. He carried twice for 11 yards; RB Alfred Morris had only one for 3 yards, and RB Evan Royster had one for 4.

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LG Kory Lichtensteiger usually is an effective blocker on screens, but he missed some against the Rams. LB James Laurinaitis dodged Steiger’s block to the inside on a screen to TE Fred Davis in the first quarter and stopped it for a gain of 6 on second-and-14. Later in the half, Steiger stumbled on a screen to RB Roy Helu Jr. that went for no gain. On the first play of Washington’s last drive, Lichtensteiger dove at LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s feet in space on screen to RB Evan Royster. Dunbar dodged him and made the tackle.

Lichtensteiger did block well in the running game. He helped seal the running lanes for QB Robert Griffin’s draws. The Redskins also successfully ran to the left behind him and LT Trent Williams early in the second half. Lichtensteiger executed several successful combination blocks with C Will Montgomery.

Steigs made a fantastic block against against DT Kellen Heard to help spring RB Alfred Morris’ 29-yard run in the second half. Heard shaded Lichtensteiger’s outside shoulder, but Lichtensteiger was so quick off the ball that he won the outside and sealed Heard inside.

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One play the importance of which should not go underrated: The Rams, leading 31-28 with 5:07 remaining in the game, flipped field position on Redskins with a 66-yard punt. How clutch is that?! The punt traveled 76 yards(!) in the air. The Rams punted from their own 10-yard line, and the Redskins gained possession at the Washington 21.

…that’s it for the offense. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment, sending me an email at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hitting me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.