Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Washington Redskins’ 30-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday:
* Much of the Washington Redskins’ season could be boiled down to two salient points: They had an offense that couldn’t pick up yards and a defense that couldn’t prevent them. On Sunday, when the pressure was on, they did both.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the season would have been over if the Redskins had lost to the Chargers; after all, they’d have fallen to 2-6, and with a winnable road game this coming Thursday against the hapless Minnesota Vikings, who have lost seven of eight, the Redskins could have been 3-6 – right where they were last year when they began their turnaround. (Considering the Vikings’ performance Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, they could still be in that position come Friday morning.)
What a loss on Sunday would have done, however, it severely sucked the wind out of a locker room that continues to maintain it’s a few minor points of execution away from being the team it was last year. The Redskins, after all, held a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining and squandered it, only to find themselves on the right side of the coin flip in overtime.
* The overtime possession might be one of the best the offense has had this season. It was balanced – before penalties, four run plays and four pass plays before three final run plays – and it was efficient. The Redskins needed only 6:01 to travel the 78 yards to the end zone. While this was also a subplot to the entire game, quarterback Robert Griffin III was sharp. He threw a pair of darts to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and tight end Logan Paulsen early in the drive, hooked up with tight end Jordan Reed to convert on third-and-8 and then threaded the needle on a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garçon, who was double covered by free safety Eric Weddle and inside linebacker Andrew Gachkar.
Griffin has shown, when healthy, to have a flair for big moments. He made an impressive debut in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints a year ago. His play against the Cowboys on the road last Thanksgiving was remarkable. And, when the game was on the line in overtime on Sunday, he was able to step up and deliver. Griffin exudes confidence; games like that, in which that confidence manifests itself, are good not only for his own psyche but for the team’s as well. If it wasn’t clear enough two weeks ago in a victory over the Chicago Bears that Griffin is back, the overtime drive on Sunday offers more convincing evidence.
* As I mentioned, Griffin was sharp all day – a stark contrast to his effort against the Broncos, which might have been the worst game of his career. He was significantly boosted by Garçon, who caught seven passes for a career-high 172 yards and averaged 24.6 yards per reception. He was especially impressive on third down, a trouble spot for the Redskins this season; they went 12-for-17, including six conversions on the nine occasions in which he threw the ball. One of his better throws was the second-to-last play of the third quarter, when he found Hankerson 11 yards downfield on a crossing route on third-and-6 that prolonged a drive that ended in a touchdown run.
Griffin completed 23 of 32 pass attempts on the afternoon. Last year, he threw more than 30 passes in four regular-season games, and he’s done so all but once this year (that was the 29-attempt game against the Bears). The fewer the attempts and the more runs, the better off he, and the Redskins, will be.
* The unofficial running tally: The Redskins offered 18 zone-read looks on Sunday, which is the most they’ve done so in a single game this season. Griffin threw the ball seven times and carried it only once. Running back Alfred Morris carried it seven times, which is also a season-high. Fullback Darrel Young was handed the ball twice, once on a play that was negated by penalty, and the Redskins ran two other triple-option plays out of it (the third was counted officially as a pass, so I did as well.) That’s 83 zone-read looks on plays this season: Griffin has thrown the ball 39 times and run it 16 times, Morris has run it 25 times, Young has run it twice and Roy Helu has run it once.
* Players may say they want to win and want to compete and want to play hard, but I don’t think there are many people who do so, and then back it up, more often than Garçon. The wide receiver has been bothered not only by the losing, but also by the struggles of the passing game. There he was on Sunday, running downfield, grabbing seven of the nine balls he had a chance to make (two passes officially intended for Garçon were batted down at the line of scrimmage). Garçon, teammates have said, typically plays angry. He was furious against the Chargers.
* A few other notes:
1) In nine seasons of covering college or professional football, I can’t ever recall seeing a quarterback have four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Corey Liuget batted two down on consecutive plays at the end of the second quarter; he broke through the B gap to swat down a screen pass, then pushed back left guard Kory Lichtensteiger enough on the following play to deflect the ball upward. Griffin’s lone interception, snagged by defensive end Sean Lissemore in the second quarter, was batted upward by defensive end Lawrence Guy, and outside linebacker Larry English tipped a screen pass in the fourth quarter.
2) The Redskins worked the triple option back into their game plan for the first time in about a year, as they seemed to go away from it early last October. They ran it only three times – a pair of pitches to receiver Santana Moss, one of which was so late it was actually a forward pass – and another to Reed. Just showing the threat of a play like that will help the Redskins’ offense going forward because it adds one more thing for defenses to worry about.
3) I could rarely recall a moment over the past two-plus seasons in which right guard Chris Chester was called for holding, and officials threw a flag twice on Sunday (though one was a phantom call, and the second was ticky-tacky.) As it turns out, he’s now been penalized for holding four times this season, never drew a holding penalty last year and was called once in 2011, his first season in Washington. In five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Chester was penalized for holding only eight times. All told, the Redskins have been called for holding 16 times this season, three of which were declined, for the sixth-highest total in the league.
4) Hankerson had a mild revival on Sunday, catching five passes for 55 yards. And, by catching four passes for 37 yards, Reed now has 38 receptions this season – already the most in a single season by a Redskins rookie tight end.
5) Young’s three touchdowns were clearly special to him. He tried to be classy after the game and downplay it as a team effort, but it was evident he would have liked to bask in the glory a bit. Most important to him, he said, it demonstrated a trust by the team that he could succeed in those situations. He did not only that, but he thrived.
* When I was younger and played “Madden 2003” against my friends, I’d often choose to let my opponent score while trying for a (rare) late goal-line stand, knowing he’d do so anyway and I’d have more time to respond.
That, friends, is the difference between football and a video game.
The Redskins’ defensive stand on first-and-goal from its own 1-yard line was impressive. Had running back Danny Woodhead gotten into the end zone on first down, the Redskins would have had just 17 seconds left to try to take the lead – nearly an impossible task. Credit goes to nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen, who were able to get a quick enough jump off the snap to push back the Chargers’ interior linemen and clog any holes Woodhead was trying to sneak through. The incompletion on second down, a fade attempt to tight end Antonio Gates in the right corner of the end zone, happened because cornerback DeAngelo Hall had his hands all over Gates at the line of scrimmage, and the throw on third down fell incomplete because of tight coverage on the back end.
There have been several occasions this season in which the Redskins’ defense was ridiculed for its performance, and rightfully so. Even in the last few games, when individual performances have been better, the unit has still given up plenty of yards and plenty of points. After the game, though, many defensive players were proud of the way they performed, and several offensive players – including Griffin – praised the defense for the stop.
Those are the types of things a defense, and a team, can rally around. It’s fair to say there will be a lot of confidence gained from that situation heading into the coming weeks.
* While the Redskins deserve credit for the defensive stand, an equal, if not greater, amount of questioning needs to be centered on the calls by Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He had the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Woodhead in the game on first down – not 6-foot, 220-pound Ryan Mathews or even 6-foot, 223-pound Ronnie Brown – and then went away from the run game in favor of a jump ball to Gates on second down (a logical call) and a poorly executed throw off a bootleg by quarterback Philip Rivers on third down.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was asked repeatedly after the game, and again on Monday, according to San Diego-area reports, about the play selection. McCoy, both times, said there wouldn’t have been so many questions if one of the three plays were successful. Well, no, Mike, because you would have won the game and winning cures everything – and because the other two likely wouldn’t have happened.
* The Redskins were constantly able to make Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, forcing him at times to step up and move around to make throws. But, given his quick delivery, sacking him was difficult; only outside linebacker Rob Jackson was able to drop him. The pressure, though, helped force Rivers off his mark. He entered with a 73.9 completion percentage, highest in the league and on pace to set a single-season record, but he completed only 63 percent of his throws against the Redskins. (If it weren’t for the checkdowns and screens to Woodhead, that number would have been lower.)
* Cornerback David Amerson was looking forward to the game because of the opportunity to face childhood friend and Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. I’d say Allen got the better of the first matchup, especially late. While Amerson jumped a dig route to snatch an interception in the third quarter, he had problems with Allen on the Chargers’ final drive, including consecutive gains of 20 and 11 with around a minute remaining.
One play didn’t appear to be Amerson’s fault – the 22-yard grab by Allen on fourth-and-2. The Chargers sent Gates in motion to the left in a bunch formation, and Hall, who moved with him, tried to change the defensive backs’ coverage responsibilities on the play. It was too late, considering center Nick Hardwick snapped the ball as Hall was yelling out to his teammates. Hall and cornerback Josh Wilson followed receiver Vincent Brown inside on a crossing route, while Amerson came forward when Gates stopped on a short curl route. That left Allen streaking down the left side, and he still had to turn around and lunge to make the catch while wide open. It appeared cornerback E.J. Biggers was in the area, but he could have expected a cornerback to help him; Hall eventually made the tackle.
All that being said, Allen looks like he’ll be a special player. He’s certainly taking advantage of the opportunity gained with top target Malcolm Floyd out for the season with a neck injury.
* Kicker Kai Forbath had a pair of field goals blocked – a 25-yarder in the first quarter and a 59-yarder in the second quarter. He didn’t know what went wrong after the game, but head coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that both were low kicks and were not the fault of the protection. Both times, it appeared that the player blocking the kick, Guy and Liuget, was able to get between long snapper Kyle Nelson and defensive end Kedric Golston. The 59-yarder is a low probability kick anyway, and there was no harm in trying it at the end of the second quarter with a kicker who has the distance to make it. Missing a 25-yard field goal, especially when it’s blocked, is an issue. Forbath, who made his first 17 attempts, has now missed five of his last 10, dating back to the regular-season finale in December.
* The snap counts (Includes plays run but negated by offensive penalties; zero plays means the player only appeared on special teams):
Offense (75 plays): Chris Chester 75, Tyler Polumbus 75, Trent Williams 75, Will Montgomery 75, Kory Lichtensteiger 75, Robert Griffin III 75, Pierre Garçon 59, Jordan Reed 56, Alfred Morris 54, Logan Paulsen 50, Leonard Hankerson 34, Santana Moss 26, Niles Paul 22, Roy Helu 21, Joshua Morgan 20, Darrel Young 19, Aldrick Robinson 10, Tom Compton 4, Evan Royster 0, Adam Gettis 0.
Defense (64 plays): Brandon Meriweather 64, DeAngelo Hall 64, Josh Wilson 61, London Fletcher 61, Ryan Kerrigan 61, Perry Riley 59, David Amerson 55, Brian Orakpo 54, E.J. Biggers 52, Barry Cofield 44, Stephen Bowen 41, Jarvis Jenkins 23, Chris Baker 16, Rob Jackson 11, Brandon Jenkins 9, Reed Doughty 8, Bacarri Rambo 8, Nick Barnett 7, Kedric Golston 6, Jerome Murphy 0, Josh Hull 0, Trenton Robinson 0.