- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins‘ offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 23-10 win over the New York Giants.

GAME BALLS

RG CHRIS CHESTER:Chester led a solid performance by the offensive line. It was inconsistent — breakdowns prevented any of the Redskins‘ running backs from a rush longer than eight yards — but linemen generated significant push often enough to move the ball on the ground and command respect from the Giants’ linebackers. That’s quite an accomplishment for a patchwork unit facing what usually is a stout Giants front seven.

Chester’s timing with C Will Montgomery was effective on several combination blocks. RB Evan Royster gained seven yards behind them on Washington’s second touchdown drive. DT Linval Joseph lined up over Chester. Chester exploded up into Joseph off the snap, threw off Joseph’s arms and quickly hooked him to the right. Chester then released to block MLBChase Blackburn, while Montgomery had positioned himself to seamlessly replace him blocking Joseph.

Chester believes his timing with Montgomery has significantly improved from the start of the season, he said Tuesday. He and Montgomery have played the most games at their respective offensive line positions — 14 and 12, respectively. That shows how beneficial stability is.

FB DARREL YOUNG:Young made a major impact on the game as a blocker and a runner. He had four carries — three for first downs and one for a touchdown. The Redskins used some quick handoffs to Young to take advantage of how New York’s ends like to get up field. And as you’d expect, his power was a major asset in short yardage. Young converted second-and-1 in the third quarter by lowering his shoulder and bulling DE Justin Tuck backward. He also ran through S Antrel Rolle’s tackle in the secondary on his 6-yard touchdown.

Young’s blocking was more consistent than in the last game. Again, power and physicality are his strong suits. He almost took out coach Mike Shanahan in the fourth quarter because he drove CB Aaron Ross at least five yards back and onto the Redskins‘ sideline. Shanahan scrambled to safety along with several others around him. There are at least a dozen examples of quality lead blocks. In the first quarter, RB Roy Helu got six yards around the left edge behind Young, who engaged LB Mathias Kiwanuka.

Young wasn’t perfect, though. LB Chase Blackburn beat him on the opening kickoff to make the tackle. He ran into RG Chris Chester‘s back and never blocked anyone on a 2-yard pitch to the right on Washington’s first touchdown drive. Young didn’t get enough of DE Jason Pierre-Paul to prevent the Giants’ only sack after Pierre-Paul didn’t hesitate when WR Niles Paul bluffed blocking him. But Young generally executed his blocks and finished them powerfully.

WR JABAR GAFFNEY:Gaffney is positioned to finish the season as the Redskins‘ leading receiver because he runs quality routes. He consistently gets separation on that 15- to 20-yard dig route because he holds the corner at the top of the break by getting in and out of it sharply and at high speed.

Gaffney and QB Rex Grossman have established a reliable connection on that route using play action. It has been working perfectly in recent weeks. The run fake sucks the linebackers up and opens the throwing lane, while Gaffney sharply cuts in to separate from the corner playing with outside leverage. Gaffney makes the corner respect the vertical route by running at him, then puts his foot in the ground and gets back to the inside. Meanwhile, Grossman has the timing down so the ball arrives before the corner can recover. Gaffney ran CB Aaron Ross off for 17-yard gains twice in a span of three plays in the third-quarter.

Gaffney had a 16-yard reception on third-and-16 to extend the Redskins‘ second touchdown drive. He beat rookie CB Prince Amukamara (who later was benched) on a slant, then broke back to the outside around the defender. Gaffney on Tuesday said he caught the pass with a good feel for where Amukamara was because of his peripheral vision. He knew he had running room back to the outside even before the caught the ball.

Gaffney also converted fourth-and-1 on the Redskins‘ first touchdown drive by separating from Amukamara on quick out route. Grossman justifiably trusts Gaffney to win in a one-on-one situation against a rookie. Subtly pushing off with the right arm helps, too. He trails TE Fred Davis by one reception for the team lead, and he is 158 yards away from 1,000 on the season. He’s under contract for next season, too. Considering the price — defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, who didn’t fit in the 3-4 scheme anyway — he’s one of this regime’s best acquisitions.

GASSERS

There are no gassers to give out this week, which surprises me a bit. The Redskins‘ offense played well enough to win comfortably, but it failed to score touchdowns on two of three trips inside the red zone, and it averaged only 3.1 yards per carry. However, there weren’t enough breakdowns or mistakes to offset the positives. That’s progress.

The strongest Gassers candidates were TE Logan Paulsen and RT Tyler Polumbus because they both lost enough blocks. Both were pushed back at times and both failed to sustain or finish some blocks. However, the negative plays weren’t enough to prevent a convincing victory. And Polumbus, in particular, opened some running lanes by generating push and sealing off linemen and OLB Mathias Kiwanuka.

OBSERVATIONS

QB Rex Grossman rebounded from a poor start to give the Redskins a chance to win. He wasn’t always sharp with his mechanics or accuracy, but on third down he was 8-of-11 for 110 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 134.7. Receivers made plays after the catch for him, but he also gave them chances to do so.

His touchdown pass to WR Santana Moss was perfectly placed. He recognized Moss would be open on the corner route because he it would take him away from the single high safety. Moss just had to beat rookie CB Prince Amukamara, which he did easily. The ball was near the sideline away from defenders but gave Moss enough room to get his feet down.

Grossman’s chemistry with WR Jabar Gaffney on play-action has been a major boost in recent weeks. Also, his timing Sunday often was quite good. Grossman converted third-and-11 with a 16-yard throw to Moss on a corner route that was out of his hand before Moss broke. He also hit Gaffney coming out of his break to the sideline to convert fourth-and-1.

Grossman threw two interceptions on his first seven passes. On the first, Moss didn’t hold his fake on the flea-flicker long enough to get significant separation from CB Corey Webster. But Grossman also underthrew the pass. I understand why the Redskins would want to run a flea-flicker to start the game, but deep passes aren’t Grossman’s strong suit. He has struggled at times this season getting the ball out in front of receivers on deep throws. He’s much better with intermediate timing passes to the middle of the field. When the Redskins began calling more of those, they started moving the ball. That wasn’t until after his second pick, though. Grossman threw deep into double coverage with CB Aaron Ross bearing down on him. He had Moss running open on the intermediate level.

Grossman’s footwork was sloppy at times, and that resulted in some errant passes. He overthrew Moss near the left sideline on Washington’s second series when he didn’t step toward the target against the pass rush. He bounced a deep out to Gaffney near the left sideline in the second quarter after falling away from the throw. On the next play, however he bought time by sliding to his left and kept his eyes downfield to find TE Logan Paulsen for a 9-yard gain. Typical Rex: some good, some bad.

RB Roy Helu ran hard, as usual, but he didn’t create a lot of yards on his own like he did against New England. Generally, he got what the offensive line got for him. He didn’t create any long runs by getting around the corner, and he rarely, if ever, was in position to make defenders miss in space. It’s difficult to say how much of that resulted from Helu not hitting the proper cutback lane, but it’s also a product of individual breakdowns along the offensive line.

Helu lost four yards on first-and-10 from New York’s 18 in the second quarter when he tried to bounce a run outside of TE Logan Paulsen, who had been driven back by LB Mathias Kiwanuka. Even though Paulsen was in the backfield, he turned Kiwanuka out. Helu could have run inside him, but S Antrel Rolle had run up to fill the gap. Perhaps Helu would have been better off taking on Rolle than trying to get to the corner. His past success getting around the edge might affect those decisions, though. In this instance, Kiwanuka shed Paulsen and made the stop.

Earlier on that series, Helu gained eight yards — his longest carry — on a toss to the right. He was four yards behind the line of scrimmage when it became obvious that LT Willie Smith and LG Maurice Hurt got enough of a surge to create a lane on the back side, so Helu planted his foot and burst upfield. That’s what Mike Shanahan’s running game is supposed to look like.

The Redskins have tossed the ball to Helu more in the last two weeks than they ever did earlier this season. By my count, 14 of Helu’s 23 carries were tosses, and they accounted for 40 yards; an average of 2.85 yards per carry. By contrast, he averaged only 1.44 yards on the nine handoffs he took.

“When a guy gets a toss, you have a little more separation between the offensive line,” Shanahan said Monday. “You have the option with his speed to go outside, or if they over-pursue he’s a little bit more downhill. He can cut back without pressing the line of scrimmage.

“Sometimes, when you get that handoff, it’s quicker sometimes [and] you have the option to go outside or inside to get that yard or two. To have the combination to do both like he does keeps those defensive ends and outside linebackers a little bit off-balance because you’re not sure if you’re going to pitch it or you’re not sure if you’re going to hand it off. If you hand it off and you start playing the pitch, it’s by you.”

LT Willie Smith was inconsistent in his first career start. The matchup did him no favors — DE Jason Pierre-Paul is the best defensive player the Redskins have faced this season, in my opinion. The Redskins helped Smith with that matchup at times by having RB Roy Helu chip him or by mixing it up and having TE Logan Paulsen block him. Ultimately, though, Smith did not give up a sack, which is an improvement from his NFL debut last week. He also made some effective blocks in the running game, including a combination on Pierre-Paul and MLBChase Blackburn on Helu’s 6-yard run in the first quarter.

Smith’s inconsistent technique is expected from an undrafted rookie. Another shortcoming that stands out at times is a lack of power. For example, he kicked out on a toss left to RB Evan Royster and went to engage OLB Mathias Kiwanuka, but Kiwanuka easily held Smith off, stood his ground and shed the block to make the tackle. Maybe Smith’s power would be more evident once he adjusts to game speed and becomes more sure of his assignments, but it’s a significant dropoff from Trent Williams.

• The Redskins surrendered only one sack. Pierre-Paul barely was blocked before he brought QB Rex Grossman down in the first quarter.

WR Niles Paul motioned from the right to a tight end position on the left side of the line. He wasn’t supposed to block Pierre-Paul; his job was to bluff at Pierre-Paul before releasing to the flat. That assignment was based on a look earlier in the game.

The Redskins wanted Pierre-Paul to hesitate so FB Darrel Young had time to peel off faking a lead block on play-action and redirect to block Pierre-Paul. But Pierre-Paul never bought Paul’s fake and got to Grossman before Young could recover. Snap-to-sack took only 1.8 seconds.

• On FB Darrel Young‘s 6-yard touchdown run, Pierre-Paul peeled off him because he thought WR Terrence Austin had the ball on an end around. Before that, the Redskins handed off on separate plays to WR Anthony Armstrong and WR Niles Paul. Young’s run was a perfect example of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan running a play based on an adjustment from another earlier in the game.