A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
[Cue sound effect: Crickets chirping in the dead of night]
HC MIKE SHANAHAN: The head coach and top personnel decision-maker ultimately is accountable for this stinker. It's his roster and his offensive game plan. When individual players' technique breaks down as frequently as it did Sunday, particularly on the offensive line, a team either needs better players or has to coach up the ones it has. Both of those responsibilities are Shanahan's.
We'll learn a lot about Shanahan by how he and the team respond against San Francisco. Will he keep Will Montgomery at left guard or try another solution? Can he find ways to slow San Francisco's pass rush, perhaps with more max protection and screen passes? Will he help John Beck by crafting a game plan centered on quick throws?
As the person in control of personnel decisions, it's partly his fault that he doesn't have top-end talent to work with. But other teams, including Buffalo on Sunday, are winning with backup offensive linemen in place. He has to find a way to get the most out of Washington's talent, and that hasn't happened the past two weeks.
LG WILL MONTGOMERY: It's not Montgomery's fault that he's playing out of position. He was having a fine season at center through four games. Mike Shanahan, however, apparently had no better option than to move Montgomery to guard when Kory Lichtensteiger was lost for the season. I'd hate to see what his other options were, then.
Montgomery's performance Sunday should, at the very least, force Shanahan to consider moving him back to center and going with either Erik Cook or rookie Maurice Hurt at left guard. I understand the desire to have a player with Montgomery's experience in between two inexperienced players in Cook and LT Sean Locklear, but that hasn't compensated for Montgomery's ineffective blocking at left guard.
All nine sacks are detailed below, so I won't go through them here, but Montgomery was deeply involved in the carnage. He tends to struggle against defensive linemen with long reach, and that problem is exacerbated when they have extra space in which to operate. Such is the case when Montgomery is at guard.
Montgomery also didn't play with sufficient power, which belies the fact that he's one of the strongest weight-lifters on the team. He tried to anchor against DL Kellen Heard on the last play of the third quarter and got pancaked.
If the Montgomery-Cook left guard-center combo is the Redskins' option, so be it. I'm just interested in witnessing the other possibilities after seeing this one fail so badly Sunday.
LT SEAN LOCKLEAR: Locklear was beaten to the outside on two sacks. There were a number of different holes in his game. Sometimes it was slow feet. Other times linemen got into him because his hands were low and he was slow to engage.
He wasn't an asset in the running game, either. On one second-quarter run, RB Ryan Torain had to make his cut 5 yards in the backfield partly because LB Chris Kelsay had better leverage and drove Locklear back. The bulk of Locklear's NFL experience is as a right tackle, so that explains some of his struggles. Mike Shanahan signed him because he believed Locklear was a capable swing tackle. Through two games, his performance indicates otherwise.
I do give Locklear credit for his willingness to answer reporters' questions after the game. Same with Montgomery. It's not easy to account for performances such as Sunday's, but they were generous with their time and thoughtful. That goes a long way for us scribes.
QB JOHN BECK: No quarterback is going to play well when he's under the intense fire Beck was Sunday, but he often didn't help himself. My take on Beck's role in each of the nine sacks is shared below. He had a chance to avoid two by throwing the ball away.
Neither TE Fred Davis nor WR Donte Stallworth was open on the interceptions Beck intended for them. Davis never separated from S George Wilson, but Beck tried to sneak it in. Wilson undercut it. Stallworth tripped underneath a fourth-quarter deep ball, but he was double covered anyway. Overall, Beck's deep throws were inaccurate. He missed WRs Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson on others, and they weren't close. Hankerson, in particular, separated a bit from single coverage for a chance to make a big play.
Beck fumbled when he kneed the ball out of his hand during a scramble. That's the type of play that ends up on an NFL Films blooper reel. And on that play, he missed WR Jabar Gaffney running open on a deep cross.
There were some fleeting positives. Most notably, I applaud his toughness. He got pounded and shrugged that off after the game. His 17-yard throw to WR Terrence Austin on a corner route that converted third-and-3 in the second half was perfectly placed and timed.
Beck's potential learning curve was a topic all offseason, so let's see how much he grows from Sunday's pains.
RT JAMMAL BROWN: With injury-related upheaval on the left side of the offensive line, the Redskins need to be able to rely on the right side. Brown has been to the Pro Bowl, albeit as a left tackle, and ideally would provide that stability. However, he was inconsistent throughout Sunday's game.
LB Chris Kelsay beat him for a sack. Kelsay also put Brown on his backside during a pass on second-and-3 in the first quarter. Brown stood tall off the snap, and his base broke down. Kelsay got into him with superior leverage.
WR ANTHONY ARMSTRONG: I was eager to see Armstrong in a starting role because he was effective last season. His straight-line speed is one of few dangerous elements the Redskins' offense has at its disposal. He did not have a positive impact on the game, however. He was targeted four times and didn't catch a pass. He appeared to stop on a third-down crossing route on which QB John Beck expected him to keep running. He didn't separate from the corner on the deep route he ran down the left sideline in the second half.
He did get behind the defense on the opening play of the game, running through double coverage, but Beck opted to check down. Armstrong strained his hamstring earlier this season, so perhaps he's still working back from that. The Redskins desperately need him to be a threat, and that requires him to make plays on a variety of routes, not just vertical ones.
There's no other place to start than the nine sacks, so let's review them. It's important to remember we're not privy to all of the Redskins' protection schemes, play concepts and route designs, so sometimes it's impossible to know the root of the breakdown.
This might hurt a bit, but it'll be over before you know it ...
1. First-and-10, BUF 16 (7-0, 12:30 2Q). Seven-man protection vs. 5-man rush. QB John Beck probably should have thrown it away. The Redskins faked a run to the right, and Beck rolled to his left, which was the short side of the field. He had three options. WR Anthony Armstrong ran a vertical route down the left sideline. He didn't beat CB Drayton Florence while he was on camera, at least. TE Fred Davis began the play with his hand down next to the right tackle. He ran a cross at about 10 yards; there was at least one safety nearby. WR Jabar Gaffney broke off his quick slant from the left at about 3 yards and then slid back toward the left sideline. He was flanked by CB Terrence McGee and LB Nick Barnett. Without having the benefit of the overhead coaches' film, Beck's decision not to throw to a receiver leads me to believe he didn't think anyone was open. So instead of holding onto it while the defense converged, he probably should have chucked it out of bounds.
2. Third-and-16, BUF 22 (7-0, 11:48 2Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 7-man rush. RB Roy Helu released on a pass route instead of staying in to help the outmanned offensive line. The Bills overloaded the left side of the defense, while FS Jairus Byrd showed blitz late on the right. Perhaps Helu did not recognize the weakness in the left side of the protection. Perhaps Helu is a hot option for Beck on that blitz. Whatever the case, Byrd ran right past Helu in getting to Beck only 1.6 seconds after the snap. That's not enough time for any quarterback.
3. Third-and-7, WAS 18 (10-0, 7:52 2Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 4-man rush. It appeared to be good coverage by the Bills, and LB Arthur Moats got his hands on Beck within 3 seconds of the snap. LT Sean Locklear tried to block Moats past Beck in the pocket, but Moats disengaged and turned the corner sharply enough to swipe both hands across Beck's back. Beck tried to scramble left, but NT Marcell Dareus, who stunted from the inside, and had gotten his hands inside RT Jammal Brown's and had pushed Brown back into Beck. Dareus disengaged from Brown and finished the sack.
4. Second-and-3, WAS 27 (10-0, 1:29 2Q). Shotgun; 6-man protection vs. 4-man rush. LG Will Montgomery was overpowered by DE Dwan Edwards. The Redskins were in their 2-minute offense at the end of the half, and it was an obvious pass-rushing situation for Buffalo. Montgomery got a tad overextended on his initial punch, and Edwards used his reach advantage to make Montgomery pay. This one seems to be a perfect example of why Montgomery is better suited to play center. He doesn't have long arms, so he operates much better in tight spaces where defensive linemen with longer reach don't have room to capitalize on that. Edwards got to Beck in 2.9 seconds.
5. Second-and-17, WAS 32 (20-0, 8:25 3Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 4-man rush. In another obvious passing situation, LB Chris Kelsay attacked RT Jammal Brown's weakness by lining up wide on the left side of the defensive line. Brown has struggled at times this season moving his feet and staying balanced against wide rushers, and that's what happened against Kelsay, who stayed lower than Brown and got into Brown's chest initially. Then he pushed Brown off balance by shoving him in the chest with his right arm. Brown had to hop on one foot to stay upright. Kelsay shed him easily and sacked Beck, who also sensed pressure up the middle. DE Dwan Edwards got great push between LG Will Montgomery and C Erik Cook. Kelsay got to Beck in 2.8 seconds, insufficient time for receivers' routes to develop.
6. Second-and-10, midfield (20-0, 5:09 3Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 4-man rush. Beck might conclude he should have gotten rid of the ball quicker on this one. DE Spencer Johnson, who beat LT Sean Locklear, sacked him 3.2 seconds after the snap. Before that, WR Niles Paul was open on a shallow cross. The routes run by the three receivers in the bunch on the left side of the formation took longer to develop. It's quite clear, or at least it was by this point in the game, that long-developing routes were not going to succeed behind such a porous offensive line, even if the Redskins had a numbers advantage in protection. Beck has to keep that in mind, and so does the playcaller. As for Locklear, Johnson got into his upper body while Locklear's hands were low. An easy win for Johnson.
7. Fourth-and-4, BUF 44 (20-0, 3:50 3Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 4-man rush. LB Arthur Moats got a hand on Beck within 2.5 seconds of the snap after stunting inside LG Will Montgomery. I was a bit surprised that Carolina didn't test the Redskins' backup linemen with more stunts last week, but the Bills sure did. Moats lined up wide against LT Sean Locklear but looped underneath DE Dwan Edwards. Edwards rushed at Locklear, and a rush lane was created when Montgomery stayed with Edwards. Beck stepped up, and NT Marcell Dareus peeled off C Erik Cook to trip him. I wish we had an overhead look at the receivers' routes on this one because four yards is a manageable distance that doesn't require long-developing routes. TE Fred Davis ran 5 yards down the right seam and turned, but he was covered.
8. Second-and-4, WAS 30 (23-0, 2:56 4Q). Shotgun; 5-man protection vs. 4-man rush. Beck probably should have thrown the ball away as he scrambled toward the sideline and couldn't find a satisfactory option. The protection was OK but not good. DT Marcell Dareus rushed at RT Jammal Brown as part of a stunt, and Dareus pushed Brown back with superior hand placement. Beck extended the play by rolling to the sideline while Dareus pursued him from behind. Beck didn't get rid of it, so Dareus eventually got there and threw him to the turf.
9. Third-and-7, BUF 14 (23-0, 0:53 4Q). Shotgun; 6-man protection vs. 6-man rush. The Redskins' protection broke down somewhere against Buffalo's creative blitz. The Bills stunted their tackles and their inside linebackers. ILB Kirk Morrison came unblocked and sacked Beck 2.2 seconds after the snap. He rushed from a depth of 2 yards, looping behind the stunting defensive tackles. RG Chris Chester turned his attention to the tackles inside. Meanwhile, RT Jammal Brown blocked LB Danny Batten, who rushed wide. That created a lane between Chester and Brown for Morrison to sprint through. The Bills did the same thing with a linebacker between the left tackle and left guard, and RB Roy Helu blocked on that side.
TE Fred Davis finished with quality numbers – eight catches for 94 yards – but four of those catches and 57 of those yards came on the final drive after the Redskins trailed 23-0. In other words, they didn’t impact the outcome.
Davis broke down a couple times in the run game. LB Chris Kelsay stood him up and set the edge on the Redskins’ first play of the second half, on which RB Ryan Torain gained 1 yard. On a first-quarter run, Torain gained only 2 yards after LB Alex Carrington slanted inside Davis and made the tackle.
The Redskins ran 24 plays while they were within two scores of Buffalo (all in the first half). TE Logan Paulsen didn’t take a single snap during that time. Instead, the Redskins used FB Darrel Young on 11 plays.
That surprised me a bit because Paulsen positively impacted the passing game with two catches the previous week against Carolina. Paulsen did leave the field favoring his right arm/shoulder following the kickoff that preceded the Redskins’ third possession, so that might have factored into his lack of playing time.
Mike Shanahan attributed the blocked 49-yard field goal to the low trajectory of K Graham Gano’s kick. The Bills, however, did generate some push. DL Kedric Golston was pushed back. LB Ryan Moats helped push DL Marcell Dareus through Golston’s block. LS Nick Sundberg ended up on his backside, which is not uncommon for long snappers because they must complete the snap before blocking.
During the kickoff after the Bills took a 10-0 lead, KR Brandon Banks appeared to consider throwing a lateral across the field to WR Niles Paul. A Bills player stayed with Paul, however, when Paul tried to sneak out to the right. Considering the Redskins haven’t shown that on film, I’m guessing the Bills player either read Paul’s intentions or saw Banks holding the ball in position to throw it. Let’s stow this one away in the memory bank.
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