- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:
 
A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins‘ offense and some observations after rewatching the TV broadcast of their 23-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

GAME BALLS
 
RB ROY HELU: It’s difficult to say which is more encouraging for the Redskins — that Helu played so well in his second start or that there remains significant room for improvement. Let’s start with Helu playing well.
 
Helu took advantage of many opportunities the offensive line gave him, and he ran tenaciously. He gained 65 yards after contact on 23 carries, including 26 yards on his 28-yard touchdown run, and 13 yards after contact on seven catches. His quick feet helped him gain extra yards on several plays, most notably his 9-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage. When Seattle LBs K.J. Wright and David Hawthorne converged on him in the open field after failed blocks by FB Darrel Young and C Will Montgomery,Helu evaded them by darting to his left and gained an additional eight yards. It was as if someone hit the ‘L1’ button controlling him in Madden.

Helu’s 28-yard touchdown obviously was sick. It has to be one of the plays of the year in the entire league. CB Roy Lewis met him in the hole after LT Trent Williams didn’t clear DE Chris Clemons in time to sprint out and lead the way. Hurdling Lewis was jaw-dropping in itself, but then he bulled through SS Kam Chancellor as soon as he hit the ground. It was an unreal display of athleticism and power.

Also on the plus side, Helu picked up three second-half blitzes with aplomb. He stopped FS Earl Thomas twice and OLB Leroy Hill once. Protection is a major part of Helu’s role as a passing-down back, and he has been inconsistent this season.

Now, the room for improvement. Helu wasn’t perfect in protection. He incurred a 15-yard penalty for a chop block when he cut DE Red Bryant, who already was engaged with RG Chris Chester. It appeared that Helu dove to block Wright’s blitz, but Bryant was nearby and his legs also were taken out.

Helu’s 11-yard run around the left edge in the second quarter would have gone for more if he hadn’t tripped over WR Donté Stallworth. Stallworth sealed a defensive back on the perimeter, but Helu didn’t leave himself enough space to get by. Helu did well setting up his blocks on some screens and could’ve been more patient on others.

To me there appeared three runs on which Helu missed cutback lanes, though it’s difficult to say for sure. One was Helu’s loss of 2 yards on second-and-1 in the first quarter. On a stretch play left, he tried to get around the left edge even though Wright pushed TE Fred Davis back three yards on that side. Had Helu cut back behind Montgomery, he would have gotten the first down. Montgomery rode DT Brandon Mebane to the left, Chester got to Hill on the second level and RT Jammal Brown slowed DE Pep Levingston on the backside with a cut block. Instead, Helu couldn’t get around Wright, and Bryant made the stop after penetrating in front of LG Maurice Hurt.Helu was flagged for the chop block on the next play, and a drive that advanced to the Seahawks‘ 28-yard line ended in a punt.

Some who have been involved with this running scheme for a long time believe a back’s ability to read cutback lanes is innate, that it’s not something he can learn over time. Helu is the Redskins‘ most promising healthy back, so he should have the chance to at least test that theory.

QB REX GROSSMAN:Grossman was erratic at times and easily could have finished this game with four or five interceptions, but he’s on this list because he played his best with the outcome at stake in the fourth quarter.

His game-winning 50-yard touchdown to WR Anthony Armstrong might be his best play as a Redskin. He looked off the single-high safety to the right, stepped up in the pocket as the rush formed around him, reset and threw a beautiful, high-arcing spiral to the outside where Armstrong could go up and get it over a cornerback with a 5-inch height advantage.

Play-action significantly helped Grossman by providing him with simple reads. Grossman’s proficiency picking apart Seattle on play-action passes reminded me of this recent quote from former Denver and Washington offensive lineman Mark Schlereth: “The beauty of this is when you’re running efficiently, you get Fake-18 or Fake-19 QB keep pass right or left, and you get out on the edge and you’ll get 10 completions that you or I could complete. That’s how simplistic that becomes.”

That’s exactly what happened Sunday. I don’t think we’ve seen a defense this season as lost against Washington’s play-action as the Seahawks were. Their linebackers and safeties constantly dropped coverage, especially on bootlegs and keepers. It was reminiscent of how the Redskins‘ defense looked in 2010 training camp in when it had never seen Mike Shanahan’s scheme. Grossman often had receivers running wide open because linebackers or defensive backs flowed to the run fake or froze against play-action.

For the record, the Redskins used play-action on 17 of 36 dropbacks. On those, Grossman was 14-of-17 for 188 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions; a passer rating of 92.8.

On the other 19 dropbacks, he was 12-of-18 for 126 yards, a touchdown and a sack; a passer rating of 105.3.

Two other fine throws are worth mentioning. Rex converted second-and-5 on the Redskins‘ second touchdown drive by waiting for LB K.J. Wright to clear the middle so he could hit WR Santana Moss.Wright was in conflict when RB Roy Helu ran to the flat, and Grossman took the opening when Wright vacated the middle to chase after Helu. Grossman also applied perfect touch to get a fourth-quarter pass over the linebacker and into FB Mike Sellers’ arms near the left sideline for a 15-yard gain.

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