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Game Balls, Gassers and Observations: Redskins-Eagles — Offense

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 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 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

GAME BALLS

K GRAHAM GANO: The Redskins seem to have solved whatever was plaguing the snap-hold-kick part of their field goal operation. Gano tied his career-long with a 50-yarder, his second from that distance in the last three games. He’s now 9 for 12 this season, and one of those failures was a block and another was a botched hold. Gano just has to keep it up. As for kickoffs, his 69.6 touchback percentage ranks fourth in the NFL.

GASSERS

QB REX GROSSMAN: Grossman’s bad game was about more than his four interceptions, which he explained in detail for the public immediately after the game. Not all of them were his fault—TE Fred Davis didn’t continue his route across SS Kurt Coleman on the third one—but the Eagles also dropped two potential picks.

His decision making on several passes was highly questionable. On the potential interception that CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped on third-and-3 in the second quarter, the pocket broke down when DE Darryl Tapp beat backup LT Sean Locklear with an inside move. Grossman spun left out of a sack, only to be faced with stunting DT Cullen Jenkins. He then quickly threw off his back foot over the middle. At that point it was 3.5 seconds after the snap. Late, over the middle and off the back foot is a lethal combination. The throw was behind WR Jabar Gaffney, who Rodgers-Cromartie effectively jammed after the snap. Fortunately for the Redskins, Rodgers-Cromartie dropped the ball.

Another non-interception stood out: his overthrow of WR Santana Moss on first down late in the first half. Grossman took a five-step drop while Moss slanted from the right. RT Jammal Brown was driven back by DE Jason Babin, not necessarily into Grossman but apparently enough for Rex to sense the pocket collapsing. Instead of stepping into the throw, Grossman got too high and faded away. The ball sailed too high for Moss to catch.

This was Grossman’s worst game, and Mike Shanahan’s decision to bench him was justified. At the very least, the Redskins needed to see if John Beck could do better with victory still within reach.

As for Shanahan’s decision regarding who to start against Carolina, I believe he could make a convincing case for either Grossman or Beck. The question I ask is: What has changed since Shanahan named Grossman the starter on Sept. 5?

Grossman’s decision making and mechanics, especially when the pocket breaks down, have always been a focus. That is not a new problem that arose on Sunday. In some games he’s better than others. He has made some great throws—even the 45-yard flea-flicker to Gaffney against Philadelphia was a beauty—and some stinkers. That’s who he was in the preseason when he beat out Beck.

Beck’s inability to go through OTAs and minicamps with coaches last offseason hurt his evolution, but how much has he improved, if at all, by running the scout team, taking mental reps with the first team and sitting in on meetings? There are reasons he lost the preseason competition to Grossman, and if those still hold up, then Shanahan’s decision to keep Grossman in place is clear.

One thing that has changed: injuries to the offensive line. Beck’s mobility might be a bigger asset than it was in September now that LT Trent Williams and LG Kory Lichtensteiger are out of the lineup.

RT JAMMAL BROWN: On a difficult day for the whole offensive line, Brown gets special mention because he struggled at the position he has played for more than a year. With backups patching holes on the left side of the line, Brown broke down too frequently on the right when the Redskins desperately needed some stability.

Brown doesn’t match up all that favorably against the ‘Wide 9’ technique played by Philadelphia’s defensive ends. He’s good at swallowing pass rushers when they engage, but he’s susceptible to outside speed rushes and inside moves that play off them because his feet aren’t the quickest and he doesn’t always stay square. The wide alignment challenges those weaknesses, but he was OK in pass protection. His run blocking wasn’t as strong, though, mainly because of leverage problems.

DE Jason Babin ducked his inside shoulder to get around Brown and tackle RB Roy Helu from behind for a 2-yard gain early in the second quarter. DT Mike Patterson had lower leverage off the snap and creased Brown to stop RB Ryan Torain for 1 yard on a third-quarter rush. DE Juqua Parker got under Brown’s pads and pushed him back into Torain’s path on a 1-yard rush in the fourth.

OBSERVATIONS

QB Rex Grossman struggled on longer throws. On passes that traveled… 

No more than 4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage: 6-of-10 for 55 yards; a 75.0 passer rating.

On passes 5 to 14 yards beyond the line: 3-of-3 for 44 yards; a 118.75 passer rating.

On passes 15+ yards beyond the line: 1-of-7 for 45 yards and four interceptions; a 14.3 rating.

(Those totals exclude two passes he intentionally threw away.)

If Mike Shanahan sticks with Grossman this week, perhaps we’ll see more short passes and screens. Some of Grossman’s difficulties with longer throws had to do with Philadelphia’s decision to repeatedly drop seven defenders in coverage. Once the Redskins’ offensive line was decimated after 10 snaps, the Eagles no longer needed to blitz. That limited Grossman’s options down the field. He also needed to make some better decisions and execute sharper throws.

***

QB John Beck’s ability to maintain sound mechanics, keep his poise and climb the pocket helped him complete some throws in the fourth quarter. I’m thinking of the third-and-15 conversion to WR Santana Moss on his first drive when he stepped up as the pocket formed around him.

Beck also scrambled for a first down. His mobility could be a determining factor in the quarterback decision, considering the patchwork offensive line will be more likely to give up pressure.

Beck was rusty on a few passes, which was to be expected. Poor timing caused a low throw to WR Jabar Gaffney, he said after the game. You’d expect that to improve with more practice with the first team.

***

TE Fred Davis normally would earn a game ball for 95 receiving yards, but his failure to cross SS Kurt Coleman on QB Rex Grossman’s third interception was a killer. He stopped his route, or at least hesitated, after Grossman released the ball. Coleman drove inside him and destroyed the momentum Washington had just gained from intercepting QB Vince Young.

Davis also didn’t use his athleticism on Grossman’s first interception. Players and coaches rave about his ability, but Coleman outjumped Davis for the ball—and it wasn’t even close. Granted, Coleman had a different angle coming back to the ball, but I don’t blame Grossman for putting Davis in a position to make a play.

Another negative play by Davis: he stumbled during his release on third-and-3 from the Eagles’ 8-yard line in the fourth quarter. It disrupted the timing of a designed quick throw, and Grossman had to throw the ball away and settle for 3 points.

Davis might be the Redskins’ biggest offensive threat right now. The Eagles seemed to think so, at least. On WR Terrence Austin’s 32-yard catch, which set up QB John Beck’s touchdown run, Coleman ran up to cover Davis when Davis sat down in the zone, leaving Austin’s vertical route open.

TE Chris Cooley’s hand injury gives Davis an opportunity to lock down the No. 1 tight end job going forward. He’ll be judged by his consistency.

***

The second-string linemen who were called into action struggled. No gassers for those three, though, because it’s unreasonable to expect them to be sharp without extensively practicing during the week.

LT Sean Locklear wasn’t fast enough to block SLB Moise Fokou on the second level in the third quarter, and Fokou slid inside him to stop RB Ryan Torain for a 2-yard loss. DE Darryl Tapp strung out a fourth-quarter run for no gain by getting his hands into Locklear’s chest before Locklear got his hands up to engage. Locklear played right tackle in Seattle, so it might make sense to move RT Jammal Brown to the left side and play Locklear on the right if LT Trent Williams (high right ankle sprain) is out for an extended period.

C Erik Cook had some leverage problems, especially in the running game. He’s 6-6, which is extremely tall for a center. He must take extra care to stay low and maintain his power. In the preseason and on Sunday, he showed a tendency to bend at the waist or stand too tall. Both are components of lost blocks.

LG Will Montgomery might have lost more blocks Sunday after moving to replace injured LG Kory Lichtensteiger than he did in the first four games combined. He was playing exceptionally well at center, and the need to move him to left guard is a huge blow to the offense.

Montgomery surrendered a sack to DT Mike Patterson when Patterson got his hands inside Montgomery’s and drove him back with a strong punch. As Montgomery staggered back, Patterson beat him with a swim move. Montgomery said Monday that playing guard can be more challenging than center because of the additional space a defensive lineman has to operate. Without a long reach, defensive linemen can get into him a bit more easily. He’ll have a week of practice to adjust.

There was one positive play, in particular, that these three could build upon: On the 15-yard screen to WR Santana Moss in the fourth quarter, they each got out in space and executed their blocks.

***

RB Ryan Torain was at a major disadvantage because the Redskins fell behind 20-0 and because injuries prompted three-fifths of the offensive line to be filled by second-stringers. There weren’t enough running lanes against an Eagles defense that prioritized stopping the run.

Still, Torain (22 yards on 10 carries) did not have his best game. LG Will Montgomery and C Erik Cook opened up a quality hole for Torain on a second-quarter counter play, but he didn’t get to it, instead running into Montgomery for a minimal gain. It’s difficult to be sure of what Torain was supposed to do on the play, so care is required in breaking that one down. There also appeared to be some sort of misunderstanding between WR Donté Stallworth and Torain on one pass play. They ran the same type of route and ended up in the same area. Again, I can’t be sure of their intentions without talking to them, but Stallworth’s frustrated reaction after the play indicates something went wrong.

Torain had 26 yards after contact and only 22 yards total. Philadelphia was determined to stop the run and took advantage of the Redskins’ backups. The Eagles also tackled much better than they did in their previous losses. Players swarmed to the ball; there were some plays when six or seven white jerseys were within two steps of the ballcarrier at the whistle.

***

The flea-flicker to open the second half was pretty cool. I don’t remember seeing that that from this coaching staff through 20 games. FB Darrel Young motioned from receiver into the I-formation. He ended up blocking the right defensive end. The handoff to RB Roy Helu froze SS Kurt Coleman and allowed WR Jabar Gaffney to separate deep to the inside of CB Asante Samuel. QB Rex Grossman’s throw was on the money.

The play could have been a major spark if the Redskins had finished the drive. Instead, RT Jammal Brown was beaten on a run on second-and-4, and TE Fred Davis stumbled during his release on the ensuing third-and-3. A player here, a player there. The Redskins just couldn’t put it all together.

***

It’s difficult to quantify TE Chris Cooley’s loss, but the Redskins felt it in the running game. For the few snaps he was in, the Redskins used him to help capture the edge against Philadelphia’s wide defensive ends.

***

OL Will Montgomery admittedly left the field by mistake in the fourth quarter instead of staying on for field goal protection. It cost the Redskins a delay of game penalty, and Mike Shanahan decided to punt instead. Montgomery called it a dumb error.

***

WR Donté Stallworth dropped a deep ball from QB John Beck on the Redskins’ touchdown drive. The ball hung up a long time, and the defender might have distracted Stallworth by making a play on the ball, but it fell cleanly to Stallworth’s hands. He has to make that catch. It goes back to this team’s dearth of offensive playmakers. Stallworth, however, did convert a third and fourth down with two of his catches.

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