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Redskins - Panthers film review: Offense

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins' offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of the 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

OFFENSE

GAME BALLS

QB JOHN BECK: Beck was better than I initially thought. He threw in rhythm, on time and accurately for most of the second half. He threw 25 of his 37 passes after halftime when the Redskins ran play-action off their first-half rushing success and, eventually, had to throw to make up a large deficit. He wasn't nearly as dangerous as his Carolina counterpart Cam Newton, but he gave the Redskins a chance to win.

Beck had 22 completions and 15 incompletions. Of those 15, four were dropped; two were batted down at the line; one was intentional grounding; and one was the interception on which rookie WR Leonard Hankerson ran a different route than Beck expected. Who knows how many of those eight throws might have been completed, but his numbers could have been even better than those that produced an 80.8 passer rating.

One of his finest moments was an 18-yard completion over the middle to WR Jabar Gaffney on third-and-9 in the second quarter. With good pass protection out of the shotgun, Beck moved OLB Thomas Williams out of the middle by staring down WR Niles Paul, who was running a cross short of the line to gain. When Williams slid to his left, Beck came back to a wide-open Gaffney for a first down.

Beck put his touchdown pass to TE Fred Davis in perfect spot away from LB James Anderson, who stumbled when Davis broke away from him just short of the end zone. Beck's 4-yard touchdown run was a play Rex Grossman would have struggled to make. All four receivers were covered, and he simply relied on his athleticism to make a big play. He was flushed to his left and outran Williams, who was spying him, to the goal line.

Beck wasn't perfect, of course. His worst decision was a first-quarter throw to Davis down the left seam that Anderson should have intercepted. Beck later said he initially thought he could fit the ball into a tight window, but his throw was on Davis' back shoulder into real danger. Anderson was trailing in coverage and a safety was over the top. He also threw behind WR Terrence Austin on first-and-10 in the fourth quarter because he didn't set his feet in the face of the pass rush.

Beck fumbled once and was intercepted, but the blame for those lies elsewhere. RT Jammal Brown was beaten on the sack/fumble, while Beck held the ball for a reasonable 3.0 seconds. And coach Mike Shanahan said Hankerson ran a go route when Beck expected a back-shoulder fade. Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives and provide Beck with a decent foundation on which to build this week.

FB DARREL YOUNG: Young's quality lead blocks were a big reason why the Redskins averaged 4.6 yards on 18 first-half rushes. He knows his assignments and is violent executing his blocks at full speed.

He helped capture the edge by blowing up S Charles Godfrey and then sealing him inside on RB Tim Hightower's 10-yard opening carry. On first-and-10 on the next series, he motioned from fullback to receiver and drove S Captain Munnerlyn back, helping clear the way for Hightower's 17-yard gain around the left edge. Young's second-half contribution was minimized because the Redskins fell behind and called only four running plays.

TE FRED DAVIS: Davis' six receptions for 80 yards all occurred in the second half. The Redskins capitalized on their first-half rushing success with some play-action throws from which Davis benefited. His superior athleticism created some mismatches with linebackers that QB John Beck exploited.

On his 7-yard touchdown catch, he ran a slant to the left before breaking back out toward the right sideline. LB James Anderson stumbled when Davis changed direction, and that was all Davis needed to separate. He also caught an 11-yard pass down to Carolina's 4-yard line despite S Captain Munnerlyn draped on his back and arms. Davis's upper body strength helped him haul in the pass.

Davis made some quality run blocks in the first half, too. He helped RB Tim Hightower gain 17 yards with a combo block on which he ended up driving Anderson onto the sideline. Davis dropped an easy completion in the second half, but he was one of the Redskins' only offensive playmakers in a game in which their shortage of them was exposed.

RB TIM HIGHTOWER: Hightower had one of his better games of the season before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the third quarter. The Redskins' line successfully opened holes for him, and he had a good feel for cutbacks. He also ran downhill and got his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage, which is Hightower at his best. He threw a quality pass block out of play action in the first quarter, which helped QB John Beck hit WR Santana Moss for a third-down conversion. Hightower isn't a particularly explosive back, but he's solid in many areas, and the Redskins will miss him.

TE LOGAN PAULSEN: Paulsen didn't make a major impact on the game, but he played his role well. He isn't known for having good hands, but he caught two passes for 48 yards, 25 of which came after the catch.

He turned out LB James Anderson in opening a hole for the first of two 17-yard runs by RB Tim Hightower in the first half. He slanted left off the snap, got his hands inside Anderson's and kept his feet moving to turn Anderson out of the play. With TE Chris Cooley out for the season, we should see more of Paulsen in the coming weeks. If he can continue to contribute in the passing game, he would minimize any dropoff caused by Cooley's absence.

K GRAHAM GANO: Gano made two more field goals, including one from 49 yards. If he keeps making them, he'll keep getting his name on this list.

GASSERS

WR JABAR GAFFNEY: The reliable veteran committed some uncharacteristic miscues. He lost a fumble at the Redskins' 35-yard line with 30 seconds remaining in the first half. Instead of helping advance the Redskins into field goal range or, at worst, escape to intermission tied, 6-6, the Panthers kicked a field goal that kept Washington at a safe distance for most of the second half. Gaffney didn't appear to be particularly careless with the ball on the play, but he didn't secure it. S Captain Munnerlyn jabbed the ball out from behind as Gaffney fought for extra yards.

Gaffney also dropped two potential catches. He failed to control a slant in the fourth quarter, and he also didn't catch a long back-shoulder pass on the play before he fumbled before halftime. In his defense, the defensive back contested the back-shoulder throw. But Carolina WR Steve Smith caught several passes that Washington's defensive backs made plays on. The Redskins will need Gaffney to be much sharper without WR Santana Moss on the field for at least the next five games.

C ERIK COOK: Cook's play typified that of the entire line: Not entirely bad, but enough breakdowns to significantly stifle the offense. His worst play was the sack on fourth-and-2 on the opening series of the second half. The Redskins adjusted their protections several times during the game, but Carolina got the best of them on this play. Nose tackle Ronald Fields lined up over Cook and faked a pass rush before dropping into coverage. That fooled Cook, who didn't recover in time for LB James Anderson to blitz past him and sack QB John Beck. The Panthers took over on downs, scored a touchdown two plays later to take a 10-point lead and controlled the game from there.

Cook was pushed back more often than Will Montgomery was when Montgomery played center. On one second-quarter run, DT Sione Fua got under Cook's pads and drove him backwards into RB Tim Hightower's path, and the play resulted in only a 1-yard gain.

RT JAMMAL BROWN: One negative play by Brown outweighs the positives. He surrendered a first-quarter sack/fumble to DE Antwan Applewhite after the Redskins had crossed midfield. Applewhite lined up very wide and Brown didn't set far enough outside to protect the edge. He is susceptible to speed rushes because his feet aren't as quick as, say, LT Trent Williams'. Applewhite turned the corner by breaking down Brown's hands, and he stripped Beck. Beck held the ball for only 3.0 seconds and was in the act of throwing when he got hit.

On the positive side, Brown did protect well after halftime when the Redskins had to abandon the running game. On the offensive line, though, one mistake is all it takes to change a game.

LT SEAN LOCKLEAR: Locklear surrendered a sack to Pro Bowl DE Charles Johnson and was flagged twice for holding. Once he held a defensive end that also was penalized for jumping offside. Seems like an unfair rule to me, but I don't make them up. The Redskins had to replay third-and-3 and were stopped (but bailed out by a Carolina penalty after the play). Johnson beat him with a spin move for a fourth-quarter sack. Locklear set wide and Johnson's quickness caught him off balance. Locklear never really got his hands on Johnson.

One running play caught my attention: RB Tim Hightower's 7-yard gain on the first play of Washington's third series. The Redskins had it completely blocked except for CB Darius Butler on the right side of the defense. TE Fred Davis released to the linebacker before Locklear released. But instead of kicking out to Butler, Locklear followed Davis to the linebacker, and Butler and made the play. We can't be sure whose responsibility Butler was, but the play might've gone for an 80-yard touchdown if he were accounted for.

WR LEONARD HANKERSON: Sorry, John Beck. Mike Shanahan's postgame declaration that the interception intended for Hankerson should have been a back-shoulder fade told us who broke down on that play. Hankerson ran a go route instead. It was an inauspicious first play of his NFL career. The receiver position is one of the most difficult for rookies to grasp because of numerous route combinations that must be mastered. That play would indicate that Hankerson has much more growing ahead of him. I'm eager to see if Shanahan gives him another chance by activating him this week.

OBSERVATIONS

• Carolina didn't challenge QB John Beck or the Redskins' patchwork offensive line with many blitzes. The Panthers rushed four or fewer defenders on 33 dropbacks and five or more on only nine.

Against four or fewer rushers, Beck was 17-for-28 for 217 yards, a touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 82.0. He was sacked three times and also ran twice for 11 yards and a touchdown.

Against five or more rushers, Beck was 5-for-9 for 62 yards and a rating of 77.1.

• WR Anthony Armstrong had only one reception for nine yards in his first game back from a 2 1/2-game absence. He did well to hold on to a third-and-7 pass near the left sideline and get his feet in bounds to get the first down. But he also dropped a potential big gain on a first-down play in the second half.

Carolina's cornerbacks were effective in jamming the Redskins' receivers; Armstrong lobbied officials for pass interference on more the one play, and WR Jabar Gaffney struggled to release freely on several slants. It'll be interesting to see how the Redskins use Armstrong with WR Santana Moss out. It's been a while since we've seen him catch a deep ball, but straight-line speed still is his best asset.

• Rookie RB Roy Helu made what appeared to be two mental mistakes in the fourth quarter. With the Redskins trailing 30-13, he cut back inside instead of getting out of bounds after a catch near the sideline. The cutback gained only a yard or so, which wasn't worth the time lost. Because there were more than 5 minutes remaining (5:43 to be exact), the clock would have stopped running only until the officials spotted the ball, but any amount of time is worth saving in that situation.

Then, on the Redskins' last offensive play, he caught a checkdown on fourth-and-5 about 2 yards short of the line to gain. Instead of immediately turning upfield and gaining the necessary yardage, he first ran two steps laterally. That gave the defense enough time to rally to the ball and stop him short. The mistakes didn't cost the Redskins the game by any stretch, but Helu must learn from them so he doesn't hurt the team in future close-game situations.

• I'm eager to see rookie Niles Paul more involved in the passing game with WR Santana Moss sidelined with a broken hand. Paul doesn't have explosive speed in and out of breaks, but his routes are precise and he understands leverage. He got decent separation during the training camp practices that were open to media, and he has sure hands.

The acrobatic catch with which he converted third-and-10 in the fourth quarter was impressive. He controlled his body well enough to turn and catch a high throw that was a bit behind him. I thought he landed out of bounds, but there wasn't sufficient video evidence to overturn the call on the field.

• WR Santana Moss broke his left hand on a play that didn't even count. On third-and-3 from the Redskins' 37 late in the first quarter, he ran a quick slant from the left. S Captain Munnerlyn fell on him, and QB John Beck's pass was incomplete. But the down had to replayed because of offsetting penalties. Is that worse than Jeremy Jarmon tearing his ACL two seasons ago while covering a touchback?

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