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Redskins–Rams: Game Balls, Gassers and Observations — Offense

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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 17-10 win over the St. Louis Rams.

GAME BALLS

RB RYAN TORAIN: After not getting into the first three games, Torain reminded us that he's a superb fit for this running scheme. He has a great feel for how and when cutback lanes develop, and his footwork is such that he violently and sharply cuts upfield when he decides to go. He also consistently squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage.

Torain's best attribute is his ability to gain yards after contact. He had 105 on Sunday, by my count. He gained at least a yard after contact on 16 of his 19 carries. That was due to his combination of power, speed and some shifty moves. He gained 16 yards on a third-quarter run despite being met in the backfield by Rams LB Ben Leber. Torain juked Leber out of his cleats by planting hard with his right foot before darting to the left. Leber was helpless.

Other times it was brute strength. On a fourth-quarter run, he drove Leber backward 5 yards after contact simply by lowering his shoulder and keeping his legs churning.

Torain presses the hole exceptionally well, too. On his 20-yard touchdown run, Rams S Quintin Mikell overplayed the run to the outside as Torain ran left. That allowed LT Trent Williams to seal him and help create a huge cutback lane.

Torain fumbled early in the fourth quarter when he was hit from behind. He was carrying the ball a bit away from his body, and DT Justin Bannan stripped him. Torain gets a pass because he recovered the fumble. And, hey, winning masks such errors. Torain also was not asked to do much pass blocking, an area in which RB Tim Hightower is superior.

RG CHRIS CHESTER: This was Chester's best performance in four games with the team, to which offensive line coach Chris Foerster agreed on Tuesday. One play, in particular, exemplified Chester's progress in the scheme:

First quarter, second-and-5 from the St. Louis 42-yard line. RB Tim Hightower ran a stretch play to the right. Chester executed a combination block by shoving DT Fred Robbins and getting to MLB James Laurinaitis. But it's how Chester did it that had Foerster so excited.

Chester initially helped C Will Montgomery with Robbins by reaching out with his left hand. Chester was quick enough to contact Robbins away from his own body. Sometimes if a lineman tries to start a combo block with his forearm close to his chest, he loses the space needed to free himself and release to the second level. On this play, though, Chester's hand was well away from his body. That allowed him room to clear the lineman and get to the linebacker.

The blocked helped open a huge cutback lane, which Hightower did not take. The play went for minus-2 yards when Hightower tried to run around the right edge. Still, Chester did an exceptional job. Foerster was thrilled about it.

WR JABAR GAFFNEY: Gaffney's 62 receiving yards were a game high. He continues to fill his role extremely well. He's a reliable route runner with sure hands — his drop against the Giants seems to have been an anomaly. All four of his receptions on Sunday resulted in first downs, and three were third-down conversions. He adjusts well to low throws; a couple times this season he has slid to pick a ball off the turf. So far, he has been a quality acquisition.

WR NILES PAUL: The fifth-round rookie played more with the Redskins determined to exploit St. Louis' lousy run defense. Paul is a very good blocker, possibly the best among Washington's receivers. Most importantly, he has the right attitude. Because he had to block for Nebraska's option attack in college, he understands how valuable that job is. He doesn't care about whether passes are thrown his way, only contributing to the team.

And because of his role at Nebraska, Paul's blocking technique is quite good. Several times on Sunday he controlled his defender by getting his hands inside. On RB Roy Helu's 9-yard cutback run in the first quarter, Paul ran against the grain and cut DE Chris Long on the backside, which opened the lane for Helu.

Paul had a careless 15-yard personal foul penalty for hitting PR Austin Pettis helmet-to-helmet. Chalk it up as a mistake by a rookie eager to make a play. Paul is a smart guy. Here's thinking he won't make that mistake twice.

GASSERS

I have no gassers to hand out this week. That's a bit surprising, I know, considering the Redskins scored only 17 points. But the breakdowns were isolated and by players who compensated with positive plays. WR Santana Moss's drop is offset by terrific footwork on his touchdown catch. RB Tim Hightower's third-down drop is offset by his pass blocking and his hustle to make a touchdown-saving tackle on an interception return. QB Rex Grossman made several fine throws before his late interception. The offensive line was far from perfect and committed too many penalties, but the Rams had no sacks.

OBSERVATIONS

QB Rex Grossman left a sour lasting impression with his ill-advised throw that MLB James Laurinaitis intercepted with 5:30 remaining in the game, but he did many positive things before that. On third-and-4 from the Rams' 6 in the first quarter, he beat a seven-man blitz by knowing where to go with the ball and getting rid of it quickly. He perfectly lofted a pass to WR Santana Moss in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

Grossman was 8-of-14 passing on third downs, converting six, and two of those incompletions were dropped (Moss dropped one for an interception, and RB Tim Hightower dropped a sure conversion.) His full third-down numbers: 8-of-14 for 79 yards, one touchdown, one interception. He also scrambled for a third-down conversion on a keeper when TEs Chris Cooley and Logan Paulsen were covered.

On the downside, Grossman made several questionable decisions. He didn't see Laurinaitis on the fourth-quarter interception. In the second quarter, Rams SS Darian Stewart dropped an interception that he might have returned for a touchdown. Grossman locked in on Moss, and Stewart jumped the slant. Grossman also gave fans a scare when he rolled to his left in the third quarter, only to throw late and back into the middle toward Moss. A completion would have netted only a couple yards and was not worth the risk.

Those of you clamoring for John Beck likely will have to wait awhile. Shanahan publicly and privately has maintained his belief in Grossman.

***

The Rams' defense rushed four defenders on 19 of 31 dropbacks. As Grossman has excelled against the blitz this season, teams have begun to back off.

Against four rushers, Grossman was 9-of-17 for 90 yards and an intentional grounding penalty. He scrambled twice, including once for a first down. His passer rating was 68.3.

Against five or more rushers, he was 6-of-12 for 53 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 50.3.

***

Just a thought about defenses more frequently rushing only four against the Redskins: That makes it more difficult for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme to win. There aren't many plays in the playbook that can get receivers open inside the red zone when seven players drop in coverage. There's too much going on in the secondary. It's highlighting the Redskins' need for a big-time playmaking receiver.

Look at how Detroit's Calvin Johnson or Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald use their athleticism and talent to make plays when they're not open. Rex doesn't have anyone similar to turn to when nothing is there. If the draft were tomorrow, receivers should be near the top of the Redskins' list, especially now that the defense is rounding into form with new personnel.

***

Speaking of receivers, I would have given WR Santana Moss a game ball if it weren't for his drop that resulted in an interception on third-and-11 in the fourth quarter. Moss is one of the best route runners in the game, but he stumbled coming out of his break on that drag. QB Rex Grossman got rid of the ball quickly against a six-man blitz, and Moss didn't regain his balance and compose himself in time. He tried to backhand the catch, which he often does, and it went through his hands.

Moss' touchdown, however, was nice. He separated from the defender, who was playing with inside leverage, with a sharp break to the sideline. He knew where he was on the field and got both feet in bounds.

***

It turns out RB Tim Hightower played with an injured left shoulder. Coach Mike Shanahan on Monday referred to times when he can see the game isn't coming naturally to a running back. Perhaps Hightower's injury contributed to such an assessment. While RB Ryan Torain exploited cutback lanes and ran through and over the Rams' defense for 7.1 yards per carry, it did not come easily for Hightower, who averaged only 3.0.

However, Hightower was a major asset in pass protection. Despite his shoulder, he did not hold back the force with which he hurtled himself into oncoming rushers. And his tackle of CB Justin King on a fourth-quarter interception return was a hustle play that saved a touchdown.

***

In rewatching the game, the offensive line didn't appear as dominant as I thought it would. First of all, there were too many penalties. RT Jammal Brown committed a false start on fourth-and-4 that changed Mike Shanahan's mind about going for it. LT Trent Williams committed holding on a screen. C Will Montgomery also had a holding penalty.

Each lineman had his share of successful and unsuccessful blocks. In speaking with LG Kory Lichtensteiger after the game, he was displeased with his performance on the late-fourth-quarter series on which the Redskins' began at their 2-yard line. DT Justin Bannan shed the Steiger's block on first down and bottled up RB Roy Helu. Bannan pushed him back again on second down by getting better hand placement.

But a team doesn't rush for 196 yards and give up zero sacks without quality blocking up front, by the tight ends and on the perimeter. On RB Ryan Torain's 20-yard touchdown, Lichtensteiger blocked LB Ben Leber. Montgomery locked onto Bannan despite being a half step behind him off the snap. TE Chris Cooley put DE James Hall on the ground on the edge, creating the cutback lane.

In pass protection, Brown, RG Chris Chester and the tight ends did well keeping DE Chris Long quiet. When Brown's base is strong and he's sliding his feet well, he's tough to beat.

***

Kyle Shanahan does a great job using bunch and stack formations to get receivers open. I counted three third-down conversions on which the Redskins' receivers lined up bunched or stacked, and I probably missed some others.

A good example: Third-and-8 from the Redskins' 42 in the third quarter. WR Santana Moss lined up wide right, directly behind WR Donte Stallworth. Stallworth began his route by getting up the field and pushing outside at the cornerback that was playing outside leverage. That cleared space for Moss to cut out to the sideline behind Stallworth after he crossed the line to gain. DE Chris Long tried to drop and cover Moss, which is a major mismatch. It was an easy read for QB Rex Grossman, who was on time with his throw. First down.

The stack forces defenders to either wait to see which receivers break in which direction or it forces them to commit early. It's one way Shanahan gives his quarterback options and challenges coverages.

... That's it for the offense. Let me know what I missed. Leave a comment, email me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com, or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

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