- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 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 28-14 win over the New York Giants.

GAME BALLS

QB Rex Grossman: Grossman overcame a rocky start by defying his reputation for floundering when pressured. Against a formidable pass rush led by DE Jason Pierre-Paul, he made many smart decisions, some accurate throws and didn’t throw an interception.

Early in the second quarter, he stood in on third-and-2 from the Giants’ 19 and lofted a pass perfectly out in front of WR Anthony Armstrong, who hadn’t separated from the defender but made a diving catch.

Grossman was leveled in the fourth quarter when RG Chris Chester failed to pick up DE Dave Tollefson on a stunt, but he connected with TE Chris Cooley over the middle for six yards.

On the game-sealing touchdown to WR Jabar Gaffney, he effectively opened a passing lane by looking off the safety and linebacker to the left before coming back to the right and hitting Gaffney on the slant. His timing and touch were superb on the fade to Armstrong for the second quarter touchdown.

Rex wasn’t perfect. Several receivers bailed him out on high throws early in the game. (On the other hand, there were several drops.) He overthrew Gaffney on a deep ball in the first quarter that could’ve been a touchdown – although CB Cory Webster should have been flagged for illegal contact for putting his hands on Gaffney after the 5-yard buffer. Grossman missed WR Santana Moss on a deep throw that might have been a touchdown if he had put more air under it.

Still, Grossman’s performance should inspire confidence that the best man for the job is under center.

TE Fred Davis: Davis’ athleticism resulted in a career-high 105 receiving yards. His combination of size, speed and hands was a matchup nightmare for the Giants. He converted third-and-8 on the last touchdown drive despite catching the ball two yards short of the line-to-gain and facing the line of scrimmage. He quickly spun and eluded a tackler in gaining 15 more yards.

The best individual play of the game might have been his 28-yard catch on third-and-11, on which two defensive backs sandwiched him and one delivered a blow to his head.

Davis was inconsistent run blocking and setting the edge, as usual, but that’s easier to overlook when he makes such a positive impact in the passing game. It was a good way for him to begin his contract year.

FOX analyst Troy Aikman made a great point in asking aloud why the Giants continually let Davis release freely. On one first half pass play, LB Michael Boley jammed Davis and prevented him from getting more than five yards downfield. The result? A sack. But New York didn’t stick to that approach. Here’s thinking the Arizona defense won’t be so generous next week.

WR Santana Moss: Moss was his typically reliable self in catching six passes for 76 yards. He converted fourth-and-5 in the second quarter by immediately turning vertically up the field after the catch – something coach Mike Shanahan so memorably yelled at his receivers about during one training camp drill this summer. Moss also bailed Grossman out on a high throw on the third series. He sat in the middle of the zone and stretched out to catch the pass. The 22-yard gain was Grossman’s third completion and helped him get rolling.

GASSERS

LT Trent Williams: Williams’ poor performance was stunning considering he showed such promise in training camp and the preseason. Giants second-string DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who started in place of Justin Tuck, beat him often. It was Heyer-esque and belied Williams’ status as a fourth-overall pick entering his second season.

Pierre-Paul successfully mixed up his pass-rushing moves, and Williams has a tendency to get beaten by the change up. Williams said last week that he watched a good amount of preseason film on Pierre-Paul, but that wasn’t evident.

After consistently challenging Williams to the outside, Pierre-Paul in the fourth quarter gave him a head fake out, causing Williams to set prematurely and reach. Pierre-Paul exploded inside, while Williams was off balance. He sacked QB Rex Grossman and forced a fumble. On the first sack Williams allowed, Pierre-Paul got into his chest with a bull rush, and Williams slipped when he tried to anchor.

Williams was a liability in the running game, too, and a big reason why RB Tim Hightower had few holes to work with. Pierre-Paul consistently set the edge with his strength and leverage advantage, which limited Hightower’s ability to set up cutback lanes or get around the corner. Williams should go ahead and circle Dec. 18 on his calendar because he has a lot to prove in the rematch against New York.

RT Jammal Brown: Brown often gets away with swallowing pass rushers who get their hands inside his, but that wasn’t the case against second-string DE Dave Tollefson, who started in place of two-time Pro Bowler Justin Tuck. Tollefson was able to get into Brown and push the pocket several times. And on the Redskins’ first series, LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka beat Brown with a speed rush when Brown was slow getting off the snap and couldn’t move his feet in time to recover.

Tollefson did get past Brown for a sack in the third quarter, but I hesitate to place the blame on Brown. The Giants blitzed seven on the play, and Grossman took the shotgun snap and immediately ran outside the pocket. Brown’s set was narrow enough that it appeared he didn’t expect Grossman to be that wide. It’s worth looking into, at least.

K Graham Gano: You’ve heard of “Good Rex” and “Bad Rex.” How about Good and Bad Graham? Apparently Good Graham stayed in the preseason. After making all 10 of his field goals in exhibition play, Gano pushed a 39-yarder when it counted.

It’s one thing to miss field goals for a 6-10 team that has no chance of contending. But if the Redskins are legit — and, yes, this was only one win — they need a reliable kicker.

OBSERVATIONS

The Giants’ defensive line is a very bad matchup for the Redskins. That’s nothing new – it’s why New York won the previous six meetings. But we saw the evidence again on Sunday. The Giants’ power trumped the Redskins’ speed and athleticism. The entire Redskins’ line struggled to win individual blocks in the run game, and they had trouble holding their ground moving laterally on stretch plays. LT Trent Williams, RT Jammal Brown and TE Fred Davis failed to consistently set the edge, and that forced RB Tim Hightower to cut too early at times. 

I was a bit surprised offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t call more keepers to move the pocket and get QB Rex Grossman into space. Then again, getting outside is John Beck’s strength, not Grossman’s. In addition, rolling the quarterback out can take away parts of the field. Still, I wonder if the running game would have been more effective, especially late, if the Redskins had run the Giants sideline to sideline more throughout the game. The Giants’ front four didn’t seem to wear down. Just something to keep in mind for the rematch in December.

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The offensive line was inconsistent in individual blocking matchups, just as it was in the preseason. For example, LG Kory Lichtensteiger and C Will Montgomery picked up a stunt on the third-and-2 on Armstrong’s diving catch. But Lichtensteiger also surrendered a sack in the first quarter after DT Chris Canty swiped his hands and got to his outside shoulder.

Again, the Redskins won’t face defensive lines as good as the Giants’ every week, but it’s ultimately a standard by which they’ll be measured. Despite winning the game on Sunday, there’s much room for improvement.

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TE Fred Davis played 58 of the Redskins’ 64 snaps. TE Chris Cooley, who played his first game since last season, was on the field for 38 snaps. TE Logan Paulsen was in for 11.

I’m not ready to say the Redskins have a new No. 1 tight end, though. The Redskins weren’t sure how much they could get out of Cooley because of his knee. The situation warrants monitoring, though, and I’m sure it’ll be a topic among media this week. 

The Redskins used two tight ends on 21 of 64 snaps and three tight ends on 11.

Of the 32 snaps on which the Redskins used multiple tight ends, all the tight ends either ran pass routes or stayed in to block on 30 of them. In other words, when the Redskins had multiple tight ends in the game, there wasn’t much need for the Giants to guess which would go out and which would stay in. They all usually did one or the other.

***

The Giants blitzed (rushed more than four defenders) on 15 of the Redskins’ 38 dropbacks. So how did QB Rex Grossman fare? 

Against four or fewer rushers, he was 15-of-22 for 221 yards, one TD and one sack. That’s a 10.05 yard-per-pass average.

Against the blitz, he was 6-of-12 for 84 yards, three sacks, one fumble and one TD. That’s a 7 yard-per-pass average.

I’m guessing Giants fans are wondering why they didn’t bring more heat. They were exposed on the back end on some blitzes, but Grossman was not nearly as efficient. It’ll be interesting to see how opposing defenses use the results from this game, starting with Arizona on Sunday.

***

Grossman was sacked four times. On each sack, respectively, he held the ball for 2.6 seconds, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.1.

***

WR Jabar Gaffney showed prowess as a route runner. He turned CB Aaron Ross around with an out-and-up move that freed him for a 39-yard catch in the second quarter. Gaffney maintained his pace on the fake, which helped him separate.

He also ran past CB Cory Webster on the game’s second series, but QB Rex Grossman overthrew him. Gaffney waited until Webster opened his hips to the sideline, then planted his right foot and ran by. Webster should have been flagged for illegal contact, although I’m not sure that affected the overthrow. Gaffney dropped a pass in the second quarter that would have been a big gain on third down. He tried to backhand the ball when it appeared he didn’t have to.

***

While we’re on the receivers, I found it interesting that the Redskins threw deep on separate plays to Gaffney, Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong. Over the course of last season, it seemed that receivers had well-defined roles: Armstrong was the deep threat and Moss was the reliable presence on short and intermediate routes, often out of the slot. Defenses will have a harder time if offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan continues to vary the routes each receiver runs.

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RB Tim Hightower will have better games than he did Sunday, averaging 2.9 yards on 25 carries. He ran hard — and didn’t fumble — but blockers in front of him did not create sufficient running lanes. 

He also was inconsistent in pass protection. On third-and-15 from the Giants’ 21 in the first quarter, his attention was focused on LB Michael Boley, who wasn’t blitzing. Instead, SS Kenny Phillips blitzed off the left edge of the defense and hit QB Rex Grossman untouched. On the third-and-2 on which WR Anthony Armstrong made his diving catch, Hightower whiffed on LB Jacquian Williams when he ducked his head before the block.

Hightower still is the best pass-blocking back the Redskins have, but he’s no Clinton Portis.

***

FB Darrel Young didn’t play extensively, but two lead blocks of his stood out. Most notably, he helped RB Tim Hightower’s 1-yard touchdown run by hitting FS Antrel Rolle’s outside shoulder near the line of scrimmage. That sealed Rolle inside and allowed Hightower to scamper around the corner.

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WR Anthony Armstrong took responsibility after the game for failing to hold onto two passes that he got both his hands on but dropped after being hit. Both were long passes.

(To read the review of the defense, click here.)