A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
K GRAHAM GANO: Gano drilled a franchise-record 59-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. It ranks below some of his overtime winners on the importance scale, but it shows what he is capable of. Gano has made 12 of 16 field goal attempts this season, and three of the four misses were blocks that resulted from protection breakdowns or a botched hold. Coaches’ faith in him and their willingness to let him build on past failures appear to have paid off. Gano can’t let up now, though. The Redskins need him to help the offense break out of its scoring slump.
QB JOHN BECK: Beck wasn’t as bad as he was in the shutout against Buffalo, but he was far from good enough. He failed to recognize open receivers at times, and he got rid of the ball too quickly on some plays he needed to let develop. Perhaps he overcompensated after his tendency to hold the ball too long resulted in a handful of sacks against Buffalo, a possibility coach Mike Shanahan suggested considering San Francisco’s strong pass rush.
On the positive side, Beck was much better finding his check-down option - RB Roy Helu - when there was pressure. He was sacked only once, compared to 10 times against the Bills. He also took advantage of some sizeable cushions that San Francisco’s corners afforded Washington’s receivers.
His biggest mistake was his interception at the end of the first quarter. Beck expected FS Dashon Goldson to turn and cover WR Leonard Hankerson’s deep route, leaving TE Fred Davis open on a shallower out. But Goldson read Beck’s intentions, drove on Davis’ route and beat Davis to the ball.
Beck missed WR Jabar Gaffney open on a few plays, most notably the failed attempt to convert fourth-and-2 early in the fourth quarter. Beck locked onto Davis’ quick out even though Davis was covered. Gaffney, meanwhile, was open near the left sideline. Beck also threw incomplete over the middle to WR Terrence Austin on the initial third down of the game instead of seeing Gaffney open near the right sideline.
Beck’s indecisiveness cost the Redskins on a few plays. On third-and-4 on the Redskins’ penultimate drive, he pump faked a throw to Davis, giving CB Chris Culliver time to drive on Helu’s route nearby and break up the play. He also made an incredibly awkward low, incomplete throw to Austin on the last play of the first half after pump faking in Davis’ direction.
Beck’s play wasn’t all bad, though. On his late touchdown pass, he read the safety’s decision to move toward the center of the field to cover Austin’s slant, which opened a window for him to find Gaffney in the back of the end zone. On the first play of that 11-play drive, he kept his eyes downfield as the pocket collapsed and found Davis for a 16-yard gain.
Moving forward, Beck needs to do a better job seeing the field and getting rid of the ball at the proper time. Is the latter something he can learn, or are those instincts he lacks? We’ll find out.
WR TERRENCE AUSTIN: Austin is a prime example of inexperience hurting the Redskins. The second-year player lost a fumble in the fourth quarter after exposing the ball in the wrong arm to ILB Patrick Willis.
Another critical mistake was his illegal crackback block. With the Redskins trailing by 13 and 1:42 left in the third quarter, Austin turned a first-and-10 from the 49ers’ 41-yard line into an insurmountable first-and-25. From the right slot, he blocked low against the linebacker that was playing him with inside leverage. Not only was his blocking technique illegal, but he wasn’t even supposed to block the linebacker on that run.
“I was supposed to block the safety,” Austin said after the game. “Shoot, I just didn’t do it. I busted my assignment.”
Austin vowed that he would never repeat that mistake. If that proves true, Shanahan can live with it.
Also, a fourth-down throw slipped through his fingers in the fourth quarter.
LG MAURICE HURT: Hurt looked like a seventh-round rookie playing in his first NFL game. Is it his fault that he struggled? Or does Shanahan get the blame for assembling a roster on which a seventh-round rookie is the best option to replace injured LG Kory Lichtensteiger? I lean toward the latter.
But Hurt had difficulty against a couple of stunts in the first half. He didn’t switch off to pick up the outside rusher coming underneath, and QB John Beck paid the price. One of those plays was an opportunity for a long gain on third-and-8 from the Redskins’ 11 in the second quarter. TE Fred Davis eventually broke open to the right sideline, but Beck had to get rid of it before he was hit only 2.4 seconds after the snap.
Hurt also lost some individual blocks because of poor technique. On first-and-10 from the Washington 19 in the third quarter, he stood straight up against DE Justin Smith. Without a strong base, Smith easily pushed Hurt back and collapsed the pocket, forcing Beck to run.
On a few plays, Hurt was too slow to be effective. He didn’t get to LB NaVorro Bowman in time on one second-half run, so Bowman was able to help string it out to the sideline for a gain of only 1 yard.
PR/KR BRANDON BANKS: Banks muffed two punts, including one he tried to field at the Redskins’ 3-yard line. Shanahan has confidence in Banks’ explosive return ability, but he was irked by Banks’ decision to try to field a punt so close to his goal line. Perhaps that’s a manifestation of Banks’ frustrations. His 21- and 11-yard returns against Buffalo last week are his only punt returns longer than 5 yards out of 11 tries since Week 3.
RT SEAN LOCKLEAR: Locklear gave up a sack and a few more pressures in relief of injured RT Jammal Brown. Perhaps it’s harsh to put him on this list considering he hardly practiced at right tackle last week; LT Trent Williams’ ankle injury required him to start the past two games on the left. To Locklear’s credit, he has given full effort, and he’s a stand-up guy. He was hard on himself after the game.
Locklear took responsibility for the 49ers’ only sack. LB Ahmad Brooks hit QB John Beck 3.7 seconds after the snap, but, “In our head, there is no time clock,” Locklear said. “We’re supposed to give him all the time he needs.”
Brooks set him up outside, and Locklear got off balance when he whiffed on his punch. Then Brooks slapped past him to the inside and got to Beck. Locklear has not shown the ability to quickly change directions or recover when beaten. He gave up two pressures on inside spin moves against which he was too slow to react.
Locklear was driven back by DT Ricky Jean Francois on a 2-yard rush by RB Ryan Torain in the second quarter. Jean Francois’ superior leverage off the snap forced Torain to make his first cut four yards in the backfield.
RT TRENT WILLIAMS: Williams is here for only one play. His 15-yard personal foul for hitting DE Justin Smith cost the Redskins a third-down conversion in San Francisco territory with the score 3-0 in the second quarter. Williams should know better than that because the same thing happened after the Redskins’ first interception in the Philadelphia game in Week 6. Washington’s offense is too inept to be giving away third-down conversions on the plus side of the field. He has to keep his poise.
Williams also committed a false start on first-and-10 later in the half. Otherwise, he blocked quite well only three weeks after suffering a high right ankle sprain.
• One could argue that RB Roy Helu’s fumble late in the second quarter was the play of the game. He didn’t secure the ball while running in the open field, and the 49ers scored a dagger of a touchdown on the ensuing play. But Mike Shanahan has to like how Helu responded on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Helu caught a screen similar to the one on which he fumbled. But this time when tacklers closed in on him, he secured the ball with both hands. Not only that; Helu made LB NaVorro Bowman miss and gained an extra seven yards.
Overall, Helu looked like a talented rookie making his first start. I thought he appeared tentative cutting back on a couple of runs in the first half, but I don’t know enough about specific play designs to say that with much conviction. He did show good speed to the edge on two long runs.
He dropped a potential third-down conversion early in the game when he turned upfield before securing the throw. He was sound, however, in pass protection. There was plenty to like and plenty of mistakes for him to learn from.
• WR Jabar Gaffney had four receptions and was open on more plays than that. He didn’t impact the game enough because QB John Beck targeted him only five times, but he was available to convert the first third down of the game and fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter.
Gaffney blocked CB Carlos Rogers downfield on RB Roy Helu’s game-opening 16 yard run. He also engaged Rogers long enough for Helu to get past him on an 11-yard carry to start Washington’s fourth drive.
• I was close to giving RG Chris Chester a gasser for his role on one play: ILB Patrick Willis was able to strip RB Roy Helu on a screen pass late in the second quarter because Chester was too late in getting to him. Chester broke down his stride in the open field and tried to line up a hit on Willis, but in that time Helu sprinted far enough ahead that he lost his angle and Willis darted inside him to make the hit. It was the play of the game.
• QB John Beck threw 47 passes, many of them short. For the purposes of this analysis, we must disregard the spike to kill the clock at the end of the second half and the wacky, deflected pass that RB Roy Helu caught for a 17-yard gain.
On throws that did not travel back to the line of scrimmage, Beck was 8-for-10 for 53 yards; a passer rating of 88.8.
On passes that traveled 0 to 5 yards past the LOS, Beck was 13-for-22 for 95 yards; a passer rating of 69.3.
On passes that traveled 6 to 10 yards past the LOS, Beck was 3-for-4 for 27 yards; a passer rating of 92.7.
On passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the LOS, Beck was 5-for-9 for 62 yards, a touchdown and an interception; a passer rating of 74.5.
• Mike Shanahan on Monday said WR Anthony Armstrong is having difficulty beating bump coverage. A prime example is the incompletion on second-and-4 in the fourth quarter on which Armstrong was stifled by CB Chris Culliver’s jam. Armstrong didn’t ever release on his slant from the right, and QB John Beck’s pass sailed beyond him.
• WR Leonard Hankerson subtly used his hands to separate from CB Tarell Brown and catch QB John Beck’s back-shoulder throw for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Hankerson got into Brown’s body and worked away from him like a veteran. His nudge was effective but not enough to warrant a pass interference call. If you’re searching for building blocks in this game, that was a really nice play by the rookie.