- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2014

When Adam Hayward sidled up alongside Roy Helu on the Redskins’ flight back from Houston on Sunday, the team’s newly elected special teams captain felt it was his obligation to discuss the error Helu made in punt protection earlier that day.

Hayward, in his eighth season, had never previously been on the field when an opponent blocked a punt. The only other time he had seen it was in 2007, his rookie season in Tampa Bay, and Hayward replaced the offending teammate on the protection unit for the following game.

That streak ended Sunday, when, in the second quarter of Washington’s eventual 17-6 season-opening loss at Houston, Helu was beaten by Texans rookie Alfred Blue. The running back slipped by Helu, who lined up as the right wing, then swatted Tress Way’s punt to the grass with his left hand before picking up the ball and running it five yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

“We kind of opened Pandora’s box now,” Hayward said Monday, having had time to digest the film of the play. “Now for the rest of the season, everyone’s going to try to come after us. So, that’s something we’re going to have to fix immediately, because I don’t want to be like last year.”

Washington’s special teams units were remarkably poor last season, with one metric created by Football Outsiders, a web site for statistical analysis, rating it as the second-worst combined performance since 1989.

The hiring of a new coach led to the hiring of a new special teams coordinator and an effort by the Redskins, in the offseason, to sign players who had significant experience playing special teams.

SEE ALSO: Redskins’ Bacarri Rambo assumes blame for Texans’ lengthy touchdown pass

Those issues, then, were thought to have been put to rest — until Sunday.

“It takes away from the fact that [other players] did some good things, too,” said coach Jay Gruden said. “Any time you lose the bad plays are magnified. When you win we’re not even talking about those things. That’s the nature of the game. We’ve just got to get everything corrected and move on.”

Helu took responsibility for the blunder after the game, but it was perplexing because of how it happened. The Texans weren’t even set up to block the punt, Gruden said; Hayward also noted that because Way is left-footed, Blue had to adjust his approach once he broke free.

Gruden also suggested that the way he used Helu could have been a factor. With the Redskins running their two-minute offense on that drive, Helu was in the game for the previous three plays, and he caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-16 — seconds before the punt.

“Roy just was out to lunch on that one play,” Gruden said. “[He] said he was a little bit winded and lost a little bit of focus, so that’s an instance where we might have to put a defensive player in that spot at that time.”

The third of three special teams miscues, the blocked punt was most notable because it swung the momentum of the game squarely in Houston’s favor. Four minutes earlier, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt blocked the extra-point attempt by Kai Forbath following a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Darrel Young, swatting the ball down with his right forearm.

SEE ALSO: SNYDER: Redskins’ undisputed early grade: needs improvement

Gruden was not concerned with the failed extra point Monday, calling it “a little rarity.” Last season, all but five extra points — a conversion rate of 99.6 percent — coasted through the uprights, giving the NFL cause to experiment with a longer extra point attempt during the first two weeks of the preseason.

Young, meanwhile, was involved in a folly of his own with 4:30 remaining in the first quarter when he ran directly into wide receiver Andre Roberts during a punt return.

Roberts fielded a punt at the Redskins’ 13-yard line and cut up the left side of the field, where he collided with Young after gaining 11 yards. It appeared Roberts could have gained a few more yards on the return before he was hit by Young, who was not blocking a Texans player at the time of the collision.

“Guys were doing their correct assignment, and it’s just kind of fluke things,” said tight end Logan Paulsen, who, on Sunday, was on the kickoff return unit. “We’ll get those things fixed.”

The devotion to improvement was why, at 30,000 feet over the eastern United States on Sunday, Hayward and Helu had a chat. They pulled up the footage of the play on their iPads, and Hayward illustrated what Helu did wrong, what he should have done and how they can go about fixing it all.

“I watched it, he watched it and we talked about it,” Hayward said. “It happened. Now we just kind of go through, make a few corrections and worry about next week’s game.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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