Sunday, September 22, 2013

The GBU: Lions/Redskins

In professional football, moral victories are as worthless as trying to use Monopoly money to pay for a copy of Grand Theft Auto 5.

That said, today the Redskins had a moral victory against the Detroit Lions. The Redskins are 0-3, but we did learn a few things about this team that may have a ripple effect for the rest of the season.
Last week, I had my second regular season The Good, The Bad and The Ugly 1/3 of the way done and just decided not to post it. There wasn't much to be said that I hadn't said in Week 1's GBU. The Redskins played poorly, fell way behind, tried to come back, failed to come back and lost. So after going 0-2 against the Eagles and the Packers, there was a slight hope that the Redskins might be able to turn it around against the Lions.
Photo: Alan Anthony/SOW With 50 pass attempts did the Redskins ask too much of RGIII this week?
Photo: Alan Anthony/SOW
With 50 pass attempts did the Redskins ask too much of RGIII this week?
They almost did. And unlike the first two games of the season, the Redskins had opportunities to win this game. They just failed to do so.

This is a game worth writing about because something different happened. Although the end results are the same (and equally or more so frustrating), there really were some good elements, some bad things and some things that are worth thinking about this team as we look to the next thirteen games of the 2013 season.

But before I get to that, I think we're over the afterglow of the 2012 season, so we need to realize that there are three main problems with the franchise as a whole. When you think about these problems it's amazing what the 2012 team did but it's also understandable why that team started off 2012 with a 3-6 record and this year's team has a 0-3 record.

First, the Redskins lack starting talent at key positions. Most notably on the offensive line (in particular right tackle), wide receiver and the secondary (unless you find EJ Biggers and Josh Wilson suitable replacements at safety). You can blame a few things for this: the cap penalty/limited salary cap, lack of draft picks (this includes the horrible drafts of prior administrations run by Vinny Cerrato) or just a general failure by the front office to address a need (or that a player used to address said need failing miserably).

Second, at times it just seems that the coaches either don't prepare the players enough to succeed or have failed to find schemes to fit the talent on the roster. There are discipline issues, lack of focus and out right mistakes made by multiple players. It also seems that the team tends to go away from what's working (perfect example from today: going away from the run game when it's successful) to go with what they like to run.

Third, players aren't executing. Simple as that. It really doesn't matter what is in the playbook if the players fail to execute the plays on the field.
Photo: Alan Anthony/SOW Overall, the defense had a good game, but tackling is a serious issue.
Photo: Alan Anthony/SOW
Overall, the defense had a good game, but tackling is a serious issue.
All of this was there in 2012, but it was overshadowed by some outstanding performances by RGIII, Alfred Morris, Rob Jackson and a few others. It also seems that when the Redskins were in their seven game win streak, things worked. Players made fewer mistakes, Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett looked like geniuses and the front office looked like they had done enough to address deficiencies or at least cover them up.

The fan message is clear, fix the problems. Obviously, the Redskins are trying to do that but it's going to take some time to get the job done. Hopefully, the Lions game was the final wake up call or moment of clarity that they needed to speed up the process before it's too late.
Onto this week's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

- DeAngelo Hall (4 tackles, 2 PDef, 1 INT, 1 TD). Here's a crazy stat for 2013: DeAngelo Hall has 2TDs in the first half of the three games played this season. The Redskins offense in the first half of the first three games? 1TD. How crazy is that? I know fans have mixed feelings on Hall, it's understandable. He has had some great games with the Redskins and some really atrocious ones. Today, he had to cover the best WR currently in the game in Calvin Johnson (he did this for a large portion of the game, but not every snap). While Johnson had a good game (7 catches, 115 yards 1 TD), Hall was able to limit him to minimal damage while putting the Redskins first points on the board by picking off Matthew Stafford.

- Sav Rocca (5 punts, 44.4 AVG, Long of 63, 3 Inside 20). Rocca helped the Redskins control field position by having punts of 60 and 63 yards in the game to pin the Lions back as far as possible. Punters don't get enough respect.

- Ryan Kerrigan (7 tackles, 1 Pdef). Kerrigan didn't have the big sacks like he did from the previous two weeks, but he stopped at least one key third down and seemed to be one of the few defensive players who could consistently make tackles. Also, worth noting is that offenses are trying to stop Kerrigan's pass pressure by going from five and seven step drops to three-step drops. Ryan has helped to take away the long pass thanks to his pass rush.

- Alfred Morris (15 carries, 73 yards 1 TD, 4.86 YPC). The good news is that Alfred Morris isn't a one season wonder. After a shaky start in week one, he has rebounded to have two successful weeks back to back. Morris still runs through players, but today he was able to run away from them for a TD. My only question is why wasn't he used more (see The BAD for more).

- Pierre Garcon (8 catches, 73 yards; 1 carry, 10 yards). Garcon has shown why he's a #1 WR when he's healthy. Garcon found ways to get open and make key catches to keep drives alive.

- John Potter (FG: 2/2 (43, 21), XP: 2/2). Kai Forbath continues to struggle with injuries. Potter made a good argument that he can fill in just fine by making all of his kicks and having most of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.

The Bad

- Robert Griffin III (32/50, 326 yards 1 INT; 6 carries, 37 yards; 3 fumbles, 1 lost). Griffin had his best game of the year, even if his stats look better from previous weeks. He seemed to have a better job finding open receivers, running, feeling comfortable in the pocket and making plays. That said, it's clear on many of his passing attempts, that he's not stepping into the pass which leads to less power in the pass and usually an incompletion. Griffin made a horrible decision that led to an interception. He also blew another scoring opportunity when he tried to slide head first (or was it a stumble?) that generated a lost fumble. Griffin is getting there but he's not there yet. He also didn't get much help from his offensive line today.

- Redskins O-line. The pass blocking was pitiful. It seemed like on every pass attempt, there was a Lion pushing a Redskins linemen into RGIII's face. Tyler Polumbus struggled the entire game. Will Montgomery had problems with his snaps that led to fumbles. Even Trent Williams looked shaky at times and was called for at least one penalty.

- Kyle Shanahan. Are we back in 2011? It sure feels like it. You have a QB who is trying to get back to normal but isn't quite there yet. You have a run game that is working with multiple RBs who can be used to plow through a defense. You're only down by three points at the start of the second half. What do you do? Most of the readers, I hope, would say pound the ball down Detroit's throat. Kyle Shanahan decides to throw the ball a million times.  It just makes no sense.

- Jim Haslett. I really wish I understood what the Redskins are trying to accomplish in pass coverage. I know the Redskins are running more zone but it always seems that opponents can find the wide open, gaping holes in these zones.

- Defensive tackling. It's not just one player but most of the defense. Way too may broken tackles. Way too many arm tackles and guys bouncing off of players with "kill shots". Missed tackles led to big plays and kept many drives alive for Detroit. I believe Washington has given up the most yards after first contact than any other team in the league.

- Aldrick Robinson. You have to catch that ball. No, the pass wasn't perfect but it was awfully close. It killed the team's momentum and led to mistakes after the play.

- The Refs. Generally Ed Hochuli and his crew do a good job making calls and giving good explanations. This game, I had some serious questions with some of the calls and not just the Robinson catch or the RGIII fumble, but with some of the penalties that just seemed wrong or even called on the wrong team.

- Special Team Returns. Chris Thompson was benched and I can see why, but the blocking has been poor on returns. It seems like it would be difficult for anyone to return a punt/kickoff when defenders are running down field untouched. This happened multiple times during the game.

The Ugly

 - Brian Orakpo. I had 'Rak in my bad category for missing plenty of tackles today, but I moved him here because I have a serious concern about him. Much like RGIII, 'Rak is coming off his second injury (pectoral) and I am beginning to wonder if he is having similar problems that RGIII is having with his knee. People have talked about RGIII "protecting" his knee when he throws the ball. Could Orakpo be having similar issues when he tries to wrap up a player? This might explain the tackling issue (at least for him) and is worth keeping an eye on throughout the season.

- David Amerson's growing pains. I think Amerson has a bright career ahead of him. That said, the fans and the team will have to deal with his learning curve throughout this season. He showed flashes of his potential today but was also beaten for large gains by receivers. I expect he'll keep getting better but also expect more of these beatings from time to time.

- Roy Helu, where are you? Helu had three receptions for 35 yards. I think he needs to be used more, especially if the Redskins are having success on the ground. Helu looks like he can handle the duty of taking hits but maintaining his speed and I just wonder why isn't he being used more. I would think that he and Morris should have 40 carries combined during a game with a few pass targeted his way as well. If the Redskins have weapons, use them.

- Improved penalties. This week the Redskins were flagged six times for 45 yards. That seems a bit better than in other weeks but unfortunately some of those  penalties were costly. It's a start but it needs to continue to get better.

- 2nd half Three and Outs. The Redskins D held Detroit to 0/6 on third down conversions in the 2nd half and 4/13 overall. Now if they can just limit the big plays and the damage on 1st and 2nd downs.

- 3rd down conversions 6/13 (46%). Not bad, especially for a team that threw the ball 50 times. Is this a positive sign or an anomaly?

- Time of Possession. Always a key stat that I like to follow. The Redskins won TOP this week 31:12 to Detroit's 28:48. This makes sense. The Redskins were moving the ball and having long drives against the Lions but couldn't finish them.

- Safety Dance. Bacarri Rambo was injured on special teams and while it seemed that he could return, he was held out for the remainder of the game. Not sure if he was benched but here's what the Redskins did with him out. On some plays, the 'Skins would go with just one deep safety (Brandon Meriweather). In other situations they would move either EJ Biggers or Josh Wilson to the safety position.

- FedEx Faux Pas. Right before the onside kick, the stadium decided to play music to pump up the crowd (maybe the team as well). The song has been used before, is a good song and is a combination of pump you up and gear up for a very serious, important point in the game. What the PA people forgot to realize that the song is Lose Yourself, by Detroit native Eminem. A few fans around me weren't happy that this was being played in a game against the Lions.

- Fred Smoot. On 106.7 The Fan's post-game show Fred said that when RGIII throws for 300 yards or more that the Redskins only win 20% of the time. His point is that the Redskins win by running the ball and using RGIII sparingly in the pass game. While the stat is more like 50% (RGIII is 3-3 when he throws for more than 300 yards), Smoot is right. The Redskins success in 2012 came in part with a strong run game that set up the pass. RGIII could then make big plays with receivers wide open down field.

Next Week: The Redskins travel to Oakland to face the Raiders. Believe it or not, they have a better record than the 'Skins. Can the Redskins get their first win before the bye?

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