Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The GBU: Redskins/Texans Season Opener

(The DY Touchdown just wasn't enough as the 'Skins fall 17-6 on Sunday. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP)

So, we're 0-1......

What I found most surprising about this game wasn't the missteps that cost the team the game or the few things that most fans will overlook that worked well (because the 'Skins lost so who cares what worked well right? Actually, wrong. But I'll get to that in a second.) but my sheer apathy to the way the Redskins lose. It wasn't just me either. My friend John, who came over to watch the game and enjoy the best part of Redskins football over the past decade - the tailgate, had the same reaction.

We weren't angry or screaming or even stunned. We just kind of shrugged our shoulders and accepted the mistakes as common things, not as something you'd see on a blooper reel or a game of Madden. This makes me a bit sad, but their is some hope on the horizon. The Redskins face the Jaguars next week, so hopefully mistakes can be fixed (yes, they are fixable) and the Redskins can bounce back and be back at .500 by the end of week two.

So, let's look back at the Houston game one last time and see what worked, what didn't and just how did RGIII do this week. It's time for the first The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the 2014 regular season.

The Good

The Run Game - Alfred Morris is back and playing like the season never ends. He racked up 91 yards on 14 carries and had a dominating game. It wasn't just Morris as Roy Helu also contributed 46 yards on 4 carries. The Redskins used Helu in many passing situations to confuse the Texans with a draw play. As much grief I give RT Tyler Polumbus and RG Chris Chester for their pass blocking, I have to compliment them with a dominating performance with the run game this week.

This is a great sign for the Redskins as I still contend that the success of this team lies more with a successful run game that allows Griffin to play action pass and get the defense out of his face. My only true gripe with this past week is that I wish that Jay Gruden had used Morris and Helu more and kept pounding the ball. Of course, to be fair, the Texans were trying to send multiple blitzers throughout the game to stop the run.

Andre Roberts (1 catch, 22 yards; KR: 28 yds/return; PR: 18 yards/return) - Roberts was able to get wide open on multiple plays. One of those plays was ruled incomplete but it was awfully close depending on how you see the instant replay. Also, Roberts provided some help on both kick and punt returns. I expect Roberts to be a critical X factor as the season continues.

Pierre Garcon (10 catches, 77 yards) - 10 catches is a quiet day for Garcon. That said, he was open repeatedly and found ways to make yards after the catch.

DeSean Jackson (8 catches, 62 yards) - Also a quiet day for DJax but a productive one as he showed he could get open underneath and RGIII could find him to make a play.

Keenan Robinson (5 tackles) - The stats sometimes lie. Robinson was all over the field either stopping the run with a key tackle or covering TEs and slot WRs. I was very impressed by his speed, tackling ability and being a field general. There is a reason the Redskins didn't give up on this guy after two season ending injuries.

Ryan Kerrigan (3 tackles, 1 FF) - Kerrigan always gets himself in place to make plays.  I love this guy's hustle.

Jason Hatcher (5 tackles, 1 sack) - It's clear that when Hatcher is on the field that there is a much better pass rush. Hopefully he can stay healthy for most of the season. Yes, you can argue that Hatcher's sack was helped by a bobbled snap and that is true. However, Hatcher destroyed his blocker to be able to make the play.

Tress Way (5 punts, 36.3 Avg, 2 inside 20, Long 61) - I don't blame Way for the blocked punt at all. This kid has an amazing leg and good hang time. He will be pinning back a few teams as the season goes on.

The Bad

Kai Forbath's Extra Point - I thought his kickoffs were good this week, but man did this play kill any momentum for the team. This happened especially after the Redskins offense was struggling and needed to finish off a drive with an extra point. Forbath's low kick combined with the good penetration and long arms of JJ Watt changed the game.

Roy Helu's missed block - It was clear that Helu just whiffed on his block in his attempt to chip a player and get down field. By not holding his block, it gave the Texans what would become the game winning touchdown.

Fumbles - Not only was it bad enough the 'Skins turned over the ball twice on fumbles, it was inside the Texans' Red Zone each time it happened. RGIII should have just fell on the ball when he tripped instead of making a play (more on that below in RGIII watch) and Niles Paul has to do a better job protecting the ball after he makes a catch on a deep pass.

Bacarri Rambo (2 tackles) - There was a blown coverage on the play for which he was embarrassed. He wasn't the one who blew the coverage, however he failed to stop a blown play for 25 yards and missed a tackle. Rambo has looked good during the pre-season but I have to think he still doesn't seem ready for prime time.

Pass blocking - I still don't think the Redskins O-line is a good pass blocking O-line. Tyler Polumbus again struggled at times, so did the other linemen. There has been so much clamor about Robert Griffin III being a pocket passer, but the biggest problem I see is that he doesn't have the O-line to give him enough time to drop back and  throw like Drew Brees forty times a game. So, it makes you hope that the Redskins may use more bootlegs, read options and play action passes to get rushers to not key on only getting to Griffin. If not, expect RGIII to be hit repeatedly throughout the season (took over 10 hits in this game).

Jordan Reed - At this point, I am convinced that Reed will be unable to stay healthy and be either cut or out of the league by the end of 2015. Reed has tons of talent, but can't stay on the field.

Barry Cofield - Had a good game until he got hurt. We'll miss him at nose tackle although Chris Baker should be a good replacement.

Where's Orakpo? - I know he was on the field, ESPN 980's Chris Russell told me he played against a top left tackle and other Redskin fans have reminded me that 'Rak was playing on a injured ankle, so there's reason why he didn't have a good game. That said, when 'Rak is looking for a big, long term contract, this type of performance isn't going to get it done.

The Ugly 

RGIII Watch - Griffin had some really good/decent moments this week and some shaky moments during the game. In the first half, Griffin looked a lot like the QB we saw in the preseason: under pressure and slightly confused. Griffin seemed to have difficultly at times reading where the blitzes were coming from and how to respond to them. At times he threw off his back foot on passes and also when he felt pressure, he scrambled towards the side lines and ran into defenders when he should have instead stepped up in the pocket.

I thought in the second half, Griffin looked much more comfortable. He took what the Texans gave him and was able to hit his receivers underneath. He used his feet to extend plays and continue drives. His accuracy improved and was able to hit receivers deep and in stride. With exception of his fumble in the second half, RGIII looked pretty good which brings me to my next point on him.

There will be growing pains as Griffin gets more adjusted to playing in the pocket in the NFL, but I think there is a bigger issue that RGIII needs to work on if he is to be successful. Griffin is a game changer, we know this. This is why the Redskins spent all of those picks to get him and why Kirk Cousins isn't the long term solution in DC (sorry Cousins backers, but Kirk is not going to take the Redskins far if he became the starter). Griffin can make big plays with his arm and feet and you hope that can develop into 4th quarter comebacks and huge yardage and point games. There is just one problem to this: RGIII tries to be a game changer on every play and sometimes fails to realize when he needs to give up and just be a game manager.

Case in point was his fumble. Griffin thought he could still pitch the ball to Morris and make a play instead of doing the smart thing and just fall on the ball. Had he fallen on the ball, the Redskins have two more shots at the end zone and at worst is likely to get three points on that drive. There was another case in this game where the Redskins had the ball in a third down situation on the Texans 34 yard line. On the 3rd down play, Griffin is sacked. If RGIII could have thrown the ball away, the Redskins could have tried a 51 yard field goal.

The point of this is that Robert needs to incorporate some game managing skills to go along with play making abilities. He needs to discover when he needs to extend a play, when its better to take a sack and when he should just throw away the ball. It's not easy and I don't expect a radical change overnight, but its something to watch. I will say that if Griffin can come out next week and look like the QB we saw in the 2nd half of this game, there a good chance that the Redskins can win.

Stat Time - The Redskins outplayed the Texans in most categories this week including total yards (372 vs. 316; Redskins had better games both on the ground and in the air), total 1st downs (20 vs. 16) and Time of Possession. But the Redskins did a lousy job getting the Texans off the field on third downs (Redskins 25%, Texans 50% on 3rd downs), had more penalties (7 for 70 yards) and lost the turnover battle (3 vs. 1). Losing the turnover battle in a close game pretty much was the key stat for this week.

The Refs - Overall a fair game. I think both roughing the passer calls were lousy, but that's what you expect in the modern NFL.

Final Thoughts

Jay Gruden's debut as head coach was a bit of a sloppy mess but despite the three major mistakes that cost the Redskins 15 points and the game, most of the problems are fixable. Duke Ihenacho will likely start this week, which will boost the secondary. The fumbles can be corrected and so can the mistakes by the special teams unit. Hopefully, we'll see a crisper team this week for the home opener.

Up Next: Hard to believe that we're already in a must win situation, but that's the case as the 'Skins face the Jaguars at home. If they can't win here, this could be a very long season for Washington.

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