- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some thoughts on the Washington Redskins' offense after re-watching their 30-7 preseason win over Buffalo:
Running back Alfred Morris does a good job anticipating pressure, probably because he knows where to set his eyes. Most of his 16 yards were gained because of this. This kid runs so much better than people realize and it’s really not just the yards after contact; it’s the yards he saves, too. (There should be a category: Yards after danger. I’ll get the Stats & Info folks on it pronto!) Here’s what I mean: On an outside zone to the left, Morris gained 6 yards after pressure 2 yards deep versus tight end Logan Paulsen. But Morris still cut up for 6 yards. Another time he had to cut 3 yards deep after left tackle Trent Williams missed a block. Morris is already cutting as he takes the handoff; he then set up a linebacker with a half-juke inside, then a spin outside. It was a 3-yard run, but it deserves an asterisk. I also liked how he set up his 7-yard run. Morris received good blocking and his patience helped; he cut inside a Darrel Young block for a nice gain. Morris did not do as well on consecutive pass plays, getting rolled by linebacker Manny Lawson on the deep ball to tight end Fred Davis, and on the next play failing to cut a linebacker.
It makes such a difference when Roy Helu presses the hole the right way. Saw him do this on two good runs, and in both cases the linebackers overflowed and the blockers were able to help him more. Like on his 12-yard run in the first quarter; his ability to press allowed guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester to seal off lanes. When Helu does not help create lanes or is too fast, he gets only the yards that are available.
By the way, here's how good the Redskins have it now at quarterback. They lost their top two quarterbacks for this game and started Rex Grossman, who threw for 171 yards and a touchdown. The Bills had to turn to their third quarterback in the first quarter, Jeff Tuel. You could say the Redskins were better off with their No. 4 QB than the Bills were with their third.
Have said this before, but few quarterbacks throw with as much trust and anticipation as Grossman. It can get him in trouble (as on the dropped interception attempt on an outside comeback route to Aldrick Robinson) and it can lead to big gains (as on the 45-yard pass to Santana Moss in which Grossman put it a little behind his target but also avoided possible danger by a safety breaking on Moss’ outside). Still, the pass to Robinson was a dangerous one – off his back foot under duress.
Tony Pashos is an aggressive right tackle. On his first play against Mario Williams, he stepped outside hard to get him (partly because he was aligned wider). Though Williams finagled his way inside, it did no damage because the initial punch and path by Pashos left Williams too far away. But that doesn’t always work. On the next play, Pashos went at him aggressively again, but Williams got inside. A hook by Pashos saved a sack.
Quarterback Pat White makes throws on slants and digs with authority – an excellent base – and has done a nice job hitting guys in stride. But when he has to throw wide there’s not a lot on the ball and he’s less accurate. White has knocked off some rust, but he has to prove he can make a wider variety of throws. But one of those slants was to tight end Jordan Reed, covered by starting corner Ron Brooks. Reed has the size and athleticism to win that battle all night, and he gained 18 yards on this play.
Reed was better as a blocker than he was a week ago, but still was not without troubles in this area. Nevertheless, he’s much further ahead than I thought he would be after watching his college games. On a 13-yard Helu run, Reed and left tackle Tom Compton had a nice combo block on the right end. Reed’s ability to take control early on the block enabled Compton to get to the linebacker and clear a final hurdle for Helu. The back was a little fast to this hole and probably could have set the defenders up a little better. But he made up for that by lowering his shoulder, breaking a tackle and gaining 5 extra yards.
Reed made a smooth 2-yard catch on a third-and-1 in which he ran a quick out to the right and had to reach up for the ball, nearly having to jump. He caught it while being tackled. An example of subtle athleticism.
When running back Chris Thompson fumbled, he was carrying the ball in his right arm – as he should on a run around right end. But he’s more comfortable with the ball in his left arm, which is where he placed it on every run he made the rest of the night, no matter where he was running.
I wrote enough about Thompson’s game on the ground in my observations. I will reiterate that I like how he sets up blocks and has a good feel for the stretch zone system for a young player. On his 9-yard run he caused the end to widen and got the safety to think he was going wide, too. When he cut up, the safety could only offer an arm tackle that Thompson avoided. He also runs with a forward lean; for a little guy he doesn’t get knocked back much, does he? Thompson’s fumbles are a big problem and there are durability issues, but he does have intriguing skills. I would not keep him as my third running back because I don’t trust him that much. But as a fourth back (along with fullback Darrel Young)? Mike Shanahan will find a way to keep speed if the kid shows him a little something. With five corners now likely, there are possibilities.
But I didn’t say anything about his blitz pickup in the fourth quarter. Thompson was willing and came up aggressively, but linebacker Chris White ran into him and wasn’t slowed a whole lot. Size does matter here.
The second-year guard who consistently shows up is Adam Gettis. I saw his usual get-stood-up-in-pass-protection moment in which he somehow manages to anchor. And I did see him get pancaked on one play, though it did not lead to a negative play by Washington. Yes, like the other backup linemen they were facing the Bills’ starting front into the third quarter, a good test. Gettis lost his block on a Thompson run that led to a 1-yard gain. Marcell Dareus beat him inside for one pressure (yes, he’s a starter and Gettis is not). So I won’t go crazy over Gettis. But I see him finishing more blocks downfield, blocking more to the whistle and clearly developing. It’s rare that Gettis gets bumped off his line on the stretch zones, too, a credit to his strength. Gettis also had a good pull on a 5-yard Thompson run late in the game.
I thought Compton was better last week, but he also was facing backups, unlike on Saturday. Compton whiffed on a block, was pushed back on another and was stood up on another. But Compton shows promise and did not look out of place. He still needs seasoning, but he has progressed.
That third-quarter shovel pass from Grossman to Keiland Williams should have resulted in a touchdown. Gettis drove his man into the end zone but center Kevin Matthews lost his block. If he holds the block, Williams scores.
This was a good test for right tackle Tyler Polumbus. I write more about him than the other linemen because this is the one spot where there was a big question mark after last season; even the coaches said he had to improve in protection. There were quiet moments for Polumbus, which is always a good thing and he did his job often. But the Bills' Mario Williams did get him on a few occasions. He caught Polumbus with quick hands on the first play and got inside, only to be picked up by Chester. Two plays later Polumbus’ technique wasn’t bad, but Williams drove him back with power for a pressure. His only other real trouble came late in the first quarter when he was caught off-guard by a stunt and the tackle, slanting to his left, knocked him back en route to forcing Grossman to throw the ball away. Williams did not do a lot of damage against the backups, though he was not in the game all the time (and mostly rushed from left end).
On the 45-yard toss to Moss, Trent Williams picked up two blitzers with one shove. Two defensive backs sprinted off that side and Williams shoved the first one to the ground, knocking the second out of the way.
Receiver Aldrick Robinson got himself wide open on a couple routes. It’s hard to truly see what the receivers and defensive backs are doing without benefit of the All-22 film. But there were at least two occasions in which Robinson got position on his man with a good hard step to the outside and a cut back inside. He turned his man around on one such route for a completion. Robinson has had a good summer; he had one last year as well – I remember one topic last year at this time was the variety of routes he was catching passes on in preseason games. Will this year translate differently? We’ll see. It does seem like he’s been more consistent from spring workouts until now (though still with some rougher days).