Redskins Game day: Ten Thoughts

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
9:00
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1. I don’t know what this means, but it’s certainly an observation: The Redskins seemed as loose last week as they’ve been all season, whether when we could watch practice or during the open locker room sessions (especially Friday, a typically lively day). I don’t know if that’s good or bad -- though the answer will be revealed Sunday. I do know when they were 3-6 a year ago they also were rather loose and it probably helped.

2. Pierre Garcon has had an impressive season and his 84 receptions are the most in franchise history after 12 games. Next highest: Art Monk with 71 catches and Gary Clark with 66. Garcon has done a terrific job, but the problem here is the total yards. Despite having 13 and 18 more catches, respectively, than the Monk and Clark, Garcon does not have more receiving yards than at the same point. He has 980 yards compared to Monk (1,007) and Clark (1,126).

3. Garcon’s yards after the catch (491) rank fourth in the NFL, but that stems in part from how many screen passes and smoke routes he’s run -- plays designed for yards after the catch. He has not been a big threat downfield. It’s why he’s averaging just 11.7 yards per catch, tying his career low (for the five seasons in which he’s been a regular).

[+] EnlargeWashington's Pierre Garcon
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Pierre Garcon has been a bright spot for Washington's offense this season.
4. That’s not to say he’s not having a good season; he clearly is -- he's consistent and productive. But it does illustrate some of what’s been wrong in the passing game -- the inability to get the ball downfield. Of the top 10 receivers in the NFL in terms of catches, the only two who average less per reception are slot receivers Julian Edelman (10.2) and Wes Welker (10.5).

5. In fact, no Redskin with at least 10 catches is averaging more than 12.5 yards per catch, which is a major problem. Every other team in the NFL has at least one player averaging more yards per catch than 12.5. Last season, the Redskin had four players who finished with at least 20 catches who averaged at least 13.5 yards per reception. This also speaks to the lack of explosiveness at this position. Aldrick Robinson has speed, but I wouldn’t consider him explosive (though on his six catches he averages 25.3 yards. The problem? Six catches. He’s just not that good). Leonard Hankerson (obviously now hurt) runs good routes, but after the catch doesn’t make anyone miss. All of this is a function of how teams are defending the Redskins, the line not giving quarterback Robert Griffin III enough time to always throw deep, Griffin’s accuracy being off and receivers who don’t get open. That about sums it up.

6. This is the time of the year when the media starts voting on its Good Guy award winner, the player who helps the media best do its job. Despite a 3-9 record, the Redskins have players who routinely do this. It’s not easy getting asked all the time about bad performances or about whether or not a coach should be fired (it’s a bit rare when players publicly say yes) or about what might happen to them. They all know if there’s a regime change it puts them on notice, too. One player who has been largely absent during the week? Second-year back Alfred Morris. Not quite sure why; the press he gets is almost always good. But he does talk after games. He was terrific to talk to last season and even early in the year. He still seems jovial when seen around the facility.

7. Oh, yeah, the game. The Redskins’ defense will be challenged by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. Charles is a big-time threat in the pass game, too, with a team-best 55 receptions. Charles hits holes fast, but he’s not going to lower his shoulder and drive through defenders. It’s not his running style.

8. Another thing: He and fellow back Dexter McCluster are used on a lot of screens. The Chiefs will use both players on the field at the same time and will get them the ball on a variety of routes. They’ll even have them run crossing routes underneath, trying to get them the ball in space in one-on-one situations. McCluster has 42 receptions.

9. The Chiefs haven’t applied a lot of pressure in recent games, but consider that two of their last three games have come against Denver and that’s a bit understandable. Few if any quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster than Denver’s Peyton Manning. With leading sacker Justin Houston (11 sacks) out Sunday, the Chiefs’ rush will take a hit. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali has nine sacks. While he’s fast, it’s his always-active hands that create issues. But they will try to manufacture pressure with a variety of looks. They had one blitz, for example, against New York earlier this season in which they stunted the end and the tackle on the nose on the left side with the inside linebackers executing the same move right behind them. Yes, it led to major pressure. That also came with a blitz. “They have a ton of stuff like that,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “Usually we have a meeting on Thursday and go over the blitz and what they like to do and it’s a short meeting. But this one was like 15 minutes because they do a lot of stuff we’re not used to.”

10. The key? Running the ball well, especially on early downs. Kansas City allows a hefty 4.6 yards per rush and any pass rush is negated by a team able to put itself in third-and-shorts. But going inside the numbers, I’m not sure the Chiefs are that bad. Some backs have had strong games (Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Denver's Montee Ball). But, for the most part, they’ve done well against a team’s top back. One reason: nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is strong and quick and occupies double teams. He’ll be a handful Sunday.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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