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Sunday, September 22, 2013
Redskins game day: Ten thoughts

By John Keim

1. It does sound as if the Redskins will have Robert Griffin III run this week. The coaches keep saying they had some runs called in the first two games, but did not get to them. I’ve heard differently from others in the building. Regardless, there’s a better chance of it happening Sunday. From what I’ve heard, there’s a sense in Detroit that the Redskins are dangerous offensively because, at some point, they will get it going. Oh, the Lions absolutely expect Griffin to run more.

Robert Griffin III
Will Redskins QB Robert Griffin III be a factor running the football against the Lions?
2. The Redskins anticipate a lot of screens Sunday, regardless if Reggie Bush plays or not. The Lions love running screens and run a greater variety than most teams do. They’ll also throw some designed routes for Bush, who was used as a decoy on one screen to fellow back Joique Bell last week. In fact, no quarterback has more yards passing to a running back than Detroit’s Matthew Stafford with 253.

3. Also, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Stafford’s average pass has traveled only 5.1 yards downfield, the shortest of any quarterback. A year ago, his average pass traveled 8.5 yards downfield -- the league average was 8.4 yards. This doesn’t mean the Lions won’t throw downfield, not with Calvin Johnson on their team. But they do throw a lot of short passes, particularly slants. The Redskins had better tackle well. This is not an impossible offense to shut down, but it can be dangerous. Hustling to the ball is a must.

4. One byproduct of the Redskins’ early lopsided scores is the inability to use a lot of play-action passes, an area where they excelled last season. Through two games, Griffin has completed just 6-of-16 passes that travel at least 15 yards downfield -- that’s 37.5 percent, which pales to last year’s league-best 55.7 percent. But 73 percent of those passes last year were off play-action compared to just 25 percent in two games.

5. The Redskins have an ordinary passing game without play-action, but it’s lethal when they can use it because of the chaos they create. The zone-read play-action pass gets linebackers completely out of their lanes and creates excellent opportunities for yards after the catch. The Redskins also can generate those types of situations off stretch zone play-action. The difference in play fakes out of the stretch zone or zone read can be worth as much as half a second over basic play-action. More play-action would enable a quarterback still working on his timing and rhythm to have more early success.

6. The importance of Sunday’s game, based on history: Only three of the 115 teams that started 0-3 since 1990 have reached the postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A win? Suddenly it’s not so bad as 24 percent of 1-2 teams have gone on to reach the playoffs.

7. ESPN NFL Insider Louis Riddick is not high, at all, on rookie defensive backs David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo. One of his complaints about Amerson (both players actually) was that he didn’t compete enough (a complaint other NFL coaches had about him before the draft). And one of Riddick’s examples was the block Amerson could not shed on a James Starks run outside. It wasn’t Riddick’s only issue. But Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said competing was not the problem.

“No, he actually chose the wrong way to go,” Morris said. “You have to be smart enough to use your help and go outside.  He started to shed to the inside of that block. You can’t shed inside unless you can make [the play]. He made a bad decision and it had nothing to do with his competitive edge. He’s great at that.”

8. Teams have hurt the Redskins by blitzing Griffin at a 42 percent rate this season (compared to 21 percent last season). The Lions will blitz, but it’s not a huge part of their defense. Against Arizona, when they did send an extra rusher more often than not it came off the edge. They play a lot of wide-9 technique -- and will use stunt and games up front. The Redskins’ interior linemen have struggled against big, physical defensive tackles. They have to stop quick penetration -- another reason play-action becomes a must.

9. Morris on playing two rookies in the secondary: “There’s always growing pains with those guys, you know that.” The coaches have them, too, when it comes to asking the rookies to perform certain coverages. Like on the 15-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson last week in which Rambo had to rotate over from a single-high look. He hesitated for a split second and could not get there in time. But as Morris said they put him in a tough position (they were trying to trap quarterback Aaron Rodgers into a different throw; they failed). Eventually, Rambo will learn to cheat more on the coverage. “If he makes that one, he would have Ed Reed tendencies,” Morris said. Rambo still has a long way to go.

10. Corner E.J. Biggers said he’s continued to learn every position in the secondary. Will he go back to playing some safety? He wouldn’t say. But given the struggles in the secondary, would it be surprising to see the Redskins do what they did at the end of last season and rotate based on situations?