Sunday, October 20, 2013
Redskins game day: Ten thoughts
By John Keim
1. The Washington Redskins must win today if they still consider themselves worthy of any sort of playoff run. Thing is, they should drop any talk about still being in the race and just focus on one win. And then another. And then you can talk about where you stand. Also, until you play well, the number of games remaining is irrelevant. But here’s a stat that shows why they must win: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that start a season 0-5 in their conference are 0-82 in making the playoffs. If the Redskins lose today they’d be 0-5 in the NFC. However, they’d also be 1-5 (going to Denver) and even the most optimistic fan would be shocked by a big turnaround.
2. Chicago running back Matt Forte is not an elite runner, but he is a threat out of the backfield with 33 catches (7.4 yard average). However, his best role might be as a pass-blocker. Forte excels in that role and it’s one reason quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked just nine times. Forte does a terrific job picking up blitzes because he reads defenses well, doesn’t overcommit but then attacks. Also, he keeps his shoulders square to the linebacker. One reason Dallas’ Sean Lee got in Robert Griffin III’s face on one pass last week, in which Barry Church dropped an easy interception, was because running back Roy Helu turned his shoulders. That enabled Lee to run through him. You won’t see that with Forte. Another reason for Cutler being sacked less? He gets the ball out a lot quicker than he did before coach Marc Trestman arrived.
3. The Redskins did a good job against Dallas’ Tony Romo of providing him with looks that forced him to check down. One reason? The way they’ve used corner Josh Wilson. He’s played slot corner, corner and both safety positions. Teams don’t always know which spot he’s playing so it can make it tougher to read the coverage (at times). Also, his speed enables them to hide the disguise longer. It’s not an ideal situation to be in, using him in all these roles. But it is how they need to play given the talent and depth at safety.
Julius Peppers' sack numbers are down, but he's still someone the Redskins need to account for on Sunday afternoon.
4. If the Redskins have the same success as the New York Giants did running the ball, they will win the game. It’s a good possibility as the Bears are banged-up along the front seven. Also, defensive end Shea McClellin (who would probably be best as a 3-4 linebacker) struggles against the run; gets pushed out of the way too easily and was handled by New York’s tight ends. I’ll be curious to see how Jordan Reed fares against him as a blocker; Reed’s footwork continues to help him blocking in space. But McClellin is being moved around more in rush situations; his quickness could be an issue against Griffin in the pocket.
5. Chicago will use Julius Peppers in various spots, though he typically rushes from right end. He likes to start upfield and then loop around through the right guard spot. If Griffin holds the ball a bit long, it’s something to watch. The Bears will run stunts against the run, too. They will occasionally show seven at the line a la the Redskins. I saw them rush six against the Giants; saw them drop into a Cover 2.
6. While the Redskins wait for Leonard Hankerson to become more than just an ordinary receiver, giving them a strong No. 2 besides Pierre Garcon, the Bears didn’t have to wait long to find a complement alongside Brandon Marshall. Second-year Alshon Jeffery has emerged as a big-time threat capable of hurting teams downfield. He’s 6-foot-3, making him a strong target on back-shoulder throws as well. Jeffery has 29 catches, averaging 15.7 yards per reception, and two touchdowns. He’s also rushed four times for 72 yards, so be aware of that Sunday. I’m curious how the Redskins will play him; if you let him get a free release, he’ll be tough.
7. The Redskins' end-of-half botched clock operation -- when Reed was tackled with 40 seconds left, but the ball wasn’t snapped again until 20 seconds -- was disappointing even to the coaches. But for them it wasn’t about taking a timeout in that situation; it was about an offense that took too long to snap the ball. The ideal in that situation? It should be snapped 16 seconds after the runner is tackled.
8. Special teams coach Keith Burns will be under fire until his group improves. It was not a wise decision by Washington to reject multiple requests for him to talk to the media. The rationale is that they have not been making him available each week so they did not want to start by having him face the sort of questions he would have -- ones that need to be answered. After such a bad outing, the organization wanted Burns to focus on his job. OK, I get it. However, that left players to answer all these questions (some of whom do not get interviewed on a weekly basis either). And the players notice things like this. Part of the job is answering tough questions.
9. The failures are far from just schematic and therefore not all Burns’ doing; to not have a legitimate kick returner to start the season was bad. And they have a tough mix of older players doing this for the first time in a while and younger guys who never played it in college. Amerson, for example, had never been in this role (if he attacks the hole on the kick return he not only doesn’t suffer a concussion, but it’s probably not a 90-yard return, either). It’s a bad mix. Word is that Burns will be made available this week.
10. In years' past, when the Redskins are off to a bad start they privately will admit they have issues or that they're not entirely surprised. It's not like they're blind to what's going on right now, but there's definitely more confusion about their start -- and therefore confidence it can change -- compared to other bad beginnings. What does that mean? Only that the players still think they have a chance to right their season. The problem is they have yet to put together a strong all-around game.