NFC East: Aldrick Robinson
Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.
Running backs (4)
The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.
I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.
Tight ends (3)
Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.
Offensive line (10)
- Trent Williams
- Shawn Lauvao
- Kory Lichtensteiger
- Chris Chester
- Tyler Polumbus
- Morgan Moses
- Spencer Long
- Josh LeRibeus
- Tom Compton
- Mike McGlynn
In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.
Defensive line (6)
This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.
- Ryan Kerrigan
- Brian Orakpo
- Perry Riley
- Keenan Robinson
- Trent Murphy
- Darryl Sharpton
- Adam Hayward
- Brandon Jenkins
- Akeem Jordan
As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.
I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.
The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.
RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.
S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.
TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.
WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.
CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.
OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.
LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.
NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.
John Keim: Great question. Man, it'll be tough to have a greater impact than Moss did in 2005 when he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch. I can't see Jackson matching that total simply because he'll have much more receiving talent around him. Moss had tight end Chris Cooley, but those two combined for 155 of the team's 278 receptions. No other player came within 40 of Cooley's total (71). Moss made the offense; Jackson will complete this one. He will have a big impact, but without Moss the Redskins had no passing game. Without Jackson the Redskins could still be fine. They're just better with him and he gives them the same level of playmaker Moss was in '05.
Keim: They hosted Owen Daniels early in free agency, but that was about it (and he eventually signed with Baltimore). But the drop-off from Reed to Paulsen is only when it comes to pass-catching. They like, and need, Paulsen as a blocker as Reed still needs to show he could handle that role consistently. Ted Bolser hasn't impressed me a whole lot this spring, but I always viewed him as a guy to groom for a year or two down the road. Not much of a blocker and his hands were too inconsistent this spring.
Keim: I assume you mean if whichever one doesn't start because there's no way all three will considering each plays on the inside. But the answer is yes ... probably. Hayward is a career backup, with 13 starts in his seven seasons. He's a special-teamer and was not brought in to start. Sharpton and Jordan both can help on special teams as well and have more starting experience. The decision will likely come down to this: Do you keep a fifth outside linebacker (Brandon Jenkins and/or Rob Jackson) or a fifth inside linebacker? The guys inside are stronger on special teams.
Keim: I have my doubts too, especially if you want significant improvement. There is reason to believe they'll be better because of the new pass-rushers, giving them a more diverse attack. With new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, there is an added emphasis on an aggressive rush. Too often in the past the outside linebackers rushed contain, as they had been taught. Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will have a key role in the game planning (like Bob Slowik did last year; I trust Olivadotti a lot more). Just remember: Everything sounds good in the spring. We have to see it on the field. But the defense is aging and will remain in transition for another year. There's a lot of age up front, too -- and guys coming off injuries. It's a tough mix. They'll be helped, however, by improved special-teams play and fewer turnovers by the offense.
Keim: You are right, he dropped too many passes last season. I don't think he's a lock, but the head coach certainly likes what he adds. Two weeks ago he talked about how Moss was going to help the team. In my experience, coaches don't talk about the season that way for players they don't think will make the roster. Moss also has looked good this spring. But the other reason is this: Who will beat him out? After the three starters, there's not a whole lot of proven talent. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready to open the season; Aldrick Robinson is still Aldrick Robinson and while they like Nick Williams, is he really better than Moss? No. Besides, Williams has practice-squad eligibility. Ryan Grant will be there too but he's only a rookie. Moss provides insurance and proven depth and Jay Gruden likes him around for his leadership.
Keim: He had a good enough rookie minicamp to earn a contract. He's long, which always helps, but he has a ways to go before he can think about making the roster. Bridget has a number of players ahead of him.When training camp starts, and they start doing more one-on-ones with receivers, etc., then I'll get a better feel for him. During the spring I need to focus on the returning players, impact guys and newcomers of note. So... ask again in August.
Keim: Have not heard that, no. It's too expensive to change based on what team you have; could change on a yearly basis. They will be fast offensively on any surface. Keep in mind, too, that the defense is not considered fast.
1. David Amerson looks bigger and, indeed, he said he's added about six or seven pounds of muscle. Amerson does appear to have more toned arms. That will help when he plays press coverage and in run support. I'll have more on Amerson later this summer, but know this: He's had a good spring. Saw him stick with Pierre Garcon in a couple one-on-one occasions. Also, more importantly, saw him use his eyes better and more consistently. It was an issue last year.
3. Saw this for the first time: a receiver doing a spin move at the line to get away from press coverage. Garcon tried that against Amerson, but it didn't work. Amerson stayed patient and, partly because he didn't try to jam Garcon, was not fooled by the move.
4. Garcon dunked a ball after a catch in the end zone. The Redskins had college officials at practice and one immediately threw a flag. Players can no longer dunk over the goal posts.
5. The offensive players were convinced Amerson should have been called for holding on a back-shoulder attempt to tight end Jordan Reed in the end zone. I was just finishing up an interview with Amerson after practice when Reed walked past with a smile and asked, "Did he tell you he held me?"
6. Rookie receiver Ryan Grant had a few nice grabs Tuesday, mostly on underneath routes against zone coverage. He's good at driving the defender off and then cutting. Did it a couple times Tuesday. I don't know when he'll be able to really help because he has to get stronger and, ultimately, prove he can beat press coverage.
7. One coach I will enjoy listening and paying attention to this summer: outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. Yes, I know, I've mentioned him a few times, but after watching him work with the players I'm even more convinced of his impact. Just a detailed coach. I'll have more on that later this week. But he is good and isn't afraid to chastise anyone. Heard him ping rookie Trent Murphy during a drill Tuesday morning.
8. Murphy was juked out by Reed on one route. He can ask other veteran linebackers how that feels because that's what happened last year. Once more, Reed was among the last off the field after working more on his game. Nothing has changed since last year in that regard.
9. Reed also had a nice block on Murphy, getting his hands into the rookie's chest and pushing him to the ground.
10. With linebacker Brian Orakpo out (sickness), this was a good chance for Murphy to work against veterans. He also went against left tackle Trent Williams a few times. Murphy's spin move worked well against Moses, but Williams was able to stop it on the one time I saw it tried. The coaches like what they've seen from Murphy overall, especially off the field in terms of work ethic.
11. Rookie running back Lache Seastrunk, who lost the ball on a handoff in practice, stayed afterward to work on handoffs with fullback Darrel Young playing the part of the quarterback.
12. Kedric Golston worked at nose tackle with the first defensive line. He's done that in previous workouts this spring with Barry Cofield sidelined. And if he shows it's a spot he can help at during the summer, then it'll be tough to cut him. Golston adds experience and toughness up front, two qualities that should be welcomed. Add a little versatility and it makes him even more valuable, and it also makes it tough for Chris Neild to make the roster.
13. The quarterbacks worked on slant passes during drills with receivers. The quarterbacks dropped back, looked down the middle and then turned toward the receiver running the slant. It's a little thing, but I point it out for this reason: Robert Griffin III's last interception in 2013 came on a slant route. He eyed the receiver the whole way, who then got a good break to make the pick. Sometimes you have to eye the receiver off the line because the pass is coming right away. But in this case it led to the pick.
14. Wasn't able to spend a lot of time watching rookie right tackle Morgan Moses, but did see him get beat by second-year Brandon Jenkins to the outside on one occasion. Moses was too upright and a bit slow with his feet.
15. Jenkins failed to use the proper technique on an inside run, staying too wide and creating a gap inside. The coaches, um, reminded him of the mistake.
16. Said it last week and will continue to point out how much more energy there is during these practices. Some of that could just be because change brings a new energy. But some of it is the style of coaches they now have on staff. Raheem Morris was always vocal under Mike Shanahan, so his ribbing of players and coaches is nothing new. But things were just more lively Tuesday, with trash talking and banter.
17. The field goal kickers attempted three kicks apiece (from 39, 44 and 50 yards) at the narrow goal posts (about half the width of regular ones). Rookie Zach Hocker made all three attempts -- the ball jumped off his foot on the 50-yarder. Kai Forbath missed two of three but on regular goal posts he would have made each attempt.
18. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a nice bullet to receiver Aldrick Robinson; the pass arrived just before safety Bacarri Rambo for a touchdown.
Last week, Moss said he didn’t worry about where he stood. This week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden gushed about Moss after Wednesday’s OTA workout, saying he’s had an excellent offseason.
Then he dropped a (strong?) hint as to Moss’ future: “He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”
No reason to say that if you don’t think the guy will make the roster. Still, I would never call Moss a lock at this point; the Redskins would only be on the hook for $65,000 against the salary cap if he’s cut. His age works against him. He did drop too many passes last season (a drop rate of 8.9 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information). But he has looked spry out there (he's at the age where the word spry gets used more); he's a professional route runner and good to have around.
Here is a quick look at the receivers:
Pierre Garcon: A lock. Next.
DeSean Jackson: Ditto. But perhaps you keep a guy like Moss around to serve as a mentor of sorts for Jackson.
Andre Roberts: Lock.
Leonard Hankerson: Health is an issue. The Redskins still don’t know if he will be ready for the season opener. If that’s the case, then it would be good to have veteran insurance with a guy like Moss.
Aldrick Robinson: He can play all three spots, though has primarily focused on the X receiver spot in the past (where Garcon starts). He improved last season, but we’re still talking about a guy who has 29 career receptions in two full seasons. He doesn’t help much on special teams either.
Nick Williams: Unless he’s a returner, you can’t keep him over a veteran such as Moss unless Williams shows a heck of a lot this summer.
Ryan Grant: The rookie fifth-round pick runs good routes and is a likely a slot receiver in the NFL. But he has a lot to learn and must get stronger. It’s tough to see him being much of a help on special teams or from scrimmage as a rookie. But the coaches like him, and you always favor guys you drafted over those from a previous regime (unless there is a dramatic difference). Moss is far better now, of course. But if Hankerson returns and Robinson shows improvement, you are keeping Grant on the roster for what you think he can do beyond this season. Still, the Redskins could go with seven and keep them all, including Moss.
There are also a number of undrafted free agents on the roster, but it’s tougher to analyze them. They are all considered longshots, or more so players to develop on the practice squad, and that won’t change until the games begin.
You can keep a guy like Moss around as valuable insurance; Roberts’ ability to play more than just the slot means if something happens to one of the starters, you can move him around and plug in Moss. He still has value, even if it’s not as high as it used to be.
Sixty Redskins received bonuses, with 10 topping $100,000 in extra pay, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The bonuses are given to players whose performance time tops their salary level. Tackle Tyler Polumbus topped the list with a $190,601 bonus. The bonuses will be paid on April 1, 2016. Quarterback Robert Griffin III received a $27,047 bonus.
Here are the top 10 Redskins who earned bonuses:
Tackle Tyler Polumbus $190,601
Cornerback David Amerson $173,375
Running back Alfred Morris $167,854
Safety Bacarri Rambo $162,807
Tight end Logan Paulsen $142,295
Receiver Aldrick Robinson $134,758
Linebacker Perry Riley $129,997
Running back Roy Helu $125,260
Tight end Jordan Reed $108,461
Tight end Niles Paul $103,475
Here's the full list of players and their bonuses.
Why receiver is a need: The Redskins could use a consistent No. 2 target opposite Pierre Garcon. They signed Josh Morgan to be that guy two years ago, but after 68 catches in two years it’s apparent that he is not a strong second option. If they paired Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed with another solid receiver, the Redskins could have a strong passing attack. The Redskins also lack depth (and size) at receiver, not to mention players capable of being solid special-teams contributors.
In-house options: The Redskins have Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, both of whom have flashed – Hankerson more than Robinson. But Hankerson tore his ACL and might not be ready until mid-August, while Robinson is too inconsistent. He made positive strides late in the year and the coaches like that he can play multiple spots (like Hankerson). But they need consistency. They could re-sign Morgan, but I don’t know why they would expect a third year to be any different than the first two. They can re-sign slot receiver Santana Moss to a small deal -- they still like him and feel he can play -- but that will not solve their pressing issue.
Free-agent options: If the Redskins want someone who can contribute immediately, then they’ll have to spend a little bit. Receiver is one of the toughest positions for rookies, so a first-year guy might not give them what they need – and provide them what they already have in terms of flashing one week and being invisible the next. They have enough players who fit that description. Seattle’s Golden Tate would be an attractive option because he can return punts as well. Hakeem Nicks is a possibility, though his lack of touchdown productivity in recent years (three touchdowns in his last 109 catches) and inability to get separation last season is concerning. But he also wouldn’t cost as much so he could be one to watch; his wide catch radius is helpful. He’s also had four games with at least 100 yards receiving in the past two seasons. No thanks to Kenny Britt; the Redskins need productivity not another player who can’t play to his ability.
The draft: Because the Redskins will have to fill other needs in free agency, especially on defense, the draft is a good, and less expensive, option. They might only land a lesser wideout in free agency, but they’ll still need to add depth at this position. Aside from Garcon, it’s not a position of strength, so they might have to add via free agency and the draft. With Hankerson having had two major injuries in his first three years, the Redskins could use another talented young wideout. There are a few in Rounds 2 and 3 who fit that description: Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, among others. LSU’s Odell Beckham and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks are good choices, but all the reports lately place them in the first round.
2. Also: Atlanta's defense is bad. But the Redskins' offense did little in the second half until that final drive. That sort of gets lost in the whole narrative of this game. After halftime the Redskins went three-and-out; interception; three-and-out; three-and-out; fumble; interception. Then came their near game-winning drive. The fumble series was the only one prior to the last one in which they gained any first downs (four).
3. It helped that Cousins had time to execute deeper plays, such as the 62-yard pass to receiver Aldrick Robinson. Cousins faked a handoff, dropped and turned and stepped into his throw. He had a clean pocket, which, often times, Griffin did not. Anyway, it made a difference as he hit Robinson in stride. Another time Cousins looked left, right and then threw to Alfred Morris over the middle for 8 yards (on a first-and-18). Cousins took 3.3 seconds and wasn't hit.
4. The Falcons did a better job in the second half in coverage, partly by playing man on one side and zone on the other. When they just used zone, there were too many gaps to find.
6. His other interception was just a bad throw as well. Right read; guy was open; failed to lead him.
7. Cousins did have one missed opportunity. Looked like he was hoping to hit Robinson downfield, but the Falcons' corner had man coverage with safety help over the top. But Cousins took a bit too long to get away from Robinson. Had he done so, he would have seen Garcon breaking open over the middle. Instead, he eventually threw it away.
8. It absolutely helps Cousins that he doesn't run. Griffin can compensate for some sloppy technique at times with his ability to extend plays (I know, not a good year for him). Cousins can't do that, so he has to make sure he operates with more urgency in the pocket. As Griffin matures, that technique should improve. Has to. But I think he knows that.
9. On one play outside the pocket, Cousins, with a defender 5 yards from him, had to plant and throw to an open Moss for 16 yards. It's a throw Griffin has sometimes not made. But the hard part is playing that sort of “game” where you try to figure out what he would have done or if he would have had the same success. Impossible to know.
10. On the failed two-point conversion, the Redskins ran a rub route. It was the fourth play in a row they had done so and the Falcons adjusted. Receiver Josh Morgan looked open, but the problem was, he ran where he thought Garcon's man was going to be. But Garcon's man, Desmond Trufant, came up hard and covered him tightly. Morgan sort of hesitated before continuing on; he did not look ready to catch a pass.
11. I like how Cousins moved his feet in the pocket. When his body shifted one way, his feet did as well -- usually with a strong base -- so he was always ready to throw and could make an accurate delivery. On the 53-yard touchdown to receiver Pierre Garcon, Cousins slid left, pump faked, reset his feet and hit him in stride. By the way, on this play guard Chris Chester bumped a blitzing linebacker off stride to buy time. Chester missed a few run blocks early in the game, but he did a nice job here.
12. There's another footwork example that's better. With 2 minutes left in the game, Cousins looked right off the snap, then left, pumped the ball and jumped back to the right. His feet were moving with him the whole time, allowing him to make an accurate pass to Robinson for 11 yards on third-and-6. If you want to be a consistent passer, you must have consistent feet.
13. By the way, Cousins unloaded that pass -- again, going right to left and back to right and with a pump fake in there -- in 2.9 seconds.
14. Back to the film. The word decisive has probably been used 500 times to describe Cousins' performance. Make that 501 because he was, well, decisive with his reads and his throws. It enabled him to look quickly off primary targets. On the play in which Santana Moss fumbled in the second quarter, Cousins looked right, then back to his left and unloaded a nice pass to Moss for 17 yards -- all in 1.8 seconds.
15. Not sure what happened on the first quarter pass in which Cousins anticipated Robinson doing something different. The receiver kept running a go. But Cousins, maybe because the corner had leverage on him, threw it as if Robinson was going to stop 10 yards earlier.
16. The pressure on the sack-fumble was pretty quick: 2.4 seconds. There wasn't much Cousins could do; it was a three-receiver route and none of them were looking back at the ball when the ball was hit.
17. Cousins and tight end Fred Davis teamed up for a nice 23-yard touchdown. Credit Davis for selling the run on the bootleg. But the throw enabled Davis to run under it and made sure he was the only one with a chance to make the catch. A pretty play all around.
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).
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.
1. I’m sure over the next four weeks there will be a few more calls for the Washington Redskins to play Kirk Cousins now that they’re out of the playoffs. The only way I would consider that is if you’re not sold on Griffin for the future or if you think he’s just too beaten up. There are major ramifications if you sit Griffin now. It’s not the same as when they sat Donovan McNabb for the final three games in 2010 to give Rex Grossman a shot. McNabb was not in their plans. Griffin had a strong game Sunday; why sit him now? What if he finishes with four more such outings? Isn’t that what you want?
3. The pockets were clean too. On a third-and-7 on the first drive, Griffin had 3.5 seconds to throw when he hit slot receiver Nick Williams for 6 yards. Thing is, Griffin stared at him almost the whole time. Meanwhile, Aldrick Robinson had broken open over the middle (starting from the right side). It’s irrelevant because the Redskins eventually converted the first down and drove for a score, but it could have been a missed opportunity.
4. Another missed opportunity: On the bootleg pass to Fred Davis for 1 yard in the second quarter, Griffin had Logan Paulsen running free to the end zone on the same side. Two plays later, Griffin made amends. He held the safety on the left side by looking at Pierre Garcon (running the same route Davis caught a pass on during the first scoring drive), and that allowed Paulsen to break to the middle from the other side and catch an open touchdown pass. Griffin has improved at using his eyes to hold defenders.
5. Griffin did a better job avoiding hits in the first half, when he wasn’t out in front on end arounds, that is. On a third-and-8 in the first quarter, he looked left, middle and then right and dumped it off to running back Roy Helu. The ball was out in 2.7 seconds, and Griffin wasn't hit. Of course, it didn't gain a first down, but no one was open and he got rid of the ball.
6. On the next drive, Griffin started up the middle and, rather than continue to scramble, tossed it to running back Alfred Morris for 5 yards. Again, another hit Griffin didn’t take.
7. Griffin managed 39 yards on seven zone-read runs, but it was evident the Giants were fine with him keeping the ball. They played it well with their safeties; even if he got wide, someone was coming up hard in pursuit. The linebackers seemed content to read and then react to him running wide. Griffin is still a fast quarterback; he just lacks explosiveness, and teams play him accordingly. Last season, he averaged 8 yards on zone-read runs; this year it’s 5.46. I don’t know why any team wouldn’t focus on Morris at this point.
8. Griffin’s mechanics still need to be more consistent. On the short pass that Santana Moss had to reach low for, Griffin appeared too stiff-legged. Sometimes he still doesn't get his feet around on certain throws, but a few examples of that Sunday night stemmed from the pocket collapsing. In a clean pocket, I did see Griffin get his feet around when he started left but had to throw to the right.
9. Not all of the sacks were the fault of the protection. There were at least two coverage sacks. On one, Griffin had 5.5 seconds but no one was open. Not good. Another time Griffin, on third down, had the ball for 5.6 seconds. No one was open downfield, but Griffin had a chance to turn and throw to Helu in the right flat. The pocket was clean as Griffin stepped up. That was the only throw he had available.
10. I liked the comeback route Griffin threw to Garcon against a five-man rush in the second half. Griffin and Garcon were on the same page here, as Griffin released the ball just before the receiver made his break.
11. For the most part, I liked Griffin’s decision-making. He seemed to do a better job on some reads in terms of how quickly he went through his progressions. I’m most disappointed by the final drive, because I wanted to see if he could finally produce a touchdown in that situation this season.
12. But his teammates didn’t help him. Paulsen dropped one right in his hands. Griffin threw in 2.6 seconds and wasn't hit, but perhaps a smidgen more patience and it's a 15-yard gain elsewhere, as Moss had broken open over the middle. Still, a good ball that Paulsen should have caught, and it would have resulted in 7 or 8 yards. One thing I liked last season with Griffin was his penchant for starting such drives with sure completions just to move the chains. So I won’t quibble here. A similar situation occurred on second down when he dumped to Helu for 7 yards though comeback routes on both sides appeared open. Still, a positive gain.
13. The second-and-6 pass to Garcon should have been a big gain. The Redskins ran a terrific play, sending four vertical routes and leaving Garcon one-on-one with a linebacker underneath. But Griffin was under duress, and his throw did not lead Garcon. Had he been able to do so, it could have been a nice gain.
14. Loved the bullet to Davis on third-and-1 (or first-and-10, some might argue). Another drop, but a good, strong delivery. Griffin was on target to Garcon on fourth down too.
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 27-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:
What it means: The Redskins are a mess. They're 3-8 and have dropped the notion that they can turn their season around. Now they just have to salvage it and prove that they are indeed headed in the right direction. You can blame the salary-cap penalty and Robert Griffin III's knee all you want, but this team has more issues that must be addressed. The Redskins are now staring at a third double-digit loss season in four years and that can't be acceptable for anyone, not when the team -- from the top on down -- expressed great optimism in the summertime despite knowing they were coming off two years of cap hell and that Griffin had no offseason. San Francisco is a better team so there's no shame in losing, but to not play well at home and on "Monday Night Football" is not a good thing. The Redskins have five weeks to prove that another direction is not needed.
Stock report: Down -- cornerback Josh Wilson. He was in a mismatch against the 49ers' bigger targets -- not just in terms of height, but overall size. A tough night for Wilson. Also, Griffin and the pass game in general. His protection did not help him, but Griffin was unable to make plays on his own downfield. The 49ers used a lot of two-deep looks, which always makes it difficult for this passing game. Griffin missed one chance when he failed to lead Aldrick Robinson on a deep ball. Robinson still had a chance to catch the ball -- and should have caught the ball -- but if Griffin throws it out front a little bit it's a touchdown. That is, if Robinson catches it on the run. Still, too many breakdowns up front, including by left tackle Trent Williams.
Wherefore art thou?: Tight end Fred Davis barely played and was not much of a factor when he did get into the game. We'll have to find out why that's the case and if there were circumstances that kept him from playing more (his week of preparation, for example). The Redskins' starting tight ends, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, did not play well.
Second-half breakdown: The Redskins had just 30 total yards in the second half after gaining 160 in the first half. They managed just 7 yards in the third quarter.
Up next: The Redskins get to play another game in prime time, which is probably not what this team needs. They host the New York Giants on Sunday night. America might be giving thanks on Thursday; it probably won't be Sunday night.
But that comes with a caveat. There are only a couple times Shanahan wishes he had called a run.
“Obviously I look at myself, too, and I would have done a lot of things differently,” Shanahan said, “because we got our [butts] kicked in the fourth quarter and that starts with me.”
The first series? They set up the first-down play well, had eight Denver defenders in the box and a wide-open receiver. The design was perfect; the execution failed because the pass was behind Josh Morgan. On third down, receiver Aldrick Robinson was open and dropped a high but catchable ball.
“Those plays were open and it was open because we were committed to the run all game,” Shanahan said. “That’s what opened those plays up and we didn’t make those plays.”
The next series Washington went pass, run, pass/sack/fumble.
But that third series, with Denver’s stadium rocking, was a play-calling swing-and-a-miss. The Redskins were only down by 10; more than 11 minutes remained and they needed to return to what worked. Instead, they opted for another pass.
“That third series in particular started out with a play-pass I wanted versus a certain coverage,” Shanahan said. “And I didn’t get that. That’s one play in particular I wish I ran.”
Shanahan said he did not realize until after the game the run-pass disparity in the fourth quarter. They had run the ball on six of their eight plays in the third quarter.
“I don’t like it either,” Shanahan said. “I know we’ll do better. I know what we want as a philosophy. We want to be balanced. We weren’t balanced there in the fourth quarter. I can attribute it to a bunch of things. It’s not something you want to do as a playcaller.”
A big problem was that Washington failed to have a drive longer than three plays on its first four series of the final quarter. The Redskins ran only twice in the fourth quarter, once for 6 yards and then for minus-4.
Shanahan had been trying to set up some passes with the runs he called in the third quarter.
“You don’t just want to do the same thing the whole game. Sometimes you have to switch it up,” he said. “You want to keep them off-balance, come out and get a play-pass that you have set up. I could have run on a couple of second-and-10s there, but I chose to pass it and did a couple screens, too, and it didn’t work out.
“It’s not like we’re sitting in there as a coach saying, ‘We’re getting away from the run game.’ That’s what we’re planning on doing, we’ve been doing all game. But you call plays to attack coverages, you call play-passes that you’ve been trying to set up through the run game and when you end up punting it’s hard to get those other calls.”
- This is not a news flash: Robert Griffin III did not have a good game. It’s also true that hanging the troubles all on him would be wrong. As coach Mike Shanahan said Monday, there were a number of issues. Griffin deserves credit for being able to take a hit and get back up. But games like this show that he still has to grow as a pocket passer, in terms of reading defenses quicker and knowing when to get off the primary target.
- Griffin made some questionable decisions that led to a longer time in the pocket and being hit or interceptions or near-disasters. It’s easy to pick apart any quarterback’s game and decisions that are made under duress. Of course, some of that duress stemmed from those decisions. But there’s no doubt this wasn’t Griffin’s best outing. Too many missed opportunities. He’s just not connecting downfield, either; too inaccurate. Griffin showed toughness in this game; he’ll have to show resolve coming back. You can’t make too much of one bad game, but after the win over Chicago, there had to be a sense that he would be better.
- It started on the first play of the game. Griffin fakes a handoff to Alfred Morris, then an end around to Josh Morgan. That buys Griffin time in the pocket and also causes the linebackers to delay their drops. Griffin looks like he wants Pierre Garcon on a deep post down the middle. Garcon does not have the edge and Griffin should look off him sooner. It’s a bad habit. Had he done so, he would see tight end Jordan Reed turning at the 32-yard line -- with the linebacker responsible for that area running with his back turned to Griffin. An easy completion. It’s tough to tell when Griffin saw Reed, but regardless it was too late. Instead, Griffin scrambled up the middle for 4 yards. Pressure was not an issue.
- Griffin did not help himself prevent hits, a theme that was popular last season as well. I’m not sure why he didn’t throw this ball sooner, but because he didn’t it led to him getting drilled at the end of a 14-yard pass. A zone-read play-action fake fooled the Broncos and, after about two seconds, both inside linebackers rushed. They’re still a good 7 yards from Griffin as Garcon, one of two receivers on the route, cuts toward the middle. Garcon cuts inside, then back outside and no one is within 5 yards. But Griffin did not throw until after he cut (holding the ball for 3.6 seconds) – and then paid a price.
- The play Griffin missed near the end of the first half looks just as bad two days later. That play worked so well that all three receivers were open. A zone-read fake slowed the rush and caused the inside linebackers to get out of position. Morgan motioned to the backfield and then, after the snap, reversed field and headed for the right flat. Eventually two Broncos started running that way (though they were about 15 yards from him). That left a little lane for Reed, who could not jump high enough to catch the ball. And, yes, Garcon was open on a deep cross; the corner on his side started with him down the field, then backed into the deep right half. Nobody paid attention to Garcon. This play didn’t hurt Washington because it scored on this drive anyway. Griffin was hit at the end of the throw, but, again he held the ball for 3.7 seconds.
- On the next play, Griffin didn’t see Aldrick Robinson, who was open over the middle. He had been jammed off the line and stumbled. But he was open; Griffin had spent the time in the pocket looking to his left and by the time he started back to the middle, he was already starting to gather his feet to run.
- Here’s an example of Griffin waiting too long for his receivers to win a one-on-one. It happened right after the 1-yard scramble. Griffin waited to see if receiver Leonard Hankerson would win his one-on-one deep left. Griffin hung in a while and gave Hankerson a lot of time. But he never gained an advantage. Had he looked off sooner, Griffin could have dumped it to Roy Helu for a long gain. As it were, Griffin still hit Helu for 14 yards but was leveled on the throw. Time elapsed in the pocket: 3.0 seconds.
- One of Griffin’s best throws came on the same drive when Santana Moss dropped a pass in the end zone. Moss, running out of a bunch formation on the right, received off-man coverage. Moss ran about 7 yards, faked the corner and cut back to the middle and created separation. The throw was perfect.
- Yes, Garcon slipped on the first interception. I don’t blame the throw for this one because if Garcon stays up, there’s no interception. It happens. Thing is, Reed was open several yards away. He would have gained maybe 5 or 7 yards on the play – about what Garcon would have had if he had remained upright. The second interception resulted from being creamed as he threw the ball.
- The decision to throw back to the middle while being hit, trying for Hankerson, was just bad. Looked like a guy trying to make a big play out of nothing. Griffin got lucky that Denver dropped the floating pass. Perhaps Hankerson could have come back for the ball instead of waiting, but it was still a horrible decision.
• The Redskins have only drafted four wide receivers since Mike Shanahan took over after the 2009 season. They’re on their third receivers coach. Of the four, one (Terrence Austin) was cut and another (Niles Paul) was moved to tight end. They have failed to develop a quality receiver; Robert Griffin III’s growth as a passer will help, but that will only help so much.
• After Sunday’s game, Pierre Garcon said, “We didn’t have trouble getting separation. We’re just out there doing what they tell us to do.” I’m not sure I always buy that they’re getting separation. I do know that one knock on Griffin is that he does not throw players open against man coverage.
• Sunday, the non-Garcon wideouts were targeted 12 times and caught four passes for a combined 30 yards. Whether you pin the blame on the passes or the target, that’s not getting it done. Meanwhile, Garcon only averaged 6.6 yards per catch. There is very little downfield passing game.
• If Garcon ever has to miss a game this season the Redskins are in trouble. He’s a legitimate threat to a defense.
• A storyline this summer was Josh Morgan regaining some of his explosiveness, after having the screws removed from his surgically-repaired ankle. Perhaps he has, but it hasn’t resulted in him becoming what the Redskins needed from the Z position. Love his toughness and willingness to do whatever they ask, but his longest catch this season is 21 yards and he’s caught three passes for 15 yards in the past four games combined (when his playing time has decreased). His longest catch last season was 32 yards, but he had only three other games in which his longest grab was at least 20 yards.
• In the last four games combined, slot receiver Santana Moss has caught four passes for 62 yards.
• Though, of course, he would have had a long reception had he and Griffin connected on a third-quarter incompletion. The pass was behind him and I’m not sure Morgan even looked in time. Regardless of the fault, it didn’t click. That’s a phrase that could be used a lot when it comes to the Redskins’ passing attack.
• The Redskins are like a pitching staff in baseball that has a solid No. 1 starter, though not a Cy Young contender, and a bunch of No. 4’s, guys you can run out there who are capable of a good game but not a string of them.
• I’ll go back to another stat: The last wide receiver not named Garcon to surpass 85 yards receiving was Donte Stallworth in Week 14 of 2011.
• This season, Garcon has four games of at least 60 yards receiving. Hankerson, Moss, Morgan and Robinson have combined for four such games. Again, some of the blame goes to the Griffin’s inconsistency but certainly not all. It’s not a group that scares defenses. The passing game worked last year when the play-action game forced linebackers into bad drops, leaving gaps in their coverage. Now teams are playing more man coverage.
• I have not talked to anyone about Lance Lewis, who remains on the practice squad. He was rather inconsistent this summer and did not look like a player ready to contribute at the NFL level.