NFC East: Josh Wilson

In the fifth part of our re-examining series, I take a look at cornerback where the Redskins made a couple moves, though only one key addition. Already this week I've discussed safeties, the pass rush, receivers and the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeDeAngelo Hall
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliDeAngelo Hall is back for his seventh season in Washington.
What they’ve done: Re-signed DeAngelo Hall, re-signed E.J. Biggers, signed Tracy Porter, let Josh Wilson leave via free agency.

Problem solved: Tough to say that considering it’s largely the same group that’s returning. But the corner play wasn’t nearly the same issue as safety. Porter is coming off a solid year and should be improved over Wilson in the slot in coverage. Amerson’s progression will be a big key here. Hall isn’t going to get better but if he duplicates last season they’d be happy; Biggers is fine as a fourth corner. They still could use one more corner to compete with Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford. Overall this group still has a lot to prove.

Projected starters: Hall and Amerson with Porter in the slot.

What must happen: Amerson must be able to handle a starting role after serving as the No. 3 corner during his rookie season. Amerson definitely improved throughout the year, cutting down on his mental lapses in coverage. He was better with his eyes throughout the play later in the year. He learned to play press coverage last season, which should be a good tactic for him because of his long arms. He needs to show consistency and prove he can handle consistently tougher assignments as a starter (though it’s not as if he only played lesser receivers; he did a good job vs. Denver’s Eric Decker, for example). Amerson will have to show he can handle run game duties, too.

Porter has to play at a comparable level to 2013 -- I know what some rankings say about him, but those who watched him every game and in practice called him the Raiders' most consistent corner. In the games I watched of him this offseason (Indianapolis, Denver and Dallas), he was solid. He showed good patience in the slot while facing receivers such as Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker and Miles Austin (and occasionally Eric Decker or even Dez Bryant, who was a mismatch inside against him). When Porter allowed bigger catches, it typically came off an excellent move and good throw because he still had tight coverage. He’s willing to play the run, but Wilson was stronger in this area. And Porter showed he could blitz from the slot. Porter’s previous seasons weren't that strong, which is why he’s on his fourth team in four years. Injuries have been an issue in his career; last season was his first playing 16 games and only his second of more than 12. So staying healthy is a big key. Hall needs to maintain the same level of intensity he showed in 2013 when facing many top receivers. He played well and was most effective in press coverage. Hall also turns 31 this season and he was not as consistent in other coverages.

Address in the draft: Sure, but not until the later rounds. It would be a waste to select a corner in the second round knowing they would serve as a No. 4 at best. It’s not like, say, outside linebacker where they’d be used in packages to bolster the pass rush. What if the corner is by far their best on the board? OK. But short of that, they can address the position later in the draft and try to develop the player. They need depth right now, not starters (you can debate the quality of them; but they’re invested and it’s not a need). Next year? Different story. Minnifield and Crawford still have something to prove; the former spent most of the year on the practice squad and the latter missed all season with multiple torn ligaments. It’s asking a lot to expect him to be at the same level he was entering camp last summer. When he entered camp he and the coaches felt good about how he had improved in the slot. The feisty Minnifield has to show he can be effective in more coverages than just press.

Last word: This group will definitely be helped by increased quarterback pressure. Too often last season the coverages didn’t seem to match the rush, for whatever reason. And when they’d play zone, that’s when they’d get into trouble. They’re not good enough to just play press man all day. Few corners are so they must be able to play a variety of coverages. But if you know the pressure will get home, then you can play tighter even in zones. If safety Ryan Clark has anything left, he’ll also help in two ways: making sure everyone is lined up right (sounds little, but it’s not) and providing trust that he’ll be where he’s supposed to, allowing the corners to play accordingly. It matters.

Redskins' offseason scorecard

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
A look at what the Washington Redskins have done already this offseason -- and what they are waiting to do once free agency hits at 4 p.m. Tuesday. There are differing reports about salary-cap space. ESPN's Stats & information had the Redskins with about $23 million in cap space before the Perry Riley deal Tuesday. But NFLPA records showed them at a little over $20 million. had them at just under $19 million, but it was unclear if that included the Rule of 51 (only the top 51 players count toward the cap; the Redskins now have 58 players under contract after Riley's deal).

Done Deals

CB DeAngelo Hall

Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season, the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They would be wise to find another good young cornerback to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker

Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned each of the three years -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.

LB Perry Riley

Riley signed a three-year deal worth $13 million. I don’t yet have the breakdown or the cap hits, but this comes across as a fair deal for Riley, a starter since midway through the 2011 season. The Redskins did not want to be in a position where they needed two inside linebackers in free agency. Riley had a stronger year in 2012, but the coaches know him and he knows the system. He’s not a leader, so he won’t replace London Fletcher, but he does know the defense well, which will help anyone who comes in next to him. Riley is better in man coverage than zone, but the latter gives him fits.

Likely back

LB Brian Orakpo

The Redskins placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on him last week for a price of $11.45 million next season, unless they work out a long-term deal. Orakpo still had not signed the tender, but he does count against the salary cap. Another team could sign him, but it would need to then surrender two first-round picks. It’s highly doubtful anyone would pay big money and give up two picks. Orakpo’s sack totals have been consistent since he entered the NFL in 2010, always between 8.5 and 11. But if he has a bigger season, while playing under the franchise tag, he could really cash in a year from now. The offseason message is that he and Ryan Kerrigan will be turned loose more. If that really results in more sacks, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next offseason.

Waiting word

WR Andre Roberts

Despite reports that he has agreed to terms, an NFL source says that this situation remains a work in progress and said he was not a lock. That doesn’t mean the Redskins won’ t sign a contract with him once free agency hits at 4 p.m. At this point, I would expect him to sign the four-year offer. But what if another team comes along and makes a stronger offer? That is what happened with Eddie Royal a couple years ago. Roberts would help. He’s a tough receiver with good hands who can play in the slot. He was Arizona’s No. 3 receiver this past season.

Redskins free-agent scorecard

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
The free-agent period won’t begin until March 11, but the reality is that it’s already underway. At least when it comes to signing your own free agents, or looking at players cut from other teams. The Redskins have expressed interest in free-agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, but had yet to line up a visit with him as of late Thursday night, a team source said. The Browns released Jackson Wednesday (but the move was not submitted to the league until Thursday) and he already has visits lined up with Tennessee and Denver.

Other players will be released before March 11. Until more are free, the focus is on your own. Here’s a look at the Redskins' free agents, both those who are re-signed and still available.

They’re done:

CB DeAngelo Hall

Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They’d be wise to find another good young corner to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years as well, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker
Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- each of the three years and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.

Still waiting:

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are interested in bringing Brian Orakpo back, but he could test the market first.
LB Brian Orakpo
The Redskins want to re-sign him and Orakpo would like to come back. But he’s more than comfortable testing the market in order to get the sort of contract he wants. The Redskins could place the franchise tag on him (the deadline is Monday). That would leave him with a salary of approximately $11 million this year, but no long-term security if he gets injured. The Redskins could sign him to a back-loaded five-year contract that has a much lower cap figure for the first two years of the deal. But at some point he’ll count a great deal against the cap and not be cuttable, at least for a year. (For example, Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, in Year 3 of his deal, counts more against the cap if he’s released.)

LB Perry Riley
The Redskins don’t want to create another hole at inside linebacker with London Fletcher already retiring. But if Riley wants a big contract he’ll have to go elsewhere. They’d prefer to keep him; they know they can upgrade if necessary. A word of warning: It's not a deep group at inside linebacker so it could be tough to fill one spot let alone two.

S Brandon Meriweather
Haven’t heard a whole lot in regards to Meriweather. It’s hard to imagine they’d bring him back on anything other than a one-year deal, while hoping that Phillip Thomas eventually becomes the starter. The Redskins need to solve this position and Meriweather’s play did not warrant him being a strong solution.

CB Josh Wilson
He did a good job against the run while in the slot, which isn’t always easy. But his coverage skills aren’t what the Redskins need. Plus David Amerson, entering his second season, should be elevated to a starter. The Redskins will need more corners, however. But they also need more size at this position.

S Reed Doughty
Doughty is a capable backup who too often was pressed into a starting role. He’s a good special-teamer as well.

CB E.J. Biggers
He was their fourth corner and played some safety, though it’s doubtful he’d have played that spot for any team other than the safety-starved Redskins. But he adds depth and there’s a chance he’ll return.

LB Rob Jackson
The Redskins have yet to talk contract with Jackson. Obviously they have Orakpo to worry about and if he signs it’s tough to imagine Jackson returning as well. He’ll want to go somewhere he has a chance to start.

LB Darryl Tapp
Very strong against the run. Not bad to keep around at all.

LB Nick Barnett
He’s not a starting candidate and they need to find backups who are much better on special teams.

WR Josh Morgan
He failed to produce considering the contract he received. The Redskins need to upgrade.

WR Santana Moss
They can always use Leonard Hankerson in the slot, but he might not be healthy until the middle of August. They still think Moss can play. If they upgrade other receiver spots they don’t need to spend a lot for a dynamic slot receiver.

QB Rex Grossman
New coach Jay Gruden has typically kept two quarterbacks, which would leave no room for Grossman. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan will want him in Cleveland to help the other quarterbacks learn his offense.

TE Fred Davis
Davis has bigger issues to worry about.

C J.D. Walton
Signed late in the season. The former third-round pick was a starter in Denver until a bad ankle injury in 2012. The Broncos cut him in December. Washington could upgrade at center.

LB Bryan Kehl
A good special-teams player, but coming off a torn ACL in October.

WR Dez Briscoe
Spent the year on injured reserve; worked with current receivers coach Ike Hilliard two years ago. Has size, but you need more than just size. The Redskins have little depth at this position.
Pete Carroll and Mike Shanahan started new jobs in the same offseason. Four years later Carroll is in the Super Bowl; Shanahan is unemployed. Why did the Seahawks improve while the Redskins did not? Seattle won nine games combined in the two years before Carroll and a combined 38 in the next four years, while the Redskins won a combined 12 games in the two years before Shanahan and a combined 24 in the ensuing four years.
  • The Seahawks had two first-round picks in 2010 while the Redskins had two picks in the first four rounds. Seattle landed two excellent starters in tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas. Washington took tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Perry Riley. Williams is a Pro Bowler and Riley is a starter, good in some areas but who struggles in others.
  • The Seahawks hit on lower-round picks in 2010, selecting cornerback Walter Thurmond in the fourth round and safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth. Chancellor’s physical style sets a tone in the box, and Thurmond is an excellent slot corner and might as well be considered a starter. Seattle also took starting receiver Golden Tate in the second round. The Redskins whiffed on the rest of their 2010 class, none of whom were on the roster this past season.
  • Wilson
    Among the players Seattle unloaded in the 2010 offseason: corner Josh Wilson, who signed with the Redskins a year later; and defensive lineman Darryl Tapp, who played here this past season. The Seahawks wanted big, physical cornerbacks. Wilson was too small for them. Seattle clearly had a blueprint.
  • In 2011, the Seahawks had nine picks (the Redskins had 12). Seattle found three more starters in guard James Carpenter (drafted as a tackle in the first round); corner Richard Sherman (fifth round); corner Byron Maxwell (sixth round; a replacement for the suspended Brandon Browner) and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (seventh round). Eight of the nine remain on the roster.
  • Meanwhile, the Redskins drafted 12 players, finding one good starter in linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and another starter in end Jarvis Jenkins. It wasn’t a bad draft, but it wasn’t a game-changer either. Nine of the 12 remained on the roster in 2013.
  • Wilson
    Both teams found quarterbacks in 2012, with Seattle getting Russell Wilson in the third round and the Redskins trading two future first-rounders and a second-rounder to swap positions with St. Louis to get Robert Griffin III. I agreed with the move, so I’m not going to second-guess it; besides, it’s not as if Ryan Tannehill, a player they liked, has torn it up in Miami (though, yes, they would have had more picks). There is no way Seattle could have anticipated what Wilson has become, and the Seahawks had also traded for Matt Flynn. But they quickly saw what they had in Wilson.
  • Both quarterbacks obviously made tremendous impacts as rookies. Griffin’s knee injury and other issues led to stumbles in 2013. But when he struggled, so, too, did the Redskins. When Wilson struggled, he could rely on the run game and defense to win. Big difference when you don’t have to carry a team -- and that’s because of how both were built.
  • Seattle drafted 10 players in 2012 -- eight played defense; three are starters (end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and J.R. Sweezy, an end in college but now a starting offensive guard). The Redskins also hit on running back Alfred Morris in that same draft, and quarterback Kirk Cousins looks like a good backup who might yield a draft pick in return some day. But aside from them and Griffin? So far, nothing.
  • This past season, of the Redskins' top five defensive backs (including No. 3 corner David Amerson), four were picked in the first two rounds of their respective drafts. Of Seattle’s eight defensive backs, only one was drafted before the fourth round.
  • In the 2013 draft, Seattle added no starters, but that’s not a surprise given the Seahawks’ talent level. The Redskins added Amerson, who was their No. 3 corner. But nobody else provided any help. Even on special teams.
  • All totaled, of the starters listed on Seattle’s current depth chart, 16 were drafted by them or signed as an undrafted free agent. That includes nine defensive starters, and the lone two who weren’t drafted by them were acquired in trades, including end Chris Clemons. Of the four offensive players not drafted by Seattle, one was signed off a practice squad; another was acquired in a trade (running back Marshawn Lynch) and only one was considered a bigger free agent signing (tight end Zach Miller).
  • Seattle built a team that could withstand the loss of receiver Percy Harvin, who has caught one pass this season after being acquired in a trade. He might play in the Super Bowl. They signed pass-rush specialist Cliff Avril, who recorded eight sacks, but was not a starter.
  • Seattle is just more proof that you can succeed without having to spend big money. And the Redskins are proof as to what happens when you don’t successfully draft and develop.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
In Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, the topics include free agency, how many Bengals might follow Jay Gruden to Washington, Jim Haslett's return and more.
LANDOVER, Md. -- The biggest play of the Dallas Cowboys' win against the Washington Redskins was without question DeMarco Murray's 10-yard touchdown catch.

But the Cowboys would not have been in position without Terrance Williams.

The rookie receiver had the longest pass play of the day on the winning drive, hauling in a 51-yard catch from Tony Romo that took the ball from the Dallas 28 to the Washington 21.

“I looked and saw Tony Rolling my way, and so I broke up and then saw the corner (Josh Wilson) slip, so Tony saw the same thing and he just let it go,” Williams said. “The challenge was paying attention to the ball the whole way through.”

And then not fumbling as he turned up field.

“I just didn’t want to do nothing dumb,” Williams said, “and try to fight for more yards. So the whole key was just when I caught it to get down and live for another day.”

That Williams even played in the game was not a given. He suffered a hamstring injury last week against the Green Bay Packers and did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. He was limited on Friday.

“Terrance is really a special kid,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s such a determined individual. He wants to be really, really good at this game and works very hard at it. He’s a very soft-spoken guy, but he wants to be a great player. And he wants to help our football team. He didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and was determined to come back from his injury and practiced well on Friday and instilled some confidence in us. He made some plays. He made a lot of little plays in the game, and certainly made the big play at the end to change the field position.”

Williams finished with four catches for 84 yards. It was the second-most yards he has had in a game this season, and most since he had 151 on four catches on Oct. 6 against the Denver Broncos.

“He puts himself in good position because of how much he cares,” Romo said. “He goes about his business the right way, and you really appreciate a guy like that.”

Cowboys 24, Redskins 23: Ten observations

December, 22, 2013
1. Mike Shanahan keeps saying he'll meet with owner Dan Snyder after the season and until that happens there is no decision on his future. OK. But I just don't see him returning because at this point it doesn't make any sense. I'll just say this: The Redskins will not get caught flat-footed looking for his successor, like they were when Joe Gibbs resigned after the 2007 season.

2. Regardless if owner Dan Snyder still likes Shanahan or not, you just reach a point where you say change is necessary. Continuity is good and the Redskins need it; they'll soon be on their fourth head coach in seven seasons. They've changed schemes and personnel too often and it's a brutal way to try and win. But you don't become good because you're stable, you become stable because you're good. That's why the Steelers and Patriots and other patient teams don't panic after a bad year or two. The organizational foundation is there. Take away all the stories that have come out and at 3-12 it would still be difficult to justify another season. It's become a football decision as much as anything. There are smart coaches here, but the bottom line is the Redskins are 24-39 in the past four seasons and facing more roster turnover.

3. You could predict the Steve Spurrier 5-11 season; you could see the Jim Zorn collapse as well. Neither one of those regimes had a chance for a number of reasons. This season? Maybe a 6-10 season because of Robert Griffin III's knee and some issues related to the cap. But possibly 3-13? No way. The last time I covered a 3-13 season was Norv Turner's first year and that was the first step of a massive rebuild. This was in Year 4 of a regime that showed promise a year ago at this time. When they hired Shanahan to pair with general manager Bruce Allen, my thought was that, if nothing else, the Redskins wouldn't suffer through this sort of season. And now they have. It's an all-around debacle.

4. I don't know who the next head coach will be, but I know Baylor's Art Briles' name will always be mentioned because of his connection to Robert Griffin III. Yes, it already has been, though mostly to say he'd be receptive to the job. I've said it before and will say it again: That would be a major risk and put too much pressure on Griffin. One respected veteran, who likes Griffin, said of that possibility, “It would be bad for him and it would be bad for the locker room. It would put him in a tight spot.” Just because of the perception players would have that Griffin played a role in Shanahan's ouster in order to get his college coach hired. Not a good look.

5. Now, onto the field. Maybe I'll change my mind after watching Kirk Cousins again in the next couple days, but he was rather ordinary Sunday. He did not play like a guy that will force other teams to surrender a high pick for him in May. He needs time and it would not be the worst thing in the world, at all, for the Redskins to bring him back as insurance for Griffin.

6. Cousins threw another interception on an inside route. Like with the two picks last week, Cousins failed to lead receiver Santana Moss; wasn't wild about the QB's footwork on the play. Maybe Moss should have caught the ball, though few I think would have. Instead he tried to turn around and it caromed off his hands. I like that Cousins owns his mistakes. But there were a few other passes that were nearly intercepted (this is where it's helpful to watch the game again to get a stronger feel for what happened. I do know on one it didn't look like Josh Morgan did a whole lot to help him out).

7. I still like that Cousins does not lock onto one receiver. He also made a nice throw on a 19-yard pass to Pierre Garcon in which right tackle Tyler Polumbus' presence prevented Cousins from stepping into the throw. Cousins has to go through so many situations before you can do more than guesswork about his future. I didn't like that Cousins failed in the fourth quarter, completing 2 of 8 passes for 18 yards. It was a chance for him to carve out a place for himself in this rivalry and he couldn't get the job done. It's not all on him, but he would have received the glory, so ...

8. The inability to pressure with four defenders was a problem for much of the year and it was again Sunday, especially after Brian Orakpo went out. But even with Orakpo the rush was too quiet, except for when they paired he and Ryan Kerrigan on the left side. They ran a blitz to free up Brandon Meriweather running wide, with the others inside. Meriweather was unblocked. Kerrigan ran a stunt to the inside for his sack. An end with pass-rush skills needs to be found.

9. But mostly nothing came from the rush. Every time they've played Tony Romo and he gets that much time he beats them. They're not good enough in zone coverage to let Romo have that sort of time. On the touchdown, the Redskins were in a zone and used a four-man rush. The coverage did well initially because Romo couldn't find anyone. But he had too much time, slipped to his right and corner DeAngelo Hall said he was concerned for Meriweather in the back of the end zone with Dez Bryant. So Hall sunk deeper. Meanwhile, with linebacker Perry Riley playing inside and reading Romo's eyes, that left DeMarco Murray open in the flat. Hall said he thought Riley might slide over to get the back; Riley said he did not know Hall had sunk so deep. You can't give Romo that sort of time.

10. The ability to extend plays in the red zone is why mobile quarterbacks are so valuable. Romo passed up opportunities to run so it's not about him gaining yards with his legs. His 51-yard pass to receiver Terrance Williams came from him extending the play. Once Griffin reaches the point where he understands it's just about extending plays he'll be more dangerous. “That's what makes Robert so dangerous and makes all the mobile quarterbacks so dangerous,” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said. “When they're out of the pocket, it's not on a designed play so it's draw it up in the dirt. It's tough for a defender.”

Redskins UFAs face possible Fed Ex finale

December, 19, 2013
We know Sunday will be London Fletcher’s last home game. The Washington Redskins have 15 other players who could be appearing in their last home game as well because of their pending free agency. If there’s a new coach, there could be a mass exodus. But for now I’ll stick with the pending unrestricted free agents currently on the active roster.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsBrian Orakpo will be the most expensive player to re-sign of the Redskins' soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo: He views himself as an elite linebacker, which means he’ll want to get paid like one. Last year’s top free agent at outside linebacker was Paul Kruger, who received $8.2 million per year with $20 million guaranteed and signing bonuses totaling $12.85 million. Orakpo is better. Whether or not you think he’s elite, in a passing league it’s tough to let good pass-rushers walk, especially if you plan to stick with a 3-4.

Tight end Fred Davis: Hard to see why he’d want to return, especially if the head coach remains. Yes, he’d be good insurance given questions about Jordan Reed’s durability but that’s not what Davis wants. He wants to start. I can't imagine him getting a big deal after the past couple of years of suspension, injuries and now questions about his work ethic.

Linebacker Perry Riley: If you’re staying in a 3-4, you keep him around. You’re already going to have a transition at the other spot; it’s good to have someone who knows the defense. He’s flawed, but steady and won’t cost too much.

Defensive lineman Chris Baker: He’s talented, but inconsistent. He makes plays because of his penetration, but sometimes misses plays because he’s so intent on getting upfield. A nice backup.

Linebacker Darryl Tapp: Looked good this summer, but hasn’t played a whole lot this season. Not a great pass-rusher from this spot, but strong. Not an all-around linebacker. A good backup, but the Redskins would do well to find younger backup linebackers who can excel on special teams.

Linebacker Rob Jackson: If they lose Orakpo, could Jackson be a good alternative? He certainly won’t cost as much, but he’s also not as good. He’s worth keeping as a primary backup, but Jackson should first look for a starting job elsewhere based on his 2012 film.

Quarterback Rex Grossman: All depends on the coaching staff and what happens with Kirk Cousins. If Grossman is your third quarterback, you’re in good shape. But it wouldn’t stun me if the Redskins start looking for another No. 3, perhaps a younger player they can groom into a solid No. 2 for 2015 when it’s hard to imagine both Cousins and Robert Griffin III still being on the roster.

Corner E.J. Biggers: Offers versatility and would be cheap. Just a backup.

Receiver Santana Moss: He’s been an excellent Redskin and a personal favorite because he’s always available after games and during the week, win or lose, since joining the team in 2005. But his productivity has waned; at 35 (in June) that will continue. Tough to see him returning. If this staff stays in place, next year’s slot could be Leonard Hankerson, but because of his injury they’ll need some insurance in case he’s not ready. Perhaps that’s how Moss returns, but with a new staff? Don’t see it. He deserves kudos from the crowd Sunday for a career well done in Washington.

Receiver Josh Morgan: There’s little reason to bring him back; he hasn’t been productive and his blocking has been inconsistent.

Safety Reed Doughty: If there’s a new staff, sometimes guys like Doughty -- valuable special-teamers and role players -- get lost in the shuffle. But he’s worth keeping around because of what he does.

Corner Josh Wilson: He’s been fine in the slot, doing a nice job against the run from this position. That’s important. But he’s 28 and descending. Not everyone likes small corners, so a new staff could go in a different direction. I have a tough time seeing him return, especially as a starter.

Corner DeAngelo Hall: He made big plays in the first half of the season, though he’s been quiet lately. When playing off man or zone he’s not as effective. He’s also 30. If the Redskins keep only one of Hall or Wilson, then the former is more productive. They have so many areas to address that they might not be able to find all the answers in free agency or the draft. I don’t know if David Amerson will be a quality starter, but a second-round pick in Year 2 should be one of your top two. I’d pair him with a younger veteran via free agency who is still ascending and can be the lead guy.

Linebacker Nick Barnett: Not a good alternative to Fletcher because of his coverage skills. A good guy in the locker room and a pro, but he turns 33 in May. And if you’re not going to start, you’d better do well on special teams. Not his strength.

Center J.D. Walton: They just claimed him off waivers. He’s a former starter worth checking out; the Redskins need stronger center play.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 12

November, 26, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 27-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night:

Coaching future: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan points to several changes as examples of how the organization is better off now than when he was hired in 2010. But unless things change dramatically, the Redskins are looking at a third double-digit-loss season in his first four. You can point to reasons why they have taken a step back after last season. A 7-9 finish after a tough offseason -- quarterback rehabbing, team unable to sign quality free agents -- would be understandable. But the Redskins have not looked like a good team in any game this season. Even if the quarterback needs to develop, other parts of the team still can play well. That hasn’t happened. The Redskins have lost four games by double digits, the same number they lost in 2009 under Jim Zorn when they finished 4-12. They’re not losing close, hard-fought games and just need a little luck. Players still support Shanahan (Zorn had little to no support), and that’s good. But everyone here still has a lot to prove.

Quarterback’s future: Regardless of what’s true or not true when it comes to Robert Griffin III’s relationship with the coach and the offensive coordinator, there’s no doubt he’ll have to rebuild his reputation as well as his game. It’s not impossible: Griffin works hard and has talent. Patience is always needed with young quarterbacks; a week ago -- heck, until around 9 Monday night -- Colin Kaepernick was a struggling young quarterback. This morning he’s on his way back. Fickle game for young passers. I’ve said this before, but it remains true: Griffin needs to have a quiet offseason. That means no commercials, no joining the owner at big events, no documentaries. Work on your game and stay out of the spotlight. You can work hard and still do all those other things, but to rebuild yourself and your game, it’s best to lay low. I have a feeling Griffin won’t mind doing so after this season. If his career ends up being a good one, it could be that this year was a turning point. There’s a ways to go before this book is completed. This chapter, however, hasn't been pretty.

Rough night: Redskins corner Josh Wilson struggled Monday night, giving up big catches to receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Some were in man; at least one was in zone. Boldin got free on an out route for one catch in which Wilson wasn’t close enough to get his hand between Boldin’s. Davis pushed off to get free on another and created too much separation. Another time, Kaepernick made a terrific throw that beat decent coverage from Wilson on Boldin. Overall, though, too many passes were directed in Wilson’s area. It was not a strong night. “We’ve got to be able to make plays and I wasn’t able to make plays that I definitely want to make,” Wilson said.

No offense: The Redskins’ offense was unable to do much of anything against San Francisco, which entered this weekend with the NFL’s seventh-rated defense. It’s the only team Washington has faced that currently has a defense ranked among the top half in the NFL. The Redskins couldn’t do much of anything. They ran for 100 yards on 27 carries; they had 90 net yards passing and 190 yards overall. They averaged 3.3 yards per play. This was definitely a bad matchup for them because the 49ers have an excellent front seven and speed at the linebacker position. It was a complete breakdown by the entire offense. Eight of their 12 drives lasted four plays or fewer, and it’s a huge reason why San Francisco’s average starting field position was its own 43-yard line. The Redskins started nine drives inside their 25-yard line; the Niners started one drive inside their 25.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

November, 25, 2013

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.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly has had a few misadventures in his first circuit around the National Football League. But his play calling in the second half of Sunday's 24-16, white-knuckle victory over Washington does not qualify.

The first-year Eagles coach has been criticized locally for taking his foot off the gas while protecting (and almost failing to protect) a 24-0, fourth-quarter lead. But Kelly was only doing what he did in wins against Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and he was universally praised for fourth-quarter, clock-draining drives in those games.

“When we have an opportunity to put people away,” Kelly said, “we have to put them away, and we didn't do that.”

Well, they did, but it took until Robert Griffin III threw a floater into the arms of Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds left. The issue is whether or not Kelly's play calling facilitated the Washington comeback, and the answer really comes down to two plays.

The first: On fourth-and-1 at the Washington 38, Bryce Brown was stuffed for no gain by linebacker London Fletcher. Kelly might have been wrong for not having LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, carry the ball there. But a rushing game that averages 4.9 yards per carry should be able to pick up a yard with Brown toting the ball.

“No. 1,” Kelly said, “we were on the 38-yard line, so we weren't going to kick a field goal in that situation. I felt at the time if we could get another first down there, that would have been huge for us. We had had a 13-play drive for a touchdown in the third quarter, so we had proven we could consistently move the football, and we were just half a yard short on the (third-down) pass play to LeSean. Thought we could go with it really quick and try to get one in there.

“I'll give them credit. Fletcher made a great play standing Bryce up in the hole and made the tackle and we didn't convert.”

Kelly is forgiven for not anticipating that a defense pitching a shutout would allow a touchdown on the very next play. And it was a very strange play. Griffin bought some time with his legs and found fullback Darrel Young standing alone along the left sideline. If you're the Eagles, Young is probably the one guy you don't expect to beat you for a 62-yard touchdown.

“We've got to convert offensively,” Kelly said, “but we also can't let them go one play and score a touchdown defensively. It's a combination of both.”

The Eagles' next series was probably Kelly's least impressive, in terms of play calling. But that's better understood if you accept the fluky nature of Young's touchdown, and if you harken back to the 9-minute, 32-second drive in Green Bay.

The Eagles moved the ball from their own 20 to their 44, picking up two first downs on five runs and two passes. If Foles completed the third-down pass to Riley Cooper on third-and-12, maybe we're discussing another epic, game-clinching drive. But he didn't, and Washington scored another touchdown on their ensuing possession.

That brings us to the second pivotal play. On third-and-4 at the Eagles' 23, Foles was flushed from the pocket. He ran to his right, and Washington cornerback Josh Wilson caught him. Foles reached forward, and the on-field officials marked the ball at the 27 for a first down. Washington coach Mike Shanahan challenged the spot and it was moved back far enough to make it fourth-and-inches.

That was the margin between another long, clock-killing drive and giving Griffin the ball with a chance to tie.

“If we had gotten the first down, we may have put them away,” Kelly said. “I know we're trying to do it, but we're not there yet.”

They were there in Tampa and in Green Bay. They were very close Sunday. The play calling was the same in all three situations.

Friday Conversation: Louis Riddick

November, 15, 2013
Former NFL player and executive (with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles) Louis Riddick, who appears on ESPN's NFL Insiders, is always honest and insightful. Here’s our conversation:

What are your thoughts on the Redskins? They were 3-6 a year ago and turned it around. Do you see similarities?

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris is the key to a Redskins offense that's not designed to be overly reliant on the passing game.
Louis Riddick: RG3 needs that [zone-read] component very much and their offense needs that. It makes them very inflexible in terms of being able to be successful on that side of the ball. If the run game is not going it has a snowball effect in a negative way because that line is not built to pass protect in a true dropback manner. RG3 is not built, and his skill set is not such, that he is a dropback passer who can play catch-up football and throw the ball all over the yard. He definitely needs the run game to be clicking and right now it is and you see how much better they are. Everything has to go right for them to score points. Defensively the secondary is still a problem. DeAngelo [Hall has] come up with interceptions. They’ve been more scheme-driven and bad decision-making on opponents’ part than because he still has elite-level skills. He doesn’t run like he used to and has to win at the line and can’t play off-man coverage and has to win with his mind. David Amerson is still ridiculously inconsistent. You saw that in the Chargers game. That final drive when they tied it up they spun him around. It’s not physical, it’s mental. Some players never get that straightened out no matter how much you want to say with experience they’ll grow and mature and become better. You never know. You hope he does.

Josh Wilson's skills are deteriorating. The safety position has been a mess because of injury and performance. Brandon Meriweather is still a hammer, but he doesn’t move the same. Reed Doughty is not a good cover guy. They put E.J. Biggers in there to play safety. Jim [Haslett] is trying to work miracles back there. London [Fletcher’s] arrow is pointing down. I can see teams attacking him more in the middle of the field with the better tight ends and backs when they can get him one-on-one.

And as much as I like Brian [Orakpo] and Ryan [Kerrigan] because of their style of play and competitiveness, they can go long stretches [without anything]. They’re going to have to catch lightning in a bottle. I’m not optimistic about it and I originally picked them to win the division.

How much should the salary-cap situation be a reason for their struggles?

Riddick: Unless there was a free agent that they felt could have made a significant difference, we’ve all seen that is not a very consistent way to build a team and not a very productive way to build a team on a regular basis. Lower-round draft picks and college free agents, that’s where teams can separate themselves from a scouting perspective and build depth that winds up playing significant roles on special teams. The cap didn’t prohibit them from doing that. That’s not taking a shot at their scouting department, that’s just a reality. Ask the Dolphins where [free agency] led them. They had a lot of cap room and tried to take that approach. Ask the Eagles in 2011, who tried to get over the hump by applying that model. It doesn’t work. When you’re building your team it’s not because of one year and a bunch of free agents you sign as to why you get better. That’s a process that builds up over time. I don’t like that argument.

How would you evaluate Orakpo and Kerrigan?

Riddick: They’re high motor, tough, consistent in terms of effort. Both are predominately power rushers, leverage rushers who want to get under your pads or use a long-arm stab bull rush and take the inside hand and put in the middle of your chest and drive you back to the quarterback. Brian has shown he can go high side, dip and skim the edge. Other than that if you watch him he doesn’t have a consistent inside move; he doesn’t have a package in terms of counter spins. Maybe he’ll come inside off a designed call .… Ryan is very much the same way. If you have tackles that are fundamentally sound and can handle their power, they will be neutralized -- I don’t want to say easily, but effectively.

How would you compare Alfred Morris to last year?

Riddick: You know his strengths are his vision and consistency and center of gravity and ability to break tackles. I don’t think he’s better than last year. I think he’s gotten stronger as the year has gone on. He’s a guy who will give you exactly what you’re seeing right now; he’s doing what’s asked within the confines of the offense.

Are there good pieces to build around?

Riddick: Sure there is. At tight end, Jordan Reed is dynamite. You can’t utilize him enough. The more creative you can get with him the better. He’s very crafty and instinctive as far as working away from coverage. He has great hands and gets great yards after the catch. He can put up crazy stats.

Do you think there is a problem if the Redskins don’t give Mike Shanahan an extension?

Riddick: Sure … Even though you’re dealing with professionals who are supposed to play hard no matter what, that’s good as long as things are going good. But when things start to go bad that’s when teams start to fall apart and lose direction and motivation and focus. That’s not something you want to risk, especially at a place where you’ve been trying so hard to get over the top and return to the glory years.

Redskins' D can learn from Colts

October, 24, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The supposed blueprint was revealed Sunday night when the Indianapolis Colts shut down the Denver Broncos. They made quarterback Peyton Manning look bad.

There's just two problems: The Colts did do a terrific job, yet the Broncos still scored 30 points and had the ball with a chance to drive the field for the lead. And Manning, while more mortal than other games, still managed 386 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

Still, the Colts held Denver to a season-low point total in their 39-33 victory. In the first six games Denver had scored 40 or more points four times -- and more than 50 twice. Manning has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

“He's one of the best, if not the best, that ever played the game,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsRobert Mathis and the Colts were able to sack Broncos QB Peyton Manning four times on Sunday.
Still, the Colts beat him. Here's what the Colts did well:

Be physical with the receivers

The Redskins have done a solid job in recent weeks at disrupting the timing of receivers. At times they'll jam immediately off the line. Other times they'll let them run a couple yards then get their hands on them. That's what Indianapolis did Sunday. The Colts did not play press coverage the whole game, but they did cover well most of the night; downfield passes were always contested with tight coverage.

That's why Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said one key is to “try to win one-on-one matchups.”

It'll help if Washington can at least apply solid pressure with its four-man rush. With safety Brandon Meriweather suspended and safety Reed Doughty likely questionable because of his concussion, the Redskins will be thin at that spot. To put one safety deep in this situation would be difficult, though E.J. Biggers' speed allows him to cover a lot of ground -- which is why they'll use the corner at safety, likely with three other corners.

Indianapolis also did a good job being disciplined in coverage and tackling after the catch. Also, the corners understood where their help was on plays, something that could be trickier for Washington if it must incorporate inexperienced safeties.

The coverage ploy worked great for three quarters Sunday. But it's hard to stop this offense all game. Of Denver's top seven plays in terms of yards gained, six occurred in the fourth quarter and represented 186 of their 429 total yards.

Keep disguising coverages

It's obviously difficult to confuse Manning, one of the smartest quarterbacks in history. But it can happen.

On a second-and-10 in the first half, the Colts showed a two-deep look and what appeared to be man coverage. That's not surprising; it's a look they showed often. The left outside linebacker covered tight end Julius Thomas off the line with the left corner playing off on receiver Eric Decker. Then Decker broke inside and, as Manning readied to throw, the Colts revealed zone coverage with the linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, breaking off Thomas and deflecting the pass.

"If he sees something and it looks different he can find a weakness," Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. "But if we're showing the same thing and we're playing a bunch of different things out of it, hopefully we can fool them a couple times. Indy did the same thing. They attacked with their front and in the back end everything looked the same.”

Field position

Denver had 17 drives against the Colts, but 11 were from their own 20 or worse. And six were inside the 20. The Broncos scored only 10 points on these drives 11 drives while 23 were scored when they started a drive outside their own 35-yard line.

That, of course, means the Redskins' special teams would have to perform better than they have the past two games when they've allowed two punt returns for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return.

In the past two games combined, the Redskins' opponents have had 23 possessions; nine have been at their own 35 or better with eight at the 20 or worse.


It's not just about hitting Manning or sacking him. Both can be difficult because of how quickly he delivers the ball. In the first half Sunday, the Colts did a good job of pinching the pocket, more often than not using four-man rushes. They'd send the occasional blitz, or stunt the outside linebackers to the middle. But, mostly, it was about four rushers (who also did a good job against the run, using some stunts to offset being forced into six-man boxes because of the three-receiver sets).

Indianapolis applied pressure inside, too, preventing Manning from stepping into his throws -- and leading to passes losing steam in the end.

“You don't want him to step up and put everything into his throws,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “You don't want him to have a comfortable pocket to sit in either. So getting that collapse and getting a good push, especially from the interior guys, will be key.”

But be warned: Manning twice in the fourth quarter stepped up into the pocket, through a gap in the rush, and completed a 49-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas and, two plays, later a 31-yarder to him for a touchdown. Manning is not a running quarterback; he's also not a statue.

Still, as Wilson said, “You don't let Peyton sit there and pick you apart. You have to move him around. He doesn't like to do that.”

Linebacker Robert Mathis had two sacks and four quarterback hurries. On one of his sacks, he just beat left tackle Chris Clark with speed around the edge, with Manning using play-action. Another time, out of a two-point stance, Mathis launched into Clark's chest and drove him back for a pressure. He also tried some spin moves inside as Clark occasionally set too wide despite having help from the back. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo will need to take advantage.

“The Colts did a good job of getting some pressure on him,” Haslett said. “That's the key to the game. That [and] stopping the run.”

Brandon Meriweather still on notice

October, 23, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather won his appeal Wednesday. But there is no real victory for him. And the Redskins still will be without their best safety while playing one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history Sunday in Denver.

It wasn’t surprising that the suspension was reduced; when he was given two games, the general feeling was this would happen. This way, he still gets a suspension, and the league gets to make a point. But if they really wanted to make a strong point, why not keep it at two games for a player with Meriweather’s history? Maybe they should explain this ruling.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather
Ricky Carioti/Getty ImagesBrandon Meriweather's ban was reduced, but he's now always one hit away from another suspension.
Still, in the past, other suspensions were reduced from one game to none. The league has officially put Meriweather on notice, however. With 10 games left, no one should be confident that this won’t happen again. Or that he’s learned how to alter his game enough to survive without another issue. Every time he goes to deliver a blow, every time a pass is thrown into his area of the field, there will be two concerns: Will he make the play? And will it result in a suspension? It’s a tough way to live for a safety.

“We have to play fast,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “If you hit somebody in the wrong part of the body, you have to deal with that after the fact. But we can’t pull up on a guy and not make a play and risk a touchdown or risk our team losing because we’re thinking about what might happen.”

Meriweather’s teammates defended him Wednesday, as you would expect. He’s come across well in interviews since he came to Washington, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to on-field issues.

Truth be told, it’s sometimes difficult to tell what’s legal and what isn’t. For a player who built his game around intimidating receivers, it will always be difficult to know. Which means he’ll now always be one hit away from another suspension, one you would expect to be longer -- and this time, it won't be reduced on appeal.

“I think they’re trying to be safe, and I think the only way to be safe is to do what they’re doing,” Meriweather said after Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, in which he drew two personal fouls. “But at the same time, this is tackle football. A job of a safety is to instill fear, and you can’t do that with pulling up.”

No, you can’t.

“He’s not a dirty guy,” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said of Meriweather. “You wouldn’t call Steve Atwater or Ronnie Lott or John Lynch dirty guys. Those guys played football, and that’s what we grew up watching.”

But that’s not what the league wants anymore, not to the same degree. Meriweather hasn’t quite learned that lesson. He’s not the only player who must adjust to the new rules or alter his game. He’s not the only safety who wants to intimidate. Others have adjusted, and now Meriweather must as well. If he doesn’t, there will be no victories in his future.

Tony Romo with Larry Bird-like ability

October, 15, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Josh Wilson thought he had a clean shot on Tony Romo.

He was left with nothing.

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback shook free from the blitzing Washington Redskins cornerback, got settled and found wide receiver Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown pass in the 31-16 win.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Tony Romo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTony Romo got away from Washington's Josh Wilson before finding Terrance Williams in the end zone.
Romo has escaped from trouble so many times that it almost seems routine. He has spun away from defensive ends coming from his blindside. He has eluded linebackers up the middle. He has even shook off his own offensive lineman (Montrae Holland). On Sunday he broke free from a cornerback right in his face.

“I think that the No. 1 trait for Tony Romo as a quarterback is instincts,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He sees a lot of different things. He’s got a great feel for people around him, and he’s got just kind of this funny way of getting away from people. And not only does he get away from them, but quickly to have your eyes down the field to make that kind of a throw under that kind of duress, was an exceptional play.”

It was that “funny way of getting away from people,” comment that drew attention. At 6-2, 236 pounds, Romo is not the flashy, elusive quarterbacks who flourishes in today’s game, like Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick.

His athleticism is an underappreciated part of his game. But quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a subtle way of side-stepping defenders even if they are not blessed with the greatest physical talents (aside from their right arms, of course).

“I think you can be an elusive guy without being overly skilled, overly impressed from a motor skills standpoint -- guys who run fast and jump high and have this rare quickness,” Garrett said. “There have been some great athletes through the years who kind of get away from people. The great Larry Bird seemed to get away from people for a long time, right?”



Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27