NFC East: Roy Helu

Last week I broke down the Redskins' salary cap by position and how it compared to the rest of the NFL. This is one more extension of that so you can see how the Redskins' top cap hit compares to the five biggest cap hits at each position. For the most part, the Redskins have more bargains offensively in part because they've found younger contributors through the draft or they landed players such as DeSean Jackson after they'd been cut, thereby lowering their price. The Redskins have only one player who will count among the top five at their position in 2014 -- left tackle Trent Williams.


NFL's top five cap hits

Eli Manning, New York Giants, $20,400,000

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, $18,895,000

Jay Cutler, Chicago, $18,500,000

Drew Brees, New Orleans, $18,400,000

Sam Bradford, St. Louis, $17,610,000

Redskins top cap hit

Robert Griffin III $5,759,754 (19th overall)

Summing it up: St. Louis is paying the price for a since-changed system when it comes to rookie contracts -- and the Redskins clearly have benefited. There’s little chance anyone would think Bradford is worth as much as his 2014 cap number. Manning has regressed the past two seasons, for whatever reason, and needed ankle surgery this offseason. Roethlisberger is excellent and Brees remains a top-five quarterback. But Cutler is an example of a guy who is being paid because of the position he plays. He's been a good quarterback, but it's tough to say he's been great. He's definitely not a top-five guy. The Redskins have Griffin at a lower cost the next two seasons and then, if he plays as they hope, his number will skyrocket.


NFL's top five cap hits

Mike Wallace, Miami, $17,250,000

Andre Johnson, Houston, $15,644,583

Percy Harvin, Seattle, $13,400,000

Calvin Johnson, Detroit, $13,058,000

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay, $12,432,000

Redskins top cap hit

Pierre Garcon $9,700,000 (seventh overall)

Summing it up: The top two at this position certainly didn't outperform Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 catches. Garcon only caught five touchdown passes, but that matches what Wallace and Andre Johnson did as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps all season. Calvin Johnson caught 84 passes, but 12 went for touchdowns and he averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Jackson caught 78 passes, seven for scores, and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. The Redskins received good value from their top earner at this spot. They have even more invested here now after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The former will be a major bargain compared to the rest of this group if he puts up numbers similar to last year (82 catches, nine touchdowns, 1,332 yards. But keep in mind in his first five years Jackson averaged 54.8 catches, 4.6 touchdowns and 957 yards per season).

Running back

NFL's top five cap hits

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, $14,400,000

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, $9,700,000

Ray Rice, Baltimore, $8,750,000

Arian Foster, Houston, $8,300,000

Matt Forte, Chicago, $7,900,000

Redskins top cap hit

Roy Helu $1,548,563 (38th overall)

Summing it up: Peterson and McCoy are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL and are difference-makers. But what's also clear is why teams don't like to shell out huge money for running backs. Washington’s Alfred Morris, who is 93rd on the list of running backs when it comes to 2014 cap figures ($600,775), was as productive running the ball as Peterson. Morris ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. Rice ran for 660 yards in 15 games, averaging 3.1 yards on 214 carries. Foster only played in eight games. Forte is an excellent all-around back and was productive. But the Redskins are fortunate they won’t have to shell out more money here for two more years.

Offensive line

NFL's top five cap hits

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland, $12,300,000

LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets, $11,698,666

LT Russell Okung, Seattle, $11,240,000

G Jahri Evans, New Orleans, $11,000,000

LT Trent Williams, Washington, $10,980,393

Redskins top cap hit


Summing it up: Williams is one of the games best tackles so for him to be in this group makes sense. He could be more consistent and avoid the clunker game, but overall Williams has proven himself and earned two Pro Bowl trips. I'd have a hard time paying a guard as much as Evans, but at least he's an elite player with five consecutive All-Pro nods (in addition to five straight Pro Bowl berths). Okung, drafted one spot after Williams in 2010, has missed 19 games in his career and made one Pro Bowl team. Williams has played in every game the past two seasons. Because of his athleticism, the Redskins can use him differently than other teams use their tackles.

Tight end

NFL's top five cap hits

Jason Witten, Dallas, $8,412,000

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville, $8,250,000

Greg Olsen, Carolina, $7,800,000

Antonio Gates, San Diego, $7,362,500

Vernon Davis, San Francisco, $7,342,916

Redskins top cap hit

Logan Paulsen $2,236,666 (21st overall)

Summing it up: Yet another position where the Redskins have a bargain for a few more seasons. This isn’t about how Paulsen stacks up, but really about Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, this will be the company he keeps statistically. I love watching Davis because of the matchup headaches he causes based on his athleticism. It’s the same with Reed. Marcedes Lewis has had a nice eight-year career and is an excellent blocker, but No. 2 on this list? He has 25 career touchdown catches, but 10 came in one season. The others are proven pass threats. Of course, this list will change once Jimmy Graham's situation is settled with New Orleans.
Alfred Morris’ hands haven’t matched his legs when it comes to production. His involvement in the Redskins’ passing game has been minimal. And while Redskins coach Jay Gruden would like to see that change, don’t expect Morris to turn into anything more than an occasional threat.

But that would be more than what Morris was during his first two seasons when he caught a combined 20 passes. He showed good hands at the Pro Bowl, catching four passes for 69 yards. However, his hands were inconsistent in the regular season.

“It’s something that, obviously, you want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren’t the most natural but it’s something you can work on,” Gruden said. “You don’t have to run go-[routes]. If you can catch a standard checkdown or screen pass, he could catch 20 to 25 balls a year. It just adds to his resume of being one of the top backs in the league. Yeah, we’ll work on him quite a bit as far as catching the ball.”

But that doesn’t mean he’ll suddenly turn into Giovani Bernard, Gruden’s pass-catching back in Cincinnati. The question then becomes: will any of the Redskins' backs? Gruden mentioned Roy Helu and Chris Thompson as possibilities. Thompson's rookie season ended with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which followed knee and back injuries at Florida State.

“We have some guys in-house we feel like can do it, but obviously you like to have some versatility and the ability to have another guy who could be a specialty-type third-down guy,” Gruden said. “But with Roy and Chris, we have those guys who could possibly take that role. But we’ll keep looking.”

Gruden called Thompson “one of the most exciting backs” while at Florida State. But he also wondered about his durability.

“He’s a guy who has to stay healthy and do his best to get on the field so we can see what he can do,” Gruden said. “Interesting guy. He’s very, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but it’s hard to get the ball in his hands when he’s not out there.”

Polumbus tops Redskins bonus list

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
The Redskins did not come close to the season they wanted. Their players still benefitted when it came to performance-based pay.
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.

Five thoughts: Darren Sproles

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
With running back Darren Sproles done in New Orleans (his release has not yet hit the transactions wire), it led to another round of "should the Redskins pursue" questions via Twitter. So, should they go after Sproles? Well, I have a few thoughts. As always.

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesRunning back Darren Sproles had 71 receptions for 604 yards last season, his eighth in the NFL.
1. Yes, I would be interested in signing Sproles if I were the Washington Redskins. But you need to know exactly what you’re getting. Do not expect the Sproles from 2011, when he set an NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards for the Saints and was one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. That is not who he was last season. In 2013, Sproles had 1,273 all-purpose yards. He also will not necessarily solve the issues at returner. In five of the past six years he’s averaged 8.0 yards or less on punt returns. Last season he averaged 21.3 yards on 12 kick returns (though he has a 25.3 career average and was at 26.8 in 2012). He’s a limited role guy, so you can’t pay a lot for him. My guess is the Redskins knew he would be getting released just by analyzing other teams' cap numbers; I haven’t heard his name mentioned, so perhaps they made up their minds already. He's 30, and I wouldn't trust a move on anything other than a smaller deal. You just don't give a good chunk to players over 30. Not good business.

2. That said, it doesn't take long to figure out he can still play. Just for kicks (well, for research, too), I watched some of his games last season. Sproles remains an effective back, able to make defenders miss in the open field with a hard juke or quick shake. He sets up blockers well in the open field because he can show inside, then quickly cut outside.

3. Also, and this is big: In two of the three games I watched, I saw the opposing defense (Miami, Philadephia) send two defenders his way on a route several times. And that left gaps in the defense that benefited, for example, tight end Jimmy Graham. It gave quarterback Drew Brees enough of a window to exploit, and it occurred simply because Sproles was sent to the flat. Also, Brees scrambled up the middle on occasion because linebackers vacated areas to double Sproles. They couldn't do that with a quarterback such as Robert Griffin III, who obviously looks to run more. Again, I'm not saying Sproles is the best and they must sign him. But am I interested because he could help them? Absolutely -- and for the right price, he's a good weapon. Sproles is a matchup headache capable of running good routes from multiple spots.

4. Yes, Jay Gruden had Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati as a big weapon. Sproles could fill that role here. But keep in mind that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's lack of arm strength -- especially compared to Griffin's -- almost required that the Bengals have a guy like Bernard, someone Dalton could easily dump the ball to. Sproles would be a good check-down guy for Griffin, but if they sign another receiver, the plan is to get the ball downfield more. That is likely the plan, anyway; I know the coaches think Jordan Reed will be an excellent target on deeper throws. That would lessen the desire for a guy like Sproles, though Sproles would still be a weapon. It’s not as if Brees was just a check-down guy.

5. If the Redskins somehow pursued Sproles -- and I don’t know that they will -- it should not mean the end of Roy Helu. As a running back, Sproles works best in a spread formation when he can hit gaps up the middle against, say, a five-man box. If something happened to starting running back Alfred Morris, I would not want Sproles as the full-time guy. Nor would the Redskins. The Saints were able to incorporate three backs into their offense, and I think the Redskins could as well. Sproles would replace a guy like Chris Thompson.
Alfred Morris, Eric BerryGetty ImagesWashington's Alfred Morris, left, and KC's Eric Berry lead teams trying to end losing streaks.
Fortunes have turned this season for the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins, who won the NFC East championship last season, are 3-9. After winning just two games last season, the Chiefs are 9-3 and can clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they beat the Redskins and either the Baltimore Ravens or the Miami Dolphins lose. But the Chiefs have lost three straight, and their chances for winning the AFC West are virtually gone after being swept in their two games against the Denver Broncos.'s Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss Sunday's game:

Teicher: This is a complicated question, but what’s happened this season with Robert Griffin III? Still bothered by the knee? Feeling the effects of missing offseason practice?

Keim: Yeah, it’s complicated because there are a lot of issues that have added up to him having an inconsistent sophomore season. The knee played a factor early in that he wasn’t going to run a lot and wanted to be more of a dropback passer (partly because he was fooled by last season’s success). The knee brace restricts him a little, but he just hasn’t regained his explosiveness. He’s still fast, but that first-step burst isn’t the same, and that hurts on some of the read-option or escaping trouble. Defenses are playing them different -- teams with good fronts can sit back and take away their play-action. They’ve seen coverages they didn’t see a lot of last season, and a greater variety of stunts and blitzes (knowing Griffin might not hurt them as badly). Missing the offseason really hurt Griffin’s ability to develop as a passer, and that has been a big issue. There are games when he looks solid, like against the Giants, but he also has had a couple of games that are as bad as any since he entered the NFL. Because he came from a much less complex passing system at Baylor, he needs a full offseason of work.

Adam, who would have thought Alex Smith would be the quarterback with the better team in this game? What sort of difference has he made for the Chiefs?

Teicher: His stats haven’t been great until the past couple of games, but he’s actually had a pretty good season. He’s been burned to some extent by dropped passes or his statistics would actually look a lot better. Through the nine-game winning streak to start the season, Smith played well enough not to mess up a good thing. He wasn’t committing turnovers, and, although he wasn’t making many big plays in the passing game, he was bailing the Chiefs out of some tough situations, whether scrambling or on the option or on a called play. Lately, they have needed more points and big plays, and he has delivered.

Kansas City has given up some yards via the running game this season. Give us a little scouting report on how Washington uses Alfred Morris and Roy Helu, and what there is to choose from between those guys. Also, do most of RG III’s rushing yards come on the option, called runs or scrambles?

Keim: The Redskins love to use a lot of stretch-zone and outside zone runs with Morris and Helu. Both can run inside. They will use some boot action off the stretch-zone, as well. Morris does a much better job than Helu of setting up defenders by pressing the hole and cutting. He gets linebackers to overflow, then cuts back. Morris is more patient than Helu, who hits holes as fast as he can run, and that often means he doesn’t set up defenders and therefore doesn’t create lanes for himself. He’s a bigger threat in the open field as a receiver. Helu is used more as a third-down back, but he is capable of running and does have the speed to break a long run. But, again, just not patient enough, and therefore gets a lot of 2-yard runs. As for Griffin, he’s averaging 5.46 yards per carry off zone-read runs (compared with 8.0 last season). His longer runs have come off scrambles -- but that also depends on whether a team plays a lot of man coverage. He’s just not as explosive off the zone-read runs, but teams have adjusted to it -- they are more disciplined against it, and safeties are more aggressive coming up to defend.

Looking at the Chiefs’ defense, how would you assess them at this point after such a dominant start?

Teicher: Not very good. The Chiefs have allowed more than 400 yards in each of their past four games. They are going to give up some yards, given the style they play (pressure on the quarterback, cornerbacks frequently in one-on-one coverage). Kansas City gave up some yards and big plays early in the season. But now, the Chiefs are not getting to the quarterback often, are rarely forcing him into mistakes, and are not getting the turnovers and favorable field position that made them so successful early in the season. That is why I think Washington could move the ball and score some points against Kansas City. The Chiefs played against a series of journeymen, backups or inexperienced players at quarterback over several weeks and feasted against those guys. The past three weeks, though, they have faced Peyton Manning twice and Philip Rivers and haven't fared very well. Given Griffin's dual-threat abilities and Washington's running game, Kansas City has some things to worry about.

The Redskins have given up a ton of points. The run defense looks as if it has been decent, but Washington has been horrible against the pass. Pinpoint the problems areas in that regard for the Redskins.

Keim: The Redskins have not generated enough pressure from their four-man rushes, although there are times when they get what they would consider good rushes but it’s not making enough of an impact. I don’t sense that quarterbacks are uncomfortable in the pocket. Sometimes it is because the coverage behind them is too soft, especially when they play zone. Washington has a lot of holes in its zone coverages, and quarterbacks can quickly find them. Makes it tough to then pressure. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been solid and made some big plays; he’s much better now in tight man coverage. But the safeties as a group have struggled, sometimes because of injury, and other times because of performance. The Redskins have to upgrade here. Brandon Meriweather is OK, but he’s one bad hit from a longer suspension. They have had to mix and match a lot at safety to try to make it work. But it’s not just here; the inside linebackers have not had a strong season. Cornerback Josh Wilson plays the run well out of the slot but can be picked on. He’s up and down. Rookie cornerback David Amerson can make big plays but also can surrender them (although some of that has subsided). It is an inconsistent group, and it is why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is under fire. It is not all his fault, as there are times the calls aren’t his, but that is life in the NFL.

How big a difference has coach Andy Reid made --- and are the Chiefs a legitimate contender?

Teicher: He has made a huge difference. He has given direction to an organization that before had a lot of guys pulling in a lot of different directions. Reid came through the door for the first time with an impressive résumé, and players -- tired of the losing and the way things had been -- were more than willing to listen. He has been able to get a lot of guys to put aside personal goals for the greater good. But I don't see the Chiefs as being legitimate contenders, not this season. Even during their nine-game winning streak, there were some red flags everyone knew were going to be problems down the road. The two games against the Broncos, particularly last week's, showed a wide gap between the Chiefs and one of the league's premier teams.


Redskins Film Review: RG III

December, 3, 2013
Thoughts and observations on Robert Griffin III's outing versus the New York Giants after rewatching the game:

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?

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThere was more to like than dislike from Robert Griffin III against the Giants.
2. Therefore, a big part of the final four games will be seeing how Griffin develops as a passer. Funny, that’s a line I thought I would have written when he was a rookie. Griffin did look composed and calm in the pocket in the first half Sunday, when he completed his first 12 passes.

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.
Giants/RedskinsRob Carr/Getty ImagesAlfred Morris scores the Redskins' first TD, however, he would be held to just 26 yards on 11 carries.
Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris wasn’t going to be dragged into a controversy. So he did what he often does to defenders. He dodged the question.

Morris only carried two times in the second half and was replaced often by Roy Helu, who is more of a receiving threat. For the game, Morris gained 26 yards on 11 carries.

“I don’t like starting stories,” Morris said. “But no matter what, when I’m on the field, off the field, you can see me on the sidelines cheering my teammates on. It doesn’t matter if I’m on the field or not, I just want to do everything I can to help this team win.”

After the Redskins' 24-17 loss to the Giants, coach Mike Shanahan pointed to Morris’ first half in which he gained 11 yards on nine carries.

“That’s one reason why you probably go away from it a little more,” Shanahan said of the run game.

The problem is that Morris gained 15 yards on his two second-half runs, the first of which was the best blocked run of the night for 11 yards. The linebackers were taken care of; the line did not get moved back. But he received only two more carries, a four-yarder and then a six-yarder nullified by a hold.

Shanahan said not converting third downs hurt their ability to get Morris the ball. That certainly hurt their ability to run a lot of plays as, after the first drive of the second half, the Redskins went three-and-out on their next three series. And then they managed one first down before punting on the fourth. Still, that’s 14 plays and nothing for Morris (though they did run the ball five times in that span).

“We’ve talked about this a number of times. You have to make third downs,” Shanahan said.

New York’s game plan centered around stopping Morris and the Giants executed it well. Several times they’d have one safety up only to have him drop at the snap and have the other safety run up into the box. It didn’t always work, because sometimes the play went the other way, but when it did it caused problems with the blocking assignments. On one first-quarter run, the blocking on the right side was fine and Morris would have had a cutback lane if safety Antrel Rolle had not filled that gap. That left Morris with no room to cut back and resulted in a one-yard gain.

Other times, the line did not get off double teams fast enough leaving middle linebacker Jon Beason unblocked to make a tackle on a one-yard gain.

“They definitely committed to stopping the run,” Morris said. “They put eight in the box and we just didn't win at the point of attack.”

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 10

November, 8, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings:

Blown leads: The Redskins led Denver by 14 points late in the third quarter and lost. They led San Diego by 10 points in the fourth quarter and needed a goal-line stand to force overtime. And they blew a 13-point lead against Minnesota. A different theme each week, but the same result. Against the Broncos, the offense imploded, and that turned a defensive gem into a fourth-quarter nightmare. But the past two games it’s been on the defense in those times. They forced one punt by Minnesota, none in the second half. The Vikings, playing with two line backups and without their starting tight end, scored on all four possessions. But don’t just blame the defense. After an opening drive field goal in the third quarter, Washington’s offense responded this way: three plays, 7 yards, punt; five plays, 7 yards, punt; three plays, minus-4 yards, punt. At a time when the Redskins needed to change momentum, the offense stalled. This happens to bad teams.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsOne silver lining for the Redskins: Alfred Morris averaged 5.3 yards per carry on his way to rushing for 139 yards.
Ground attack: Alfred Morris’ season probably won’t be viewed the way it should because of the Redskins’ record. But the kid is having a terrific year, as he showed again Thursday with 139 yards on 26 carries. He had one run in which he broke four tackles and another run where he turned a 3-yard loss into a 2-yard gain. Morris long ago proved that he was so much more than a byproduct of the zone read-option. Now, it’s his presence that opens up possibilities for others. Did they stop going to him in the second half? He only had nine carries after all. But the main culprit was the lack of third-down success. He carried the ball on each possession, though when the Redskins went to hurry-up mode on the final drive he was replaced by Roy Helu.

Costly fouls: The Redskins can point to several non-calls that troubled them and, sure, they have a point. But what they need to do is quit committing fouls that hurt themselves. They’ve proved they’re not good enough to overcome such mistakes. They had a roughing the passer penalty, a personal foul and an unnecessary roughness. All three led to Minnesota touchdowns. Defensive lineman Chris Baker’s roughing penalty added 15 yards to a 21-yard completion. (Yes, it looked questionable, but the point is about overcoming adversity.) Next play: Adrian Peterson was stopped for a 3-yard loss. Next play: Peterson wasn’t stopped for an 18-yard touchdown. Darrel Young had a personal foul that added 15 yards to the end of a 20-yard punt return, giving the Vikings a first down at the Washington 41. Another Peterson score capped the drive. And linebacker Perry Riley’s unnecessary roughness penalty was only half the distance. But instead of a third-and-4 from the 5-yard line, it became first-and-goal from the 2. Next play: Peterson touchdown.

Return game: Niles Paul provided a mini-lift for the kick return game, serving as the main returner for the first time this season. Josh Morgan has struggled in that role and Chris Thompson isn’t yet an option. But each of Paul’s three returns went beyond the 20-yard line, which is almost cause for some sort of Gatorade dousing based on prior runbacks. Morgan’s effort is there, but he still hasn’t proved he should be the primary returner on punts, either. The Redskins just don’t get any spark from special teams. At all.

RG III helps propel Redskins

November, 3, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. -- Robert Griffin III vowed to run safer this season. He also said when situations called for him to take a chance he would take it.

That’s what happened Sunday in the Washington Redskins' 30-24 overtime win versus the San Diego Chargers. Late in the third quarter with the Redskins facing a third and 9 from the Chargers’ 46, Griffin scrambled around the right end. He could have run out of bounds to save himself but opted for the hard route, one that ended with him getting crunched. But also the option that Washington the first down.

It helped that running back Roy Helu blocked linebacker Reggie Walker. Linebacker Thomas Keiser was flying at him from the inside. Griffin launched himself forward.

“You just have to make a decision,” Griffin said. “A lot of people criticize me for that type of stuff all the time and I could have gone out of bounds and we could have been short of the first down. I saw an opportunity to fly, so I got my wings and tried to fly. I hit the ground pretty hard, so you know people, we really can’t fly. No matter how much we dream about it, but I saw the opportunity and at that point in the game I thought we needed it and that’s why I took it.”

The Redskins ended up scoring a touchdown on that drive to take a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“I thought that was the play of the game,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of Griffin’s dive. “We needed to get that first down. He gave up his body and he didn’t care about getting out of bounds. He just cared about finding a way to keep the drive going and that’s what you have to do every once in a while. A guy says, ‘Hey, we need this play,’ and he made it happen.”

It enabled Griffin to bounce back after a mediocre first half in which he completed 10 of 15 passes for 112 yards, but no touchdowns and an interception. He completed 13-of-17 for 179 yards in the second half.

“I thought he was cool, calm and collected out there,” Shanahan said. “He played hard and competed. It wasn’t a perfect game but I was proud of how he bounced back [from Denver]. The one run was typical of his mindset going into the game. You don’t see very many players make that play.”

Redskins Film Review: Offense

October, 22, 2013
Thoughts and observations after re-watching the Washington Redskins' offense versus Chicago:
  • The Bears made it their mission, it seemed, to slow running back Alfred Morris. But it’s one reason why the bootlegs worked so well: when Morris was in the game the backside ends and linebacker more often than not went right to the ball. When Roy Helu was in the game they were more apt to play contain. It made a difference on some of Helu’s runs. Also, the Bears often aligned their linebackers 2 or 3 yards off the ball, allowing them to shoot gaps quicker. At times, the Bears’ linemen would hit the gap behind the direction of the play, causing a Redskins’ lineman to turn back a little to reach them only to have a linebacker rush through on their outside shoulder. Didn’t always work.
  • After watching the game again, I can see why the Redskins went with the reverse to Aldrick Robinson. They had Morris in the backfield and the ends typically had crashed. But on the play before the reverse, the end started up first, as if playing a bootleg, then went to the ball. He took the same action on the next play, but continued upfield and tackled Robinson.
  • Helu did a terrific job in the red zone for a couple reasons. He did a better job setting up blockers than he has on some other runs. His cuts are terrific, too. Helu runs better in the red zone, where defenses overflow to stop plays and can’t react to his quick cuts. But when Helu is in the game teams often anticipate a pass. And this enabled the Redskins to stay balanced with their approach in the red zone, always a key to success here. On two of Helu’s runs, the backside linebacker and end played contain, anticipating a bootleg by Robert Griffin III. The first time, a 14-yard touchdown run to the left, I don’t think they would have made a difference regardless (guard Kory Lichtensteiger, tackle Trent Williams and receiver Pierre Garcon all had good blocks). The second time, on a 10-yard to the right side, I think they would have had a chance to stop him sooner.
  • One of Helu’s best runs occurred on the final drive, his 8-yard run around left end. I’m still not sure how he picked up any yards. Center Will Montgomery was driven back on a stretch zone to the left. Because of this he bumped into Helu, who stumbled, yet recovered to bounce wide for 8 yards. Good blocking kept the lane open, but Helu’s balance saved him.
  • The Redskins forced the Bears into a nickel defense on Helu’s game-winning touchdown. That meant tight end Logan Paulsen had to seal a safety inside instead of a linebacker when Helu cut back. Easy pickings.
  • I love the no-huddle as a changeup, but there are times when the defense looks confused and that I think it hurts the offense, too. Or, at least, does not work to their advantage. The Redskins lost yards on one such occasion when the defense clearly wasn’t set, but perhaps by being unsure and even a little out of position it helped the Bears.
  • The no-huddle worked well, too, when they used a fresh back. It was effective when Helu was in the game in the first half and they used it, his speed overpowering a tiring defense. In the second half, the Redskins went to some no-huddle looks with linebacker Lance Briggs out of the game; very smart considering he is the Bears’ defensive leader.
  • I could go on and on about Jordan Reed. I won’t. Well, maybe a little. And I’ll have more later in the week from tight ends coach Sean McVay about him. But I love how Reed sells his fakes and is fluid in his cuts, allowing him to maintain his speed downfield after a hard plant one way or the other. It enables him to gain a little more separation. He creates yards sometimes on subtle plays that don’t look fantastic, but others would not make. Like the 10-yard catch-and-run in the right flat. He has to turn inside a little bit, but could grab it, turn and keep going.
  • Here’s another example: On Reed's 26-yard gain during the game-winning drive, he caught a pass over the middle (thanks to a zone read fake that sucked all three linebackers to the ball and left a wide open alley; yes, this play continues to work). First, he gained separation against safety Major Wright on the left side, getting open by about 3 yards. He caught the ball around the 34-yard line and kept running to his left as the other safety Chris Conte approached. Without slowing Reed gave an exaggerated move outside and cut back inside Conte. He looked like a running back and it helped him gain an extra 7 yards.
  • This was either a subtle change or just a good heads-up play by right tackle Tyler Polumbus. First, he did a rather solid job in this game. A couple bad moments, but overall solid. But I loved what he did on Morris’ 9-yard run on third-and-1 late in the game. The Bears had crashed hard all game on the zone read and this time was no exception as end Shea McClellin was headed inside again. The Bears had success against Morris doing this. Typically McClellin faced no resistance. But this time Polumbus delayed leaving on his block for a split second, enough to bump McClellin. It prevented him from crashing harder and was a help. It’s not the sort of wow block that makes highlights, but it did contribute.
  • Morris carried three times in the fourth quarter for 30 yards; Helu ran five times for 9 yards in the final quarter. Helu gained 30 yards on four red zone carries. He gained of his 41 yards on four red zone carries. He gained 11 yards on seven runs between the 20s.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassRobert Griffin III showed off the Griffin of old against Chicago, rushing for 84 yards and throwing for 298.
Robert’s return: Quarterback Robert Griffin III has been playing all season, obviously, but Sunday marked the first official return of Griffin pre-knee injury. He hurt Chicago running (84 yards) and throwing (298 yards). What really helped the Redskins was the ability to be balanced in their play calls and to use a large dose of play-action passes. Defenders were out of position and alleys created because of Griffin’s success. If the Redskins need him to play this well every week to win, then they’ll continue to struggle because Sunday’s game will be hard to duplicate. But when Griffin gets on a roll, it raises the confidence of everyone around him. Defenders talked often last year about how they knew that they had a quarterback who could bail them out.

Meriweather's status: The NFL will suspend safety Brandon Meriweather. It's just a matter of how many games, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Meriweather plays with a lot of passion and an exuberance that rubs off on his teammates. He’s also been effective -- not great but OK -- in the secondary. He’s mostly a sure tackler, but his hits are killing the Redskins and cost them 22 yards Sunday. They’ll cost him a lot more in his pocketbook -- and it will cost the Redskins a player for one or two games. The Redskins don’t have the depth to withstand the loss. Meriweather says he’s changed the way he hits and he probably has. And it’s difficult for defensive backs to play with his old sort of abandon anymore. But Meriweather must change; if he can’t, then it’ll be difficult for a team to trust him in the future. It’ll also make it a lot tougher on his current team.

Defensive inconsistency: The Redskins played terrific in the first half against Chicago and quarterback Jay Cutler. They tackled well and prevented big plays and disrupted timing. And then they went in the tank against backup quarterback Josh McCown. The game tested the Redskins' resolve and they could learn a lot about themselves. But you could feel a lot better about the overall defense had Washington not been picked apart in the second half. With Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers in the next two weeks, they need to do better or continue what they showed in Dallas and the first half versus Chicago.

Two-headed monster: The Redskins surpassed 200 yards rushing for a second straight game and, while Griffin’s legs certainly helped here, so, too, does having Alfred Morris and Roy Helu. Morris lacks Helu’s burst, but his vision and patience makes him an excellent back. And Helu does more than just provide a change-of-pace. He’s a big back (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) who has been effective in the red zone, in part because with him in the game the Redskins can run or pass. Most of the time when Helu is in the Redskins do pass, so defenses must honor that threat (as opposed to Morris, who is not a good pass-catcher). Having that balance in the red zone is imperative. It’s why Helu rushed for three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Morris averaged 5.0 yards per carry and gained 95 yards. If Washington keeps games close, these two can both be productive and helpful.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

October, 20, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears:

What it means: The Redskins sorely needed a win, not just for their psyche but to make them believe they still have a chance at contending for a playoff spot. A loss may have ended their season and ignited speculation regarding coach Mike Shanahan’s future. They did not exactly impress on defense against backup quarterback Josh McCown, who entered for the injured Jay Cutler, but the Redskins’ offense was magnificent and, for the first time this season, looked like what was expected. Quarterback Robert Griffin III led a late touchdown drive, which will further boost the belief that he is back to what he was. Griffin wasn’t perfect and neither were the Redskins, but they had a lot go against them (a lot of their own doing) and still won. Winning one game is not enough to say they’re back, but it’s the first time they could leave a game at home feeling good.

Comeback man: Griffin led his third come-from-behind win, and it may have been the most important of his young career, given how he has played this season and the spot Washington had put itself in. Griffin did a good job with his legs most of the game; the Bears played a lot of man coverage, leaving the outside open for him on zone-read runs. Griffin was calm and delivered smart passes on the game-winning drive. He passed for 298 yards and ran for 84 on the day.

Star is born: Redskins rookie tight end Jordan Reed has played well this season, and he had a huge day as Chicago could not stop him. Reed’s athleticism will lead to many more big days in the future. He’s a downfield threat as Chicago discovered during his nine-catch, 134-yard day that included one touchdown.

Stock watch: Still down: special teams. Maybe it was just one bad play, but it resulted in yet another touchdown. Devin Hester has done that to a lot of teams, but he had not run one back for a score since 2011. The Redskins lost contain on the outside after pinning him to the left. Also down: safety Brandon Meriweather. He has a bad history of personal fouls. The league will be in touch.

Stock up: Roy Helu. He scored three touchdowns, showing good patience inside the red zone and strong cutbacks followed by power. Also up: linebacker Brian Orakpo, who intercepted a pass for the first time in his career and returned it for a touchdown.

What's next: The Redskins play at high-powered Denver next Sunday in Shanahan’s first return to his former home. Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season following a 14-year tenure.

Friday Conversation: Darrel Young

October, 18, 2013
Washington Redskins fullback Darrel Young entered the NFL as a linebacker from then-Division I-AA Villanova. That already made him a long shot. But coach Mike Shanahan asked him to switch positions when he arrived in 2010 and Young has gone from long shot to No. 1 fullback. Young also is a key special-teams player and nobody was more passionate after Sunday's 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys than Young -- because of the poor performance by his group. Young talks about that, what he's learned as a blocker and why he wants to become a Big Brother.

You don’t always see guys talk with as much passion after a game as you did after Dallas about the special teams. How hard was it for you after that game?

Darrel Young: It was just frustrating. It was embarrassing. We practice every day with a purpose; you don’t say, ‘This guy will score a touchdown and this guy will have two big plays to determine the outcome.’ It sucks. Teams will have success. OK, cool, you give up a punt return. Then stop them and make the tackle and give the defense a chance to make them kick a field goal. We got outplayed. It wasn’t outcoached, it wasn’t outschemed. I don’t give a damn if the coach puts 11 guys on one guy, if he makes the tackle then we have a damn problem ... I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I kept replaying it in my head.

As a blocker, what have you learned over the last couple years?

DY: Don’t size guys up. I’m still doing it this year, meaning don’t gather your feet before you get there. Just run through them and make him make a move or something. [Secondary coach] Raheem [Morris] said, ‘You played linebacker, right? What do we teach you? Not to stop your feet, run through the guy.’ So he said take six-inch steps and then explode.

How big a difference does that make?

[+] EnlargeDarrel Young
AP Photo/Tim SharpWhy are fullbacks important? They help set up play-action, Darrel Young said.
DY: So much of a difference, just being able to get on guys, being able to get to the next level with my game. That’s what makes Vonta Leach great. You never see him stop. He just runs through you. It’s not about a fear factor; guys aren’t afraid. It’s about not wanting to miss your block. That’s why he’s the best fullback in the game. He just goes and people react to him.

What else have you learned?

DY: Just understanding the scheme and how guys fit and understanding defenses. You know when you get certain coverages how guys will fit.

How long did that take?

DY: I’m still learning. But it took about two years to recognize it. I had a year with Mike Sellers and if I didn’t have him I don’t think I would have recognized why things happened. He’d be like the linebacker is sitting [in this gap] so you know the safety has to come down. I never thought about that. As a defender you’d say I got the B gap, the safety has the C gap. It makes sense that he’s got to come down in the box. He clarified things for me.

Is this your best season as a blocker?

DY: Hell, no. 2011 was my best season blocking.

What’s the difference?

DY: I don’t know. It’s just the way I feel about finishing guys off. Maybe guys are adjusting to the scheme, I don’t know.

You mean they’re getting to their spots quicker?

DY: Yeah, I guess they’re recognizing stuff more.

Do you ever worry about how the fullback position seems to be going away?

DY: I do, but I know [Mike] Shanahan’s scheme and he loves the fullback. So as long as he’s here, there will be fullbacks in the league.

What’s the benefit of having a fullback?

DY: Better play-action. You can get linebackers to step up more on play-action. I do think sometimes the fullback gets in the way for running backs, I honestly do. Clinton Portis said, ‘I hate a fullback in front of me, I’d rather be with two tight ends and those guys on the line.’ I was like, ‘All right, that’s fine.’

Just better vision for him you think?

DY: Yeah, I think so. Some guys are different. Roy Helu, I know he likes having a fullback in the game. I never asked Alfred [Morris]. Me and Roy were just talking about it. I think Alfred doesn’t care.

Why so much better with play-action?

DY: I just feel if you can give a run action to the linebackers they have to step up. Safeties too. Everyone’s reading the triangle [guards/backs] back there. If you see guards being aggressive and you see backs coming at you, you’re going to step up naturally.

What’s something people wouldn’t know or guess about you?

DY: That I’m very family-oriented. People may not know that because they just see us in the media and I’m not married and I don’t have kids. But my parents go to every game. I love kids.

How much do you do volunteer work with kids?

DY: All the time. Every week we do charity stuff. I just signed up for the Big Brother program so I’ll have a little brother or sister. I know how tough it is to go through some things by yourself. Some people don’t have the resources to get to the next level. If I feel I can change two lives out of a hundred, then I feel I accomplished something.

Redskins Film Review: Offense

October, 15, 2013
Thoughts and observations on the offense after rewatching the Redskins-Cowboys game:

  1. The line had way too many issues against Dallas’ front. But the problem is that the interior’s struggles come against the sort of players Dallas has in its line: bigger, physical players. It’s not that they outweighed the Redskins’ front by a lot, but Jason Hatcher, for example, is 6-foot-6, 299 pounds. He’s a strong man, too. That’s why the Redskins’ game plan was to get them running side to side and tire them out. It didn’t work. Once again: This group is best on the move and using play-action. But the receivers need to help by winning more battles against man coverage.
  2. I wrote Sunday that Kory Lichtensteiger was off to a good start. Dallas was not his best game. Both he and right guard Chris Chester had tough nights. They both tried to attack the tackles at times and saw it backfire. But mostly it was about physics. In general, the line did not hold its second-level blocks well either.
  3. [+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
    Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesAlfred Morris did not have a great game Sunday, and part of that may have been down to the Redskins' troubles containing Dallas' front four.
  4. On one play in the red zone, it took four Redskins blockers to handle the Cowboys' tackles. End DeMarcus Ware moved inside against tight end Jordan Reed to make the tackle. Alfred Morris would not have gained a lot on this play, but the ability of Dallas’ front to hold the double-team was impressive.
  5. Center Will Montgomery needs to finish his block on linebacker Sean Lee in the first quarter; it would have a led to a Robert Griffin III touchdown. But you also have to give Lee a ton of credit for the play he made. That guy is underrated. Anyway, he slid to avoid the cut block, started to the ground, balanced himself with his left hand, bounced up and wrapped up Griffin.
  6. Josh Morgan is turning into a poor man’s James Thrash with his expanded special-teams duties (he’s not nearly as good as Thrash on special teams, of course). And when he’s in the game it seems like he’s mostly asked to block. Just like Thrash.
  7. I wish I had an answer for why there seems to be so many times when Griffin will turn one way and the running back will go the other. It happened again Sunday. A draw play was delayed, too. Griffin turned to hand it off but Morris was not yet coming forward. I don’t care whose fault it is; it’s just sloppy.
  8. This is not a matchup I would want again. The Redskins ran a failed screen pass to Roy Helu in the fourth quarter, in which receiver Leonard Hankerson motioned to the backfield and had to block the defensive end. Guess the result: Hankerson got moved back a couple yards and bumped into Helu. Because of that, the screen was delayed and resulted in an incompletion.
  9. I love watching Reed get open off the line in man coverage; it’s probably the thing that jumped out at me the most in training camp. I do want one question answered about him in zone coverage. There was one pass that eventually was batted away by Lee in zone. He did not find the soft spot.
  10. The Redskins showed their full-house pistol look (or diamond formation) with Reed and Fred Davis both in the backfield. They ran out of this set, with both players pulling; eventually they will pass out of it. They need to find a way to get Davis more involved in the passing game. If they could find throws for Niles Paul last season, they can find some for Davis this year.
  11. Reed and Davis helped clear the outside on one Morris run; he helped by pressing the outside, but both Reed and Davis controlled their blocks, with Davis on the end. Reed works really hard when he blocks. He’s not perfect, but he seems to concentrate hard on this role. Liked how he used his feet to get an edge on Lee on one screen to Santana Moss. And I liked how Reed stayed low and balanced as he ran to block the safety.
  12. Morris didn’t have a great night, but he did an excellent job selling the play-side run on his touchdown. It’s still something Helu does not do as well; too bad you couldn’t combine Morris’ patience with Helu’s burst. Anyway, Morris got the linebackers to flow hard to that side, allowing Montgomery to block Lee and left tackle Trent Williams to cut another linebacker and then Lichtensteiger to seal the inside. You can also see an example of Morris looking past his next cut. After he makes his first cut and is into the second level, he’s eyeing the green grass ahead and not the closing defensive backs, both of whom missed.
  13. Pierre Garcon showed his frustration a bit too often, with hands on hips after several misses or with gestures. But I’d never extinguish that fire. On one play, cornerback Brandon Carr was about 15 yards from the ball. As he jogged to contain the backside Garcon engaged him hard and blocked him that way until the whistle.
  14. On the dropped interception by safety Barry Church, a reason why Lee was in Griffin’s face on the throw: Helu’s inability to pick him up. Helu did not square him up in the hole, giving Lee a chance to run through him. Garcon was open, too.
  15. Didn’t like the separation the receivers got against man coverage. Against some corners Garcon is able to box them out for the ball, but that was harder to do with Carr (6-foot, 206 pounds). I wrote about this play in my RG III report, but I left out one part: On the failed out route to Garcon in the fourth quarter (just before the missed field goal), the ball was delivered late. But Garcon did not get Carr to bite on an inside stem and therefore was covered.

Redskins want Roy Helu more involved

October, 11, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Alfred Morris needs to carry the ball more. Roy Helu needs to get more touches. Now it’s up to the Washington Redskins to make sure both things happen.

Ironically, the more Morris runs the ball the better chance there is for Helu. It likely means more plays for Washington, more time of possession and more chances to get to the plays they want. The lack of third-down success limits the opportunities for Helu. And it’s not like pass plays are always called for him: his two biggest receptions versus Oakland came when quarterback Robert Griffin III escaped the pocket and dumped the ball to him.

Helu has touched the ball 21 times in the first four games combined, though 15 occurred against Oakland when Morris missed the fourth quarter with bruised ribs.

Still, even with Helu’s playmaking ability as a third-down back, finding room for both is difficult.

“I’d like to get Helu out there more,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s always a hard thing when you’ve got two guys you believe in and with the success Alf's had last year and how much we do believe in Alf, so we don’t like to just keep rotating those guys all the time…. You don’t ever want to do that at the expense of another one of your good players.”

Helu played only three games last season because of turf toe. But he looked sharp this summer, both in training camp and preseason games. However, he looked better in the pass game; he’s capable of snapping off excellent runs in the ground game, but his impatience getting to the hole at times also leads to missed opportunities. Morris is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, so they want him getting those carries. Still, Helu's quick feet always makes him a threat.

When the Redskins have passed this season, they’ve mostly looked downfield in an attempt to get big plays to overcome double-digit deficits. The Redskins could always experiment with both in the backfield, but that’s something you do when you have momentum and have a defense confused, not when you’re trying to come from behind.

The big area that must improve is third downs, where the Redskins are 26th in the NFL, converting just 32.0 percent. Then again, they ranked just 24th at 35.8 percent a year ago. They just happened to be better with big plays on earlier downs, one reason they averaged 11.9 third downs per game in 2012 compared to 12.5 through four games this season.

“When his time comes, we can never predict it as coaches, but you hope he’s ready for it,” Shanahan said. “He got that opportunity versus Oakland and I thought he was one of the main reasons we were able to win the game. … He looked good. I think he’s looked that way all this year. I think he looked that way starting about half way through his rookie year. We believe in Roy.”