NFL Nation: Aldrick Robinson
Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.
Running backs (4)
The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.
I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.
Tight ends (3)
Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.
Offensive line (10)
- Trent Williams
- Shawn Lauvao
- Kory Lichtensteiger
- Chris Chester
- Tyler Polumbus
- Morgan Moses
- Spencer Long
- Josh LeRibeus
- Tom Compton
- Mike McGlynn
In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.
Defensive line (6)
This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.
- Ryan Kerrigan
- Brian Orakpo
- Perry Riley
- Keenan Robinson
- Trent Murphy
- Darryl Sharpton
- Adam Hayward
- Brandon Jenkins
- Akeem Jordan
As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.
I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.
The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
John Keim: Great question. Man, it'll be tough to have a greater impact than Moss did in 2005 when he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch. I can't see Jackson matching that total simply because he'll have much more receiving talent around him. Moss had tight end Chris Cooley, but those two combined for 155 of the team's 278 receptions. No other player came within 40 of Cooley's total (71). Moss made the offense; Jackson will complete this one. He will have a big impact, but without Moss the Redskins had no passing game. Without Jackson the Redskins could still be fine. They're just better with him and he gives them the same level of playmaker Moss was in '05.
Keim: They hosted Owen Daniels early in free agency, but that was about it (and he eventually signed with Baltimore). But the drop-off from Reed to Paulsen is only when it comes to pass-catching. They like, and need, Paulsen as a blocker as Reed still needs to show he could handle that role consistently. Ted Bolser hasn't impressed me a whole lot this spring, but I always viewed him as a guy to groom for a year or two down the road. Not much of a blocker and his hands were too inconsistent this spring.
Keim: I assume you mean if whichever one doesn't start because there's no way all three will considering each plays on the inside. But the answer is yes ... probably. Hayward is a career backup, with 13 starts in his seven seasons. He's a special-teamer and was not brought in to start. Sharpton and Jordan both can help on special teams as well and have more starting experience. The decision will likely come down to this: Do you keep a fifth outside linebacker (Brandon Jenkins and/or Rob Jackson) or a fifth inside linebacker? The guys inside are stronger on special teams.
Keim: I have my doubts too, especially if you want significant improvement. There is reason to believe they'll be better because of the new pass-rushers, giving them a more diverse attack. With new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, there is an added emphasis on an aggressive rush. Too often in the past the outside linebackers rushed contain, as they had been taught. Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will have a key role in the game planning (like Bob Slowik did last year; I trust Olivadotti a lot more). Just remember: Everything sounds good in the spring. We have to see it on the field. But the defense is aging and will remain in transition for another year. There's a lot of age up front, too -- and guys coming off injuries. It's a tough mix. They'll be helped, however, by improved special-teams play and fewer turnovers by the offense.
Keim: You are right, he dropped too many passes last season. I don't think he's a lock, but the head coach certainly likes what he adds. Two weeks ago he talked about how Moss was going to help the team. In my experience, coaches don't talk about the season that way for players they don't think will make the roster. Moss also has looked good this spring. But the other reason is this: Who will beat him out? After the three starters, there's not a whole lot of proven talent. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready to open the season; Aldrick Robinson is still Aldrick Robinson and while they like Nick Williams, is he really better than Moss? No. Besides, Williams has practice-squad eligibility. Ryan Grant will be there too but he's only a rookie. Moss provides insurance and proven depth and Jay Gruden likes him around for his leadership.
Keim: He had a good enough rookie minicamp to earn a contract. He's long, which always helps, but he has a ways to go before he can think about making the roster. Bridget has a number of players ahead of him.When training camp starts, and they start doing more one-on-ones with receivers, etc., then I'll get a better feel for him. During the spring I need to focus on the returning players, impact guys and newcomers of note. So... ask again in August.
Keim: Have not heard that, no. It's too expensive to change based on what team you have; could change on a yearly basis. They will be fast offensively on any surface. Keep in mind, too, that the defense is not considered fast.
Last week, Moss said he didn’t worry about where he stood. This week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden gushed about Moss after Wednesday’s OTA workout, saying he’s had an excellent offseason.
Then he dropped a (strong?) hint as to Moss’ future: “He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”
No reason to say that if you don’t think the guy will make the roster. Still, I would never call Moss a lock at this point; the Redskins would only be on the hook for $65,000 against the salary cap if he’s cut. His age works against him. He did drop too many passes last season (a drop rate of 8.9 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information). But he has looked spry out there (he's at the age where the word spry gets used more); he's a professional route runner and good to have around.
Here is a quick look at the receivers:
Pierre Garcon: A lock. Next.
DeSean Jackson: Ditto. But perhaps you keep a guy like Moss around to serve as a mentor of sorts for Jackson.
Andre Roberts: Lock.
Leonard Hankerson: Health is an issue. The Redskins still don’t know if he will be ready for the season opener. If that’s the case, then it would be good to have veteran insurance with a guy like Moss.
Aldrick Robinson: He can play all three spots, though has primarily focused on the X receiver spot in the past (where Garcon starts). He improved last season, but we’re still talking about a guy who has 29 career receptions in two full seasons. He doesn’t help much on special teams either.
Nick Williams: Unless he’s a returner, you can’t keep him over a veteran such as Moss unless Williams shows a heck of a lot this summer.
Ryan Grant: The rookie fifth-round pick runs good routes and is a likely a slot receiver in the NFL. But he has a lot to learn and must get stronger. It’s tough to see him being much of a help on special teams or from scrimmage as a rookie. But the coaches like him, and you always favor guys you drafted over those from a previous regime (unless there is a dramatic difference). Moss is far better now, of course. But if Hankerson returns and Robinson shows improvement, you are keeping Grant on the roster for what you think he can do beyond this season. Still, the Redskins could go with seven and keep them all, including Moss.
There are also a number of undrafted free agents on the roster, but it’s tougher to analyze them. They are all considered longshots, or more so players to develop on the practice squad, and that won’t change until the games begin.
You can keep a guy like Moss around as valuable insurance; Roberts’ ability to play more than just the slot means if something happens to one of the starters, you can move him around and plug in Moss. He still has value, even if it’s not as high as it used to be.
Sixty Redskins received bonuses, with 10 topping $100,000 in extra pay, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The bonuses are given to players whose performance time tops their salary level. Tackle Tyler Polumbus topped the list with a $190,601 bonus. The bonuses will be paid on April 1, 2016. Quarterback Robert Griffin III received a $27,047 bonus.
Here are the top 10 Redskins who earned bonuses:
Tackle Tyler Polumbus $190,601
Cornerback David Amerson $173,375
Running back Alfred Morris $167,854
Safety Bacarri Rambo $162,807
Tight end Logan Paulsen $142,295
Receiver Aldrick Robinson $134,758
Linebacker Perry Riley $129,997
Running back Roy Helu $125,260
Tight end Jordan Reed $108,461
Tight end Niles Paul $103,475
Here's the full list of players and their bonuses.
Why receiver is a need: The Redskins could use a consistent No. 2 target opposite Pierre Garcon. They signed Josh Morgan to be that guy two years ago, but after 68 catches in two years it’s apparent that he is not a strong second option. If they paired Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed with another solid receiver, the Redskins could have a strong passing attack. The Redskins also lack depth (and size) at receiver, not to mention players capable of being solid special-teams contributors.
In-house options: The Redskins have Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, both of whom have flashed – Hankerson more than Robinson. But Hankerson tore his ACL and might not be ready until mid-August, while Robinson is too inconsistent. He made positive strides late in the year and the coaches like that he can play multiple spots (like Hankerson). But they need consistency. They could re-sign Morgan, but I don’t know why they would expect a third year to be any different than the first two. They can re-sign slot receiver Santana Moss to a small deal -- they still like him and feel he can play -- but that will not solve their pressing issue.
Free-agent options: If the Redskins want someone who can contribute immediately, then they’ll have to spend a little bit. Receiver is one of the toughest positions for rookies, so a first-year guy might not give them what they need – and provide them what they already have in terms of flashing one week and being invisible the next. They have enough players who fit that description. Seattle’s Golden Tate would be an attractive option because he can return punts as well. Hakeem Nicks is a possibility, though his lack of touchdown productivity in recent years (three touchdowns in his last 109 catches) and inability to get separation last season is concerning. But he also wouldn’t cost as much so he could be one to watch; his wide catch radius is helpful. He’s also had four games with at least 100 yards receiving in the past two seasons. No thanks to Kenny Britt; the Redskins need productivity not another player who can’t play to his ability.
The draft: Because the Redskins will have to fill other needs in free agency, especially on defense, the draft is a good, and less expensive, option. They might only land a lesser wideout in free agency, but they’ll still need to add depth at this position. Aside from Garcon, it’s not a position of strength, so they might have to add via free agency and the draft. With Hankerson having had two major injuries in his first three years, the Redskins could use another talented young wideout. There are a few in Rounds 2 and 3 who fit that description: Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, among others. LSU’s Odell Beckham and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks are good choices, but all the reports lately place them in the first round.
2. Pierre Garcon has had an impressive season and his 84 receptions are the most in franchise history after 12 games. Next highest: Art Monk with 71 catches and Gary Clark with 66. Garcon has done a terrific job, but the problem here is the total yards. Despite having 13 and 18 more catches, respectively, than the Monk and Clark, Garcon does not have more receiving yards than at the same point. He has 980 yards compared to Monk (1,007) and Clark (1,126).
3. Garcon’s yards after the catch (491) rank fourth in the NFL, but that stems in part from how many screen passes and smoke routes he’s run -- plays designed for yards after the catch. He has not been a big threat downfield. It’s why he’s averaging just 11.7 yards per catch, tying his career low (for the five seasons in which he’s been a regular).
5. In fact, no Redskin with at least 10 catches is averaging more than 12.5 yards per catch, which is a major problem. Every other team in the NFL has at least one player averaging more yards per catch than 12.5. Last season, the Redskin had four players who finished with at least 20 catches who averaged at least 13.5 yards per reception. This also speaks to the lack of explosiveness at this position. Aldrick Robinson has speed, but I wouldn’t consider him explosive (though on his six catches he averages 25.3 yards. The problem? Six catches. He’s just not that good). Leonard Hankerson (obviously now hurt) runs good routes, but after the catch doesn’t make anyone miss. All of this is a function of how teams are defending the Redskins, the line not giving quarterback Robert Griffin III enough time to always throw deep, Griffin’s accuracy being off and receivers who don’t get open. That about sums it up.
6. This is the time of the year when the media starts voting on its Good Guy award winner, the player who helps the media best do its job. Despite a 3-9 record, the Redskins have players who routinely do this. It’s not easy getting asked all the time about bad performances or about whether or not a coach should be fired (it’s a bit rare when players publicly say yes) or about what might happen to them. They all know if there’s a regime change it puts them on notice, too. One player who has been largely absent during the week? Second-year back Alfred Morris. Not quite sure why; the press he gets is almost always good. But he does talk after games. He was terrific to talk to last season and even early in the year. He still seems jovial when seen around the facility.
7. Oh, yeah, the game. The Redskins’ defense will be challenged by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. Charles is a big-time threat in the pass game, too, with a team-best 55 receptions. Charles hits holes fast, but he’s not going to lower his shoulder and drive through defenders. It’s not his running style.
8. Another thing: He and fellow back Dexter McCluster are used on a lot of screens. The Chiefs will use both players on the field at the same time and will get them the ball on a variety of routes. They’ll even have them run crossing routes underneath, trying to get them the ball in space in one-on-one situations. McCluster has 42 receptions.
9. The Chiefs haven’t applied a lot of pressure in recent games, but consider that two of their last three games have come against Denver and that’s a bit understandable. Few if any quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster than Denver’s Peyton Manning. With leading sacker Justin Houston (11 sacks) out Sunday, the Chiefs’ rush will take a hit. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali has nine sacks. While he’s fast, it’s his always-active hands that create issues. But they will try to manufacture pressure with a variety of looks. They had one blitz, for example, against New York earlier this season in which they stunted the end and the tackle on the nose on the left side with the inside linebackers executing the same move right behind them. Yes, it led to major pressure. That also came with a blitz. “They have a ton of stuff like that,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “Usually we have a meeting on Thursday and go over the blitz and what they like to do and it’s a short meeting. But this one was like 15 minutes because they do a lot of stuff we’re not used to.”
10. The key? Running the ball well, especially on early downs. Kansas City allows a hefty 4.6 yards per rush and any pass rush is negated by a team able to put itself in third-and-shorts. But going inside the numbers, I’m not sure the Chiefs are that bad. Some backs have had strong games (Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Denver's Montee Ball). But, for the most part, they’ve done well against a team’s top back. One reason: nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is strong and quick and occupies double teams. He’ll be a handful Sunday.
1. I’m sure over the next four weeks there will be a few more calls for the Washington Redskins to play Kirk Cousins now that they’re out of the playoffs. The only way I would consider that is if you’re not sold on Griffin for the future or if you think he’s just too beaten up. There are major ramifications if you sit Griffin now. It’s not the same as when they sat Donovan McNabb for the final three games in 2010 to give Rex Grossman a shot. McNabb was not in their plans. Griffin had a strong game Sunday; why sit him now? What if he finishes with four more such outings? Isn’t that what you want?
3. The pockets were clean too. On a third-and-7 on the first drive, Griffin had 3.5 seconds to throw when he hit slot receiver Nick Williams for 6 yards. Thing is, Griffin stared at him almost the whole time. Meanwhile, Aldrick Robinson had broken open over the middle (starting from the right side). It’s irrelevant because the Redskins eventually converted the first down and drove for a score, but it could have been a missed opportunity.
4. Another missed opportunity: On the bootleg pass to Fred Davis for 1 yard in the second quarter, Griffin had Logan Paulsen running free to the end zone on the same side. Two plays later, Griffin made amends. He held the safety on the left side by looking at Pierre Garcon (running the same route Davis caught a pass on during the first scoring drive), and that allowed Paulsen to break to the middle from the other side and catch an open touchdown pass. Griffin has improved at using his eyes to hold defenders.
5. Griffin did a better job avoiding hits in the first half, when he wasn’t out in front on end arounds, that is. On a third-and-8 in the first quarter, he looked left, middle and then right and dumped it off to running back Roy Helu. The ball was out in 2.7 seconds, and Griffin wasn't hit. Of course, it didn't gain a first down, but no one was open and he got rid of the ball.
6. On the next drive, Griffin started up the middle and, rather than continue to scramble, tossed it to running back Alfred Morris for 5 yards. Again, another hit Griffin didn’t take.
7. Griffin managed 39 yards on seven zone-read runs, but it was evident the Giants were fine with him keeping the ball. They played it well with their safeties; even if he got wide, someone was coming up hard in pursuit. The linebackers seemed content to read and then react to him running wide. Griffin is still a fast quarterback; he just lacks explosiveness, and teams play him accordingly. Last season, he averaged 8 yards on zone-read runs; this year it’s 5.46. I don’t know why any team wouldn’t focus on Morris at this point.
8. Griffin’s mechanics still need to be more consistent. On the short pass that Santana Moss had to reach low for, Griffin appeared too stiff-legged. Sometimes he still doesn't get his feet around on certain throws, but a few examples of that Sunday night stemmed from the pocket collapsing. In a clean pocket, I did see Griffin get his feet around when he started left but had to throw to the right.
9. Not all of the sacks were the fault of the protection. There were at least two coverage sacks. On one, Griffin had 5.5 seconds but no one was open. Not good. Another time Griffin, on third down, had the ball for 5.6 seconds. No one was open downfield, but Griffin had a chance to turn and throw to Helu in the right flat. The pocket was clean as Griffin stepped up. That was the only throw he had available.
10. I liked the comeback route Griffin threw to Garcon against a five-man rush in the second half. Griffin and Garcon were on the same page here, as Griffin released the ball just before the receiver made his break.
11. For the most part, I liked Griffin’s decision-making. He seemed to do a better job on some reads in terms of how quickly he went through his progressions. I’m most disappointed by the final drive, because I wanted to see if he could finally produce a touchdown in that situation this season.
12. But his teammates didn’t help him. Paulsen dropped one right in his hands. Griffin threw in 2.6 seconds and wasn't hit, but perhaps a smidgen more patience and it's a 15-yard gain elsewhere, as Moss had broken open over the middle. Still, a good ball that Paulsen should have caught, and it would have resulted in 7 or 8 yards. One thing I liked last season with Griffin was his penchant for starting such drives with sure completions just to move the chains. So I won’t quibble here. A similar situation occurred on second down when he dumped to Helu for 7 yards though comeback routes on both sides appeared open. Still, a positive gain.
13. The second-and-6 pass to Garcon should have been a big gain. The Redskins ran a terrific play, sending four vertical routes and leaving Garcon one-on-one with a linebacker underneath. But Griffin was under duress, and his throw did not lead Garcon. Had he been able to do so, it could have been a nice gain.
14. Loved the bullet to Davis on third-and-1 (or first-and-10, some might argue). Another drop, but a good, strong delivery. Griffin was on target to Garcon on fourth down too.
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 27-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:
What it means: The Redskins are a mess. They're 3-8 and have dropped the notion that they can turn their season around. Now they just have to salvage it and prove that they are indeed headed in the right direction. You can blame the salary-cap penalty and Robert Griffin III's knee all you want, but this team has more issues that must be addressed. The Redskins are now staring at a third double-digit loss season in four years and that can't be acceptable for anyone, not when the team -- from the top on down -- expressed great optimism in the summertime despite knowing they were coming off two years of cap hell and that Griffin had no offseason. San Francisco is a better team so there's no shame in losing, but to not play well at home and on "Monday Night Football" is not a good thing. The Redskins have five weeks to prove that another direction is not needed.
Stock report: Down -- cornerback Josh Wilson. He was in a mismatch against the 49ers' bigger targets -- not just in terms of height, but overall size. A tough night for Wilson. Also, Griffin and the pass game in general. His protection did not help him, but Griffin was unable to make plays on his own downfield. The 49ers used a lot of two-deep looks, which always makes it difficult for this passing game. Griffin missed one chance when he failed to lead Aldrick Robinson on a deep ball. Robinson still had a chance to catch the ball -- and should have caught the ball -- but if Griffin throws it out front a little bit it's a touchdown. That is, if Robinson catches it on the run. Still, too many breakdowns up front, including by left tackle Trent Williams.
Wherefore art thou?: Tight end Fred Davis barely played and was not much of a factor when he did get into the game. We'll have to find out why that's the case and if there were circumstances that kept him from playing more (his week of preparation, for example). The Redskins' starting tight ends, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, did not play well.
Second-half breakdown: The Redskins had just 30 total yards in the second half after gaining 160 in the first half. They managed just 7 yards in the third quarter.
Up next: The Redskins get to play another game in prime time, which is probably not what this team needs. They host the New York Giants on Sunday night. America might be giving thanks on Thursday; it probably won't be Sunday night.
In the past two seasons, Robinson has caught touchdown passes in four games and the Redskins have won them all. He added another Sunday, a 45-yard grab early in the fourth quarter of a 45-41 win against the Chicago Bears.
“Since that game I’ve been waiting to get my chance and I got a couple chances and I made a couple good plays,” Robinson said.
Yes he did. He ran an underneath cross, sprinting away from Charles Tillman from the start en route to a 30-yard gain.
“He was trailing the whole time and couldn’t keep up with me,” Robinson said.
But Robinson is a one-dimensional target and that’s the problem. The reason why Tillman broke off him in the opening quarter for an interception? Because he knew Robinson was serving as a decoy on the play and surprised the Redskins, and quarterback Robert Griffin III in particular. Later in the game, Tillman broke coverage again, only this time it was because he saw the route being run by Robinson. Thing is, Robinson was not the primary target on the play; Josh Morgan was -- and he was open. But Griffin saw a mismatch with Robinson and the safety and Tillman responded in a way he didn’t expect (though if Morgan was the No. 1 read, then perhaps that is what the coaches anticipated). It was not a good decision; it worked out.
But for Robinson to become a more consistent part of the offense, he needs to show he can be more than a decoy and occasional deep weapon. Some of that stems because he’s still getting used to running routes at the right speed and depth. It hasn’t been difficult to break up slant passes to him, for example.
However, when the offense is clicking like it was Sunday then Robinson can help with a big play. He's not about to bump Pierre Garcon from his starting job, but Robinson must be capable of more so it's not so easy to tell when he's a decoy or the target.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Robert Griffin III spotted something in the defense, a safety playing too close to the line of scrimmage, and wanted to take a shot deep. Except that, when he started to throw the ball, the play he thought he had was no longer there. A Chicago Bears cornerback had dropped to a spot Griffin didn’t expect.
It was too late. The ball was out of his hands. And then something happened, the sort of thing that always seemed to happen in 2012 for Griffin and the Redskins, but not this season. The safety trailing the receiver, Chris Conte, slipped and fell, and the corner, Charles Tillman, didn’t get back quite far enough. Aldrick Robinson came down in the end zone with a 45-yard touchdown pass in Washington’s 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears.
It was that sort of day. Everything worked out for Griffin, just like it had most weeks last season. Just like it has not for much of this season. Not that Griffin had been horrible, but, coming off his January knee surgery, there have been ups and downs. Griffin ran well against Dallas but did not throw the ball well. He struggled in the first half of games. He didn’t run the ball much the first four games.
In short, the Griffin that the NFL saw last year had not played a complete game this season -- until Sunday. Griffin said afterward that he had regained his 2012 playing form.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “We had a feeling about this game. I know I did. I talked to the guys before the game about having a breakthrough. We needed that breakthrough.”
He completed 18 of 29 passes for 298 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 11 times for 84 yards, his highest output of the season. In fact, after rushing 18 times for 72 yards in the first four games, Griffin has carried 20 times for 161 yards in the past two. Griffin wasn’t perfect. He didn’t see Tillman on his interception, for example, and had that pass to Robinson been intercepted, well ...
But it wasn’t picked off. And he did finish well and threw a perfect fade to rookie tight end Jordan Reed for a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
“That’s the breakthrough I feel I’ve had for myself,” Griffin said. “I’m proud of that, to just go out there and play with your instincts. That’s what I meant when I said [earlier in the week] that’s what got me here and that’s what made me the player that I am.”
The Redskins were desperate for that player to return, entering Sunday with a 1-4 record. It’s not hyperbolic to say their season depended on the outcome. If the Redskins had lost, any legitimate chance of a playoff chase would have evaporated. It'll still be tough, but if Griffin plays this way more often, then the Redskins at least have hope.
When Griffin plays well, the trickle-down impact on everyone else is tremendous. It’s about his talent: Defenses must now deal with a quarterback who can run and throw. It’s about the Redskins' mentality: They never feel out of a game.
“So much success was based off how he played, so to see him playing well and believing in himself makes me feel better,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “It makes me feel confident that we can pull the game out in the last minutes like we did today. Schematically it’s invaluable, and psychologically it’s so beneficial to us.”
Yes, schematically it was invaluable. Griffin burned Chicago on the zone-read option, taking advantage of the Bears' playing man coverage and leaving the outside vulnerable. The zone-read option still works. The Bears, for example, played it the way Griffin saw it defended while he was at Baylor, with the end crashing on the running back and the two linebackers scraping outside. The problem was that the Bears kept focusing on Alfred Morris, and Griffin would escape wide. On one run, outside linebacker Lance Briggs stared inside and then jumped that way as Griffin ran outside.
In that case, all Griffin must do is beat one linebacker. The way Griffin is running now, that isn’t a problem.
But it was not just about his running the zone read. Griffin’s legs extended plays, none bigger than the third-and-5 pass to receiver Pierre Garcon with 2:32 to play in the fourth quarter. It was a similar situation to one versus Detroit in which Griffin escaped pressure to the right and threw an interception on the run to Garcon. This time, Griffin, again eluding pressure, threw a bullet to Garcon for a 7-yard gain. On a third-and-1 three plays later, Griffin handed to Morris on a zone read; the defense keyed on Griffin and a hole opened for Morris en route to 9 yards.
In all, Griffin completed five of seven passes for 58 yards on the game-winning drive. It’s one thing for the Redskins to have won this game. With Bears quarterback Jay Cutler missing most of the game with a groin injury, it would have been expected. But the way they won, with Griffin playing the way he did and winning the game with a late drive, it’s the boost they’ve craved for weeks.
“I felt we couldn’t be stopped tonight,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “All the way until the end, even when our backs were against the wall and time’s running out and it’s third-and-long, you still feel like we’re gonna get this, we’re playing too well. [With Griffin] making big throws and making plays with his feet, it makes our offense so dynamic. I wouldn’t want to play against our offense the way we played today.”
Translation: Griffin played well and everything else followed suit. For this season to truly turn around, Griffin needs a lot more games like Sunday.
“This is Robert Griffin,” fullback Darrel Young said. “This is what makes him who he is.”
Fast-forward: The Oakland Raiders have played two excellent quarterbacks already in Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Denver’s Peyton Manning. That’s a big reason opposing quarterbacks have a 120.0 passer rating against them, the highest in the NFL. Their secondary plays undisciplined in coverage at times, leading to big gains. Oakland allows big plays, giving up 8.1 yards per attempt, as quarterbacks have completed 75.5 percent of their throws against the Raiders. So this should be a good week for Griffin to keep improving.
Unwanted numbers: The Redskins work best when they have a more balanced attack, allowing them to hurt teams even more on play-action passes. That’s where they excelled a year ago. In 2012, they used play-action on 42 percent of their drop-backs compared to 24 percent this season. They’re averaging only 7.3 yards per attempt on play-action compared to 11.7 last season. The good news for Washington is that Oakland allows 4.1 yards per run, giving the Redskins a shot at setting up their play-action.
Prediction: Griffin and the Redskins will have a more balanced attack Sunday, which means they probably won’t throw for more than 300 yards again. But Griffin will have a more productive day -- and not just piling up yards after his team falls behind by double digits. He’ll have his most efficient game of the season, something that will give the Redskins a good feeling entering their bye week.
1. Overall more steps in the right direction. Griffin's scramble was good; the Lions were not worried about him running on the zone-read. On his second run, both the end and outside linebacker crashed on Alfred Morris. Still, only four yards as the safety came from deep middle to force him into an awkward slide. If you want to call it that. No, Griffin still does not move as explosive as he did pre-injury, but he's moving better than most NFL quarterbacks. He needs to clean up some fundamentals as a passer in terms of accuracy, decision making or not staring down receivers. Not everything wrong with his game can be blamed on the knee. But he's still headed in the right direction.
3. I understand why Shanahan had a change of heart after watching Griffin’s interception. Had Garcon kept running back toward his quarterback, he would have caught the ball. But he had slowed and the defensive back, Chris Houston, had practically stopped. Both were surprised that Griffin threw the ball. I still think it wasn’t a great decision (though the throw itself was on target); had Garcon caught the ball he would have gained about five yards. Incidentally, they could have gained those five yards had he hit Leonard Hankerson after executing the boot action. It’s hard to tell if Griffin sees him or when, but Hankerson was briefly open before pressure arrived.
4. Griffin made a nice throw off a zone-read play-action fake – with an end around look by Josh Morgan that held a safety coming up. The safety could not drop so when Garcon ran a post-corner, Griffin had room to drop it in. He hung in the pocket for 3.2 seconds; good protection. But three plays later Griffin missed on a slant to Hankerson, throwing to his back shoulder on a slant. Had he been accurate with this pass, the Redskins would have had a first down at the Lions’ 15. If, if, if…
5. And I liked Griffin’s 17-yard out to Garcon early in the fourth quarter on a third-and- 8. Griffin is unloading the ball to an open Garcon before he cuts to the outside. And he put it on the proper shoulder.
6. On Griffin’s fumble: The decision to run wasn’t bad considering the open field ahead. He did have Roy Helu open in the right flat with one defender to that side and he was on fullback Darrel Young. But Griffin made an instant decision to run and given where he was in the pocket -- and the lane he saw ahead -- it’s tough to fault him. I do wonder if, a year ago, Griffin would have continued his run rather than dive because there were about five or six more yards available. That’s not a criticism because his decision wasn’t bad. He just needs to not only learn how to slide, but how to dive and protect the ball.
7. Griffin was fortunate not to be intercepted a second time, this one late in the game. On first-and-10 from the Lions 32, Griffin eyed receiver Santana Moss the entire way on a short hitch from the left slot. The corner on that side, rather than sink as he was supposed to in his zone, read Griffin’s eyes and broke toward Moss before the pass was thrown. That left Garcon breaking free down the left sideline. The corner dropped the ball. But you need to help yourself on that one; Matthew Stafford did a good job of this considering all the slants he threw. He usually held the defense by looking downfield first and then going to his slant.
8. The pass to Aldrick Robinson was terrific. Yes, a hair short instead of leading him but on target and good enough to catch. The safety bit on the play fake and also anticipated a throw over the middle to a receiver in that area, leaving the middle vacated and Robinson in a one-on-one. If this ball is caught, the storyline for Griffin's game changes and possibly for the Redskins. By the way, earlier in the game on a third-and-3 in the first quarter, Griffin and Robinson failed to connect on a slant. Didn't like the throw; Griffin hesitated as he waited for the linebacker to vacate (he was running over to cover Roy Helu; he and Robinson were aligned in a stack and Helu ran behind him. He was open. Robinson really wasn't.)
There’s a reason.
“Hank has always been talented,” Redskins receivers coach Mike McDaniel said. “It’s been about the detail in the offense and playing at a high speed all the time.”
That means understanding how to get off the line consistently. As McDaniel pointed out: This was Hankerson’s first full offseason. His first was shortened by the lockout, and last year was spent recovering from hip surgery.
“He’s becoming more consistent to the point where the quarterback, regardless of the route and who the defender is, can know they don’t have to look his way… and know they can throw to Hank and he’ll be open. He’s playing faster all the time. He has a rhythm to his game. He fully understands how to get open. In the past he might try to make a move on a guy, and it’s two or three yards too short from where the quarterback is ready to throw.”
Coach Mike Shanahan wants to get Hankerson more playing time, saying on Tuesday that he’s open even when not receiving the ball. Hankerson caught five passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. The 80 yards were more than he had in any game last season; but be warned: In 2012, he had games of six and seven receptions -- and followed each of those with a one-catch day. For a 6-foot-2 receiver, considered a long strider, he does a good job with hard plants to create separation. On an eight-yard gain in the fourth quarter, corner Brandon Boykin shaded him to the inside; Hankerson created another yard of separation off his break to the outside.
“It’s all about your route depth,” he said Hankerson, who had only 10 catches in the last six regular season games in 2012. “You come off the ball hard and get route depth. You get your depth and things will be on time.”
On that same drive, Robinson again created separation on fourth-and-15. But, again, the timing was off, partly because Griffin had to drift to his left thanks to pressure. Once again, when Griffin throws the ball Robinson already is into his break, and the defensive back recovers for another breakup.
“He’s been as good as anybody at separating from man coverage, we’re very confident in that,” McDaniel said.
“He’s immensely fast, and fast guys tend to run the routes a little short at times,” McDaniel said, “because they’re running fast and their clock goes off early. So what we try to work with him is making sure he gets his depth, so when he breaks down on his route, he gets the ball out of his break.”
Robinson said, “It’s a big step learning the offense and knowing when to be open. That’s what I’ve gotten better at and what I have to continue to be better at. I can’t get open too fast. It might sound funny, but it means a lot. Get open within the time constraints of the play.”
The veteran player, who has seen a little of everything, takes the cautious approach. He’s lived here through seasons of big expectations and failed results. He’s also witnessed the opposite.
So, as the Redskins start the season, receiver Santana Moss knows it’s best not to believe what you see. On paper, that is. On paper they have a talented quarterback, a 1,600-yard running back who is perhaps hungrier than a year ago and a defense that returns its top pass rusher. It adds up to legitimate hopes for an NFC East title repeat.
But when your franchise hasn’t won back-to-back division titles since winning three straight from 1982-84 -- and when they've won one playoff game since 1999 and haven't reached the postseason in consecutive years since 1991-92 -- it’s best to ignore what anything looks like on paper.
“It always looks great on paper until you show up and do what you’ve got to do,” Moss said. “As a team we have a better team than a lot of years, but until we play and continue to be efficient in all phases and be consistent, then we can’t speak about being better than this team or that team or being the best team. Until we do it I have nothing to say. I definitely don’t want to be the one talking about it. I want us to go out there and be good enough so our actions really speak louder than our words.”
Very true. The Redskins have entered a number of seasons with grand hopes only to crash (it wasn’t just the infamous 2000 season with Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith, either. In 1998, coming off an 8-7-1 year, they signed Dana Stubblefield and traded for Dan Wilkinson; team staffers were talking Super Bowl. Instead, they started 0-7. They made the postseason in 2007 with a strong finish only to have Joe Gibbs resign, Jim Zorn hired and the path back to glory lengthened).
But this is the first time there is something that could be sustained long-term because of Robert Griffin III. The Redskins haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Joe Theismann, someone capable of excellent play for several seasons and not just one (like Mark Rypien in 1991 or Brad Johnson in 1999). Griffin’s presence doesn’t guarantee anything other than hope. As long as he’s healthy, that is.
Even before Griffin arrived there was a different sense in the locker room, a growing confidence. A couple years ago tight end Chris Cooley talked about it before the season, only to see the Redskins struggle to a 5-11 season. But one reason Cooley was so glad to return last season was that he still sensed that difference.
Others do, too. At the bye week last season, with a 3-6 record, fullback Darrel Young (and other players) talked about how the Redskins were about to do something special. He said it with a look that suggested you take him seriously. Few probably did.
“In the past I was worried about wins and losses,” Young said. “The difference between now and two years ago is I don’t think that way. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to go out and win any game. Not that I doubted or questioned what we were doing [before] but then I would really say I want to win this game. Now it’s, ‘Let’s go win this game.’ It’s just different."
That’s what happens with a culture change plus a young star quarterback plus continuity. The offensive and defensive systems are the same for the fourth straight season. Twenty one of 22 starters returned.
“Put guys in the system and let them stick around for a while and you have a great chance of being successful,” Young said. “And the difference between this team and teams of the past is that you can’t key on Chris Cooley or key on Santana Moss or Clinton Portis, the guys that you know the ball will go to. Now you have guys like Aldrick Robinson. Or Alfred [Morris], stepping into the scene last year. Guys who were unknown who made a name for themselves. Everyone’s stepping up, playing a part in where we’re trying to go.”
OK, Robinson is not on the same level as Morris. But he can provide an occasional threat because of his speed. There are warning signs here: a secondary that must prove itself; a game-changing quarterback who must prove durable; a defense that needs to eliminate big plays and prove it can rush the passer; coverage in the back seven. Depth on the offensive line is a concern. This is a good team; it’s not a perfect team.
But they do have a good chance of being the first repeat NFC East winner since the Philadelphia Eagles from 2001-04. It’s not just because of Griffin, either. They won seven straight games in a variety of ways: with a backup quarterback; with the defense causing turnovers; with Morris’ legs; with Griffin passing. You don’t win seven straight because of one guy, though he is a good place to start.
So is Morris. Nearly two weeks ago he talked about where he felt he had improved. It’s something others in the organization have noticed, too, and it’s another reason they’re optimistic.
“He definitely understands the run game and how to set up his blockers better, seeing holes a lot better,” London Fletcher said. “Now it seems like he has more explosiveness and quickness and at the same time still has the same power.”
Having a healthy Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis on the field at the same time … having Brian Orakpo back … tapping into Ryan Kerrigan’s versatility. And, yes, then there’s Griffin. He will still run the ball – and must run the ball. With him as just a pocket passer, the Redskins would have a good offense. With him as a running threat, too the Redskins have a dynamic offense. The zone read option creates gaps and openings for other players and makes them more dangerous. Aldrick Robinson snuck behind the Dallas secondary because it was frozen watching the zone read fakes. Better running lanes after the catch result from linebackers scrambling into coverage.
But there’s no doubt for the offense to evolve, then Griffin must mature as a passer. He knows this. The Redskins, at times, simplified his reads to help a player who came from an elementary passing attack in college (compared to, say, Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck). What Griffin will know in a couple years will considerably dwarf what he knew, or could do, as a passer in 2012. It’s not about completion percentage; it’s about route concepts and reading coverages and getting through progressions just a little bit faster because of a pre-snap look. It’s about relying a little less on his legs and more on what he sees and his arm. But those legs will always remain a weapon. Can he sustain his career running 120 times a season? Not for a long time he can’t. But a kid this smart who works the way he does knows what he must do.
“Just do everything better than you did the year before,” he said.
Griffin was talking about himself. That applies to the Redskins as well; that is, if they want to do more than look good on paper.
Quarterbacks (4): Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman, Pat White
Better or worse than 2012: Better, mainly because Griffin and Cousins are a year older and therefore more advanced in the offense -- yes, that’s true even with Griffin coming off an injury. Now, the asterisk comes with Griffin's durability and it could take him a couple games to return to the dynamic player he was pre-injury. But he's a smart kid who will evolve as a passer, particularly in his ability to diagnose schemes sooner. And because of Cousins' emergence, this position is more sound. If Grossman is your No. 3 QB, you're doing well.
Running backs (5): Alfred Morris, Darrel Young, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Chris Thompson
Note: No surprise that they kept five. Thompson deserved a spot, thanks to his speed and natural running ability. He sets up blocks well and can cut sharply. Yes he fumbled, but that’s a correctable issue. He’s still learning as a punt returner, but he’s dangerous once he gets started. And, again, his style is excellent. For a little guy with speed, he doesn't dance and doesn't try to hit the hole too hard. He's patient, then explodes. Royster was telling friends he was pessimistic about his chances. That was before a big final game against Tampa Bay, which helped him knock out Keiland Williams. The Redskins have some variety here: A standout rusher in Morris; a third-down back in Helu; change-of-pace guy in Thompson and insurance in Royster. This is, potentially, a strong group.
Better or worse than 2012: Better. Morris is a better runner; Helu is healthy and Thompson is a legitimate speed guy. And if something happens to either Morris or Helu, they at least know Royster can handle either role. Good depth here. Real good.
Receivers (5): Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
Note: This is the fewest they’ve kept at this position under coach Mike Shanahan in Washington (though he kept as few as four on a couple occasions in Denver). Had Dez Briscoe not hurt his shoulder in the preseason finale he could have been on this list. But they likely will place at least one receiver (Nick Williams) on the practice squad. Lance Lewis is another possibility. As a unit I’m not wowed by them, but I’m also not underwhelmed, either. Garcon is excellent and Moss is a reliable and clutch target in the slot. They need Morgan and Hankerson to blossom at the Z receiver spot. Morgan needs to show he’s regained explosiveness lost in his 2011 ankle injury. Hankerson needs to show consistency. Robinson is an occasional threat behind Garcon. If something happens to Garcon, then this group doesn’t instill fear in the opposition. However, with receiving threats at tight end and running back, this group does not have to carry the passing game. And I like that each one knows the offense well; makes a difference.
Better or worse than 2012: Slightly better. If Garcon plays every game, then that’s a big help. But did the others look dramatically different than 2012? Debatable. Hankerson dropped too many passes in camp; Robinson looked better, but he did so last summer, too. Morgan looked more explosive on some cuts. If he can show that during the games, then this group will be better. Regardless, the passing game can flourish with what they have. The scheme gets receivers open.
Tight ends (4): Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul, Jordan Reed
Note: I’ll be curious to see how they develop this group in the passing game. Davis, once again, is playing for a contract and should get plenty of chances. Paul showed improvement as a blocker this summer and dropped one ball in training camp practices. Reed showed flashes this summer of what he could eventually become; he just needs time. Paulsen is Mr. Reliable; a strong-handed target and solid blocker. Having multiple tight ends can cause matchup problems for defenses. It can also help on plays such as the bubble screen, where you can split better blockers out wide in some cases (Paul).
Better or worse than 2012: Better. Paul has improved -- his footwork is better on blocks and, this summer, caught the ball well -- and Reed gives them terrific depth. Davis doesn’t appear to be affected much by last year’s ruptured Achilles. Paulsen is consistent.
Offensive line (8): Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton, Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis
Note: The starting five was never really in doubt. Tony Pashos showed some positives at right tackle, but he did not move as well as Polumbus. Still, minus Pashos, they’ve left themselves with inexperienced backups. That doesn’t mean they can’t handle the job, but until you do it in a game it’s just speculation. There was noticeable improvement in both Compton and Gettis. LeRibeus? He had a chance to build on a good showing versus Seattle and instead failed to get in the necessary shape, setting himself back.
Better or worse than 2012: Same. The starting five’s consistency makes this group go. They work well together, a necessary trait in a zone-blocking scheme in which you need to know how the guy next to you handles certain combination blocks. Right tackle will again be scrutinized until Polumbus reduces the amount of pressures allowed. If he does, then this group can claim they were better than in 2012. Even with those issues last year the offense averaged 6.2 yards per play. The inexperienced depth is a concern – they’ve combined for zero starts and five games – or, at the least, bears watching. I'd say if something happens to Williams they're in trouble, but any team that would lose a Pro Bowl left tackle with his athleticism would suffer a big drop off.
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