NFL Nation: Cedric Griffin

MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, making Chris Cook the senior member of a secondary the team was gambling could work without a proven veteran in the group. Cook was entering his fourth season and seemed to take the charge of extra responsibility seriously; he went back to school at the University of Virginia over the summer, working toward his degree and making sure to stay out of trouble, and came to training camp proclaiming he was ready to have the kind of breakout season that would lead to a long-term contract.

Cook is on his way out of Minnesota a year later, heading to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, closing a disappointing chapter of the Vikings' struggles to stock their secondary through the draft. They spent a second-round pick on Cook in 2010, only to see him get suspended for the second half of the 2011 season as he battled a domestic assault charge, struggle with injuries throughout his career and fail to make plays on the ball. His 29 starts without an interception are the second most by a defensive back in NFL history, and his most memorable moments of the 2013 season came on plays he was in position to make but couldn't close out -- such as the touchdown Alshon Jeffery caught over the top of Cook's head on Dec. 1, running almost five yards holding the ball just above Cook's helmet. The cornerback stuck an arm back toward Jeffery, but never turned his head to locate the ball, and was subsequently ejected for making contact with an official, whom Cook argued should have called pass interference two plays before.

Cook is 6-foot-2 and has the size and speed to match up against big receivers, which is why the 49ers are spending a low-risk deal on the chance they can turn him around. But he exits Minnesota as the latest cornerback not to make it after being taken early in the draft. Xavier Rhodes, one of the Vikings' three 2013 first-rounders, looks as though he can play, but 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson still has much to prove. Cook was a second-rounder in 2010, and 2009 third-rounder Asher Allen was gone after starting 21 games in three seasons. Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, washed out of Minnesota after two seasons, and while 2006 second-rounder Cedric Griffin looked as though he'd turn into a solid cornerback, two torn ACLs ended his career. Griffen and 2002 fourth-rounder Brian Williams are the only two Vikings draft picks to start more than three years at cornerback in the last 12 years.

Rhodes has a chance to reverse that trend, and while the Vikings have had plenty of trouble pinning down safeties, Harrison Smith looks like a star on the rise heading into his third season. But the Vikings' inability to stock one of the league's most important positions stands out as a major black mark on their recent draft history. Cook's ignominious exit from Minnesota is only the latest example of it.
I never feel comfortable predicting with any certainty what the Dallas Cowboys are going to do, but I consider it unlikely that they designate Anthony Spencer as their franchise player before today's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Franchising Spencer would cost the Cowboys $10.6 million this year, since it'd be the second year in a row in which he played under the franchise player designation, and they'd have to clear about $6 million more in cap room in the next six hours just to do it. And if they did it (say, by finalizing a Tony Romo contract extension), they really wouldn't be able to do much else once free agency started next Tuesday. So I do not expect the Cowboys to franchise Spencer or anyone else by the deadline.

In fact, I don't expect any team in the NFC East to use the franchise tag this year. To wit:

New York Giants: They could use it on safety Kenny Phillips ($6.916 million) or tight end Martellus Bennett ($6.066 million), but I doubt they'll do it for either. They simply don't value the tight end position enough to pay Bennett that much money this season. They like him and could bring him back on a deal that features a lower 2013 base salary, but they don't have the cap room or the inclination to lock him in for a year at the franchise number. As for Phillips, you know I think they should keep him. And they might, but again, on a longer deal at their price. I think they'll let the franchise deadline go by and continue to try and use Phillips' knee problems and Stevie Brown's high 2012 interception total as leverage against Phillips in their negotiations -- and let him walk if he's determined to get more than they want to give him.

Philadelphia Eagles: No way they're using a $10.854 million franchise tag on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Even if they want him back, they'll be able to get him for less. And he's not a guy they can't afford to lose. The Eagles have the cap room to do whatever they want, but they don't have many free agents, and the ones they do have aren't so essential as to merit a franchise designation.

Washington Redskins: I think they'd like to tag tight end Fred Davis but can't afford it because of their cap problems. Linebacker/special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander ($9.619 million), guard Kory Lichtensteiger ($9.828 million) and cornerback Cedric Griffin are all guys they'd like to have back, but not at those prices.

Who may get squeezed out in Washington?

February, 26, 2013
On Monday, we discussed the Washington Redskins' lingering fight to get back some of the salary-cap space that was taken from them last year as a penalty for the way they structured some contracts during the uncapped 2010 season. Specifically, that post cited a Washington Post story that said the Redskins were putting contract negotiations on hold until the matter was resolved. And since I continue to think it's unlikely that the Redskins get any relief here, it's worth discussing exactly which players and contracts are in question.

The Redskins currently project to be about $4 million over the expected salary cap, which means they could get under with just a couple of moves. Releasing cornerback DeAngelo Hall, for example, would save them $8 million and get them under. Cutting defensive lineman Adam Carriker would save $4 million, and it's likely they'll at least restructure Santana Moss, who's slated to count $6.2 million against the cap, if not cut him outright.

So yes, they could get under the cap today if they wanted to. The issue, of course, is that they'd have to replace those players. For all of Hall's flaws, he was one of their starting cornerbacks last year, and he had his moments. His performance against Dallas' Dez Bryant in the division championship game in Week 17 was a key factor in the Redskins' victory. And consider that fellow corner Cedric Griffin is an unrestricted free agent. It may seem easy to sit on the outside and say, "Cut Hall and save the money," but as with the Giants and Corey Webster, one must consider the matter of how to replace him.

Same goes for Moss, who was a valuable piece of the Redskins' passing game in Robert Griffin III's rookie season. They can't pay their 34-year-old slot receiver that much money, but Moss would have to agree to the restructure. And if he gives the team a hard time about it, they may have to part company, which would require them to find a reliable veteran slot receiver to replace him. With tight end Fred Davis also an unrestricted free agent, the Redskins are left to confront the question of how many of Griffin's short-range passing targets they're comfortable losing.

My guess at this point -- and that's all it is -- is that Hall and Moss take pay cuts to stay in Washington but that the cap crunch costs the Redskins Davis, Kory Lichtensteiger, Carriker and possibly valuable fullback Darrel Young, who's a restricted free agent. It's also possible they'll have to say goodbye to linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and/or Rob Jackson, who were important 2012 contributors. Regardless, they face many tough decisions. The potential for major personnel losses at key spots is exacerbated by the fact that Washington has no first-round draft pick and is hoping to upgrade in the secondary even if it keeps its corners.

This isn't going to be a fun offseason for Redskins fans, and the team knows it, which is why it's trying this Hail Mary effort to get the cap space back. Without it, things could get ugly in Washington.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Redskins left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who missed practice all week with an ankle injury, is nonetheless active and expected to start Sunday's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks here at FedEx Field. This is good news for the Redskins, who likely hope to combat Seattle's defensive speed with the help of cutback runs by running back Alfred Morris. As we discussed in this morning's matchups post, substituting rookie Josh LeRibeus in that spot could have affected the timing of the blocking on the cutbacks and made that more difficult. Of course, if Lichtensteiger is playing with an ankle injury, that could affect things in the run game as well as well as in the pass protection in front of quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Redskins appear satisfied, after watching him work out prior to the game, that he can be effective.

Also active for the game are safety DeJon Gomes, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who missed the final four games of the regular season due to a drug suspension.

Wide receiver/return man Brandon Banks is inactive, as has become custom. The Redskins say Niles Paul will return kickoffs and Richard Crawford will return punts. Also inactive is quarterback Rex Grossman, who was active last week when the Redskins activated three quarterbacks for the first time all season.

I'm here in the press box at FedEx Field, sitting next to the great John Clayton and a few seats over from our fine NFC West blogger, Mike Sando. We'll have plenty for you all day and into the night, and it'd be swell if you could join our Countdown Live chat during the game.

Meantime, the full list of inactives:


Enjoy the game, everyone. Talk to you again real soon.

Redskins-Seahawks matchups to watch

January, 6, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Good morning. Lovely weekend here in our nation's capital. And a great deal of excitement about the Washington Redskins' first home playoff game since 1999. The Redskins will take on the Seattle Seahawks at 4:30 pm at FedEx Field, and here are a few matchup-related notes I have left over from the time I spent with the Redskins earlier in the week.

[+] EnlargePierre Garcon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanPierre Garcon and the Redskins receivers will be challenged by a big, physical Seahawks secondary.
1. Redskins WRs vs. Seahawks DBs: The Redskins' wide receivers are big and physical types who love to block, but Seattle's secondary has unusual size. Of the six defensive backs 6-foot-3 or taller who started at least 10 games in the NFL this season, three of them -- Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor -- play for the Seahawks. Lots of talk this week in Ashburn about how physical those defensive backs are. Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said, "They try to beat you up all the way down the field."

"We just have to keep their hands off of us and make sure we're allowed to run our routes," Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "Just have to get into their shoulder pads and block them like you would anybody else. They can try to jam us, that's part of the game. We have to be physical. We've shown a lot of physicality this year."

One possible thing to look for is tighter splits, with the wide receivers playing tighter to the line and further from the sideline than they normally do. Washington showed this in last year's game against Seattle (with less physical wideouts), and there are a couple of potential benefits. It allows the receivers more space in which to operate -- forcing the defensive back to guess which direction they're going, whereas when they're wide the sideline limits their range. And it might give a safety at least some hesitation, wondering if the play is a run or a pass, and whether those receivers are in tight to run-block. If the Seahawks hesitate in coverage, Robert Griffin III has shown he has the ability to make them pay with his downfield accuracy.

2. Redskins' interior offensive line vs. Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane: Watch Mebane's ability to generate pressure up the middle, especially to the "play side," where the run play appears as though it will go. The Redskins' best way of countering the speed of the Seattle defense is likely with cutback runs by running back Alfred Morris (as well as play-action passing, but that goes without saying). If Mebane can penetrate and get to Morris before he cuts back, the Redskins could find their run game limited and their play-action game negatively affected as a result.

The left guard situation is particularly worrisome for Washington. Either starter Kory Lichtensteiger is going to be playing hurt or backup Josh LeRibeus will be starting in his place. If LeRibeus plays, the Redskins must worry about the timing of the blocks on the cutbacks. Washington started the same five offensive linemen in 15 of its 16 regular-season games, and the ability of that line to work together with comfort and familiarity had a lot to do with the success of the Redskins' top-ranked run game. If LeRibeus isn't in sync with the guys who've been there all season, that could create problems.

3. Redskins' DBs vs. Seahawks WRs: Seattle doesn't have a top-flight, game-breaking type at wide receiver, though Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have been more than serviceable for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Last week against the Cowboys, Washington used an unusual number of "zero" blitzes that left cornerbacks on wide receivers one-on-one. The ability of DeAngelo Hall to handle Dez Bryant in solo man coverage was one of the more surprising aspects of that game, and Redskins coaches say they spent the week challenging Hall to step up his game because of how hot Bryant was. Will Hall be able to muster that same kind of intensity to play Rice or Tate? Will the return of Cedric Griffin from his drug suspension change the Redskins' coverages and reduce the need for Hall to play man all game? Wilson runs around outside the pocket like Ben Roethlisberger, keeping plays alive for a long time with his legs. So the coverage by the Redskins' secondary needs not only to be tight, but persistent. The cornerbacks have to stay with the receivers longer than they're used to doing, due to Wilson's ability to extend plays. A new challenge for a defense that has been able to overcome a lot of issues here in recent weeks.

Final Word: Seahawks at Redskins

January, 4, 2013
NFC Final Word: East | West | North AFC: North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Seattle Seahawks' wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field:

Rookie showcase. Washington's Robert Griffin III (102.4) and Seattle's Russell Wilson (100.0) are the only qualifying quarterbacks in NFL history to finish their rookie seasons with NFL passer ratings in triple digits. They also are the first full-time rookie starting quarterbacks to face one another in an NFL playoff game. Houston's T.J. Yates was a replacement for Matt Schaub when he went against fellow rookie Andy Dalton in the playoffs last season.

Wilson and Griffin aren't alone among rookies playing prominent roles for their teams. The Redskins, led by Griffin and 1,600-yard rusher Alfred Morris, have a league-high 46 touchdowns passing, rushing or receiving from their rookies this season. The Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts are tied for second with 30 apiece.

Seattle also got 12 sacks from its rookies. Bruce Irvin had eight of them. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner finished his rookie season with 140 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks as an every-down player.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle quarterback Russell Wilson has shown steady improvement when facing heavy defensive pressure this season.
Picking their spots. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he counted nine all-out blitzes for Washington against Dallas in Week 17.

The Redskins collected a league-high 12 interceptions while blitzing during the regular season. Wilson, after struggling against pressure early in the season, has eight touchdown passes with no picks against five or more pass-rushers since Week 8. He has hit on six deep passes against five-plus rushers over that period, third most in the NFL. Deep passes are those traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage before the reception.

Wilson has eight overall touchdown passes on these deep throws, tied for second most in the NFL. He has thrown none of them on the road, however. His completion rate on these throws drops from 53.3 percent at home (16-of-30) to 28.6 percent on the road (8-of-28).

Pictures of health. The Seahawks enter the playoffs with zero starters on injured reserve unless you count guard James Carpenter as a player Seattle was counting on. Nickel pass-rusher Jason Jones and nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond are the most prominent Seahawks on IR. The Redskins' IR list features starters Adam Carriker, Brian Orakpo, Fred Davis, Jammal Brown and Brandon Meriweather. Also, nickel cornerback Cedric Griffin missed four games to a suspension and is returning.

Watch that play fake. The Seahawks have increasingly used play-action to great effect from the shotgun formation. Wilson has completed 14 of 15 such passes over the past five games. Both defenses must be wary. Griffin's average target depth jumps by a league-high 5 yards on play-action throws. His Total QBR score is a 13th-ranked 58.4 without play-action. It jumps to 86.8, fourth best in the league, when using the tactic. Seattle's defense ranks 24th in QBR allowed (74.4) against play-action. Washington's defense ranks third (46.9) by this measure.

Cornerback playmaking. Griffin, Wilson, Morris and Marshawn Lynch will command most of our attention as the most productive offensive players for each team.

There should be some outstanding battles in the secondaries as well. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is one of four players over the past 10 seasons with at least eight interceptions and three forced fumbles in one season (Charles Woodson and Ed Reed are two others to do it).

Sherman and fellow corner Brandon Browner tick off opposing receivers with their aggressive, sometimes against-the-rules tactics. The Redskins haven't gotten many calls along those lines. They made only seven first downs this season via penalties for illegal contact, defensive pass interference or defensive holding this season. That is half the NFL average and second fewest in the NFL behind Cleveland (six).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
This is the second in a three-part series that will look at each of the three teams tied for first place in the NFC East with two weeks to play and make the case for why that team will win the division. The case for the New York Giants appeared here Wednesday, and the case for the Dallas Cowboys will appear Friday. But today we look at the Washington Redskins, who have won five games in a row, and the reasons to believe they will keep it going and win the division.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsMike Shanahan and his staff have the Redskins in a groove offensively.
The coaching that is going on in Washington right now is high-level stuff. We've read much this week about offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the ways in which he's adapted his head-coach father's offense to electric rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the fact that they were able to produce at a high level offensively last week with Kirk Cousins making his first NFL start shows that this is a nimble scheme being run by talented, intelligent coaches who right now appear to have an answer for everything.

The Redskins lead the league in rushing at 164.8 yards per game. And while rookie Alfred Morris looks like a back who was too good to last until the sixth round, even he'd tell you that a big reason for his success is the perfect way in which he fits the zone-blocking run-game scheme Mike Shanahan's been running since his Denver days. The offensive line has performed well, fullback Darrel Young is playing at a high level, the receivers all block, and as a result the Washington run game stands as a legitimate threat on each and every down. But what heightens the threat is Griffin, who's a threat in and of himself to run at any time, and forces the defense to account for possibilities that just don't exist when you're defending a more traditional offense.

There have been many questions about whether the Washington offense is sustainable long-term, but it's clear that the players are buying in completely and learning more and more as the weeks go along. It's an evolving offense, and some of this coaching staff's greatest accomplishments are establishing the players' belief in the coaches and making the players feel invested in that evolution. The Redskins right now look like a mature team that smells an opportunity and knows what to do with it. And with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back and an offensive line about which there were preseason questions, that demonstrates a coaching staff that's earning its money.

I think you see the result of excellent game-to-game coaching on the defensive side of the ball as well. This is a Redskins team that has played basically the whole season without its two starting safeties, lost its best pass-rusher and a starting defensive lineman to injuries early in the season, and is even more shorthanded in the secondary lately because of the drug suspension of cornerback Cedric Griffin.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been able to scheme each of the past five weeks around the personnel shortages, often making in-game adjustments that have made the defense look totally different in the second halves of games. He's deployed linebacker Rob Jackson strategically, correctly deciding when he's best used as a pass-rusher and when he's more useful in coverage. He's managed to move cornerback DeAngelo Hall around in different coverages and even some blitz packages designed to help hide Hall's one-on-one weaknesses. The line has toughened up around nose tackle Barry Cofield as the season has gone on, and while this defense will never be confused with the 1985 Bears, the Redskins have shown an ability to scheme and adjust enough to win. The way the offense functions most weeks, they don't always need to do that much.

Griffin is obviously the wild-card here, and the element the Redskins have that sets them apart once the game begins. But the remaining two teams on the Redskins' schedule -- the Eagles and the Cowboys -- are teams that have already seen him once. That didn't necessarily help the Giants the second time they saw him, but the point is Washington can't rely on Griffin himself as the element of surprise in either of these two games. They're going to need to come up with something new to show the Philadelphia and Dallas defenses if they're going to win both games and take the division. But the reason to like their chances is that the coaching staff is showing a deft week-to-week ability to do just that, and the players are buying in and executing the plan extremely well.
The NFL announced Tuesday afternoon that Washington Redskins cornerback Cedric Griffin has been suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating its performance-enhancing drug policy. The only way Griffin plays for the Redskins again this year is if they reach the playoffs. They currently sit at 6-6, one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East and one game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC's final wild-card spot.

However, with starting safeties Tanard Jackson (drug suspension) and Brandon Meriweather (knee injuries) out for the season, the Redskins' secondary could hardly afford another loss. Griffin has functioned mainly as the team's third cornerback this year, but he sees the field a lot because so many opposing teams use three-receiver sets, and the Redskins like using him on the outside and keeping nominal starter DeAngelo Hall on inside receivers when possible. With Griffin out, rookie Richard Crawford is likely to see more playing time along with Hall and Josh Wilson, and the Redskins' already struggling secondary is likely to suffer for it.

Washington has the second-worst pass defense in the NFL this season, allowing 299 yards per game through the air. The Redskins' improved performance on defense during their current three-game winning streak has been a testament to individual over-achievement and the excellent job defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the coaching staff have done designing schemes and coverages and adjusting during games to compensate for generally inferior personnel. Besides the two projected starting safeties, the Redskins have been without outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker since early in the season due to injuries, and inside linebacker London Fletcher has struggled in recent weeks with an ankle injury. But the Redskins allowed just 16 points Monday night in a key divisional victory over the Giants and have been able to patch it together with what they have. Losing a key piece such as Griffin will only make the job of the coaching staff more difficult from week to week.

If you guys read me regularly, you know how I feel about drug suspensions in the NFL. I think the players generally deserve more scorn and attention than they get for these things. I imagine that Adderall, the unsubstantiated, unverifiable excuse-du-jour for every NFL player that's being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs these days, will ultimately factor into whatever story Griffin presents to the public. But whatever Griffin's story is and whatever the true story is, he's guilty of behavior that's at least irresponsible and likely illegal, and his fans and teammates have good reason to feel as though he has let them down.
I know this wasn't your game, Washington Redskins fans, but if you happened to see the third-to-last play of the Cowboys-Panthers game Sunday (maybe it came on your TV after the Giants-Redskins game ended, and you caught a glimpse), the Cowboys' defense showed you what's supposed to happen on a deep, desperate, downfield late-game throw. Cam Newton hauled off on second-and-10 from his own 46 and threw deep to Brandon LaFell down the right sideline. LaFell was double-covered, the way the Cowboys wanted him to be -- the cornerback trailing, the safety over the top creating a too-tight window. The pass fell incomplete. Two plays later, having held their lead, the Cowboys had won the game.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Elsa/Getty ImagesVictor Cruz got behind the Washington secondary for the game-winning touchdown on Sunday.
Now, I'm sure you feel like bringing up the Cowboys, of all teams, is just rubbing salt in the wound. But that happened to be the other game I watched in detail from Sunday, and it happens to be a perfect example of what the Redskins weren't able to do to seal their victory over the Giants. Up three points with less than a minute and a half to go, knowing Eli Manning needed to go 77 yards to win the game and would need to hit some big plays in order to do it, the Redskins called for double-coverage on Manning's top two wide receivers -- Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. This was the correct defensive call by the coaching staff.

What the coaching staff did not do is actually go out and cover the receivers themselves. And unfortunately for them, neither did the defensive backs assigned to Cruz. Cornerback Josh Wilson let Cruz get behind him, which he never should have done at that spot on the field. And safety Madieu Williams, astoundingly, did the same. So when Manning's pass found Cruz, the only hope either Redskin had was to catch him. And there was no chance of that happening.

So to those calling for the firing of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, I pose this question: Who do you propose as his replacement, and would that person somehow be able to make Madieu Williams a better NFL safety?

Of course he wouldn't.

The Redskins' secondary is a wreck. The two players they hoped would start for them at safety haven't played a single snap this season. Tanard Jackson got hit with a season-long drug suspension on cutdown day, and Brandon Meriweather has suffered through a series of injuries that have delayed his Redskins debut until some time in the future. That means their best safety is Williams, who's a really good guy and gets the defense but doesn't have the physical skills at this point in his career to actually play it. The rest of the safety crew is Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes and Jordan Pugh. What this means is, when you call for double coverage at the end of a game like this and you're assigning a safety as part of that against one of the best receivers in the league, you're not working with top-level options.

At cornerback, Wilson is the Redskins' best player right now. And he's having a fine season for them. But he's not the kind of cornerback who's going to scare teams away from throwing to his side or targeting his man. So when he plays against the better passing attacks, he's probably going to give up a big play every now and then. It is what it is. If Wilson's your No. 2 cornerback, that's probably okay. If he's your No. 1, you have a personnel problem. DeAngelo Hall struggles so much in man coverage that they've been trying to hide him inside, even play him at safety every now and then. Cedric Griffin hasn't shown much. Richard Crawford and Jordan Bernstine are kids.

Now, this could be construed as an excuse for Haslett -- he's got nothing with which to work, so what's he supposed to do? But I think that's oversimplifying the argument, and I would actually take it further. I think that Haslett has actually been doing a remarkable job of coaching the Redskins' defense this year, and that he should be commended for what he's actually accomplished in spite of such extreme personnel deficiencies in the secondary.

Whatever success the Redskins' defense has had from week to week (and it has had some, including a three-interception game against Matt Ryan and the Falcons a couple of weeks ago) has been the result of extremely complex scheming and play calling by the coaching staff. Haslett has been mixing up pre-snap looks and post-snap coverages, moving linebackers into coverage, sacrificing pass rush in order to help on the back end where it's been called for. While they still give up far too many points, the Redskins have been able to make plays to keep themselves in the game against teams like Atlanta and Minnesota, and given what they have on the back end in terms of players, I think that's a testament to the job Haslett is doing calling their plays. It's why I think the return of Meriweather (whenever that happens) will help. Because while Meriweather's not great in coverage, he can help in blitz packages and play the run and do a number of things that will help the Redskins continue to scheme creatively, which they'll have to do every week in order to have a chance on defense.

I know this isn't a popular point of view, and I know it's easy to yell "fire the coach" when things aren't going well. But I submit that, when a defensive coordinator calls for double coverage on a wide receiver, he's expecting at least one of the men assigned to the play to keep himself between that receiver and the end zone. And if the six-year or nine-year veteran to whom that assignment was given can't even do that much, I'm not sure how changing defensive coordinators can fix a problem like that.

Giants-Skins: Bradshaw in, Garcon out

October, 21, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who missed practice time last week with a foot injury and had been listed as questionable on the Friday injury report, is active and starting for the Giants in today's game against the Washington Redskins here at MetLife Stadium.

Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon, still bothered by the foot injury he suffered in the season opener in New Orleans last month, is inactive for the second game in a row. The Redskins' big free-agent signing has played in only three of Washington's seven games this year.

Also active for the Giants are defensive tackle Chris Canty, who will make his 2012 season debut after starting the season on the PUP list due to a knee injury, and linebacker Michael Boley, who had been listed as questionable but will play. For the Redskins, cornerback Cedric Griffin is active after being listed as questionable.

As for Bradshaw, who got a career-high 30 carries two weeks ago against the Browns and 27 last week in San Francisco, it's possible the Giants could limit his touches a bit more this week. Backup Andre Brown has returned from a concussion-induced two-game absence, and rookie David Wilson could also be in the mix for carries. The Giants have rushed for nearly 400 yards as a team over the past two weeks and feel good about the way their offensive line is creating holes for their running backs.

I will be here all day at MetLife, keeping you updated the best I can on this key divisional game. Please join our Countdown Live chat, where you can chime in and ask questions as the game goes along.

The full list of inactives for Redskins-Giants:



WR Pierre Garcon

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 38, Redskins 31

September, 23, 2012

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' disappointing 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener Sunday at FedEx Field.

What it means: Plenty of excitement but ultimately disappointment for the 80,060 who bought tickets to watch the home debut of Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins got their offense going in the second half with some gimmicky option plays, and Griffin gave them some thrills on the final series as he tried to drive them 99 yards in the final two minutes. But that drive fell short. Overall, Griffin was battered most of the day by the Bengals' aggressive defense, was sacked five times, fumbled twice and, though his final numbers were good, had his most difficult game yet as a pro. The loss was the Redskins' sixth in a row at FedEx Field. That's the longest current home losing streak in the NFL.

Secondary concerns: The Bengals opened the game with a shocker of a play, lining up rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu to take the snap in the shotgun while quarterback Andy Dalton split out wide. Star wide receiver A.J. Green beat the coverage and Sanu hit him in stride for a 73-yard touchdown catch. Now, had that been some sort of fluke, that would have been one thing. But it was the first of three Cincinnati touchdown passes in the game that covered at least 48 yards. The Redskins are playing without projected starting safeties Brandon Meriweather (knee injury, could be back next week) and Tanard Jackson (suspended for the year), and cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Crezdon Butler both left this game with hamstring injuries. They weren't great in the secondary to begin with, and the injuries have left them short-handed on top of that. They're likely to continue to be beaten deep if they can't generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. And while they pressured Dalton pretty well for the most part, they were remarkably vulnerable on any play on which he had time to throw.

More injury problems: Redskins left tackle Trent Williams left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. He came back in the second quarter but clearly wasn't right, and he didn't return to the game after halftime. Williams is the best player on the Redskins' offensive line, and his absence helped allow Carlos Dunlap and the rest of that Bengals defensive front to take their shots at Griffin.

Miscellany: Tight end Fred Davis made his return to the game plan, catching seven passes for 90 yards as top wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed his second straight game with a foot injury. ... The Redskins rushed for 182 yards. Griffin led the way with 85 and fellow rookie Alfred Morris once again led the running backs with 78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. ... Rob Jackson looked good as the replacement for injured linebacker Brian Orakpo, catching an interception for a touchdown and making several nice plays on the edge. Jackson has the speed to play the position, but he likely lacks Orakpo's physical toughness.

History is made: With 3:02 left in the third quarter, something happened in this game that had never happened before. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled the ball. Entering the game, Green-Ellis had carried the ball 631 times in his NFL career, postseason included, without fumbling once. But as Green-Ellis got the ball near midfield on a first-down carry, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson came flying in to strip and recover the ball, and Green-Ellis' amazing streak was over. It appeared to be a big play in the game, too, since two plays earlier the Redskins had scored a touchdown to tie it at 24. But Washington couldn't cash in the historic turnover and had to punt the ball away.

What's next: The Redskins travel to Tampa, Fla., where they will face the Buccaneers next Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. ET game. It'll be the third straight NFC East game for the Bucs, who lost to the New York Giants last week in New Jersey and to the Cowboys on Sunday in Dallas.

How you feeling? Redskins-Saints

September, 9, 2012

As the Washington Redskins get set to begin their 2012 regular season at 1 p.m. ET today against the Saints in New Orleans, here's one reason for Redskins fans to feel good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: If the Redskins have any chance to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints' offense, it's by getting consistent and ferocious pressure on Brees. They're hurting in the secondary with a couple of safeties out, and if they give Brees time he can pick them apart. But their front seven does appear to be very good at generating pressure, and not only with outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will try to throw as many different looks at Brees as possible, with blitzes and stunts and whatever tricks he can think of to try to get his defense through the New Orleans offensive line and be disruptive.

Cause for concern: The flip side is, of course, that when they don't get that pressure, Brees will have no trouble finding receivers open downfield against the Redskins' secondary. But I think the biggest concern for Washington is big New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. I just can't see any way they can cover him. They've been using DeAngelo Hall as a slot corner for much of the summer, but if he's on Graham that's the biggest mismatch of the game in either direction. They may have to use one of their bigger, more physical corners such as Cedric Griffin on Graham, and whoever it is will require help from that depleted safety corps. If they can find a way to cover Graham, the Redskins will have to feel as though they accomplished something on defense.
A year ago, Kevin Barnes was the Redskins' nickel cornerback. Today, he is no longer a Redskin. As part of their effort to reduce their roster to 75 players by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Redskins have apparently traded Barnes to the Lions. (For what, we don't know. Can't possibly be much. Late-round pick is best guess.)

The Redskins didn't like the way Barnes played in the nickel corner role last year, and this spring they moved DeAngelo Hall in there and tried Barnes on the outside, where they thought his size made him a better fit. But he got passed on the depth chart by Richard Crawford, who played well and also contributed on special teams, and Barnes was about to be cut before the Redskins got the trade offer from the Lions. Crawford is now likely the No. 4 corner after Hall, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin, and there would seem to be little to prevent him from moving up the depth chart.

The Redskins' secondary is a weak spot on their team and a position of flux. They'll have two new starting safeties -- most likely Brandon Meriweather and either Tanard Jackson or Madieu Williams, and a obviously a reworked cornerback corps, and they'll rely on their coverage schemes to disguise weaknesses and move people (such as Hall) around to different roles as situations dictate. But it's also clear that younger guys on the roster -- like Crawford at corner and DeJon Gomes at safety -- will have a chance to move up the depth chart if they perform well. The Redskins are looking for people to show them something on the back end of their defense, and Barnes is a guy who didn't show enough.
The Washington Redskins will play their third preseason game of 2012 on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET against the Indianapolis Colts. The game is being billed as a showdown between two rookie quarterbacks -- No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of the Colts against No. 2 draft pick Robert Griffin III of the Redskins. But since those guys won't be on the field at the same time, here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: Tim Hightower. The Redskins' starting running back is seeing his first game action since he tore his ACL last October. Mike Shanahan said Hightower likely wouldn't start, and he doesn't want to overtax him right away. But this begins the process of finding out how much Hightower can help the Redskins early in the season. With Roy Helu and Evan Royster both sitting out due to their injuries, we're likely to see a lot of rookie Alfred Morris and some Tristan Davis at running back, but Hightower is the guy on whom the coaches will have their eye, because they want him back as soon as possible. They consider Hightower the most complete back on the roster, and if his knee will allow it he will be the starter.

On the other side of the ball: The coverages in the secondary. The Redskins have been doing some strange things back there, moving DeAngelo Hall around from the slot corner spot to free safety and all over the place, dropping linebackers into coverage, etc. I think it's because they don't have much quality at cornerback and safety, and their plan is to mix and match coverages as best they can in an effort to disguise their weaknesses. With Brandon Meriweather injured, I'm interested to see if Tanard Jackson can show anything at strong safety, or whether he's strictly in a fight with Madieu Williams for the free safety spot and Reed Doughty is Meriweather's backup. Safety's going to matter, especially if they're planning to use Hall inside and rely on Cedric Griffin to cover outside receivers.

If I think of it: Much as I joke, I'm as interested as anyone else to make a Luck-Griffin comparison. And no one's saying this will offer a definitive one, so we can have some fun with it. This should be Griffin's most extended action of the preseason, if tradition holds. I also have my eye on the offensive line, where Chris Chester returns at right guard but they're still without Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard and of course Jammal Brown at right tackle. I think you should get used to Tyler Polumbus at right tackle.

Observation deck: Redskins-Bears

August, 19, 2012
As much as everybody tries to read meaning into the on-field results of preseason games, the only thing that truly matters to the teams is getting through them healthy. For that reason, the Washington Redskins' 33-31 exhibition loss to the Bears in Chicago on Saturday night was a painful one. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather both left the game in the first quarter with injuries -- Meriweather to his knee, Orakpo to the same pectoral muscle he tore last year. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that both would have MRIs on Sunday, and obviously when you lose two defensive starters you have to be concerned. Inside linebacker London Fletcher also was a late scratch from the starting lineup Saturday, and Shanahan didn't say much about Fletcher when asked postgame.

So it was a troubling night for the Redskins because of what was happening on the trainer's table, not so much because of what was happening on the field. Remember, we absolutely cannot make long-term predictions based on these games. We don't know what we're watching. Some teams game-plan for opponents in preseason, other teams don't. Much of the decisive action comes against third-teamers that won't see the field all year. All we can do is evaluate one night's performance for what it is, and to that end ...

1. Robert Griffin III is still learning. And this is fine, of course. It is to be expected. The hype around the Redskins' rookie quarterback has been intense and exciting, but on occasion it can seem to ignore the important fact that Griffin is a rookie who must learn and get used to the challenges of the NFL game. In the preseason opener last week in Buffalo, the Redskins worked hard to protect Griffin, limiting his throws and his reads to the quickest possible, and he looked very good. He makes smart decisions and displays the kind of poise and leadership you want to see from your franchise quarterback. But the Bears' Cover 2 made things more challenging for Griffin on Saturday, as did Chicago's Julius Peppers-led pass rush, and Griffin looked shakier in Game 2. He was 5-for-8 for 49 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled on one of those sacks. Fred Davis missed a block on the fumble snap, and rookie running back Alfred Morris admitted to reporters after the game that he'd failed to pick up the blitz, but Griffin also needed to protect the ball better while running from the pressure. In general, he looked like a rookie who needs to show more composure against the rush. And again, at this stage in his career, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

2. The secondary looked like a mess. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a field day from the start. He found big Brandon Marshall up the right sideline for 41 yards after Marshall blew past Cedric Griffin. It looked as though cornerback DeAngelo Hall was playing free safety on that play, perhaps as part of this weird plan to convince Hall he can be used the way Green Bay uses Charles Woodson. It didn't work. Later, Marshall caught a 20-yarder on Josh Wilson. This time, Meriweather was providing the safety help but overshot the tackle. Orakpo got hurt in coverage on Devin Hester, and I still can't figure out what he was doing so deep. Alshon Jeffery had a big catch a little bit later on, and it looked like he had linebackers in coverage as well. I understand the safeties are new and they're moving the cornerbacks around a lot, but the Redskins' coverages Saturday did not look cohesive while the first-teamers were on the field. I thought Madieu Williams showed some good things, including an open-field tackle of Earl Bennett.

3. Brandon Banks showed something as a returner, with a 91-yard punt return, and Aldrick Robinson flashed his incredible speed as a receiver, bursting into another gear on his 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Weird thing is, Robinson doesn't show much as a returner and Banks hasn't shown enough as a receiver. If you could combine them, you'd have something. But the Redskins might not be able to keep both.

4. Morris got the start at running back over Evan Royster with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu hurt. Early on, Morris showed why Shanahan likes him. He makes one cut and then gets upfield quickly, which is essential for success in Shanahan's zone-blocking run game. He also has that good forward body lean, which helps him pick up yards after contact. The sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic had 34 yards on 10 carries. Royster was the third-down back even when Morris was in the game, and he had 20 yards on two carries. Tristan Davis had 10 carries late but did little with them and isn't likely to be a factor when this running back mess gets sorted out. Morris is a factor, right now.

5. Kirk Cousins. Yes, he looked great. He was a stunning 18-for-23 for 264 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one to newly converted tight end Niles Paul, the one to Robinson and one to Dezmon Briscoe. The Redskins like Cousins a lot. But no, as anyone who's really paying attention knows, there's no quarterback controversy in Washington and there's not about to be one. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to get Griffin. They did not do that for Cousins. Their plan for Cousins is to develop him as a backup and, ideally, trade him for something of value down the road the way Andy Reid and the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb. Preseason performances like this one can only help with that latter goal. But remember, the performance was against backup defensive players. Cousins never saw Peppers.