NFL Nation: chris thompson

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

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.

Receivers (6)

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)

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.

Linebackers (9)

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.

Cornerbacks (5)
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.

Safeties (4)

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.

Specialists (3)

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.
Alfred Morris’ hands haven’t matched his legs when it comes to production. His involvement in the Redskins’ passing game has been minimal. And while Redskins coach Jay Gruden would like to see that change, don’t expect Morris to turn into anything more than an occasional threat.

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s a guy who has to stay healthy and do his best to get on the field so we can see what he can do,” Gruden said. “Interesting guy. He’s very, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but it’s hard to get the ball in his hands when he’s not out there.”
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some highlights from Jay Gruden’s hour-long press gathering at the owners meetings:

1. He’s OK if linebacker Brian Orakpo plays out the season on the franchise tag. Sounds like he and the organization wants to see if his production increases, thanks to the promise of being turned loose more and also having an outside linebackers coach.

2. They will move Shawn Lauvao to left guard and keep Chris Chester at right guard. Gruden did not address Josh LeRibeus, but it’s clear from this move that there’s not a whole lot of confidence in him.

3. He certainly understands the importance of maximizing Robert Griffin III. He’s glad that Griffin needs to be reined in when it comes to his desire to push himself.

4. Gruden said if Griffin isn’t comfortable with the read option, they won’t run it as much. He also said he won’t try to stop him from running out of the pocket. Clearly, though, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. But Gruden wants Griffin to feel comfortable on the field. That’s a big issue.

5. He loves Jordan Reed.

6. Yes, they looked for some bigger linemen, but they want big guys who can move. As has been stated many times, they plan to use the same run-game schemes.

7. He’d like Alfred Morris to be a guy who could catch 20 to 25 passes a season. But he said Morris isn’t a natural pass-catcher; has work to do.

8. Gruden is a breath of fresh air. Though there are some things he can’t say, he was as honest as possible without crossing a line.

9. He’s not concerned about Griffin’s knee; wasn’t too deep on him playing without the brace and what it might mean. Why? Because he said the braces are so light these days.

10. He liked watching Chris Thompson at Florida State and seems anxious to work with him. But his durability is a major issue.

11. He said no teams have called about quarterback Kirk Cousins, but added that he wants “two great quarterbacks” because of Griffin’s style of play.

12. Gruden acknowledged he likes to have a lot of plays; apparently he was able to streamline that desire better during his time in Cincinnati. Does not want to overload Griffin, but says the third-year QB can handle a lot.

13. He mentioned the young safeties, but, again, I don’t get a sense that either Bacarri Rambo or Phillip Thomas will be the answer this season. Rambo’s play did not suggest he should be; Thomas’ foot and recovery from the Lisfranc injury makes him a question mark for now.

14. Gruden mentioned Andre Roberts’ versatility as a receiver. I don’t get the sense that the return position is solved by his arrival, however.

15. They're anxious to see Kory Lichtensteiger at center. As for Tyler Polumbus at right tackle, Gruden was a bit complimentary but I don't get the sense they're done looking for another possibility. Or, as they say, "more depth."

Five thoughts: Darren Sproles

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

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

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

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

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

5. If the Redskins somehow pursued Sproles -- and I don’t know that they will -- it should not mean the end of Roy Helu. As a running back, Sproles works best in a spread formation when he can hit gaps up the middle against, say, a five-man box. If something happened to starting running back Alfred Morris, I would not want Sproles as the full-time guy. Nor would the Redskins. The Saints were able to incorporate three backs into their offense, and I think the Redskins could as well. Sproles would replace a guy like Chris Thompson.

Redskins notes: RB Thompson done

November, 8, 2013
  • The Redskins will place running back Chris Thompson on the injured reserve list thanks to a shoulder injury that will require surgery. Coach Mike Shanahan said Thompson will have surgery done on his labrum. "It's been something that's ongoing," Shanahan said. "It's gotten a little bit worse." One of the knocks by scouts on Thompson coming out of college was durability. He's had three straight seasons cut short by injuries, with back and knee issues, respectively, at Florida State.
  • Linebacker London Fletcher was fined $15,750 for his horse-collar tackle in the win over the San Diego Chargers. Fletcher pulled running back Danny Woodhead down from behind in the fourth quarter of Washington's overtime victory. Officials called Fletcher for a 15-yard personal foul.
  • Shanahan said he was fine with quarterback Robert Griffin III's decision to throw to Santana Moss in the left corner on fourth and goal from the 4-yard line. With the Vikings blitzing, Griffin does not have time to scan the field. He needed to be decisive. "Robert's got a lot of different options on pass plays. He had an opportunity to go one or the other. A lot of times you'll have two options when you're on one side of the field and on the other side sometimes you'll have one, two or three options, but you've got to make a decision and make it very quickly. The key is executing that option."
  • After the game, Redskins linebacker Perry Riley said he was covering receiver Jerome Simpson on a 29-yard pass in the fourth quarter because it was his job in that scheme to cover the No. 2 receiver on the weak side of the formation. With the Vikings in a three-receiver look, Simpson was the inside, or No. 2, receiver. Riley played him man coverage. Here's Mike Shanahan's take on the play: "It's a mistake on our part," he said. "We had the nickel [coverage] instead of dime. Had a mismatch there. Any time you put a receiver, especially with their ability, against one of our linebackers -- not that Perry can't run with somebody -- it's a mismatch and we should have had dime in there at that time."

Redskins' Fred Davis inactive again

November, 7, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis was put on the inactive list for Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. This time it will cost him.

Davis needed to be active for 12 games this season in order to collect a $500,000 bonus. The initial reason for that bonus was because of Davis' Achilles' injury that ended is 2012 season. The Redskins wanted to protect themselves if he couldn't play much this season -- and reward him if he could. Davis has been a healthy inactive the past four games; he sat out one game because of a sprained ankle.

The emergence of rookie Jordan Reed, who leads all NFL rookies with 38 receptions, and the fact that Davis does not play special teams have kept him inactive. Niles Paul is actually the fourth tight end, but he is active because of his special-teams performance.

There weren't any surprises among the other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Chris Thompson, safety Jose Gumbs, offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and nose tackle Chris Neild. Jenkins was active last week as the Redskins wanted more speed in the pass rush. Thursday, veteran Darryl Tapp will be active instead.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 5

October, 7, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins coming out of their bye week.

Defensive breakdowns: It’s great for the Redskins defense that it entered the bye week after a strong performance; the unit needed confidence and a seven-sack game provided some. But the fact that Oakland’s Matt Flynn was demoted to third string after that game tells you a thing or two. The Redskins have not fared well against good quarterbacks and have three of them upcoming -- Dallas’ Tony Romo, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and then Denver’s Peyton Manning. The Redskins can’t expect a shutdown performance, but is it asking too much to tackle better? If they do that and provide a steady four-man rush, they can reduce their issues. Getting end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson back from suspensions will help, but neither has been an impact player.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Greg TrottSo far this season, Robert Griffin III has looked nothing like the dynamic rookie QB he was in 2012.
Not so special: Punter Sav Rocca has been too inconsistent. His hang time on some punts has been 3.0 seconds, a good second off the bottom of where it needs to be. Rocca’s untimely shanks aren’t what a struggling defense needs. But it’s not just Rocca. Washington’s longest kick return? Twenty-eight yards. The longest punt return? Eleven yards. There’s also hidden yardage in what is lost because of poor decisions on both returns. Chris Thompson handles both duties, but never returned punts in college and clearly is still learning to make decisions when to field them. He’s also adjusting to not having the same speed advantage he had in college. The blocking needs to be much better too.

Robert Griffin III's legs: The second-year quarterback used his legs a lot more in Week 4 than in previous games. Griffin does not need to be a running machine to be effective, but his legs remain a valuable weapon for him. He needs to combine his legs with his growing penchant for keeping his eyes downfield. It led to big plays against Oakland. It’s a way to make big plays with your legs and still reduce hits. This isn’t about the zone-read, but it is about not just sitting in the pocket. The Redskins aren’t built to have that sort of game.

Health issues: The biggest one involves running back Alfred Morris, who bruised his ribs in the Sept. 29 win over the Oakland Raiders. The key will be what he’s able to do later in the week and not Monday or even Wednesday. Morris is averaging 5.29 yards per carry and 2.30 yards after contact; both are stronger numbers than he posted a year ago. Tight end Jordan Reed’s quad contusion was still an issue in the Redskins’ last practice Oct. 1 before taking off for the rest of the week. Fred Davis should be healthy, so if Reed can’t play they’ll be fine. But Reed would help, too. Tight end Logan Paulsen's sprained left knee is an issue; losing him would hurt the blocking.

Redskins notes: Rambo must make plays

September, 23, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Rookie safety Bacarri Rambo didn’t play a snap from scrimmage on defense after starting the first two games. The Redskins opted for three corners and one safety in their base package because they wanted to play a lot of man coverage and wanted Brandon Meriweather instead of Rambo playing the deep middle.

But Rambo also has to start making plays if he wants to stay in the lineup. He did participate on special teams Sunday.

“When he gets his opportunities he has to take advantage of it,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We’re not here to keep his spirits up. When he does play special teams, whatever role you’re in, you better play 100 percent and make some plays. If he doesn’t play anything on defense, he better play well on special teams. And if you don’t play well on special teams and you’re not a starter, you won’t be dressing. Everyone has a role and it changes during the season.”

In other news:
  • Leonard Hankerson started over Josh Morgan at the Z receiver position because he had a better game against Green Bay. Neither one did much versus Detroit; Hankerson caught three passes for 21 yards while Morgan caught two for 19.The storyline with Morgan this summer was whether or not he had regained some explosiveness after his 2011 ankle surgery.“He’s much better than he was a year ago, there’s no question about it. But there’s still competition,” Shanahan said. “People are fighting for playing time and you have two guys that are close and each game dictates how much he’ll play the following week.”
  • Morgan replaced Chris Thompson for the final two kickoff returns. It didn’t make much of a difference as Morgan averaged 21.5 yards compared to Thompson’s 22.5.“I wanted to give him a chance,” Shanahan said. “He’s a bigger body.”
  • Nothing new on the injuries to tight ends Fred Davis (ankle) and Jordan Reed (quad). Shanahan said of Reed that he's not sure how long it will take him to recover.
  • Kicker Kai Forbath said his groin injury has lasted a lot longer than he originally expected, but he’s hopeful that he’ll return for Sunday’s game at Oakland. “I thought it would be a couple days and it would be better,” Forbath said. “It’s frustrating but we’re making progress.”Forbath said he didn’t kick at all last week, wanting to make sure he didn’t aggravate it and delay his return.

    “It’s real close,” Forbath said.
  • Shanahan said he thinks Brandon Meriweather’s $42,000 fine for hitting Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy will be rescinded. “That was a legal hit,” Shanahan said. “But I think what they’ll try to do is emphasize even coming in on that angle from now on will not be allowed. That will be a new rule that will be implemented as time goes on.”
  • Cornerback Richard Crawford, who tore his left ACL in the preseason, said his injury was not as bad as doctors originally feared. He suffered a partial tear of his LCL, but did not need it reconstructed. He said the recovery time is around eight months.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 3

September, 23, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins' 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiHaving to dig out of deficits all season, the Redskins and QB Robert Griffin III have been especially pass-heavy on offense.
QB progress: After three games, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is on pace to set an NFL record for number of passes per game. Griffin has averaged 46.3 passes, putting him on pace to break Matthew Stafford’s record of 45.4, set last season. Griffin is on pace to throw 741 passes; Stafford threw 727 passes in 2012. But the Redskins' offense worked best last season when the focus was on running the ball, not just with Griffin but with running back Alfred Morris. He’s looked good the past two weeks, but has just 40 carries -- mostly a byproduct of two lopsided games. For the offense to change, Griffin can’t stay on a record-setting pace.

Digging out: The 0-3 start has left the Redskins in a familiar spot, needing to emerge from a bad start. The problem is, this start feels a whole lot worse than last year’s 3-6 record because they were still within shouting distance in most of those games. During their winning streak last season, the Redskins believed they could overcome anything that happened in a game. They won on the road minus Griffin; they won with a less-than-100 percent Griffin. They won when the passing attack wasn’t working. But they’re not playing with the same confidence now. Will one win change that? Probably not, but it would allow them to enter the bye week feeling much better.

Defensive issues: The Redskins struggled to find answers defensively once again. They switched strategies Sunday, using man coverage in their base defense but with three corners and one safety. That enabled them to stay in their base defensive front -- they were getting hurt on the ground in the first two games because they were mostly in their nickel package. They stopped the run and at times did well in man coverage. But the secondary has struggled in coverage and the more chances Detroit had to throw the ball, the more likely they would give up big yards.

Return to sender: Rookie Chris Thompson was replaced by Josh Morgan on the final two kick returns of the game. Not that it made much of a difference: Morgan averaged 21.5 yards on two returns compared to 22.5 for Thompson. But it’s clear that Thompson is still learning how to return kicks at an NFL level. For example, on one return he took the ball up about a yard or two too far before making his cut. At times he seems to underestimate the speed of those coming at him and he’s unable to get wide. During the preseason, he was a patient returner and then made a decisive cut. Now, after his first cut, there is still hesitation.

Lions 27, Redskins 20: Ten observations

September, 22, 2013
1. The Redskins are better than this. That’s what many people have said or are saying. Why do we assume that they are better than what they’ve shown so far? Because they won seven straight last season? Right now this is what they are: a team that can't defend the pass in a passing league and with a quarterback who is not what he was -- not yet anyway. Last season was not a fluke, but they had so much momentum going that they could overcome Robert Griffin III's knee injury and keep rolling. They can’t overcome a still-not-himself Griffin right now because other parts aren’t working. So, no, they’re not better than this. Griffin’s injury haunts this team still. And because he’s not himself teams can defend him, and the rest of the offense, differently. Everything changes.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
AP Photo/Richard LipskiThe Detroit Lions shut down running back Alfred Morris and showed they were willing to let Robert Griffin III, left, try to beat them on Sunday.
2. I liked this quote from DeAngelo Hall: “We can’t live on what we did last year. That means nothing right now.” It speaks to the urgency of the situation. Don’t assume it will turn around just because it did so last season. It’s tough to keep beating the odds and that, once again, is what the Redskins are trying to do. A couple wins in a row changes everything, but after Oakland and the bye week they play at Dallas, host Chicago and play at Denver. Even if they play better a turnaround will be tough.

3. One big concern I had before the season was the turnover differential. The Redskins were plus-17 last season; it’s tough to keep that going for a second season, and it was a major reason why they excelled. They’re minus-2 through three games. Last season, Griffin did not throw an interception in the red zone; he threw one today. Think about this: the defense has scored in two games and they still can’t win a game. At home. Against two teams that combined for eight wins in 2012.

4. Missed tackles. Yikes. You can’t blame Bacarri Rambo for this one because he didn’t play from scrimmage as the Redskins used their base front, in an attempt to stop the run, and three cornerbacks. They did stop the run (23 carries, 63 yards for the Lions). But they allowed 385 through the air, and they missed so many tackles. Joique Bell broke three tackles on his 12-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He’s a physical runner, but come on.

5. On that drive, the Redskins had a third-and-10 in which they missed four tackles on Bell -- Brandon Meriweather could have had Bell stopped after 12 yards. Instead, he gained 25 more and another 15 was added for a Perry Riley penalty on a roughing penalty. That’s how you get to 0-3. Three plays later, the Redskins stopped them on third-and-6. But London Fletcher was flagged for holding a linemen as he rushed, an automatic first down. So two terrible third downs put Detroit in position for a touchdown instead of either a punt or a field goal.

6. The Redskins’ defense allowed plays of 47, 41, 37 and 33 yards. There were two other gains of 20 and 23 yards. That means of Detroit’s 441 yards, 201 came on six plays. The Redskins have allowed eight plays for 30 yards or more in the past two games combined (and 10 for the season). Good lord. It’s a combination of missed tackles and poor secondary play, a combination of youth and past-their-prime vets. Rookie corner David Amerson admitted he tried to make a big play on one route to Nate Burleson; a risky decision -- the play wasn't there to be made -- turned into a 41-yard play. Youth.

7. One of the big mysteries of the second half: Why so few carries for running back Alfred Morris? It will be asked Monday. Here is what he did on his first six carries of the third quarter: 0, 4, 1, 1, 3, 1. Not exactly a great stat there, and the Lions made it clear they were going to focus on stopping Morris. Why? Because they did not think Griffin could beat them with his arm. They were also content with him running on the zone read-option, because they were willing to give him four or five yards in order to prevent Morris from getting a lot more. Get used to it.

8. The Redskins won 10 games last season and had an explosive offense by being balanced. It’s who they are and it’s what they need to be, given where Griffin is as a passer. The imbalance was evident in the first half, too, as Griffin threw 21 passes (five coming with less than 38 seconds left) compared to nine runs. The Redskins moved the ball with 180 yards, but scored just once -- on a 30-yard Morris run.

9. Aldrick Robinson has to make that catch. Has to. Your team is struggling; you’re in position to change the game and you fail to complete the catch. Robinson was insistent that the ball “never hit the ground ... I know what it looked like, but I know what it was.” But replays (and photos) disagreed with him, as did his coach. The pass was there; all Robinson had to do was hold onto the ball as he hit the ground. His job is to get open deep and make big plays.

10. What a luxury to have a player such as Calvin Johnson. And quarterback Matthew Stafford throws with an unreal amount of trust when going to him. There were a handful of throws where that was evident. Stafford doesn’t throw it blindly, but he does throw it knowing that few in the game are better than Johnson when the ball’s in the air. And if you give Stafford a little window, as the Redskins did before the back-breaking touchdown, he shows his arm strength.

Upon further review: Redskins Week 2

September, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins' 38-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeWashington Redskins
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPoor tackling plagued the Redskins in their loss to the Packers on Sunday.
Tackling woes: The Redskins' defense already had flaws; it added another one with its tackling. The Redskins consistently give high-powered offenses extra yards because they fail to tackle; they have allowed the most yards after contact this season (208) after ranking sixth in this area last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The problem is that teams are able to spread them out, preventing gang tackling at times. They’re not good enough, and not making enough plays, to overcome this issue. Teams will continue to get them in space, and Washington needs to prove it can tackle. Or else.

Quarterback runs: Is Robert Griffin III not running on zone-read options because of his knee? Because of how defenses are playing them? Because deficits forced the Redskins to abandon it? It’s a good question (why, thank you), and one we’ll try to answer throughout the week. Griffin’s timing in the pocket is off -- yes, a byproduct of missing so much offseason work from the knee injury. It can be subtle sometimes, but the difference in hitting a receiver on the correct shoulder can mean the difference between a 10-yard gain or 20. It adds up. One reason the Redskins gained so many yards after the catch last season was because of the chaos in the back end of defenses, fueled by late linebacker drops as they were worried about defending a multi-option run game.

Brandon Meriweather: There’s a dual issue here with Meriweather, starting with his health after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion. He’ll now be monitored all week. So the Redskins will spend another week waiting to see whether Meriweather is able to play. Then you have to wonder what sort of punishment, if any, he’ll receive from the NFL. He was not flagged for either of his big hits, but replays showed him leading with his helmet on the first one against Eddie Lacy. Regardless, when he returns they need him more under control with his tackling -- and he needs to prove he can play for longer than a half without getting hurt. His continual health issues make the loss of Phillip Thomas even worse. But just think of the learning curve for a secondary with three rookies in prominent roles. UPDATE: Meriweather will be fined, but not suspended according to Adam Shefter.

Special teams: They’ve flown under the radar a little bit because of the problems elsewhere. But they shouldn’t. The special teams have not done anything to help. That goes for the returns, where rookie Chris Thompson is averaging 19.7 yards on six kick returns and 4.7 yards on three punt returns; one good runback would boost either number. Gunner Niles Paul and long-snapper Nick Sundberg both received 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties Sunday. In Sundberg’s case, the Redskins had pinned Green Bay at its own 10-yard line. It wasn’t a death sentence for the defense that the Packers then started at the 25-yard line. But right now every yard is huge for this defense. And Sav Rocca shanked a 25-yard punt that gave Green Bay the ball at its own 35 in the first quarter.

Meriweather among Redskins inactives

September, 9, 2013
Washington Redskins strong safety Brandon Meriweather, limited all summer because of his knee and lately by a groin injury, won't play Monday night against Philadelphia. Meriweather was among the Redskins' seven inactives for the season opener versus Philadelphia.

It's not a big surprise considering Meriweather was limited in practice all week. And, because he's struggled to stay healthy, he's not a player the Redskins want to rush back. Veteran Reed Doughty will start in his place. Doughty gives the Redskins a knowledgable player who tackles well in the box.

But the Redskins are more limited in coverage with Doughty. Last year in Meriweather's one game, for example, the Redskins ran a corner blitz with Josh Wilson that they had not run in previous games. It was done because of Meriweather's speed and ability to rotate onto receiver DeSean Jackson.

The other inactives: Rex Grossman, Pat White, Evan Royster, Jose Gumbs, Josh LeRibeus and Chris Neild.

Again, there are no real surprises here. LeRibeus is third among their backup lineman after a poor spring and inconsistent summer. Adam Gettis can play both guard spots, even though he's only played right guard in games. Neild is the No. 1 backup at nose tackle but with the Redskins expected to play a lot of nickel packages tonight, there's not much need for a backup nose. If starter Barry Cofield was injured, then Chris Baker could play nose.

Royster is more of an insurance policy and might not be active unless either Alfred Morris or Roy Helu aren't going to play that game. Chris Thompson can be worked into various packages and likely will return the ball Monday.

Philadelphia's inactives: quarterback Matt Barkley, cornerback Shaun Prater, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, offensive lineman Matt Tobin, tight end Emil Igwenagu and defensive lineman Vinny Curry. The Eagles only needed to have six inactive because they had an open spot on the roster after releasing Brandon Hughes. Curry's inclusion on this list was a bit of a surprise.

Redskins game day: Five thoughts

September, 9, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Analysis of Monday Night's game at Fedex Field.

  1. Will we see Roy Helu and Alfred Morris in the backfield together? In the preseason finale versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Redskins lined up once in a pistol formation look with Keiland Williams aligned next to quarterback Pat White, a spot typically reserved for a fullback or tight end, with Chris Thompson behind White. The play, a handoff to Williams, didn’t work, thanks as much to poor blocking up front by center Kevin Matthews. But what if the Redskins put Helu in the spot Williams was aligned? It adds a much different element to the offense. The defense must honor the fake to him, or it must be wary of a handoff to Morris. In that case, Redskins could sneak Helu into the flat by faking a zone-read to Morris. It’s a way the Redskins scored with fullback Darrel Young a year ago. The defense had too much else to pay attention to -- handoff to Morris; run by Robert Griffin III -- allowing Young to get free. Imagine that play with Helu from somewhere other than the red zone. Even if the defense covers him, and the Redskins hand off to Morris, there's one less in run support. Will this happen? At some point I have a feeling it will, I just don’t know when or how often. Helu’s size helps this play work. He’s big enough so that if he has to throw an occasional run block, he can. Regardless, it’s another way to get a little more speed on the field. Heck, the Redskins could put Helu on one side, Morris on the other and Thompson in the back as a triple-option threat. It forces the defense to be more balanced. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. But the Redskins now have additional possibilities. I’m eager to see how it unfolds.
  2. One of the best matchups Monday night will be two players returning from injuries: Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral) versus Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters (Achilles). Orakpo has 2.5 career sacks against the Eagles, with two occurring in the 2011 finale -- and neither came against Peters. Both those sacks came when Orakpo rushed against the Eagles’ right side. The half-sack in 2010 was against Peters, but stemmed from quarterback Michael Vick getting pushed up and forced to run; Orakpo was blocked by Peters, but turned and pursued and sacked Vick. Anyway, here’s what Orakpo says about Peters, “He’s just an athletic guy. He moves like he’s 250 [pounds]. That’s why he has such an advantage. … It’s hard to know what he got better at, and he’s not going to know what I got better at. It’s like starting from scratch. We’ll get a feel for each other, kind of like a chess match.” The other issue: Philadelphia has changed its offense and will use some zone read plays. That means the linebackers won’t always be able to just focus on rushing the passer. “You’re so worried about slowing down the running back … And when it’s a passing situation you might not know the difference between the run and the pass, instead of a conventional offense where you know it’s a pass. I see why so many guys against our offense just get eliminated from the game. It’s not because of their ability, it’s because of what the offense presents. It’s very difficult for ends or outside ‘backers.”
  3. Along those lines, I wrote about what the Redskins’ defenders will have to deal with and talked about some creative ways Oregon used to run certain plays (like the zone-read). After writing that, I learned of another play in talking to one Redskins defender. He said they’re bracing for the possibility of a zone-read option fake handoff to the back. After the fake, Vick takes off running, then quickly pulls up for a pass. The Redskins have not done that with Griffin. Just something to watch. The other thing that’s a little different: The Eagles' read-option isn’t always based on the defensive end or outside linebacker. They’ll sometimes run it off the nose tackle or even the middle linebacker.
  4. A big key will be getting the Eagles in third-and-longs, then running some stunts or even blitzing Vick. Jacksonville did this in the third preseason game, and Vick reverted to bad habits. But while there’s so much focus on the scheme and the main weapons -- Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson -- there is more to worry about. Like an athletic offensive front, a good match for a zone running system similar to Washington’s. Also, receiver Jason Avant has caught 24 passes for 247 yards in his last five games against Washington. He doesn’t kill the Redskins, but he can be a pest.
  5. It takes time for a team to transition to a 3-4 front from a 4-3, as the Redskins discovered in 2010. In some cases poor fits hurt the transition. Andre Carter, for example, was and never will be a 3-4 outside linebacker, but that’s what he was forced to play. The Eagles not only have switched coordinators and schemes, but they also have five starters on defense who weren’t on the roster last season. It takes time to build chemistry. Defensive end Trent Cole was switched to outside linebacker. Will that take away from his strength which, is, well, his strength. It could take time for him to play with the leverage necessary to be effective standing up (though my guess is they’ll use some four-man fronts in passing situations; in that case he could rush with his hand down). One of those new starters is nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who struggled this summer. Weak play at nose tackle foreshadows doom for a 3-4 front. It’s no wonder three running backs had runs of at least 50 yards against the Eagles this summer. The final point is this: It’s bad enough to play against an offense like Washington’s, which causes defenses to hesitate. It’s worse when a team likely will have hesitation issues already because of a defensive change. So the potential is there to be even more slowed or confused. It’s no wonder one Redskins offensive player said this week, “I can’t wait.”

Redskins notes: Return duties unsettled

September, 5, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Strong safety Brandon Meriweather was limited in practice because of his groin injury, though his knee is not an issue, coach Mike Shanahan said.

“Hopefully he’s full speed tomorrow,” Shanahan said.

Every other Redskins player was full-go, including nose tackle Barry Cofield and his club-enclosed right hand.

QB watch: Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said there was a simple explanation for having Pat White stay on the roster, even with three quarterbacks ahead of him.

“When you think a guy does have a future and he’s part of your best 53, then I think it makes it easy,” Shanahan said.

The question is: how long will they carry four quarterbacks? The Redskins have a few weeks in which they could afford to keep an extra player at this position, with roster exemptions for suspended defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson. But when those two return after four weeks, two roster moves must be made.

“I don’t think it’s something you’re going to do year in and year out, but when the roster shakes up that way that your fourth guy is one of your best 53, then we will do it,” Shanahan said. “We’ll see what that case is next year. We’ll see if that continues throughout the whole year, but it’s a week-by-week thing. We’ve always got to keep our best 53 and he’s definitely one of those right now.”

Surprising safety: Another player few would have projected on the roster at the start of training camp, safety Jose Gumbs, earned a spot last week. He was signed right before camp started but impressed the coaches with his raw ability.

Here's what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said about him: “He’s a guy that doesn’t even fully understand the defense yet, but he’s a guy that we thought was flying around, would make tackles, had good cover ability, was fearless, had pretty good football instinct -- things that you don’t have, and we think he will get better and better once he gets within the scheme. He came in late and I was really impressed with what he did the last couple of games. We kept all those guys based off their production in the preseason games. That’s why those games are important.”

Return duty: The Redskins still aren’t sure who will return punts Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Rookie Chris Thompson has fielded more punts in practice than the other candidates, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan, but only because he’s by far the least experienced in this area.

Thompson said catching punts off the Jugs machine in practice is good, but it’s not the same as fielding live punts. The ball is easy to read off the machine, but not off a punter’s foot and that’s been his biggest adjustment.

“We’ll see how he does this week and get a gut feel before the Monday night game and then make a decision,” Mike Shanahan said.

Five questions facing the Redskins

September, 3, 2013
  1. How will Robert Griffin III perform? Special athletes do special things in situations where little is expected. Griffin falls into the category of special athlete, don’t you think? What helps Griffin is the same thing that helped him last season: his legs. Yes, knee injury, etc. But if Griffin is on the field he will use his legs, whether on designed runs, the read option or scrambles. They bail him out of trouble and allow him to contribute and make plays while still finding his rhythm as a passer. I have no idea how he’ll do in the passing game, but the Eagles’ defense isn’t a powerhouse. There will be chances. Besides, the scheme will provide opportunities and Griffin does not have to do it alone. With running back Alfred Morris (better this year), receiver Pierre Garcon (healthy this year), third-down back Roy Helu (healthy this year) and tight end Fred Davis (healthy this year), Griffin has enough help. That’ll be the key: Don’t try to do it alone. I’ll be curious to see how he handles scramble situations. A big point will be made if he runs out of bounds, but don’t be fooled: Griffin improved at this last season, too. After his concussion against Atlanta, Griffin ran out of bounds on 14 of his next 17 scrambles (compared to eight in his first 16 scrambles).
  2. Can they slow the Eagles’ pace? The key will be limiting what the Eagles do on the early downs; if Philly is hitting four- and five-yard gains on first down, then the Redskins would have a tough time against anyone’s pace. And their weapons would scare me more than the pace. Any team with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson should be feared, regardless of how they’re used. In the past, they didn’t need many plays to beat a team, just a couple. In 2010, the Eagles ran 67 plays yet scored 59 points against the Redskins. I’ll look more in-depth at how to slow the Eagles’ pace later in the week, but two areas are vital: conditioning and communication. Depth along the line is important (teams that had success versus Oregon in college had this). And having a linebacker such as London Fletcher is key; his ability to quickly diagnose plays and get teammates in the right spots help negate some issues. The tough part is that Philly will try to cause mismatches by using, say, four tight end sets in multiple formations. It can cause matchup issues, but that’s where being disciplined comes into play. Also, I'll be curious to see how the Redskins' six-linebacker set, their fast nickel, plays. The extra speed will help, but if the Eagles force them into this look for a few plays in a row it could cause matchup problems. But it does present the Redskins with another possibility -- and a way to pressure without blitzing; they'll need seven in coverage against these weapons.
  3. How will the Eagles’ D handle the zone read? Part of me says who cares. Why? Because the zone read was not a huge issue when the Redskins swept the Eagles last season. Morris carried a combined four times for nine yards out of the zone read in those games and Griffin threw a combined four passes off zone-read fakes in those wins. Overall, Morris rushed for 167 yards in those two games and Griffin completed a combined 30-of-39 passes for 398 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. It is a different defense because of the change in coordinators. Last season the Eagles’ defensive front did not mesh with the talents of those behind them. So last year’s numbers aren’t quite as meaningful because of the change. But the point is this: Monday night is not about seeing how the Eagles stop the zone read. It wasn’t a factor in any of the touchdowns versus Philly last season. This will be more about seeing how the Eagles’ defense is overall – and if they can force turnovers. If not, they’ll struggle.
  4. Will Brandon Meriweather play? At this point, I’ll just consider Meriweather day-by-day the rest of the season. Since he’s been here it’s always been something. Now it’s his groin. My guess is that he’ll play, but with him you never know. Why is it important? When healthy, Meriweather provides extra speed. In his one game last season, also against Philly, the Redskins ran some blitzes I hadn’t seen. Specifically, Josh Wilson blitzed from the numbers (they usually blitzed from the slot). They called for this because Meriweather was behind him and was fast enough to rotate to his man (Jackson) and cover him. They called this blitz later in the year, too, but not against fast receivers. Reed Doughty is a capable backup capable of excellent games, but he does not have the same speed or versatility.
  5. Who will return punts? Another one I can’t answer yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it depends on the situation. If the Eagles are punting from, say, their own 45 and you just want someone who can catch the ball, then perhaps you put sure-handed Santana Moss (or Josh Morgan) deep. If you want someone who can make a play, then Chris Thompson. The rookie’s inexperience has to be a concern -- he didn't do this in college -- but he looked good handling five of the six punts he fielded this summer and is dangerous. As former Redskins return great Brian Mitchell reminded me recently: He had never returned punts until coming to the NFL.


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