NFL Nation: kory lichtensteiger

Redskins' owners meetings agenda

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some things to watch for this week at the owners meetings:

1. Compensatory picks. It’s a complicated formula used by the NFL to determine who receives one, but a lot is based on if a team lost more than it gained via free agency the previous year. Or if they lost a high-priced talent. The Redskins' only loss last season was Lorenzo Alexander and they’re not expected to receive one. Here’s a good look at compensatory picks.

2. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said this week would also provide opportunities for trade talks, another way for Washington to potentially fill some remaining holes (in addition to the draft). They have little desire to trade backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, though that could change if another team made an offer that, right now, no one would expect.

3. It’s also not as if the Redskins have a lot of desirable players another team would want to acquire in a trade. They do have some excess along the offensive line, believe it or not, with a glut of guard/center types. But three of them are unproven (Maurice Hurt, Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis). So it makes little sense to trade for one, unless you're a coach who has worked with them like Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But the Redskins deemed those players not ready even at the end of last season. What would make them desirable enough to make a trade now? The Redskins like Kory Lichtensteiger at center so he’s not going anywhere, and I have a hard time believing Chris Chester could be traded for a draft pick. And with only six draft picks, the Redskins don’t have a lot of ability to maneuver. That is, unless they want more immediate help defensively (Jason Hatcher’s window is probably two years).

4. The Redskins made a number of proposals that will be discussed this week. Among them: moving kickoffs to the 40-yard line; eliminating overtime in the preseason; increasing the practice squad from eight players to 10; having one cut during training camp, going from 90 to 53; increasing the active roster from 46 to 49 on non-Sunday or Monday games (except for Week 1); and using the “designated to return” from injured reserve on more than one player.

5. Jay Gruden meets with reporters Wednesday morning. It’ll be our first chance to talk to the Redskins' coach since free agency began, as well as a number of other issues.

Quick takes: Offensive line

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
Because I'm thinking too much about the offensive line and what the Washington Redskins are doing:
  • At coach Jay Gruden’s introductory news conference, he talked about wanting to have versatility and variety in the offense. So he wanted to use the zone read (some) and he wanted to run power. Here’s what he said:
    “I like the power plays. I like the gap-blocking plays. So there’s a little bit of everything. I don’t think any offense in the NFL anymore is just, ‘We are this.’ I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively, talent-wise. We can do the read-option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep balls. We can do play-action deep things. I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.”
  • So it’s no surprise that when looking at offensive linemen in free agency, he’s opted for players with a little more size. That doesn’t mean the Redskins will abandon what they had done in the past. This offseason, offensive coordinator Sean McVay said, “The run game will be very similar." But it does mean that they want players who can perhaps be capable of doing more.
  • McGlynn
    They hosted two linemen Wednesday: former Saints center Brian de la Puente and ex-Colts guard/center Mike McGlynn. De La Puente weighs 306 pounds (former center Will Montgomery weighs 304; Kory Lichtensteiger, who will move to center, weighs between 280-285 but is adding 10-15 pounds in the offseason. I'm anxious to see Lichtensteiger at center; I've long thought that would be his future home and agree with Chris Cooley that he would be good here).
  • McGlynn weighs 325 pounds. The problem here: he struggled big time at guard by all accounts last season. As much as everyone wants to hammer the Redskins’ offensive line, few were worse than Indianapolis’ -- especially in the interior. Where McGlynn started. But he started three games at center and, again, according to those who watched the team on a daily basis, he fared much better.
  • Here’s what ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells wrote about McGlynn: “McGlynn was in a tough position last season. He started 11 games at guard but he’s weak at that position and was part of one of the worst interior offensive lines in the league with center Samson Satele and guard Hugh Thornton. ... Slide McGlynn to center, which happened three times because of injuries to Satele, and all is better for him because he plays the position better than Satele. ... Colts coach Chuck Pagano had an opportunity to keep McGlynn at center and bench Satele in the playoffs but he decided against it.”
  • And here’s what Stephen Holder, a Colts’ beat reporter for the Indianapolis Star, wrote about McGlynn: “McGlynn was not a strong performer when used at guard this season, but he and the line overall played better when he was the starting center (he started three games). If the Colts offer a contract to McGlynn, expect it to be modest in value and look for McGlynn to have to compete for playing time and/or a roster spot.”
  • De la Puente
    De la Puente did not exactly play with a lot of power in New Orleans. I saw him get moved back in a couple games, but I also saw him be effective when on the move -- whether to block a linebacker or maintain leverage on a defensive lineman.
  • I think he was helped playing with Saints quarterback Drew Brees; the bulk of his throws (54 percent) were unloaded in less than three seconds. Robert Griffin III unloaded in that amount of time 45 percent of the time (according to ESPN Stats & Information).
  • But the point is it’s not as if De la Puente would be a bad fit for some sort of outside zone-based scheme (if they sign him, that is). Actually, he's probably a good fit. Nor would his signing signal some shift to a strictly power-based run game. It does sound as if he was a smart center with the Saints, so that would be good.
  • Newly-signed guard Shawn Lauvao weighs 315 pounds, about the same size as Chris Chester (Josh LeRibeus is bigger, though his listed weight was 315 pounds last season). So if Lauvao and Chris Chester are the guards (not sure yet if that will be the case; if they sign someone else, then I’d imagine a current Redskins linemen could get released and Chester represents $2.7 million in cap savings) then that would give them a bigger tandem than the past couple years. But both are capable of running outside zone plays -- word out of Cleveland is that this style would fit Lauvao. And Chester is not a power blocker.
  • Point is, the Redskins still don't look like they're abandoning what they have done in recent years with the run game. But that doesn't mean it will look exactly the same, and other aspects will be emphasized because Gruden will want to incorporate some of his style. It is his offense after all. Some of the changes they're making, or trying to make, are as much about performance as scheme.

Redskins hosting Brian de la Puente

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
The Redskins planned to shift guard Kory Lichtensteiger to center, which is why they released their incumbent starter. They might have another option: free-agent Brian de la Puente.

de la Puente
The former New Orleans starting center is visiting the Redskins Wednesday. The Redskins released their starting center, Will Montgomery, last week.

Lichtensteiger already knew he was going to move to center and planned to add about 10-15 pounds, bulking up to play for coach Jay Gruden after playing at a lighter weight for Mike Shanahan.

De la Puente started at center the past three seasons for the Saints. He broke in with Kansas City in 2008, but did not play a game and didn’t play in ’09 and ’10, though he was with five other teams during that span either on the practice squad or in training camp.

If the Redskins sign de la Puente, it would be their second free-agent acquisition along the line. Washington signed guard Shawn Lauvao on the opening day of free agency.

Here’s a scouting report on de la Puente from Saints reporter Mike Triplett:

"De la Puente could be in high demand this offseason as a proven starter who has played at a high level for the last three years. Like the rest of the Saints’ offensive line, he struggled at times during the first half of the 2013 season in both his run blocking and pass protection. But he finished very well during the second half of the year and in the playoffs -- returning to the consistent level we saw in 2011-12. De la Puente isn’t a mauler up front, but he’s got a good combination of power and athleticism -- which has served him well in the Saints’ versatile offense that relies so much on pass protection and screen passes. And his experience as a signal-caller for such a sophisticated passing offense will only enhance his market value. De la Puente certainly fit right in on a Saints offensive line filled with diamonds in the rough. He joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Cal in 2008, but he bounced around with San Francisco, Kansas City, Carolina and Seattle before landing on the Saints’ practice squad in 2010. He then earned the starting job over veteran Olin Kreutz early in the 2011 season."

Redskins release Will Montgomery

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
The Washington Redskins plan to move Kory Lichtensteiger to center, so the next logical move was to cut the man already in place. That is what they have done, releasing center Will Montgomery, according to a team source. Montgomery later texted ESPN980's Chris Russell to confirm the news.

The move will save Washington $1.93 million against the salary cap. Montgomery had started every game at center the past three seasons for Washington. But the Redskins struggled with interior pressure and wanted to upgrade at the position.

Also, the Redskins signed former Cleveland guard Shawn Lauvao on Tuesday. There is a chance the starting guards could be Lauvao and Chris Chester, with Lichtensteiger sliding inside. Both Chester and Lauvao played right guard last season, but Lauvao has played both sides in the past. At 285 pounds, Lichtensteiger was light for a guard, but his quickness made him a good fit in Mike Shanahan’s outside stretch zone system.

Though the Redskins plan to use the same run-game blocking, they still wanted to get a little bigger at guard. Both Lauvao and Chester are about 310 pounds. Lichtensteiger still plans to add about 10 pounds.

Montgomery was a local product, having played at nearby Centreville (Va.) High School and then Virginia Tech. He’s played with Washington since 2008, working at both guard and center until taking over in the middle full time. Montgomery also spent time with Carolina and the New York Jets.

He swatted with his left hand, then his right, nudging Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger to the inside. That’s all Jason Hatcher needed last October. And then Hatcher did what the Redskins’ linemen did not do enough of last season: Finish off a one-on-one battle with a sack.

Within 2.5 seconds he was in quarterback Robert Griffin III’s face.

It’s the sort of play the Redskins felt made him worth signing to a four-year, $27.5 million deal Thursday. It’s also the sort of play the Redskins need to see a lot of this season to justify that contract.

Yes, the Redskins still need safety help. But until they solved their pass-rush woes, the Redskins’ defense would only go so far. They still have a ways to go and simply adding talent won’t do the trick. But landing Hatcher definitely helps their desire to improve the rush. Of course, I’m sure the Redskins don’t mind that it takes away a good player from NFC East rival Dallas.

It’s particularly important where he can do it: up the middle. If you can't pressure from all over consistently, or with more than two defenders, you'll be limited.

Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams reacted the way you would expect, knowing he won’t have to be part of a line that deals with Hatcher this season:

Another Redskin called Hatcher “disruptive and a major talent.”

The problem is that he’ll turn 32 before the season begins and the Redskins just gave him a lucrative contract. As usual, you need to see the guaranteed portion to accurately gauge the deal.

But one rule of thumb in free agency is not to overspend for players in their 30s. Yes, he doesn’t have a lot of wear on his body like many others who have played eight years in the NFL; he didn’t become a full-time starter until 2011. But 32 is 32 and how many years can the Redskins coax good seasons from him? If he’s effective for three years, then it’s a good deal. If not? Well ... If nothing else, though, he’ll help them next season.

The Redskins struggled generating push up the middle in 2013. It was striking, too, when other teams could do so – like Minnesota during a crucial drive in the second half, getting to Griffin too fast for him to adjust. In that game, the Vikings tackles at times in key spots were in Griffin's face within two seconds.

In 2012, if the Redskins got push up the middle, they lacked a consistent outside rush.

Nose tackle Barry Cofield was their best interior rusher, but too often he could be neutralized and a quick push failed to materialize. Stephen Bowen’s knee limited his effectiveness and Jarvis Jenkins hasn’t developed into the pass-rusher they hoped he might become. Chris Baker could help in this area, as he showed late in the season. But they needed a big body who could consistently collapse the pocket. That’s Hatcher. By the way, Hatcher's arrival does not mean the end for Bowen, according to two team sources. He apparently remains in the plans, despite coming off microfracture surgery (and carrying a cap hit of $7.02 million).

Back to Hatcher. As important as it is for them to fix the safety position, even an all-star back there would have problems unless the rush improved. They clearly need answers there, but if they can find players who can line up right and tackle, then the rush will help them do better. That is, if the rush is good.

We’re still not talking Seattle-esque, but step one was adding another inside rusher. With more teams going to quick passes, the Redskins could not be as disruptive without a quick push. Hatcher’s success came inside as a tackle in pass-rush situations (he had two sacks against Washington last season). He also played in a 4-3 last season, freeing him to get upfield faster. Here, he’ll be in a 3-4, but the Redskins have vowed some changes to bolster the rush and they use a lot of nickel, which carries some 4-3 looks and responsibilities.

Also, they can now pair Hatcher and Cofield in certain packages to help in this area. And that will ease the burden on outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Their rush worked best in 2011 when Orakpo and Bowen worked off one another. If Orakpo can do so with Hatcher, that will help quite a bit.

The Redskins have plenty of work to do. And Hatcher must prove that last year was not a one-time thing. But after a great deal of angst during the first two days of free agency, the Redskins finally added a player who can give them a big boost defensively. The only question is: For how long? But for now, though, they can celebrate a good addition.

The next big thing: Redskins

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
The first priority for the Redskins is finalizing Jay Gruden's coaching staff and putting together their playbook. After that, here is what they need to do in the next few months:
  1. Figure out who they want to keep. They have a number of free agents, especially on defense. They need to find a way to keep linebacker Brian Orakpo, a pivotal player because he can rush the passer and has become a solid run defender. He'll always flirt with double-digit sack totals and twice has gotten there. The team can always use the franchise tag to keep him around, but he is a priority. They also will want to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley. Then there's cornerback DeAngelo Hall, coming off a good season, and backup D-lineman Chris Baker, who contributed late. He showed enough to warrant interest elsewhere.
  2. Who fits up front? With a new offensive system, the Redskins must decide how much they want to reshape the line. The O-line is a smaller group, built for Mike Shanahan's outside zone and stretch zone system. Gruden will still use zone blocking, but he also featured bigger guards at Cincinnati. Kory Lichtensteiger will need to bulk up to stay at guard; perhaps he could move to center. It's tough to make a lot of changes -- at least in the first year of a new regime -- but the Redskins likely will make some.
  3. Spend. The salary-cap penalty is gone. And that means the Redskins will be able to spend -- money has never helped them win a title, but it will enable them to rebuild their defense. They'll have approximately $30 million in salary-cap space; of course, they'll need to spend a decent amount to fill out their defense since six players who started at least seven games are free agents. But the Redskins can be active. Considering they have no first-round pick, that's important. They need to fix their secondary, even if they re-sign Hall. They need to replace retired linebacker London Fletcher and re-sign Orakpo and Riley. They also could use another receiver, especially if Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery takes a long time. The good news for Washington is that this draft is deep, especially with bigger cornerbacks.

Cooley, Redskins rave about Sean McVay

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
ASHBURN, Va. -- When they had a question, Sean McVay had an answer. That sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s one thing for a position coach to know an offense; it’s another to know what everyone must do – and their adjustments.

The Redskins' tight ends liked that McVay would know – and wouldn’t hesitate.

“There’s no indecision, ‘This is what we do; this is how we do it,’" Logan Paulsen said. “There’s no gray area in my life, which is fantastic. Making sure the player knows what he has to do puts us in a great position. ... You have certain coaches who don’t like when you ask questions. They don’t know the offense spot on.”

That’s why players would be happy if McVay is elevated to offensive coordinator for new coach Jay Gruden. Though Gruden said he will interview other candidates, McVay still is considered the likely new choice. He’s young, only 27, but he also has impressed players because of his knowledge of the offense. Gruden said he will call the plays, so that could make it easier for a young coach such as McVay to ease into an expanded role.

“His ability to digest a game plan and give it to his players in a streamlined manner allows us to digest us efficiently making sure to emphasize details that are important,” Paulsen said. “Every week he’d try to call plays without looking at the sheet. He knows what everyone has to do on the field. He approached it like an offensive coordinator. That’s advantageous to a player. He knows every detail the same way Kyle [Shanahan] used to know the details. He has that big-picture mindset that helps out.”

Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley played one and a half seasons under McVay.

“He had the highest understanding of an offense of any position coach I’ve ever been around,” Cooley said. “We’d go back and forth in meetings on scheme, why and how. There was always an answer. I love that in a coach.

“Two years ago I said if anyone becomes a head coach on this staff it would be Sean McVay.”

Players at other positions echoed what Paulsen and Cooley said. The tight ends often worked with the linemen in practice because they needed to be in tandem with their blocking.

“The relationships he has with players and what he gets out of a player with both effort and production on the field by not being a screamer,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “He’s a guy you can relate to. He has a lot of shared characteristics with hard-working players. Players can see if a guy knows what he’s talking about and he goes about it the right way getting that type of effort out of his players.”

RG III named Ed Block winner

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
It's not the sort of award anyone wants to win -- and it's certainly not one they want to repeat. But it does serve as recognition for how a player responds to adversity. And that's why Robert Griffin III was named the Washington Redskins' Ed Block Courage Award winner.

The award honors how RG III overcame his knee injury, returning to start the season opener eight months after surgery to reconstruct the ACL and LCL in his right knee. Griffin completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games. He was inconsistent all season, but did not miss any time until being benched for the final three games. He's one of only five Redskins quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons, joining Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann, Mark Rypien and Jason Campbell.

“Robert’s commitment this offseason helped him fully recover from a major knee surgery,” Redskins head athletic trainer Larry Hess said in a release. “His passion and dedication toward his profession motivated him throughout this process and made working with him enjoyable. He is well deserving of this award.”

Griffin said in a release: “It’s an honor to be selected by my teammates to receive this award. I received a tremendous amount of support throughout the rehab process from my teammates, the doctors, the trainers and everyone involved in the organization. This award is not only a testament to how hard I worked to return, but also a testament to the support system I’ve had around me for the last 12 months. I’m grateful for their hard work and support and look forward to preparing for the 2014 season.”

Guard Kory Lichtensteiger won the award last season and Stephen Bowen won it in 2011. It's named for the former longtime trainer of the Baltimore Colts.

Redskins moving in wrong direction

November, 26, 2013
Robert Griffin AP Photo/Alex BrandonAfter going 10-6 and winning the NFC East last year, the Redskins are 3-8 through 11 games.

LANDOVER, Md. -- They don't have the answers, though they certainly say all the right things. They're trying hard. They're led by the right people. They have the right guys in the locker room. Here's the thing: Parades aren't thrown for those accomplishments. Not when you're four years into a regime.

The Washington Redskins are 3-8. They're 3-8 in a season that began with high expectations. They're 3-8 and headed nowhere fast, all the while trying to convince everyone, most of all themselves, that they're moving in the right direction.

They'll have to forgive everyone outside the organization for thinking this is not the right direction. Some of it can be explained, but not all. If they have the right players and have the right coaches and have the right organization, then they would be better than this. They would put up a better showing on prime-time TV than losing 27-6 to the San Francisco 49ers.

At this point, you must question everything, because nothing seems to be working.

"We certainly deserve some criticism now, that's for sure," Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said.

If the coaching is fine, as the players say, then it's on the players. If the players are good enough, as they still say they believe, then it's on the coaches. If both of those are working to their capability, then it's on those responsible for bringing in those players.

Something is not working. It's not just the quarterback. You can point your finger just about anywhere and have a legitimate beef. You want to blame head coach Mike Shanahan? Go ahead. You want to blame defensive coordinator Jim Haslett? Have at it. You want to target special-teams coordinator Keith Burns? Stand in line. You want to point the finger even higher and look at the owner, Dan Snyder? Fair game.

The Redskins have gone from being a team playing badly to just being a bad team. It's not about the record; it's about the way they've gotten there. It's about the fact that they haven't played a complete game at any point this season. It's about needing to do so in the next five weeks.

"It's fair at this point to wonder," Lichtensteiger said, when asked if they're just a bad team. "It's just a bad display of football tonight by us."

True, the salary-cap penalty (brought on by their actions, others would say) put them in a bad spot. They couldn't fill holes they knew were coming or already existed. True, the quarterback's lack of an offseason hurt as well. It prevented a quarterback who needs to learn to pass at an NFL level from taking what he learned as a rookie and improving upon it.

But does that explain all that has gone wrong? No, it does not. If everyone wants quarterback Robert Griffin III to look in the mirror and accept blame for his shortcomings, then everyone else must do the same, starting at the very top of the organization. Good organizations win consistently. The Redskins have not done so since 1992. If they had been banged up all season plus had those other issues? OK, a 3-8 fall would not be inconceivable. That hasn't been the case.

They've collected players who won't blame one another. That's great -- and to this point players have not done so. They're more shocked than anyone at what has happened. But four years into a regime, there should be more to hang your hat on than this, especially when an owner will have a decision to make in a month or so: Do you extend the contract of the head coach or tell him he must serve as a lame duck? Or do you fire him? You need to provide more than talk. There has to be an upward stretch over the next five weeks.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsThe blame for this disappointing season stretches all the way to owner Dan Snyder.
"At the end of the day the only stat that matters is the win and loss column," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "You can choose and judge by that and you can make your own opinion. I'm never going to say we're a bad team."

That's not the players' job, of course, to say such a thing.

"What am I supposed to do? Come up here and talk about how bad we are?" Griffin said. "My job is to answer your questions and move on to the next day and get better. ... I mean, I love my guys. I'll go to war with them any day."

It's the proper attitude to have. Again, it's a locker room full of proper attitudes. The locker room culture is better than it was during Jim Zorn's two seasons as coach, when backstabbing happened all the time. You still don't hear players knocking the head coach; even privately, it's just the opposite.

But it's not enough anymore to sell that, because the locker room will change after this season. The defense needs an overhaul and there are only three defensive regulars who will be 26 or younger next season -- linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, corner David Amerson and end Jarvis Jenkins. That means a defensive rebuild is coming. That means more change next season. Are you confident the right changes will be made?

"This is unacceptable when you look at what we were able to accomplish last year," linebacker London Fletcher said. "To be where we're at, it's not a good feeling at all. Individually, you have to look at yourself."

Yes, they do.

"We had high hopes, but we understood talk is cheap," said defensive end Kedric Golston, who has been with the team since 2006. "That's been our message. We're prepared and we work hard and we're coming up short. It's frustrating, but the onus is on us, the people in this locker room and the people in this organization. We can't blame anybody else for it."

The tough part this season? There's so much blame to go around. There are so many areas that need to be fixed.

Redskins' passing attack stumbles

October, 28, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The first pass should have resulted in a first down around midfield. The second one could have been a big play deep in Denver territory. And the third would have picked up 20 yards and a first down.

They came one right after the other. They also illustrate an example of what went wrong with the Washington Redskins' passing attack during a 45-21 loss to the Broncos.

“It's a little bit of everything,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Robert Griffin III
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III is averaging 7.0 yards per pass attempt this season compared to 8.1 during his rookie season.
And those three plays in the fourth quarter show what he's talking about. There were many examples from Sunday that could be used, this sequence illustrated their woes. Receiver Josh Morgan was wide open on a deep post, but quarterback Robert Griffin III threw behind him and the pass was incomplete instead of a first down just inside the 50.

On the second play, receiver Pierre Garcon broke through a double team beyond the Broncos' 35-yard line. It's a low-percentage pass, but Garcon did have a step on both defenders. Egregious? No. A missed chance? Yes.

Then, on third down, Griffin was under pressure but delivered a catchable ball as he was hit to receiver Aldrick Robinson. But Robinson, who had to reach up for the ball, failed to make the catch. Two promising plays, and a third opportunity, resulted in no yards and a punt.

“Sometimes it may be the quarterback's read,” Shanahan said. “Other times it may be protection. Other times it may be a dropped ball. The offense just may be a little different than a year ago. A combination of all those things.”

The numbers suggest the passing game is much different than a year ago. Griffin averages 7.0 yards per pass attempt compared to 8.1 as a rookie, perhaps a function of less play action (and therefore less ability to get the coverage out of position) as well as some bad throws. The receivers average just 11.8 per catch after securing 12.6 in 2012. Some frustration is growing; after Sunday's game Garcon said, "If you suck at passing, you suck at passing." Not everyone was that blunt.

“I can't point to one thing or two things,” said Redskins receiver Santana Moss, who dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter. “You have to make plays when the play gets presented to you. If you don't make plays, you're in the situation we're in now.”

There was pressure on Griffin when linemen missed their men; Griffin was drilled by Terrance Knighton after guard Kory Lichtensteiger missed his block. Another time left tackle Trent Williams slipped and linebacker Von Miller beat him for a sack/fumble. Add it up and there are too many things going wrong in the passing game. They were all on display Sunday as Griffin completed 15-of-30 passes for 132 yards and was sacked three times.

Before the season started Griffin had hoped he could grow as a passer without the benefit of a full offseason. That's not how it's played out.

“Everything is a growing experience,” Shanahan said. “The more reps you get the better off you get. But if you ask if there's one reason, I can't say just one. It's a combination of a lot of different things. Sometimes you may see a guy wide open and it may be a missed read or it may be a dropped ball, it may just be a missed assignment. It may be somebody getting beat. It's all those things.”

Shanahan deserves celebration, scrutiny

October, 27, 2013
The first thing you learn about Mike Shanahan is his competitive edge. That’s not a chip on his shoulder; it’s more of a boulder. When he was with Denver, he kept clippings from newspaper articles and pulled them out after winning the Super Bowl, just to remind reporters they were a bit, uh, wrong.

There’s a reason why a guy his size played college football. He’s tough, feisty and competitive and coaches that way.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWashington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan finds himself in a different place today -- four and a half years after his tenure in Denver ended.
So, yeah, Mike Shanahan hasn’t coached in Denver since the 2008 season. He’s in his fourth season with Washington, where he’s re-built an organization and has a flashy young quarterback. He’s friendly with Denver vice president of football operations, and his former quarterback, John Elway and, supposedly, with the guy who fired him, owner Pat Bowlen.

Yeah, Shanahan has landed just fine on his feet. But there’s no chance his fire won’t burn a little brighter Sunday. Maybe Shanahan turns the Redskins around; maybe he doesn’t. But when he left Denver, Shanahan felt he had the makings of a strong team with young quarterback Jay Cutler and young receiver Brandon Marshall. It’s difficult to find such a combination; Shanahan had it and liked where they were headed. Then came a three-game collapse at the end of his 14th season and a firing.

“It was very shocking,” said Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger, drafted by Denver in 2008, of the firing. “Everybody was understandably disappointed, but to do a move like that ... the offense was on fire the whole year. A few things could have been tweaked, but a complete overhaul was extreme.”

If the players felt that way, then little doubt the coach did too. Not that Shanahan would admit it now.

“You know it’s been four and a half years, so it’s not like it was yesterday or the year before. So, I think it’s a little bit different than what normally happens when you’re gone for six months or nine months. I’ve done it before when I was with the 49ers and with the Raiders you go back to the place you’re at -- a lot of emotion. I think this is a little bit different than most.”

His son, Kyle Shanahan, who grew up in Denver, said, “You always want to beat people you used to work for. Everybody is like that, but it’s not as big a deal as I would have expected it to be four years ago.”

Under Shanahan, the Broncos had the fourth best record in the NFL from 1995-2008. They went 138-86 with seven playoff appearances and two Super Bowls. But his reputation took a hit post-Elway. They did win after him -- he coaxed 13 wins by a Jake Plummer-led team in 2005.

But Shanahan’s playoff record is 1-5 since winning his second Super Bowl. Make no mistake; the Broncos had talent on those teams, but you don’t win back-to-back titles with a slouch of a coach. And Shanahan is a good coach; Denver won double-digit games four times after Elway retired. However, he still has to prove he can build a championship team as the main architect. Heck, in Washington he needs to prove he can build a perennial winner. There’s still time this season and if they finish well, then there can be some optimism heading into the offseason (with more money). But they have to finish strong.

I know there have been some side issues that have hurt them, from the lockout to the salary cap. But this group traded for Donovan McNabb (though perhaps with a nudge from the owner); and allowed Albert Haynesworth to stick around another year; and put their faith, way too much of it, in John Beck and Rex Grossman as starters, though at least the latter belongs in the league and can help. If not for the good fortune of being bad in a year where there were two elite quarterbacks, then where would the franchise be? Of course, when they did get Robert Griffin III, they created one of the most enjoyable offenses to watch.

But they still haven’t built a top-level defense in the same fashion as what they're doing on offense. They have changed the culture in the building and there’s a strong mindset among the players in the locker room. But this business is about winning and doing it consistently. Until they do that ...

He did it in Denver and that’s why they’ll honor him with a video tribute before the game.

“I think it’ll be fun going back there, getting a chance to spend all those years in one place,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure hoping I don’t get booed.”

Hard to imagine Broncos fans booing a man who delivered two Super Bowls. But in Washington? If he wants a video tribute here someday, a lot of work remains.

Sunday is a statement on what Shanahan has done as a coach, a reminder of great times. It’s also a statement on what he has left to do.

Redskins stung by red zone failures

October, 18, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The red zone struggles shouldn’t be surprising. The Washington Redskins are 1-4, they’ve sputtered throughout large moments of games on offense – in some cases doing little until the second half. They’ve had problems on third down. They’ve had problems with turnovers.

So, yes, they also have problems in the red zone, where they rank 22nd in trips with 14 and tied with nine other teams with a 50 percent touchdown rate. It makes sense.

“Last year it came a lot easier for us,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “It just falls back to how inconsistent we’re playing right now.”

In Sunday’s 31-16 loss at Dallas, the Redskins cost themselves eight possible points, which in most games would make a difference between winning and losing. A 1-4 team can’t afford to waste chances. It also hurt them in a 27-20 loss to Detroit when they had two red zone trips and managed one turnover and three points.

“Yeah, we’ve got to get better, and we won’t win if we can’t score in the red zone,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.

No runs

The same thing that makes a team good between the 20’s should make them good inside the 20. For the Redskins that starts with the running game. But they’ve been unable to generate a consistent rushing attack in the red zone, partly because of poor play and circumstances.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsWould more carries for Alfred Morris in the red zone help Washington's struggling offense?
That’s why the Redskins have run the ball only 11 times in the red zone, second lowest in the NFL (compared to 25 drop-backs).

But they have success when they do, averaging 3.82 yards per carry, second best in the league. More numbers: Last season, running back Alfred Morris averaged 3.25 carries per game in the red zone; this year it’s 0.83 – he has five for the season.

The Redskins ran only one red zone play in the opening half of the first three games. Just one. When they finally did get in the red zone later in the game in Weeks 1 and 2, they were so far behind they had no choice but to throw. So of their first 10 plays in the red zone in those games, eight were designed passes.

And in the first three games they ran just one play in the red zone during a time in which they could remain balanced -- Griffin’s interception versus Detroit from the 19-yard line when he rolled to right. Later in the game they ran five plays in the red zone, but they were down 10 and threw on each down.

The last two games provides a better example of their performance. They ran seven plays in the scoring zone against Oakland, with three runs and four passes, scoring a touchdown each way.

If quarterback Robert Griffin III starts to run more it could help inside the 20. Just look at last year for the impact his legs had. He carried 17 times for 72 yards and five touchdowns in the first 10 weeks. But Griffin did not carry the ball in this area over his final six games as defenses changed their looks, opting for more man coverage. However, during that time he completed eight passes for six touchdowns (compared to 16 passes and four touchdowns in the first nine games).

“Obviously just him running is invaluable because of the attention,” Paulsen said. “Defenses have to get to it and we see a lot of man coverages. That’s something that will be advantageous to us.”

Missed chances

In some cases a missed opportunity was overcome. Against Oakland, for example, a Roy Helu run was well executed except for the fact that Logan Paulsen was unable to block the outside linebacker, who shot to the inside as tight end Paulsen pulled around the end for a tackle. But one play later Griffin connected with Pierre Garcon for a touchdown so it didn’t matter.

But against Dallas at the end of the first half, the Redskins lost a chance for a touchdown. Garcon was aligned to the right in a tight formation facing man coverage from Brandon Carr. Though the Redskins did not do well against man coverage Sunday, this was an advantageous situation. And Garcon gained an edge off the line, but Griffin threw a slant to the left for Leonard Hankerson that was incomplete. It would have gained five yards.

There was also Griffin’s quarterback draw in that same game, when linebacker Sean Lee made a terrific stop while getting off center Will Montgomery’s block. Dallas presented them the proper look in zone coverage for it to work but thanks to Lee it didn’t.

In both cases the Redskins were left with third-and-long situations, which are tough to convert at any spot on the field let alone where there’s less room to operate.

“There have been miscues and poor execution and we get ourselves in different situations like third and long,” Paulsen said, “and we get bogged down and then have to make extraordinary plays to get out of it. It’s a combination of everything. It’s no one thing.”

Defenses also have taken away some of what can be tough to stop in the red zone: the bootleg. Against Oakland, the Raiders end rushed at Griffin as he circled out of the bootleg. In this situation he’s supposed to stop and then throw; Paulsen, the primary target, is open. Griffin then threw incomplete outside to Garcon. Against Dallas, end DeMarcus Ware rushed at Griffin on a bootleg, forcing an off-target throw to running back Alfred Morris, who then dropped a pass to his inside.

The more Griffin becomes a threat here with his legs, the more other aspects will work like zone read fakes – a year ago teams had to decide if Griffin or Morris would get the ball only to be burned by a pass in the flat to wide open fullback Darrel Young.

“Whenever coordinators have the option to do both, they know they can be successful doing it, it puts the defense in a bind,” Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. “You can’t settle in on the calls you want to run that will put you in the best situation.”

And for the offense that means getting in the end zone.

“Any time you get field goals, you really can’t count on winning,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to get touchdowns."

Redskins game day: Ten thoughts

October, 13, 2013
1. One thought I came away with Friday: Mike Shanahan must feel good about this matchup or the game plan they’ve put together. He was very loose on Friday in our dealings with him. After his news conference a few of us talked to him about heated rivalries. Al Davis’ name came up. So Shanahan told a story about a 1994 game in which San Francisco quarterback Steve Young nailed Davis with a throw in pregame (Davis was standing on the Niners’ side of the field, ticking off the players). This story is public knowledge so I’m not revealing anything new here. But it was Shanahan’s relaxed demeanor that was telling -- and his drop-the-mic exit after finishing the story. It’s not always that way.

2. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is off to a good start and playing better than he did in 2012 when coming off knee surgery to repair multiple ligaments. He looks more like the player he was before the knee injury. By the way, one of his better plays this season occurred against Detroit when tackle Nick Fairley knocked him out of the way, only to have Lichtensteiger peel back and block him before he reached quarterback Robert Griffin III. The coaches loved the play. Alas, the league did not and fined him $7,850 for the block.

3. Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, who has a team-best four sacks, moves around a lot in the Cowboys’ 4-3 front. He’ll also stand up quite a bit, especially when on the right side. Redskins players say it’s clear he’s still adjusting to playing from a three-point stance. However, they also say Ware has been strong against the run from this position. It enables him to get into the pads of the tackles quicker and drive them back deeper. He will play on the left side, too. Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is a good matchup against Ware because of his athleticism and long arms. But one reason some tackles struggle against Ware (there can be many reasons) is because of his long arms. It’s tough for them to get control of him. Tyler Polumbus is not considered a long-armed tackle. Just something to watch.

4. The Redskins are fortunate to such depth at tight end. If Logan Paulsen doesn’t play they can still use two quality tight ends in Fred Davis and Jordan Reed so there’s no real reason to change what they want to do. Paulsen is the best blocker of the group and that enables the Redskins to use their play-action better. But Davis has improved over the years as a blocker, both with his footwork and hand placement. He does it well enough that they can easily sell the run with him in the game in this role. Reed is much more of a pass-catcher at this point.

5. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has thrown well from an empty backfield set this season: 21-for-25, 393 yards and a touchdown. He’s only been sacked twice. Last week against Denver, Romo completed 11-of-14 for 272 yards from this look. This look allows Romo to get rid of the ball fast. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal, which helps as well.

6. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo will face left tackle Tyron Smith for the first time. He got a scouting report from Ryan Kerrigan, who faced him two years ago when Smith played on the right side. “He’s a pretty good athlete,” Orakpo said of Smith. “He has great feet, a little lighter than most tackles but an athletic guy with a strong grip. That’s what I’ve noticed. Once he gets a grip on you he holds on. “

7. I know fans love the rivalry and the players say the right things about it being Dallas week. And some players definitely feel something different for a variety of reasons (they’re from Texas, perhaps). But in talking to some players off the record, there’s more of a sense that it’s big because it’s a division game. It’s just not different from playing the Giants or the Eagles.

8. Just a little heads up: Dallas tight end Jason Witten has been targeted 10 times in each of the past two games. He’s responded with 12 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown -- 121 of those yards occurred last week versus Denver. The Cowboys did a good job getting him one-on-one with linebackers, which could be a big headache for the Redskins. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he liked Witten coming out of college and wanted to draft him when he was with New Orleans. “He’s deceivingly fast,” Haslett said. “He’s a great route-runner. He does a good job pushing off. He’s an excellent blocker. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch play. ... He’s consistently been the same guy from Year 1 to now. I don’t see any drop-off.”

9. I’m not sure any Redskins player has made more of a turnaround with the media than receiver Pierre Garcon. Last year, because he was hurt, he was reluctant to be interviewed. There were times he had to be (strongly) persuaded to answer questions. But I’ve yet to see Garcon turn down an interview request this season. It’s a pretty good locker room in that regard.

10. Garcon also plays with an attitude that few have. I see others who have skill, but few can match Garcon’s desire. “The way he plays on the field, he’s an angry guy,” Griffin said. “He plays with a hunger inside of him. And just his ability to run after the catch is what sets him apart, to run through tackles. He never gives up. Every time he catches the ball he’s trying to score a touchdown. That’s what you want from your receivers. You want him to fight for extra yards. You want him to make big plays.”

Redskins Film Review: Offense

September, 24, 2013
1. Left tackle Trent Williams had a terrific game a week ago at Green Bay. But I have not seen the Pro Bowl performer in the Redskins’ other two games, including Sunday. He gave up too much pressure, especially for a guy who has the talent to be an elite player at his position. Williams has played a lot better. I’m not going to point out every mistake, but he did not sustain blocks at the second level. In the fourth quarter he allowed inside pressure. Williams was caught leaning outside and this mistake led to Robert Griffin III getting hit. Several plays later Williams set wide and was still beaten outside, leading to another Griffin hit. Earlier in the game he was called for holding to wipe out a 32-yard gain; he was aggressive against the end and was beat inside. Not used to seeing that sort of pressure allowed by Williams in one game.

2. Fullback Darrel Young blocked well all game; he’s improved each year as a blocker and while he hasn’t been even an occasional weapon yet, he is helping when he’s in the game. Young had a key block on Pierre Garcon's end-around on the first play of the game. He blocked the end a few plays later on a zone read. And he had a pancake block on a defensive end. The end sort of slowed when he rushed, but Young lit him up. Later, he popped rookie end Ziggy Ansah (whom I like, by the way; has a good future). There was one time in which the Redskins wanted to throw a screen to Young, but the Lions read it and Griffin couldn’t throw the ball.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Pierre Garcon
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are looking for more depth at receiver to complement Pierre Garcon.
3. Receiver Pierre Garcon puts in as much work as anyone at catching the ball and it continues to show in games, where his hands have been reliable. Yes, I know: He’ll now drop several passes next week. But through three games and even in the preseason his hands have been strong. Though I’m not sure Garcon and Griffin are on the same page when it comes to the quarterback’s knee, they definitely are in synch most of the time on the field. Griffin can throw with more trust in Garcon’s direction because of his ability to shield defenders and withstand big hits.

4. Their timing or reads aren’t always the best on deeper routes. It happened in the Eagles game where Garcon and Griffin read a play differently, leading to a bad miss. It happened Sunday; can’t tell if Griffin thought Garcon was going to run a deep comeback or turn out. Garcon did not have a step on the defender, though he could have gotten inside him. The pass ended up about 5 yards from Garcon.

5. The two did connect well on a back shoulder pass in the second quarter. Both have to read that right and they did, with Garcon turning out once he failed to gain leverage on the defensive back. The pass was right there. Garcon has been as productive as hoped for this season.

6. Tight end Jordan Reed threw a nice block on running back Alfred Morris' 30-yard touchdown run. The Lions’ defensive end lost contain on the outside and that enabled Morris to get wide. But Reed also did a good job moving his feet to get around. In the times where I’ve seen Reed not hold his block, it’s usually related to his footwork as much as anything. On this one, he did a good job. Reed also did a nice job on a 10-yard Morris run that was nullified by Garcon lining up wrong. Again: footwork.

7. That last play also was set up by classic Morris: on an inside toss, the linebackers flowed hard to the playside and he cut back to the left to an opening, then juked a safety and cut inside. He also showed good vision on his touchdown as a defensive back filled a gap that he was going to cut into. But Morris bounced wide and won the footrace. He’s playing at a high level the past two games.

8. Also, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh started controlling the middle even more in the second half. Not sure I’ve seen a tackle with the motor Suh has -- the guy played 70 of the 73 snaps Sunday. That’s phenomenal. And he was dominating late. Three times over four plays (covering two series), Suh made a huge impact. First: penetration through the middle (against center Will Montgomery) to force a 13-yard loss on a sack. Next: He shed guard Chris Chester and caught Garcon on a smoke route to the left for 5 yards. Next: He got past Chester to the outside, reached out and slowed Morris, holding him to three yards when more would have been available.

9. Nick Fairley = Albert Haynesworth. In many ways.

10. Kory Lichtensteiger has played better than he did a year ago, perhaps helped by being one more year removed from his surgery. He made a block Sunday that I don’t think he would have made a year ago. Fairley swatted Lichtensteiger aside, knocking him a couple yards to the inside. But Lichtensteiger regained himself, peeled back inside and dove at Fairley, preventing him from hitting Griffin.

Redskins' offense welcomes more rush

September, 12, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The country saw a Redskins team failing to handle extra numbers. The numbers backed up the perception. It wasn’t just due to the rust of quarterback Robert Griffin III playing his first game in eight months.

The questions after Monday’s loss are: What does it means going forward? Will teams now send extra rushers at Griffin, testing his elusiveness as well as upsetting the rhythm of the Redskins’ passing attack? As one Redskins veteran said, “I hope they do.” His point: They had success against these looks a year ago and the rules of the offense, from the blocking to the hot receivers, make it tough to fully stop.

“It’s going to happen,” Griffin said. “We did get blitzed last year; the biggest thing was we weren’t getting blitzed on third down very often. ... [Philadelphia] had some gaping holes to come through and get me. You just go with whatever you see and if teams are going to blitz, you’re ready for that.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Griffin faced a five-man rush or more on 22 dropbacks Monday, two of which resulted in sacks. In those situations, Griffin completed 9 of 20 passes for 78 yards and one interception. Last season, he faced five-man or more rushers on 83 occasions and completed 56 passes for 822 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, he faced five or more pass-rushers on only 21 percent of his dropbacks -- the lowest rate in the NFL -- and it dropped to 19.4 percent on third downs.

The Redskins aren’t too worried that a trend will develop. Actually, they don’t mind if teams continue to blitz them.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Robert Griffin III
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsRobert Griffin III missed a wide open Darrel Young on this cornerback blitz from Cary Williams that resulted in a sack.
“I don’t know if they want to blitz us, especially if Robert makes them miss, he’ll definitely make them pay,” receiver Pierre Garcon said.

That’s what they didn’t do Monday. The game did show that Griffin and the offense can carry forward. Not every extra-rusher situation was handled poorly: a 17-yard bubble screen to Pierre Garcon is one such example. Griffin did a good job on the previous play, too, throwing deep to Garcon against solo coverage in the end zone. It fell incomplete; it was the right read and throw.

But the Redskins want, and need, to do more against these looks. Here’s a look at three blitzes and how, going forward, it could lead to success -- if handled properly:

Looking back: The corner blitz sack by Cary Williams. The automatic read on this play was to hit fullback Darrel Young in the flat. Before Williams blitzed in the second quarter, he inched inside which drew the attention of Garcon, who pointed at him. Griffin carried out a play fake to his right. By the time he turned around to throw to Young, it was too late and he was sacked.

Going forward: The play was executed correctly by most of the players and Young was wide open. If the same scenario unfolds, and Griffin reads the overload, as he often did last year and unloads the ball quicker, it’s at least a gain of 20 yards as no defender was within 20 yards of Young. This one’s an easy fix for a smart quarterback.

Looking back: The intentional grounding. The Redskins did not agree with this call at all because receiver Santana Moss was within 5 yards of the play. Regardless, the blitz right before halftime worked for the Eagles because left tackle Trent Williams got beat inside, forcing Kory Lichtensteiger to help. That opened a lane through Lichtensteiger’s gap for linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

Going forward: Griffin made the right read on the play, looking to his left for Garcon. But Williams took away Garcon’s outside release by his alignment and then with his jam and therefore forced Griffin to hold the ball. It made him look slow in eluding the rush, but this was more about good leverage by the corner, disrupting the timing. The Redskins already have tweaked how they’ll handle such coverage in the future.

Looking back: The interception. There was pressure, but Griffin was not in danger of being sacked as a blitz off the Redskins left side was picked up by Trent Williams. But Cary Williams sat on an out route by Garcon, knowing the pass would come out quick, and made a diving interception.

Going forward: This could be as much a timing issue as anything. As Griffin gets back to a comfort level in the pocket he could be more accurate on the throw, tossing it a bit wider and with more zip -- he was leaning off to the left as he threw. He also had Moss open on the same side, open at the 22-yard line. Moss likely would not have picked up the first down, but in the future it’s the sort of play Griffin made last year: a smart one that avoids the killer mistake.




Sunday, 2/2