Thursday, January 30, 2014
Quick takes: Defense, Morgan and more
By John Keim
It’s easy to forget, but the Redskins did an excellent job against Denver’s offense in their October meeting. And then the game got away from them in the fourth, a byproduct of offensive mistakes as much as anything. But their inability to get off the field on third down after taking a 21-7 lead killed them.
Indianapolis provided the blueprint on slowing this offense, though even the Colts still allowed 33 points. When you can play physically with the Broncos’ receivers, it can slow them down and force Peyton Manning to throw into very tight windows. The Colts’ pass rush got to Manning, but keep in mind they were often backed up deep in their own territory and it was in a loud dome. That gave the defensive linemen a chance to get a good jump.
If Seattle can get any pressure up the middle with its tackles, then it has an excellent shot at slowing this attack. Plus, the Seahawks obviously have a physical secondary, which helps.
Here’s a stat I found interesting and never considered until reading an ESPN the Magazine article by David Fleming: The Redskins had just one pass interference penalty this season (Week 15 by linebacker London Fletcher; David Amerson had one declined in Week 2). Why is that noteworthy? The Seahawks, who had the best secondary and the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, led the NFL with 13 pass interference penalties. They allowed 15.5 fewer points per game than Washington.
The Redskins had nine pass interference penalties in 2012, so it's not as if they will suddenly become better just with more pass interference penalties.
One point of the article: If you play physically all the time, officials will not make that call all the time -- and it blurs the line even more for them as to what’s pass interference and what’s not. So the result is physical play which impedes the receivers and, therefore, effective defense. Fleming also quoted former NFL official Gerry Austin as saying pass interference penalties could become under “major review” in the offseason because of this physical play.
It also helps Seattle that it doesn’t have to rely on more than four rushers too often. The Seahawks recorded 44 sacks (same number as they gave up by the way) and all but 9.5 came from the defensive line. They will blitz (linebacker Bobby Wagner has five sacks), but when you can play physical and combine that with a four-man rush? Makes a big difference. They provide a good blueprint for any defense, but one that’s tough to duplicate because it’s also about finding and developing talent. That’s where the Seahawks have excelled.
I don’t know whether Kyle Shanahan will get the Cleveland offensive coordinator’s position. But from what I’ve heard, the way Washington’s season ended -- and the fire-bomb stories -- have not helped him. I think he’d do a good job in Cleveland and it would be good for him to only worry about coaching, not about trying to help his dad. I think after this experiment, any owner hiring a coach would be wise to say, “No” to any head coach who wants to hire his son as a coordinator. It can work for a little, but when things go bad it makes life even more difficult for many, as we saw this season.
So Josh Morgan is complaining again about Mike Shanahan. If Morgan doesn’t feel like he ever got a good explanation about why he wasn’t playing more, then that’s fine. I have no idea what he was or was not told. I couldn’t care less about any beef between the two. I liked how willing he was in 2012 to make catches on inside routes knowing he was about to be pummeled.
But I do know Morgan was not productive when he played this season. One beef was he didn’t always run routes to the proper depth. He was not a threat after the catch. And he was an inconsistent blocker in the run game (except for the Atlanta game when he consistently missed blocks). His play warranted changes. Last season they did not have a good backup option but Leonard Hankerson’s progress gave them one this past year.
Any team that wants to pick him up next season will see all of this. If Morgan returns, he’ll still have a lot to prove even with a new staff. Even if his beef with Shanahan is legitimate, Morgan will have to own up to his performance. It’s not his fault he wasn’t a good returner; that’s not his gig and he was back there because they never solved this hole. But the rest of his game is on him and he wasn’t good enough.