Washington Redskins: Justin Tuck

Redskins game day: Ten thoughts

December, 29, 2013

  1. We all know what’s at stake in this game, which is nothing. We know that it would take quite a bit for coach Mike Shanahan to return. There have been other crazy years in Washington, but this one will go down as one of the most surprising because of the turn of events, from preseason contender to 3-12 and the change in storylines regarding Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III. Those other bad years? You could see them coming, whether it was Steve Spurrier’s second season or Jim Zorn’s second season. Neither should have been an NFL head coach and their second years proved why. But we’re talking about a coach in Shanahan who has won Super Bowls – yes, I know, with John Elway, but just about every coach is better with a great quarterback and it's still hard to win when you do have them. And we’re talking about a quarterback who went from Heisman, to NFL rookie darling to a question mark with an image to repair, fair or not.
  2. I remember being asked in August on some radio stations if there was a scenario under which Shanahan would not return. My response: Only if there’s some disaster … but it’s hard to think they’ll be that bad.
  3. [+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
    AP Photo/Evan VucciWith 21 of 22 starters back from last season's NFC East title team, a disastrous 2013 would have been hard to foresee for Mike Shanahan and Washington.
  4. And now here they are: that bad and Shanahan’s job likely ending within the next couple of days. I doubt anything happens Sunday night. Shanahan anticipates something happening soon, based on his comments last week. But that might mean a couple days while a settlement is negotiated (unless Shanahan simply says no to one and demands all $7 million).
  5. I thought this was an interesting quote from receiver Santana Moss earlier in the week. He was asked about if players liked playing for Shanahan. Moss: “That’s something I won’t comment on. What does that matter, honestly? I think he’s a great coach. I think he did well by what he tried to do with this team and it just didn’t work. … Last year was an incredible year and you would have wished things would have been different this year. … I was thinking we could have that same kind of year or even better, but it didn’t and we can’t sit back and think about what-ifs and all that.”
  6. I remember the emotion in the locker room after last year’s regular-season finale, the NFC East-clinching win over Dallas. Even guys like Brian Orakpo, who was on injured reserve, were beaming and celebrating. There will be much different emotion Sunday. A lot of players have talked about how this will be the last time they play together. There’s turnover every offseason, but there wasn’t a whole lot last offseason as 21 of 22 starters returned. So it’s a group well-familiar with one another. They know what’s coming in the offseason and they know it will look a whole lot different in the locker room in 2014.
  7. One player I’m curious to see Sunday is Chris Baker. He’s done a nice job down the stretch and he’ll be facing an offensive line that is banged up and not very good right now. Baker, too, is playing for a contract. There are holes in his game, but Baker flashes the ability to penetrate. He’d be good to keep around.
  8. Rookie linebacker Brandon Jenkins hasn’t done a whole lot, mostly because he did not help on special teams. You absolutely need young linebackers who can run to help on special teams. He needs to develop in this area, especially if the Redskins stay in a 3-4 and re-sign Orakpo. Even if they don’t re-sign Orakpo, it’s not as if Jenkins projects to a starter in 2014. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said you can’t evaluate Jenkins fairly because he’s only played 23 snaps this season. Jenkins, of course, is transitioning from a college end to outside linebacker and learning how to drop into coverage. “When I was in Pittsburgh, it took Joey Porter three years,” Haslett said. “Brandon will be a guy that can step in and play here in another year or so, but to say that we gave him a fair evaluation this year, no, I can’t say that.”
  9. I’ll be curious to see how the Giants defend the Redskins and running back Alfred Morris Sunday. They focused heavily on Morris in the first meeting, particularly on the zone-read option game. Morris only carried the ball two times in the second half of a close game (a third carry was wiped out by a penalty). But the Redskins typically like to run against a 4-3 front such as the Giants. Their stretch-zone game can be effective, getting the linebackers to flow hard to the play side. And that sets up their inside-zone toss. The Redskins need to do a better job holding their blocks.
  10. In the first meeting, the Giants often used eight in the box, but not all the time. Morris’ best runs came off stretch zones on plays in which the linebackers awaited a cutback, allowing an offensive lineman to seal them to the inside. But the Giants have a pretty smart and disciplined defense. They don’t trick teams as much as they do their jobs well, starting in the middle with linebacker Jon Beason. He was not often fooled by the action of a play and, because of it, disrupted a few runs. I’ll be curious to see how the Giants handle the bootleg action; athletic end Justin Tuck could make that difficult for Washington.
  11. One reason Nick Williams said he felt better returning kickoffs last week: reps. Though he hadn’t returned any kicks or punts since his first game, he has been doing so in practice. It makes a difference. And an underrated part of the return game is knowing how his blockers will handle certain situations. “I used to say when I had success in college that next year when all the guys graduate I’ll be back, but it still has a lot to do with your blockers and the wedge and scheme,” Williams said. “A lot has to do with who’s in front of you.”

Behind Enemy Lines: Coughlin and Tuck

December, 24, 2013
The situations aren’t comparable: Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants; Mike Shanahan hasn’t won a playoff game in Washington. Coughlin has posted two losing seasons in 10 years with the Giants; Shanahan has lost double-digit games in three of his four seasons with Washington.

And this is not a call for continuity in Washington. If a regime isn’t working – and 24-39 is a hard sell – then change takes place. But, for Coughlin and the Giants, continuity has helped. Coughlin said he was impressed before taking the job about the organization’s philosophy and praised their ability to put people in positions to “do their job and support them.”

"Once the winning started or whatever, it became a real part of the tradition of the franchise. I think it’s very important. The continuity is very important,” he said.

Coughlin and Giants defensive end Justin Tuck both had a couple interesting comments in their conference calls with the Washington media.

Coughlin on if he has the same passion for coaching: “Sure. Absolutely. I mean, probably even more because there are a lot of those that are telling you that you didn’t do very well and you’re not a very good coach and you’re not this and you’re not that, so perhaps you have something to prove.”

Tuck on facing a quarterback such as Kirk Cousins with a quick release: “We’ve got a lot of practice against quarterbacks like him, guys that … understand what the defense wants to see with him pre-snap. Like you said, he gets the ball – most of the time, he already knows where those one or two guys are going to be, getting the ball out of his hands quickly. It makes it tough to get pressure on guys like that. … A lot of times with mobile quarterbacks, they at least give you time to get to them. Once you get there, that’s a different story, but at least they give you time to get there. It’s a challenge, but I feel like we’ll be up for the challenge.”

Redskins Film Review: The run game

December, 4, 2013
1. I know the Giants were trying to take Alfred Morris away; it was evident watching Sunday night and even more so when watching the game again. On the read-option, for example, most eyes usually were on Morris. The ends would crash hard at him and the linebackers would sit in the hole. They forced Robert Griffin III to keep the ball every time. They usually positioned eight defenders in the box, though they were creative with the safeties. At times Antrel Rolle would be up, then backpedal at the snap while Will Allen raced up on the other side. Or Rolle would be aligned in the slot on the left only to drop to deep middle while Allen rotated.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants' defensive focus this past Sunday night was clear -- stop Washington RB Alfred Morris.
2. Having said that, it’s not the first time a team focused hard on Morris. Sometimes you just need to impose your will (if you don’t think you can, then is that a problem?). I understand that they weren’t converting third downs and I don’t always subscribe to the got-away-from-the-run-too-early mantra. You always have to look at why the game unfolded a certain way. They still ran the ball Sunday night until the final drive. This was about one of the NFL’s best rushers only touching the ball for two official carries in the second half of a close game. The Redskins' five runs after Morris’ final carry gained 17 yards – and 10 came on a triple-option toss to Santana Moss.

3. Still, there were issues in the run game so it’s easy to see why the coaches weren’t confident in certain calls (though Morris’ two runs in the second half gained 15 yards and a third, called back for holding, managed six).

4. One play in particular showed how much they missed Darrel Young. It’s tough to knock Evan Royster, who was out of position as a fullback. But he whiffed on a block on an outside zone to Alfred Morris. Had Royster blocked or even obstructed the safety, then the outside was set up for a strong gain, thanks to blocks by tight end Logan Paulsen, left tackle Trent Williams and receiver Pierre Garcon. Instead, it turned into a two-yard loss.

5. I saw one time that Morris really had an issue with the turf, slipping on a cut. But he still gained four yards on the third-quarter play.

6. The Redskins did not do a good job of getting to the second level in this game, sometimes because of how the front played them and other times because they just failed to get there in time. There was one time when left tackle Trent Williams failed to block linebacker Jon Beason because the end shoved him as he stepped off the line. A potential solid run by Griffin was then lost because Beason slid over to force him outside into a one-yard gain. Paulsen and Garcon had their men blocked. Another time guard Kory Lichtensteiger was held by the lineman that he and Williams were doubling. But overall the Giants’ linebackers were too clean.

7. The problem in the stretch-zone scheme is that you need everyone to block well. When they do, big plays result. But if guys on the outside aren’t holding blocks or if linemen can’t get off their double teams then it won’t go well. The Redskins had too much of the negative scenario – and it was far from just the line’s fault.

8. There were missed blocks all over the place. You have to keep in mind that the Giants defense isn’t bad so they’re going to get off blocks. Tight end Fred Davis missed a couple blocks, including on the second play of the game when, had he sealed Beason, a two-yard run would have probably gone for 10. Davis missed a handful of blocks; I know, he hasn’t played a lot and perhaps there was some rust. That’s fine. He still missed the blocks. If you want to prove a point, then go out and play that way. Logan Paulsen has missed some too in recent weeks. But he still helped on multiple plays in this area.

9. I heard former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley talk about center Will Montgomery’s line calls. One thing that’s been easy to notice is how often the line seems to be confused by a blitz or stunt this season. That didn’t happen as often last year, but the Redskins did not see as many “exotic” calls as they have this season. Somehow Justin Tuck ended up free Sunday to get one of his four sacks. On a zone-read play-action fake in the fourth quarter, the corner blitzed from the left side and was picked up by right tackle Tyler Polumbus. Right guard Chris Chester had pulled to the left and Montgomery and Lichtensteiger were doubling another lineman. And Tuck, amazingly, had a free run to Robert Griffin III. Tuck dominated the right side, shooting inside Chester for a sack. Another time he knocked Polumbus to the ground with a hard jab off the snap. He played the zone-read well. Just a fantastic game.

10. Royster was not able to create much push for himself at the line in short yardage situations; again, he’s out of place at fullback. On his first third-and-short, Giants tackle Mike Patterson knocked Lichtensteiger into Royster, which didn’t help.

11. Pierre Garcon had a shot at an excellent gain on the bubble screen during the last drive Sunday night. But Moss lost his block and Garcon was tackled after five yards. Had Moss maintained his block, there was a little alley for Garcon.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 1, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 24-17 loss to the New York Giants:

What it means: The speculation over Mike Shanahan’s job will increase dramatically. The Redskins are now 3-9, have lost four in a row and have shown no signs whatsoever this season that they are a good team. It’s one thing to lose at home to San Francisco, which is just a better team. It’s another to lose at home to a 4-7 team when you proclaim to still be capable of playing well. On national TV, no less. The Redskins have some serious questions to ask as an organization, which should have been the case before this game. But there’s no doubt this team has put owner Dan Snyder in a position where he has to consider every alternative. We know all the excuses for the Redskins -- cap penalty, Robert Griffin III’s knee. But that will never explain all that’s gone wrong this season or in this game.

Stock report: Down -- right side of the Redskins’ offensive line. Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus had a rough night against the Giants and Justin Tuck in particular. Tuck had success no matter who he went against. Chester in particular has to play better. Down -- The ability to stay poised in close games and play winning football. Hasn’t happened this year. Up -- linebacker Brian Orakpo. He finished with two sacks and played the run well.

Bad hands: The Redskins could not hold onto the ball on their final drive of the game. They dropped the ball three times on the drive, including one by tight end Fred Davis at the Giants’ 30-yard line. Then, on the final play, receiver Pierre Garcon had the ball stripped from him after catching a pass on fourth-and-1 that would have resulted in a first down.

Up next: The Redskins play a third straight game at home, this time against Kansas City. The Chiefs enter with a three-game losing streak.