Washington Redskins: Philip Rivers

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Griffin
Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”


Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Cousins
Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”


Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.

Redskins' pass rush fails late

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
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Christian PonderBruce Kluckhohn/Bruce KluckhohnWashington linebacker Brian Orakpo's sack on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in the first quarter on Sunday was the only sack the Redskins recorded in the game.

It’s a pass rusher’s dream: a double-digit lead in the second half, providing a chance to focus on rushing the passer and picking up a sack. Or two.

The Redskins have been presented with those situations in each of the past three games. They haven’t feasted.

The Redskins led Denver by 14 points in the third quarter and lost. They led San Diego by 10 in the fourth quarter and surrendered the lead before winning in overtime. And they blew a 13-point third-quarter lead at Minnesota. What could have been a good stretch for the Redskins turned into a frustrating one, with two losses.

“We let those leads go,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “That’s disappointing because that’s a situation we want. We want them to be in obvious pass situations and we weren’t able to capitalize defensively.”

You can’t just blame the defense. In each of those games the offense also did not do its job. Against Denver, after the Broncos cut the lead to seven the Redskins responded with two first downs on their next five drives (and one turnover). Against San Diego the Redskins managed one first down on their next drive following the Chargers’ cutting it to three points. And, against Minnesota they managed one first down in three of their last four drives of the game. They need to respond better.

But here are the passing numbers of opposing quarterbacks the past three weeks when the Redskins lead by 10 or more points: 15-for-19, 153 yards, two touchdowns and one sack. Yes, they’ve faced Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers, two of the NFL’s best. But Christian Ponder went 6-for-6 with a touchdown against them, too.

And, when the Redskins have led in the second half the past three games quarterbacks have completed 29-of-42 passes for 331 yards, three touchdowns, one sack and an interception.

“Teams haven’t gone away with what they’re going to do in the second half,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “You get those situations where you get a team that says, ‘Screw it we’ll start chucking the ball up left and right.’ Teams are sticking to their game plans, establishing the run, a little play action. It’s rare to see that. [Usually] you get teams that are down and they get pass happy.”

Orakpo is right; Denver ran the ball on five of its next 11 plays after falling behind by 14. Minnesota passed the ball on six of its nine plays after trailing by 13, but the threat of running back Adrian Peterson enabled the play-action to still work. Ponder hurt them by extending plays, too; the Redskins rushed six and played man on his 14-yard run late in the third quarter.

“To their credit it worked,” Orakpo said of the Vikings. “They stuck to the game plan and they didn’t panic. It almost came off like they weren’t down at all. We weren’t able to take off like me and Ryan wanted to.”

But the Redskins only hit Minnesota’s quarterbacks once on the last 14 pass drops. They did not hit Manning after the 21-7 lead. They did hit Rivers once and sacked him another time. In general, though, the pressure hasn’t been there.

In many cases, teams have attacked the Redskins with quick three-step drops and throws. Washington has tried to run stunts and blitzes, but the quick throws negate them. They ran an occasional stunt against the Vikings on a third and six, but Ponder unloaded the ball in 2.1 seconds; so by the time Orakpo raced inside the pass was gone. Another time on third down Ponder threw in 1.3 seconds for a first down. Manning and Rivers threw quickly as well, but there were downs when both held the ball a little longer (on the sack of Rivers, he had the ball for 4.4 seconds because of sound man-to-man coverage). The answer typically is quick pressure inside, as the Redskins' offense has felt. But quick throws hurt there, too.

That means the coverage must buy the rush more time. The Redskins played more zone versus Minnesota, in part most likely to help defend Peterson better when he tries to bounce wide, and the Vikings pounced with quick throws to open areas.

“When you’re stunting you need them to hold the ball a half second or two longer,” Orakpo said.

Of course, defenses have pressured Washington on seemingly quick passes. Griffin was sacked in 2.4 seconds and then 2.8 seconds on consecutive plays in the third quarter last week -- not necessarily instant pressure, but certainly quick. So it can be done. Ponder escaped some pressure, but he did have a few drops where after 2.8 seconds he still faced no pressure.

If the Redskins want to turn their season around they must improve with their four-man rushes in particular.

“I’m surprised by it last week because we had them in situations we wanted them,” Kerrigan said. “We were up 27-14 and their backs were against the wall. As a pass rusher that’s a situation you dream of. That was disappointing to let that lead go. That’s the game Rak and I and everyone on the defense wants.”

A lot of it comes back to an inability to stop teams on third downs. In those three games, when playing with the lead in the second half, the Redskins have allowed six of 11 third downs to be converted. That goes back to pressure -- and coverage, too. The offense must be more consistent to help, but at some point the defense needs to do it themselves.

“If we were satisfied ,we would have won those games in the second half,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “So that’s what we’re talking about. What do you have to do to improve in that area? You’ve got to get better on third downs.”

Lessons Learned: David Amerson

November, 6, 2013
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1. David Amerson loves to play aggressive. That’s what enabled the Washington Redskins' rookie cornerback to intercept San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in the fourth quarter Sunday. He played for the inside break by receiver Keenan Allen, was right behind him and ran through his upfield shoulder to grab the ball. A pretty interception.

2. He still gets greedy, a knock on him from his North Carolina State days. Playmakers tend to be greedy; it’s how they make plays. But it also leads to big plays allowed, too. And it makes such players easy to set up as the Chargers did in the fourth quarter. Allen had been running inside breaking routes all game, until he took one outside after Amerson’s interception. It resulted in an easy 16-yard touchdown catch. Amerson played for a slant route and lost.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThis tackle by Redskins cornerback David Amerson against Chargers running back Danny Woodhead was a pivotal play in Washington's win.
“He gave that to me all game, so I anticipated it. I was extra aggressive. It was a great counter move,” Amerson said. “The best way to defend a double move is keeping your eyes on the receiver, not in the backfield. I was getting a little greedy.”

It’s tough to know where that line is between greed and aggressiveness. And the coaches say they like his mindset, but that fatigue led to his late-game mistakes. But Amerson has been set up in other games and will continue to be tested in this manner; teams often save that double move for late in the game as the Chargers did.

“Just being smart and knowing when to and when not to,” Amerson said. “That’s what really separates some of the great corners. That comes along with experience. ... There are some things you just have to live with, and you’re out there on the edge. All your mistakes are highlighted or touchdowns. It’s unfortunate, but as a corner it’s something you have to deal with.”

3. He made two excellent plays near the goal-line in the fourth quarter. The first was the diving tackle of Danny Woodhead, who was inches from touching the pylon with the ball. A knock on Amerson before the draft was his lack of physical play and his competitiveness. But on this play he was physical and competitive.

“I never thought I wasn’t a physical guy,” Amerson said. “People can say what they want, but you’ve just got to go out and compete and let your play speak for itself. A play like that will help me prove my case.”

Then, on third and goal from the 1, he defended Allen, who ran inside and then cut back to the outside.

“When I see him going in,” Amerson said, “out of the corner of my eye I see Philip scrambling and automatically I’m thinking this doesn’t look right, so I knew he was going to try to sit down and come back out.”

4. But Amerson was reminded of another valuable lesson when Allen caught a 12-yard pass off a Rivers scramble in the second quarter on a third-and-10. Allen ran another inside route, but when Rivers broke the pocket to his right, Allen cut back outside and was wide open.

“You can turn back to him and play better, but some things you’ve got to live with,” Amerson said.

5. One week earlier, Amerson did a nice job on Denver's Eric Decker. The Broncos tested him on two passes downfield in the same series; neither were complete. Decker wasn’t open.

“I was just trying to pressure him with outside leverage, and he kept releasing to my leverage,” Amerson said. “It allowed me to get my hands on him, and that killed most of everything.”

6. He’s feeling more comfortable in press coverage, something he did not play last year. He still gets out of position in this coverage occasionally, but has improved.

“The main thing is experience, knowing how a guy releases and studying your guy,” he said. “It’s just staying patient. That’s the biggest thing, and using my advantages and my length. Guys give you all this stuff and try to throw you off-balance, and all of a sudden you’re running side by side with them or they’re in front of you. You have to really study your guy.”

Brandon Meriweather didn't back down

November, 5, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather didn't draw a penalty. At times he changed up the way he hit; other times he still went high -- albeit lower than he had in the past. Whether he'll continue this style will be answered in coming weeks. But for one game, Meriweather exited without any issues (though San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews didn't like one hit).

Meriweather
Meriweather did not head hunt or knee hunt, though he certainly tackled low at times (as do many defensive backs). Here's a breakdown of his tackles:
  • Second and 10, Redskins' 42-yard line, second quarter. Meriweather is about seven yards off the ball at the snap and runs up to tackle Mathews up the middle; Meriweather hits him under his pads and tries to wrap up as Mathews leans forward, bringing him down after six yards.
  • Second and 1, Chargers' 37, second quarter. Mathews bounces outside and Meriweather lines him up, sprinting from deep middle. Meriweather lowers his head on his approach but appears to first hit with his left shoulder, hitting Mathews just below his right shoulder pad as the Chargers' back lowers his head a little as well. It's a bit close for comfort. Mathews exchanges words with Meriweather after the play, pointing at him as officials separate the two.
  • First and 10, Chargers' 15, second quarter. Meriweather, playing deep half on the right side, reads a swing pass to running back Danny Woodhead in the left flat. Meriweather aggressively pursues and hits the 5-foot-8 Woodhead in his legs, just above the knees. It's his only tackle attempt that low. I wouldn't say he was aiming for knees considering this was his only tackle in that area.
  • First and 10, Redskins' 45, second quarter. Another pass to Woodhead with Meriweather in deep middle. Again, he pursues aggressively and hits Woodhead just under his shoulder pads.
  • Third and 3, Chargers' 30, fourth quarter. Rivers dumps a short pass over the middle to receiver Keenan Allen, with Meriweather about 10 yards downfield. Allen spins away from one tackle, running away from Meriweather. The Redskins' safety hits him between his waist and shoulder pads, wraps him up and tackles him. A good tackle.

Ten Observations: Redskins 30, Chargers 24

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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video.
  1. I don’t know if Sunday turned the Washington Redskins’ season around; I do know it would have been over with a loss, especially with both Dallas and Philadelphia winning. And until they play well in consecutive games it’ll be difficult to take them seriously. But Sunday was a good bounce-back game after a horrendous finish in Denver and after some bad plays in the first half (blocked field goal, tipped pass for a touchdown). They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, but the focus was on a goal-line stand and touchdown drive in overtime. Quite a turnaround indeed. Now, do it again Thursday and we’ll talk.
  2. Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield knew the Chargers would try to catch them with their nickel defense on first-and-goal from the 1. So Cofield played it as a run. His penetration made a big difference in stopping Danny Woodhead. “I can just fire off the ball; I don’t want to get knocked out of the A gap,” he said. “I’m trying to force them to make a cut right away. I was able to penetrate and he had to cut back.” If Cofield had played for the pass? “You can get caught playing high or in a pass rush and get knocked out of your gap. … If it was a pass, then God bless 'em.” Defensive end Stephen Bowen said, “I was surprised they had Danny Woodhead in for a run.” We’ll add Bowen to the list.
  3. The Redskins were caught with one defensive back in a goal-line situation by Denver last week. When they shifted to a pass, the Redskins were overmatched and Denver scored. The Redskins tweaked that package this week. The result? Corner DeAngelo Hall was in the game and covered tight end Antonio Gates on the fade. Hall jammed him and disrupting the timing. “Thank God I was on him,” Hall said. “Normally we line up with a bunch of big guys trying to stop the run. It worked out for us.”
  4. Corner David Amerson made a terrific fourth-quarter play, intercepting Philip Rivers at the Redskins’ 49-yard line. It led to a field goal and 24-14 lead. Receiver Keenan Allen, Amerson’s boyhood buddy, took an inside release, tipping Amerson to two possibilities: a sucker route in which he cuts back out or a dig. Allen leaned hard on the outside to get back inside, another clue. “Basic stuff,” Amerson said. “I played the dig heavy and was able to get around him.” After that, the Chargers used more double moves to counter his aggressiveness – as they did on a touchdown later in the quarter, with Allen breaking hard inside and cutting out.
  5. On the fourth-and-2 that San Diego converted with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the game Hall could be seen pointing to his right. There was supposed to be an adjustment, but only Hall and Amerson got it. Corner Josh Wilson and Hall ran with the front man against the Chargers’ bunch formation while Amerson ran toward Antonio Gates near the first-down marker. Amerson called it a miscommunication as Wilson should have dropped to the outside – where Allen caught the ball.
  6. Still not sure the reason for all the batted passes (the field goals, based on replays both looked too low). It’s not like Robert Griffin III has had a lot of issues in this area. On the first one that resulted in a touchdown, Griffin paused before he threw and, with his eyes focused on his target, San Diego’s Lawrence Guy raised his arms at the right time and deflected the pass. Another time, there was too much push and a hand was in Griffin’s face. It’s not always a height issue; it’s about timing and reading clues for the release.
  7. But Griffin did a good job with his eyes on a critical third-and-8 on the game-winning drive in overtime, forcing linebacker Reggie Walker to stay in the middle. That enabled Griffin to squeeze in a pass to tight end Jordan Reed. Had Griffin eyed him the whole way, the pass would not have been open.
  8. The drift pass – when the Redskins fake the play-action and hit a receiver down the seam -- still works. There have been times it hasn’t this season, but it’s not as if teams had taken it away (some had based on how they used their safeties over the middle). But San Diego’s linebackers were fooled time and again on the play fakes, leaving nice throwing lanes that Griffin used to make big passes. He connected with Pierre Garcon on one of these routes for 17 yards in overtime, making a tremendous throw in tight coverage. As the game progressed, Griffin threw with more rhythm and decisiveness (and trust). There are missed plays, but it was a good bounce-back game from Griffin.
  9. Garcon was a beast all day and finished with seven catches for 172 yards. His blocking was good, but his hands were fantastic and he made plays downfield for a change. He made another one-handed grab while covered by corner Derek Cox and then caught a pass behind him while going to the ground on a dig route. Griffin has two targets that he can trust to catch the ball as long as it’s near them: Garcon and Reed. No one has been more frustrated the past several weeks than Garcon. But nobody plays harder all game than this guy.
  10. It’s hard to imagine a more popular player in the locker room than Darrel Young. All the guy does is try to open holes for Alfred Morris. Young has always wanted more opportunities, but it never affects how he plays. So players were genuinely thrilled that he scored three touchdowns in this one. They knew he could have success based on how the Chargers handled those situations, with the line playing straight up; that left gaps Young ran through.

Goal-line stand might have saved season

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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LANDOVER, Md. -- Less than a yard dictated the future of the Washington Redskins' season. Three plays that could reshape a season-gone-bad. Or, perhaps, lead to an unofficial elimination loss, followed by weeks of frustration and speculation. Which is not what anyone in the Redskins' organization had in mind just two months ago.

Still, that's what the Redskins faced when the San Diego Chargers lined up with a first and goal inside the 1-yard line. Moments earlier, Danny Woodhead dove for the pylon, missing by inches as the replay showed. But with all sorts of momentum, San Diego was in good shape with 21 seconds and two time outs.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead
AP Photo/Alex BrandonWashington's goal-line stand may be a turning point for the Redskins' season.
Here's how the Redskins responded: stopping Woodhead – really? – for no gain; defending a fade route to tight end Antonio Gates; leaving no one open for Philip Rivers on a sprint rollout to the right.

Yes, San Diego punctuated the drive with a field goal to send the game into overtime as the Redskins blew a 10-point lead.

But.

The offense responded with a 78-yard drive to win the game in overtime, a 30-24 victory that left them at 3-5 and with a pulse.

“That was a big-time stand and a big-time drive by the offense,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “You know it can be some momentum for us, big-time momentum for us. It says there's a lot of fight in this team.”

And it might have saved the season.

“Maybe. We'll see,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “This was a must win. We're not going to say that [before the game] but it was a must win for us. We needed this game. It was remarkable the way our guys fought.”

They needed to fight, with a game that had slipped away and a season that was in danger of doing the same. The Redskins can point to last year all they want, but had they fallen to a 2-6 record they would have been alive only mathematically. Now? They still need to win consecutive games before they can think they're back in any race.

But the goal-line stand and subsequent overtime drive gave them a chance. "The way we won the game, that can be a turning point for us," Griffin said. "It’s definitely a team bonding type game."

Woodhead went nowhere on first down and the fade to Gates, whose route was thrown off by a hard jam from corner DeAngelo Hall, was too long. On third down Rivers sprinted right, no one was open and he threw incomplete to the back of the end zone to Keenan Allen. The Chargers tied the game; the Redskins celebrated. Or, at least, exhaled.

“It's a confidence builder, definitely,” Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “It was do or die man. Guys stood up man and everyone did their job. That's why we were able to be successful.”

“A character building situation,” Hall said.

It needed to happen. Perhaps what the Redskins needed was a game in which they were tested this way, forcing a prove-yourself moment. They made plenty of mistakes on this drive, miscues that could have cost them the game. They came through when needed.

“Anybody else would have folded,” Orakpo said. “Your first and one on the goal line. They converted big play after big play. Momentum was swinging to their side. You could hear the gasps in the stadium with our fans and everybody really not sure. We looked in each other's eyes and just made sure that, look they do not score; they will not cross the goal line. It was remarkable, one of the best situations I've been in in a while.”

It kept their season off life support. They're still alive.

Redskins Gameday: Ten thoughts

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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1. When the Washington Redskins turned their season around in 2012, there was a different feel in the locker room. You felt more confidence, more belief that the Redskins would play better and probably win more. Yes, it seemed like some guys were a bit crazy for their optimism – Darrel Young, DeAngelo Hall, Robert Griffin III – but it turns out they weren’t. I do not get that same vibe this season. There is definitely more frustration and confusion about the struggles. Nobody is saying, “We’re about to do something special,” as Young did after the bye last season.

2. That’s why Sunday is an absolute must win for Washington. Sure the Redskins could get to 3-6 if they lose here and then win at Minnesota. This is a different team. Last year, there seemed to be more confidence. This year, they need to build some and the only way left for them to do so is win. Please, no more talk about progress or encouraging signs in 15- and 24-point losses. Those days are done. A loss Sunday will lead to a lot more frustration, questions and whispers about why it’s so bad. It’ll lead to more speculation about Mike Shanahan’s future – should he receive a contract extension or not? It’ll lead to more questions about Griffin, his relationship with the coach, his development and more. You’ve been warned.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsSan Diego's Philip Rivers has been among the NFL's elite quarterbacks this season.
3. Speaking of Griffin, it’s way too early to say he can’t become this or that as a quarterback. This is the first season he’s had to become more of a pocket passer. Baylor did not prepare him at all for life as an NFL passer; that’s not a knock on the Bears but it’s just reality. Griffin needs a full (and quiet) offseason of work. One without documentaries. Sometimes it’s smart to slide into the background.

4. It’ll be interesting to see how the Redskins fare against San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is having an outstanding season. One attribute I’ve always liked about Rivers is his ability to lead receivers into the open area for a catch. He had one such throw against the Colts that resulted in a touchdown. For a guy with such a high completion percentage (helped by a lot of short throws), Rivers is unafraid to stick the ball into tight windows. Makes it tough on defensive backs.

5. After Sunday, the Redskins will have faced Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning and Rivers. That’s six of the NFL’s top-12 rated passers – and three of the top four (Drew Brees the lone exception). “He’s as good as all the quarterbacks we’ve played,” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said of Rivers. “He can make some of the best unorthodox throws you see out there. No matter who’s out there he’s been successful.” It’s why the Chargers can keep playing well despite a number of injuries along the offensive line. “It’s cool to play against the best in the league,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

6. Speaking of the line, San Diego uses a lot of man blocking, unlike most teams Washington plays who feature zone blocking. Facing zone blocking teams are a pain-in-the-butt for a front seven that often is left guessing who will be blocking them and from what angle. The Chargers have size at tackle – King Dunlap on the left side is 6-foot-9, 330 pounds while Jeromey Clarey is 6-6, 320 pounds. An interesting matchup against Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan. Rivers has been sacked only 11 times.

7. It’s sort of amazing what San Diego’s defense has done lately, going 11 quarters without allowing a touchdown. Yeah, Jacksonville accounts for four of those quarters, but so does Indianapolis. Opponents only convert 36.3 percent of third downs against this defense – and that’s an area where the Redskins’ offense struggles.

8. But here’s your optimistic stat: In the first three games of the year, against good running backs (Houston, Philadelphia, Tennessee), San Diego was 28th against the run and 29th in yards per carry. The Redskins have a good back in Alfred Morris and rank first in yards per carry. I don’t think San Diego can get away with playing mostly seven-man boxes like Denver did last week. The Redskins ran well, but Denver rarely used eight-man fronts. The Redskins need to hurt the Chargers on the ground.

9. San Diego’s defensive front does not have a great pass-rusher, but it has a number of good players. The Chargers also use a lot of looks to try and create a pass rush. Against the Colts I saw four-man fronts (they’re a 3-4 team); there were slot blitzes; they slanted the line against run looks, forcing cutbacks into defenders. Nobody on the defense has more than three sacks, but they do have 12 players who have recorded at least half a sack. The secondary lacks playmakers.

10. Finally, the Chargers have one of the best tight ends in Antonio Gates, who, like the Redskins’ Jordan Reed, uses his basketball footwork to get open. He’s a big target (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) who leads the team with 42 receptions. You don’t cover him with just one guy. So it’ll be up to a variety of players – at times linebackers London Fletcher or Perry Riley among others. You do not use a corner against him. “He’s a very savvy guy,” Fletcher said. “He uses change of directions, change of speeds very well. He has very good deceptive speed. He knows how to position to run his routes.”
Philip Rivers and DeAngelo Hall USA Today SportsDeAngelo Hall, right, and the Redskins' secondary will try to slow down Philip Rivers, who has completed a league-best 73.9 percent of his passes.
This isn’t a compelling game when it comes to storylines. No big-name player is facing his former team. There’s no grudge match. And, in fact, San Diego and Washington have played each other only three times in the past 14 years, and not since 2010.

Still, there is a lot going on in this game. If the 2-5 Washington Redskins are intent on turning their season around, they need to win. Even in a bad division, a 2-6 record would be tough to overcome. At some point, teams just have to play well, and the Redskins must prove that can happen.

For San Diego, the Chargers’ 4-3 start is a good one. However, if they want to stay in the AFC playoff race or remain a threat in the AFC West, they can’t afford to lose to a sub-.500 team.

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's game:

Robert Griffin III threw 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions in winning rookie of the year honors in 2012. This season, he’s thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions through seven games. What has changed with his decision-making?

Keim: Griffin is used to making big plays, and last year, a number of them occurred because of his legs, whether running or extending plays. But that’s not always happening, and in games where his legs aren't a weapon, he has forced some throws. Not all the interceptions are his fault, of course, but in general, that’s been a theme: forcing throws. Also, they’re not able to use as much play-action throws as last year because of game situations, and when that happens, he and the passing game are very, very ordinary. They need to move defenders around, causing chaos in drops, with their zone-read fakes and play fakes. Denver also kept seven in coverage last week, and that’s always trouble for a unit that has just one receiver who threatens a defense in Pierre Garcon (although tight end Jordan Reed does now, too).

Philip Rivers’ stock has dropped the past couple of seasons. But under a new coach, he’s playing at a high level. Why?

Williams: Coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt installed an up-tempo, no-huddle offense focused on the short passing game and getting the ball out quickly. The result has been better decision-making for Rivers. He leads the league in completion percentage this season at 73.9 percent, which is nearly 10 percent more than his career average (64.3). And his 111.1 passer rating (second in the NFL) is more than 15 points higher than his career rating of 95.6. San Diego’s offensive line also has done an excellent job of protecting Rivers. The Chargers have allowed just 11 sacks through seven games, tied for second-best in the NFL.

Washington’s defense is allowing 32.7 points a contest, second-worst in the NFL. Why is Jim Haslett’s defense struggling to keep teams out of the end zone?

Keim: The defense struggled mightily in the first four games but has mostly done its job in the past three games, when the Redskins have been hurt by special teams (two punt returns for a score; a 90-yarder to set up another one) and the offense (turnovers deep in their own territory; an interception return for a score). But this is not a top-level unit by any means. The Redskins' secondary has holes, especially at safety, and the linebackers, as a group, aren't great at coverage. But they've played the run better of late, and they’re causing turnovers. They have two good but not great pass-rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. They have a good nose tackle in Barry Cofield. So they have good parts. They played great for three quarters against Denver; alas, the game went four.

Why has the Chargers’ pass rush been more productive lately?

Williams: Defensive coordinator John Pagano has used some creative defensive fronts and exotic blitz packages to manufacture pressure. Along with that, the ability of interior defensive linemen such as Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes to push the pocket inside have created one-on-one matchups for San Diego’s inexperienced edge rushers. And guys such as Thomas Keiser and Larry English have taken advantage of their opportunities.

Speaking of opportunities, Alfred Morris has followed up an impressive rookie campaign by rushing for 565 yards and four touchdowns through seven games. He leads all running backs with a robust 5.23 yards per carry. How has Morris remained effective, even with Griffin struggling?

Keim: Good question. Morris is better than he was a year ago, thanks to even better vision and stronger legs. Both qualities were good last year, too. Defenses have keyed more on him, knowing that on zone reads, for example, Griffin would not hurt them (until recently). Also, Denver rarely used an eight-man front against Washington in an attempt to play better in coverage. The Redskins usually receive good blocking from their tight ends and receivers, which helps Morris as well. And the line’s continuity shows up in the run game. But Morris deserves a lot of credit. He’s a patient runner who knows how to set up a defense, then cut back once it overcommits. Morris has proved this year that he’s not a creation of the zone read. The key for Washington is giving him more carries; this season's high is 19. Last season he had 10 games with more than 19 carries. Of course, that stems from winning and being in control of games. The Redskins have done little of both this season.

Eric, do you believe in this team yet, or do you still see a lot of holes? If so, where?

Williams: Offensively, San Diego has what it takes to make the playoffs in the AFC. The Chargers are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Rivers’ ability to move the ball in the passing game has been nicely complemented by the emergence of bruising runner Ryan Mathews, who had back-to-back, 100-yard rushing games. But defensively, the Chargers remain a question mark, even though they have not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters. The Chargers’ defensive backfield has just two interceptions this season, and Jarret Johnson leads the team with just three sacks through seven games. The Chargers still lack elite playmakers on defense.

Behind Enemy Lines: Charger Links

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San Diego’s best pass-rusher, outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, is expected to play Sunday after missing the past two weeks with a groin injury. That just means an effective pass rush should be even better. The Chargers have recorded 14 sacks in their past four games.

And during Johnson’s absence, they held teams to a 23.8 third-down conversion rate. Now they get back a healthy linebacker.

“I feel great,” Johnson told reporters. “Obviously, missing the last two games was tough. But the bye week for me fell at a perfect time, considering the injuries I had, and the amount of time I needed to heal. It was perfect.”

According to ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric Williams, Johnson said he liked what he saw from the Chargers’ defense during his absence.

“I just like the energy that we are playing with,” Johnson said. “We seem to be playing better on third down. And any time you’re playing better on third down, it’s easier to build momentum and get excited.

... A rejuvenated Philip Rivers? The stats certainly suggest he’s enjoying the Chargers’ coaching change.

... San Diego does not have an elite pass-rusher, yet the Chargers continue to apply pressure. Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard takes a look at why their rush has been so effective. He focused on outside linebacker Thomas Keiser and end Corey Liuget. Keiser played an excellent game against Jacksonville.

Their improved rush has occurred despite having key players such as Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram and Johnson on the sidelines. Clearly they have depth.

“A lot of us who are making plays on the defense right now, were not starters to begin the season, we’re more role players, but now we’ve had to step up in more significant roles and have been trying to let the defense not skip a beat,” Keiser told Bedard. “There’s no consolation like, ‘Oh, he’s just a backup, it’s OK if he doesn’t do as well.’ There are full expectations that you make all the plays that the starter would make.”

Liuget told Bedard that this attitude stems from Johnson.

“Once Dwight went down, Jarrett stepped up and was like, ‘Hey, we don’t have a guy in this room that has 100 sacks or a Hall of Fame résumé, but I’ll be damned if we’re not going to be one of the most dominant front sevens in the NFL,’” Liuget said. “We told him we had his back because he’s a guy that works hard every day and makes everyone else better around him. That’s why our depth players are doing such an excellent job.”

... Williams takes a midseason look at the Chargers, breaking down how each unit has performed.

... It’s a new, perhaps more modern, version of Martyball that’s taking place in San Diego. The difference now is that the Chargers don’t control the ball via the run, it’s through the air. Their numbers are rather strong.

Five questions facing the Redskins

October, 30, 2013
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  1. Is this a must-win game? They all are, of course, but if the Redskins really want to turn their season around -- a phrase that’s getting old considering how it’s used every week and still hasn’t happened -- then they can’t afford a loss. At 2-6, their season would be shot even in a bad division. Mathematically they’d still be alive, but they have provided zero proof that they are capable of playing well for even two weeks in a row let alone eight. But if they beat San Diego, with a game at struggling Minnesota ... then the season could take a turn.
  2. Can Robert Griffin III develop into a quality passer? Yes. He has a good arm and is a smart kid and works hard. But missing the offseason work hurt him even more than anticipated. He’s still taking too long at times to read the coverage or to anticipate what will be open, and what won’t be, based on pre-snap looks. These issues existed last year, too, but were covered up because his legs served as a weapon and changed the way defenses played the Redskins. So Griffin is still enduring growing pains. If he had played like this last season, no one would have been surprised. In fact, it would have been normal. In some ways he’s learning lessons he probably didn’t have to as a rookie and is making comparable mistakes. Griffin is not a finished product; he just raised the level of expectations rather high. Yes, the talent level around him could be raised but he rarely had a healthy Pierre Garcon last season; Alfred Morris is better and Jordan Reed is a legitimate threat. This is about a quarterback who is still developing.
  3. How good is San Diego? Good enough that it beat Indianapolis 19-9 two games ago and good enough that it could withstand season-ending injuries to two of its receivers, have just one offensive lineman start every game and still have one of the best passing attacks. Most of that is thanks to quarterback Philip Rivers, who leads the NFL in completion percentage (73.9) and is second in passing yards (2,132) and passer rating (111.1). He and tight end Antonio Gates are a lethal combination. And running back Ryan Mathews has posted consecutive 100-yard games. The Chargers are 4-3 and playing well. Beatable? Yes; they’re 2-2 in road games, but that includes a win at Jacksonville. They lost at Tennessee and Oakland and won at Houston. The Chargers’ back seven is vulnerable.
  4. Was there anything to build on from Denver? Bad teams find a way to blow games when they’ve been playing well. That’s what Washington did against Denver. Jacksonville played the Broncos well, too, don’t forget. But for Washington, the run game worked and the defense did its job, though Peyton Manning methodically moved the Broncos down the field after it was 21-7. Washington needed a stop and couldn’t provide it (but the Redskins did provide four turnovers; that’s plenty). Still, if the Redskins run the ball like that and create turnovers? That’s how they climb back into contention. Turnovers have killed them all season, much like they helped them a year ago. So, yeah, there were positives from that game but at this point it’s about wins or playing well for 60 minutes, not 45. A lot of teams can do that.
  5. Will Brandon Meriweather's return help? Sure, as long as he doesn’t start getting too worried about how he’s hitting guys. He must change how he tackles; he can’t play with indecision. But the Redskins missed him on Sunday; E.J. Biggers is a corner who can play safety in spots. At least rookie Bacarri Rambo played a strong game at Denver. That’s the best he’s looked since camp opened. Against another pass-happy team, the Redskins absolutely need what Meriweather brings. If Reed Doughty can play that would help, too. But if Rambo had played all year like he played Sunday, then he would never have lost his job and Meriweather would have stayed at strong safety.
A weekly examination of the Redskins' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 10 | Last Week: 23 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Washington Redskins weren't penalized a whole lot for a fourth-quarter collapse Sunday against the Denver Broncos. The ESPN.com voters dropped Washington only one spot to No. 24.

The good news, if there is such a thing for a 2-5 team that just lost by 24 points: They're the second-highest-rated team in the NFC East. However, that says more about the division than it does anything else. Philadelphia is ranked 26th; the New York Giants are 29th. Meanwhile, Dallas is the highest rated at 13.

This is still the Redskins' third-highest ranking of the season, which tells you all you need to know about this season.

Washington certainly would have dropped more had it not played well for the first three quarters of its 45-21 loss to Denver, holding a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Is it encouraging that the Redskins played well for three quarters? Only if you're looking at the defense, because they executed their game plan well and created turnovers against a potent offense. Heck, even the special teams did their job with the exception of one (ugly) punt.

Yes, the running game worked against Denver, but it resulted in only two touchdowns and did little to open the passing game. Denver seemed intent on forcing Washington to prove it could win a potential shootout with just its running game. The Redskins could not. The Broncos covered well deep; Robert Griffin III often held the ball a long time -- whether by his own doing, play design or inability of the receivers to get free. That led to a series of disasters in the second half.

It won't be easy to turn it around Sunday, even at home against No. 11 San Diego. Quarterback Philip Rivers already has three 400-yard passing games this season.

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