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How It Should Be Remembered: The Redskins’ Loss At Minnesota In Week 9

The Redskins fell to 3-6 with a 29-26 loss at Minnesota on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 2, 2014).  Here were the 10 most important items from the game:

1. Déjà vu all over again

For the second consecutive season, the Redskins improved to 3-5 with an overtime win (San Diego at FedEx Field in 2013; at Dallas in 2014).  And for the second consecutive season, the Redskins fell to 3-6 with a tough-to-take loss at a sub-.500 Vikings team (34-27 on Thursday Night Football in 2013; 29-26 in 2014).

The Redskins now find themselves 3-6 for a fourth straight season.

2. Quarterback Robert Griffin III played well in his return from a six-game absence

Griffin went 18-of-28 for 251 yards, a touchdown and a pick.  He had seven carries for 24 yards.  Griffin registered a Total QBR of 57.8 and a passer rating of 90.0.

The most encouraging aspect of Griffin performance was that he was a play-maker.  Among the examples:

     •    first-quarter third-and-seven 24-yard shotgun completion to running back Roy Helu Jr. on a play on which Griffin escaped potential sacks by linebacker Chad Greenway and defensive end Everson Griffin.  The drive resulted in Kai Forbath’s first-quarter 36-yard field goal.

     •    first-quarter first-and-10 45-yard under-center play-action completion to receiver DeSean Jackson.  The drive resulted in running back Alfred Morris’ early-second-quarter first-and-10 14-yard read-option touchdown run out of the shotgun.

     •    third-quarter first-and-10 13-yard under-center touchdown pass to Jackson, as Griffin fired a bullet into a tight window.  Also on the drive was a third-and-four 17-yard shotgun completion to tight end Jordan Reed.

     •    the drive that resulted in Morris’ fourth-quarter first-and-goal two-yard under-center-handoff touchdown run included an early-fourth-quarter second-and-seven 56-yard shotgun completion to Jackson and a third-and-five eight-yard shotgun completion to Helu off great jobs by Griffin and Helu of working off-schedule.

Griffin went 6-for-6 for 103 yards in the first quarter.  I was not in favor of him starting this game, having preferred McCoy for another game and then Griffin getting the bye week and returning for the Week 11 welcome of Tampa Bay.  But the notion that Griffin wasn’t ready to play well was wrong, as is the idea that McCoy would have been appreciably better.

The negatives for Grffin:

     •    making a low throw to receiver Pierre Garcon on a late-fourth-quarter fourth-and-six shotgun incompletion on the Redskins’ final truly meaningful offensive play of the game.  The worst part of this play was that Griffin had a lot of room with which to run on his left side.  One official play before this one was a third-and-20 14-yard shotgun scramble on which Griffin slid in the vicinity of three Vikings defenders as opposed to trying to make a move for the first down.  No Redskins fan wants Griffin to get injured again, but there are risks worth taking, and this play may have qualified as that.  It is worth noting that Griffin had gotten banged-up on the previous play (a second-and-16 shotgun sack for a four-yard loss).

     •    throwing a late-second-quarter first-and-10 shotgun pick to corner Captain Munnerlyn on the first play of a Redskins drive following a turnover on downs.  The ball did not come out of Griffin’s hand well at all, and head coach Jay Gruden said during his postgame press conference that Griffin “can’t throw a pick there.”

     •    getting sacked five times.  Much of that was on the protection, as Helu and left guard Shawn Lauvao struggled in this game.  But Griffin was at fault at times as well, including on an early-third-quarter third-and-eight sack by Greenway for a 10-yard loss.  Reed was open running across the field on that play but wasn’t thrown to.  Griffin now has been sacked 77 times in 31 career regular-season games.  Quarterback Kirk Cousins, for comparison’s sake, has been sacked 16 times in 14 career regular-season games.

Griffin had been inactive the previous six games due to the dislocated left ankle he suffered in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville.  He wore a modified shoe on his left foot.

3. For a second straight game, we saw more read-option from the Redskins than in any other game so far this season

I counted 11 read-option or at least read-option-style plays by the Redskins in this game.  The Redskins ran 62 offensive plays, so read-option, even at its peak for the season so far, comprised just 17.8 percent of the offense (and I counted read-option play-action as a read-option play, even though it technically isn’t).

Five of Griffin’s seven runs were read-option runs.

     •    first-quarter second-and-seven three-yard read-option run out of the shotgun on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 36-yard field goal

     •    second-quarter third-and-one four-yard read-option run out of the pistol on a drive that resulted in a punt

     •    third-quarter third-and-one minus-two-yard read-option pistol run that resulted in a 13-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty on safety Harrison Smith for an alleged shot to Griffin’s head, even though Smith at most grazed Griffin’s helmet.  The next play was Griffin’s first-and-10 13-yard under-center touchdown pass to Jackson.

     •    third-quarter first-and-10 nine-yard read-option run out of the shotgun on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s third-quarter 26-yard field goal

     •    fourth-quarter first-and-goal shotgun read-option run for minus-three yards.  The drive, though, resulted in Morris’ fourth-quarter first-and-goal two-yard under-center-handoff touchdown run.

4. The Redskins’ defense fell on its face in the second half

The Redskins held the Vikings to just seven points, 4-for-9 on third downs and 146 total net yards of offense in the first half.  But the Redskins then allowed the Vikings to score 22 points, go 4-for-6 on third downs and total 206 total net yards of offense in the second half.

The Redskins held the Vikings to 3.7 yards per carry on 27 rushing attempts but gave up three second-half touchdown runs to running back Matt Asiata, including an early-fourth-quarter first-and-goal seven-yard shotgun read-option touchdown run on which defensive end Stephen Bowen got pushed laterally so badly he collided with safety Ryan Clark, who was coming in for an attempted tackle.

The Redskins totaled just two sacks and five quarterback hits, including zero sacks in the second half.  The Redskins exited Week 9 tied for ninth in the NFL with 23 sacks.

The Redskins had zero takeaways and exited Week 9 29th out of 32 NFL teams with just eight takeaways this season.

5. Morris picked up where he left off after halftime of the Week 8 win at Dallas

Morris had 19 carries for a season-high 92 yards and two touchdowns, benefiting greatly from Griffin’s presence and the presence of the read-option.  Morris now has 32 carries for 154 yards and three touchdowns since halftime of the win at the Cowboys.

Morris had two 14-yard shotgun read-option runs on the six-play, 91-yard drive that resulted in his early-second-quarter first-and-10 14-yard read-option touchdown run out of the shotgun.  Morris totaled four carries for 41 yards and the touchdown on that drive.

Morris’ fourth-quarter first-and-goal two-yard under-center-handoff touchdown run concluded a drive that also included a first-and-15 under-center-toss run.

Morris also had a first-quarter second-and-11 15-yard reception on a shotgun screen pass on the drive that resulted in Forbath’s first-quarter 36-yard field goal.

Morris did have a drop on a second-quarter first-and-10 I-formation play-action incompletion.  The drive resulted in a three-and-out.

6. Jackson continued his excellent season

Jackson had four receptions for 120 yards and the touchdown on seven targets.

     •    Jackson’s first-quarter first-and-10 45-yard under-center play-action reception saw him hold onto the ball despite a stiff shot from safety Harrison Smith.  The drive resulted in Morris’ early-second-quarter first-and-10 14-yard read-option touchdown run out of the shotgun.

     •    Jackson made an impressive catch in tight space on his third-quarter first-and-10 13-yard under-center touchdown reception.

     •    Jackson had an early-fourth-quarter second-and-seven 56-yard shotgun reception on the drive that resulted in Morris’ fourth-quarter first-and-goal two-yard under-center-handoff touchdown run.

Jackson now has nine receptions of 40 yards or more this season and five receptions of 50 yards or more this season.

7. Garcon and Reed totaled just six targets.

Garcon had three receptions for 15 yards on five targets.

Reed was targeted just once, producing the third-and-four 17-yard shotgun reception on the drive that resulted in Jackson’s third-quarter first-and-10 13-yard under-center touchdown reception.

8. Redskins special teams snapped their streak of two straight net-positive games

Receiver Andre Roberts totaled just one yard on three punt returns, including a first-quarter muff.  He also had just a 19-yard kickoff return on the opening kickoff of the second half, taking the ball out of the end zone to just the 18-yard line.  Roberts exited Week 9 tied for 12th in the NFL in yards per punt return (9.1).

Roberts did have a third-quarter 45-yard kickoff return, giving the Redskins good field position for the drive that resulted in Jackson’s third-quarter first-and-10 13-yard under-center touchdown reception.  Roberts exited Week 9 averaging 23.5 yards on 11 kickoff returns this season.

The Redskins had just six accepted penalties, but two of them were on special teams: the first-quarter 15-yard illegal-blindside-block penalty on Young and an early-third-quarter five-yard player-out-of-bounds penalty on safety Akeem Davis.

Tress Way averaged just 45.3 yards and just 42.7 net yards on three punts.  Still, he exited Week 9 first in the NFL in yards per punt (49.4) and seventh in the NFL in net yards per punt (41.5).

The biggest bright spot: Forbath went 2-for-2 on field goals, connecting on a first-quarter 36-yarder and a late-third-quarter 26-yarder.  He now is 15-for-16 on field goals this season and 50-for-56 on field goals over his three seasons with the Redskins.

9. We had perhaps the newsiest pregame in Redskins history

First, Redskins team buses were involved in a wreck on their way to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.  No major injuries were suffered, though rookie running back Silas Redd did end up being inactive due to back spasms suffered in the accident.

We also had two major reports from ESPN:

     •    Adam Schefter reported that multiple members of the Redskins organization told him that they believe the decision to go back to Griffin and away from Colt McCoy, who had led the team to two straight wins, was an owner- and general manager-driven decision.

     •    Britt McHenry reported that Griffin has alienated himself from the Redskins locker room.  But a key part of that report was teammates shouting as Griffin was talking to reporters on Oct. 31, and as was noted by multiple Redskins insiders, the shouting was directed as a joke at reporters and Redskins media relations.  I and many others have been told of at least some teammates not liking Griffin, but the shouting was not an example of that.

Finally, there was a large protest against the Redskins name outside of TCF Bank Stadium before the game.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that 3,000 people attended.

10. Miscellaneous Notes:

Roberts had yet another drop, failing to catch a second-and-six shotgun read-option play-action throw that in fairness was behind him on the first play of the second quarter.  The drive did result in Morris’ his early-second-quarter first-and-10 14-yard read-option touchdown run out of the shotgun.

Inactives for the Redskins were:

•    Cousins

     •    Redd due to back spasms suffered in the accident involving team buses on their way to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis

     •    right tackle Tyler Polumbus for a second straight game

     •    receiver Aldrick Robinson for a fourth straight game

     •    rookie guard Spencer Long

     •    linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat, who was signed off the practice squad on Oct. 8

     •    corner Greg Ducre, who was signed off San Diego’s practice squad on Oct. 8

The Redskins also played this game without:

     •    linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Oct. 21 due to a torn right pectoral muscle suffered in the Week 7 win over Tennessee

     •    corner DeAngelo Hall, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a torn left Achilles injury suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia.  We learned on Oct. 31 that he had torn the Achilles again.

     •    nose tackle Barry Cofield, who was placed on the reserve/injured list (designated to return) on Sept. 9 due to a high-ankle sprain suffered in the Week 1 loss at Houston

     •    safety Duke Ihenacho, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Sept. 22 due to a fractured heal bone suffered in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia

     •    receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was placed on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 30 due to season-ending surgery to repair ACL and LCL tears in his left knee last Nov. 21

     •    linebacker Akeem Jordan, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Oct. 18 due to a sprained left MCL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28 and then re-aggravated in the Week 6 loss at Arizona

     •    nose tackle Chris Neild, who was placed on the reserve/injured list on Aug. 30 due to a torn right ACL suffered in the preseason-ending win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 28

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