Analysis of the Redskins’ passing game, running game, defense and special teams in the win at Los Angeles
Week 2: The Redskins improved to 1-1 with a 27-20 win at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday (Sept. 17, 2017)
Passing Game: C-
Kirk Cousins was having an at-best mediocre game until delivering late. This reminded me so much of so many Eli Manning games over the years – bad for most of the game, good at the end of the game.
Kirk completed 18 of 27 passes and committed no turnovers. But Kirk averaged just 6.63 yards per pass attempt and registered a Raw QBR of just 28.8, which is actually worse than his 34.8 in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.
But Kirk and the passing game came up huge on the Redskins’ 10th offensive drive, which was a 10-play 70-yard drive in the clutch with the game tied at 20. Kirk displayed great patience and read the coverage beautifully on what was the play of the game, a third-and-four 11-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Ryan Grant (who showed off great patience himself) with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. Also on that drive was a Kirk third-and-six eight-yard shotgun completion to Jamison Crowder and a second-and-seven 23-yard shotgun completion to Terrelle Pryor Sr., who made Nickell Robey-Coleman miss on a tackle as Kirk astutely attacked a depleted Rams secondary.
Two other positives regarding Kirk:
- Kirk had a nice second-and-17 18-yard shotgun completion to Jamison Crowder on the Redskins’ eighth offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ missed 51-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
- I loved how Jay Gruden seemingly made it a point to get Kirk into rhythm on the Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ first-quarter 41-yard field goal. Kirk went 4-for-6 for 45 yards on the drive. Kirk shined on a nice third-and-one eight-yard shotgun completion to Jordan Reed on this drive.
Another big theme in this game was Redskins pass catchers making plays.
- Jamison Crowder had a third-and-17 21-yard reception off a screen from Kirk out of the shotgun on the Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ first-quarter 41-yard field goal.
- The Redskins’ fifth offensive drive, which resulted in Chris Thompson’s late-second-quarter second-and-six 61-yard shotgun-delayed-handoff touchdown run, also included Thompson displaying nice patience on his YAC to get the first down on a second-and-10 10-yard reception from Kirk out of the shotgun.
- Thompson was wide open in the flat on a third-and-three 15-yard reception from Kirk out of he shotgun on the Redskins’ third offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ second-quarter 22-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.
- The Redskins’ eighth offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ missed 51-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter, included Niles Paul drawing a second-and-10 25-yard pass-interference penalty on Nickell Robey-Coleman.
- Vernon Davis tap-danced for key YAC for the first down on a late-third-quarter second-and-11 13-yard reception from Kirk off under-center play-action on the Redskins’ ninth offensive drive, which resulted in an early-fourth-quarter punt.
But the bad from Kirk and the passing game was plentiful. There is still a long way to go for what was the Redskins’ biggest strength the last two seasons.
- Jay Gruden’s fixation with the end-zone fade, something that first popped up in Week 2 last season, was on full display in Week 2 this season on the Redskins’ third offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ second-quarter 22-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead. The Redskins, off running the ball to mostly great success, went fade on at least one play during a sequence of consecutive incompletions at the Rams’ 4. The results were a Kirk under-center incompletion intended for Josh Doctson on what was definitely a fade and a Kirk shotgun incompletion intended for Chris Thompson on what Jay after the game did not call a fade. Whatever the case, just maddening.
- Another frustrating moment came on the Redskins’ sixth offensive drive, which resulted in a late-second-quarter three-and-out. Jordan Reed tried to get the first down instead of trying to get out of bounds, which is what the Redskins really needed on his second-and-five one-yard reception from Kirk out of the shotgun. That three-and-out was a real missed opportunity, as the Redskins began the drive at their 45 and with a chance to add to a 20-10 lead and then get the ball to begin the second half.
- The first play of the fourth quarter: Kirk, off scrambling, displayed zero touch in overthrowing a wide-open Chris Thompson on a third-and-four shotgun incompletion on the Redskins’ ninth offensive drive, which resulted in an early-fourth-quarter punt.
- Chris Thompson broke Alec Ogletree’s ankles but had a drop on a Kirk second-and-12 shotgun incompletion on the Redskins’ seventh offensive drive, which resulted in a third-quarter punt. Also on this drive was Kirk fumbling the snap off appearing to back-out early on a first-and-10 play out of the offset I-formation.
- We had yet another Terrelle Pryor Sr. drop in this game. The ball went off his hands on a Kirk third-and-eight shotgun incompletion on the Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ first-quarter 41-yard field goal.
The Redskins also allowed two sacks. Alec Ogletree came in unblocked on a second-and-eight sack for a 12-yard loss on the Redskins’ fourth offensive drive, which resulted in a second-quarter punt. And Kirk had zero time on a second-and-six sack that was split by Morgan Fox and Robert Quinn for an 11-yard loss on the Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ first-quarter 41-yard field goal.
Running Game: A
The best performance for the Redskins’ running game under Jay Gruden came in the Week 2 win over the Rams in 2015. Well, you could argue that that output was surpassed in a Week 2 win at the Rams in 2017. Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson combined for 15 carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Kelley, Thompson and Samaje Perine combined for 222 rushing yards.
The Redskins recorded 167 rushing yards in the first half, the team’s most in a first half since Dec. 12, 2010, vs. Tampa Bay (174).
Kelley (78) and Thompson (77) both exceeded 75 rushing yards in the first half, marking the first time since Dec. 4, 2005, that the Redskins had two players each rush for 75 or more yards in a first half (Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright, also against the Rams).
Thompson was sensational on his late-second-quarter second-and-six 61-yard shotgun-delayed-handoff touchdown run, displaying tremendous speed and vision.
The Redskins’ second offensive drive was a six-play 65-yard touchdown drive that consisted of nothing but runs.
- Play 1: a Rob Kelley first-and-10 19-yard under-center-handoff run
- Play 2: a Kelley first-and-10 21-yard under-center-handoff run that potentially would have been a touchdown had Fat Rob cut to the outside
- Play 3: a Samaje Perine first-and-10 three-yard under-center-handoff run
- Play 4: a Chris Thompson second-and-seven nine-yard shotgun-toss run
- Play 5: a Kelley first-and-five one-yard shotgun read-option run
- Play 6: a Thompson second-and-four seven-yard shotgun-toss touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter
The Redskins’ fourth offensive drive, which resulted in a second-quarter punt, included a Kelley first-and-10 nine-yard under-center-handoff run. But Kelley suffered a rib-cartilage injury on the next play, which was a second-and-one two-yard under-center-handoff run.
Perine initially struggled as the Redskins’ primary back this game, and he finished with a mere 67 yards on 21 carries. But he had some big runs on the game-winning drive that culminated in Kirk Cousins’ third-and-four 11-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Ryan Grant with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. Perine had a second-and-18 12-yard shotgun-handoff run, a first-and-10 five-yard shotgun read-option run, a second-and-five 10-yard shotgun-handoff run and a second-and-nine five-yard under-center-handoff run.
Perine also had a second-and-nine 11-yard shotgun read-option run on the Redskins’ eighth offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ missed 51-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson, left, scores past Los Angeles Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
The Redskins’ defense allowed seven plays that were each at least 17 yards. But it also made plays and did a good amount of good. We continue to see this Greg Manusky defense play more man coverage than we have seen from any Redskins defense in years, and the results so far are promising (though certainly not great).
The Redskins held the Rams to just 20 points, forced three fumbles and generated two takeaways.
- Josh Norman forced two fumbles, including an early-second-quarter fumble on a hit on Todd Gurley on a first-and-10 two-yard under-center-handoff run. The ensuing Redskins drive resulted in the Dustin Hopkins 22-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.
- Mason Foster, who had suffered a shoulder dislocation earlier in the game, had a game-sealing interception, displaying great eyes in sitting and reading Jared Goff on a first-and-10 shotgun pick with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Rams’ sixth offensive drive, which resulted in a late-second-quarter punt, featured the Redskins’ two sacks in the game: a first-and-10 Preston Smith sack for a seven-yard loss and a third-and-11 sack-strip by Ryan Kerrigan for a five-yard loss.
I liked some of the tackling that we got from the Redskins’ secondary.
- The Rams’ second offensive drive, which resulted in a first-quarter three-and-out, included Bashaud Breeland tackling Sammy Watkins for just a two-yard gain on a third-and-four reception.
- The Redskins’ defense stiffened in the red zone on the Rams’ fifth offensive drive, which resulted in Greg Zuerlein’s second-quarter 32-yard field goal. The highlight of that drive was Kendall Fuller sniffing out a screen and tackling Malcolm Brown for a four-yard loss on a third-and-eight reception.
But there was a lot of bad from the Redskins’ defense in this game, including allowing Todd Gurley to average 5.5 yards on 18 carries and Jared Goff to average 8.96 yards on 25 pass attempts.
- The Rams’ fourth offensive drive, which resulted in Todd Gurley’s second quarter third-and-goal one-yard offset-I-handoff touchdown run, began with a major busted coverage on Gerald Everett on his first-and-10 69-yard reception.
- The Rams’ eighth offensive drive was a nightmare drive for Bashaud Breeland. He missed on a tackle on a third-and-five 28-yard reception by Sammy Watkins, who beat Josh Norman. Breeland missed on another tackle on a Todd Gurley first-and-10 18-yard under-center-handoff run. And Breeland literally got leaped over by Gurley on the very next play, which was his third-quarter first-and-10 18-yard touchdown reception.
- The Rams’ fifth offensive drive, which resulted in Greg Zuerlein’s second-quarter 32-yard field goal, included Zach Brown being late to cover Todd Gurley on his third-and-four 28-yard reception and on the next play Kendall Fuller and Montae Nicholson missing on tackles on Cooper Kupp’s first-and-10 17-yard reception.
- Even the Rams’ first offensive drive, which resulted in a first-quarter punt, included breakdowns. Zach Brown and Mason Foster missed on tackles on Tavon Austin’s first-and-10 five-yard reception on the first offensive play of the game. Matt Ioannidis missed on a tackle on Todd Gurley’s second-and-five three-yard under-center-toss run on the game’s second offensive play. And Tyler Higbee had Montae Nicholson beat on a third-and-eight Jared Goff overthrow off shotgun play-action.
Special Teams: C-
Ben Kotwica’s special forces had a major gaffe in this game. Fabian Moreau seemed unprepared and then missed on a tackle on a successful Rams fake punt, as Johnny Hekker completed a 28-yard pass to Josh Reynolds on a fourth-and-six on the fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Greg Zuerlein’s game-tying 40-yard field goal. Hekker has a canon for an arm and is known for being a master of the fake punt. This was Hekker’s eighth career completed pass off a fake punt or fake field goal.
Dustin Hopkins went 2-for-3 on field goals. He made a 41-yarder in the first quarter and a 22-yarder in the second quarter, but his 51-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter hit the right upright and was no good.
Martrell Spaight committed a 10-yard holding penalty on an early-third-quarter Tress Way punt, but Way’s do-over punt ended up being a booming 62-yarder. Way averaged 51 yards and 45 net yards on four punts.
Jamison Crowder had a late-second-quarter 13-yard punt return but also a first-quarter punt return for no gain, though he fielded that punt near a sideline and just didn’t have much room.
I had mixed feelings about Chris Thompson remaining on kickoff returns after Rob Kelley exited the game with a rib-cartilage injury in the second quarter. On the one hand, you want someone you trust and who can potentially make a play. On the other hand, Thompson was now even more important with Fat Rob out and was having a terrific game. And few plays are as dangerous in football as the kickoff return.
How big was this win for the Redskins? Since the NFL playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, teams that begin seasons 1-1 make the postseason 41 percent of the time. Teams that begin 0-2? 12 percent.
The Redskins the day after this game placed Su’a Cravens on the reserve/left squad list, meaning that he will not be allowed to return to the team for the remainder of the season (including the postseason). Cravens had been on the exempt/left-squad list since Sept. 3 due to contemplating retirement. Some thoughts:
- Ian Rapoport of NFL Network and NFL.com made news prior to the Redskins’ game for a second straight week, as he reported early Sunday morning that Cravens was expected to rejoin the Redskins on Tuesday. The report was confirmed by at least one other outlet. Oopsie. So either things changed quickly, or we had more Redskins fake news. Rapoport, remember, is the same guy who in March reported of a potential three-team trade that would have sent Tony Romo to the Redskins and in April reported of the Redskins potentially trading Kirk Cousins to Cleveland.
- Speaking of the reporting on this situation, the rules of the exempt/left-squad list are complicated but, contrary to the initial reporting on this issue, a player placed on the list is on the list for “up to” four weeks. There was no requirement that Cravens had to stay on the list for four weeks.
- There is no getting around that this is a terrible situation. First off, as I am basically legally obligated to say (I’m kidding – sort of), I hope for the best for Cravens. If – if – he is dealing with depression or some kind of mental-health issue, you have to feel for the guy and hope that he gets well. But from purely a football standpoint, this is a disaster. The Redskins spent a 2016 second-round pick on Cravens. They paid him millions of dollars. They handed to him the starting-strong-safety job for this season. And he upped and left the team on the weekend of the cutdown to 53. The timing of this really was bad, and if it could have been avoided, then shame on Cravens for doing the Redskins like this.
- But also shame on the Redskins. Cravens reportedly once went missing for three days while at USC, also while dealing with an injury (remember, he suffered a meniscus injury in the preseason-opening loss at Baltimore and underwent surgery on Aug. 15). ESPN Redskins insider John Keim reported that the Redskins didn’t know about that during the pre-draft process in 2016. Huh? How do you not find out about that? Teams spend countless hours researching and doing due diligence on draft prospects. How does something like that go uncovered?
- The ultimate irony of the Redskins’ 2016 draft is that the guy who talked incessantly about “football players” (Scot McCloughan) may have spent his first- and second-round picks on guys who didn’t love football (Josh Doctson and Cravens).
- If Cravens ultimately retires for good or is released to go elsewhere, just add him to the list of shaky or flat-out failed second-round picks for the Redskins over the last decade. The Redskins have made nine second-round picks since the start of the 2008 NFL Draft: the Devin Thomas-Fred Davis-Malcolm Kelly triple play of 2008; Jarvis Jenkins in 2011; David Amerson in 2013; Trent Murphy in 2014; Preston Smith in 2015; Cravens in 2016; Ryan Anderson in 2017.
- Cravens was seen on the sideline of his college team, USC, as it beat Texas in double overtime on Saturday night. Doug Williams was with Cravens. One of the things that has been said to be a strength of Williams is his ability to relate to players and cut through their B.S.; it makes sense that Williams would be used as a Redskins representative with Cravens.
Both Jay Gruden and Sean McVay used their second-half timeouts in at-least questionable fashion. The idea with second-half timeouts is that they should almost always be saved for late in the fourth quarter when you’re on defense and thus can’t control the clock. They are, in essence, gift cards for free plays on offense.
- Jay called the Redskins first second-half timeout prior to a Rams third-and-10 with 3:22 left in the third quarter. Yes, the drive did result in a three-and-out with the Redskins clinging to a 20-17 lead, and perhaps the timeout was in part responsible for that. But you shouldn’t need to burn a timeout to stop a team on third-and-10.
- Jay called the Redskins’ second second-half timeout prior to a first-and-10 play on offense with 4:49 left in the fourth quarter on the drive that resulted in Kirk Cousins’ third-and-four 11-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Ryan Grant with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. There is basically no defending using a timeout in this spot.
- Sean called his first second-half timeout prior to a second-and-17 play on offense with 8:10 left in the fourth quarter on the drive that resulted in Greg Zuerlein’s game-tying 20-yard field goal.
Some play-time-percentage observations:
- Montae Nicholson, and not Deshazor Everett, started at strong safety in this game. Both players, though, got hurt. But boy is that an indictment of how the coaches feel Everett played in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia. Nicholson played on just three defensive snaps in that game.
- Matt Ioannidis had the second-highest play-time percentage among Redskins defensive linemen for a second consecutive game. He played on just one less snap than Jonathan Allen did (29 vs. 28).
- Will Compton did not play on a single defensive snap for a second consecutive game.
- Junior Galette played on 38 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps in this game, an increase from his 23 percent in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.
- Josh Doctson actually played on just one less snap than Ryan Grant did (30 vs. 29) despite being limited in practice all of last week and being listed as questionable for this game. But Doctson, per the Cooley Film Breakdown on Sept. 20, actually played far better than his one target would suggest and could have had a big game had Kirk thrown deep more. Doctson was there to be thrown to for a likely touchdown on a Kirk third-and-12 nine-yard shotgun completion to Jordan Reed on the second half’s opening drive, which resulted in a punt.
- Perine, because of Rob Kelley’s rib-cartilage injury, played on 37 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps off not playing on a single offensive snap in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.
- Vernon Davis, because of Jordan Reed suffering multiple injuries and the increased commitment to the run, played on 77 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps versus Reed playing on 56 percent. Niles Paul played on 51 percent of the snaps off playing on just eight percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.
Some key Redskins offensive players suffered injuries in this game: Rob Kelley (rib-cartilage injury), Jordan Reed (chest/sternum contusion) and Morgan Moses (sprained ankle and shoulder strain).
The Redskins’ offense played this game without:
- Running back Mack Brown (inactive for a second straight game)
- Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (inactive for a second straight game)
- Guard Tyler Catalina (inactive for a second straight game)
- Offensive tackle T.J. Clemings (inactive for a second straight game)
- Running back Keith Marshall (placed on injured reserve due to a torn right patellar tendon suffered in practice on July 29; the 2016 seventh-round pick out of Georgia spent all of last season on injured reserve due to an elbow injury suffered in the preseason)
- Tackle Kevin Bowen (placed on injured reserve due to a labrum injury suffered during training camp)
A number of Redskins defensive players suffered injuries in this game: Josh Norman (AC-joint sprain), Mason Foster (shoulder dislocation and labrum injury), Montae Nicholson (AC-joint sprain), Deshazor Everett (MCL injury).
The Redskins’ defense played this game without:
- Safety Su’a Cravens (placed on the exempt/left-squad list on Sept. 3 due to contemplating retirement; he also suffered a meniscus injury in the preseason-opening loss at Baltimore and underwent surgery on Aug. 15)
- Linebacker Trent Murphy (placed on injured reserve on Aug. 12 due to a torn left ACL and MCL suffered in the preseason-opening loss at Baltimore)
- Defensive lineman Phil Taylor Sr. (placed on injured reserve on Sept. 2 due to a torn left quadriceps tendon suffered in the preseason win over Cincinnati on Aug.27
- Defensive back DeAngelo Hall (placed on the regular-season physically-unable-to-perform list on Sept. 2 off spending all of training camp and the preseason on the preseason PUP list due to a torn right ACL suffered in the Week 3 win at the Giants last season)
- Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II (inactive for a second straight game)
- Linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (inactive for a second straight game)
- Corner Joshua Holsey (inactive for a second straight game)