Analysis of the Redskins’ passing game, running game, defense and special teams in the loss at the Cowboys
Week 13: Redskins fell to 5-7 with a 38-14 loss at Dallas on Thursday Night Football (Nov. 30, 2017)
Passing Game: D+
This was a must-win game. You were facing a Cowboys team that a) was without arguably its best defensive player in linebacker Sean Lee b) had just gotten scorched by Phillip Rivers in a blowout loss to the Chargers on Thanksgiving and c) ranked just no. 26 in the NFL in pass defense per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric. And yet Kirk Cousins averaged just 6.78 yards per pass attempt, threw two picks, was victimized by multiple drops and was pounded by the Cowboys. Kirk finished the game with a woeful Raw QBR of 13.8, his worst since he became the Redskins’ starting quarterback prior to the start of the 2015 season. That stat is a bit misleading; he did what he could. But he wasn’t great. And the passing game as a whole fell flat.
The Redskins got back Trent Williams in this game but saw Morgan Moses carted off the field in the second quarter, again had Tony Bergstrom as the starting center and had Ty Nsekhe at left guard and then at right tackle. The results were not pretty. Kirk was the victim of four sacks and nine quarterback hits.
- Redskins’ 10th offensive drive…resulted in Kirk’s fourth-quarter fourth-and-10 garbage-time shotgun interception to Anthony Brown on which Kirk took a shot from Maliek Collins…two plays prior to the pick was Kirk taking wicked shot on a David Irving second-and-two sack for an eight-yard loss.
- The Redskins’ fourth offensive drive resulted in Kirk’s second-quarter lost fumble on a DeMarcus Lawrence third-and-four sack-strip that was recovered by Collins.
- Redskins’ fifth offensive drive…resulted in a second-quarter three-and-out that gave us Ryan Switzer’s 83-yard punt return for a touchdown…first play of the drive: Nsekhe, who had a rough night (and in fairness to him is dealing with a core-muscle injury) got beat on a first-and-10 sack-strip of Kirk by Taco Charlton; the ball was recovered by Samaje Perine…two plays later was a Kirk third-and-seven shotgun incompletion on which he got hit by Xavier Woods and on which a Trent Williams holding penalty was declined.
Jamison Crowder, who was coming off a career-best 141 receiving yards in the win over the Giants on Thanksgiving night, had a first half that was about as bad of a half as any Redskin has ever had. He was guilty of a lost fumble on a punt return, had a drop that was responsible for an interception, had another drop and had what should have been ruled a fumble off a reception. Crowder finished with five receptions for 67 yards on seven targets.
- Redskins’ second offensive drive…Kirk Cousins’ first-quarter second-and-11 shotgun red-zone pick to Jeff Heath was on a ball that went off the hands of Crowder.
- Redskins’ sixth offensive drive…resulted in Kirk’s late-second-quarter third-and-three 20-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Ryan Grant…first play of the drive: Crowder appeared to be guilty of a fumble but was saved by replay, which maintained the ruling on the field after a Kirk first-and-10 five-yard shotgun completion to Crowder…later in the drive was a drop by Crowder on a first-and-10 Kirk shotgun incompletion.
And Jamison Crowder wasn’t the only receiver guilty of a drop.
- Redskins’ second offensive drive…resulted in Kirk’s first-quarter second-and-11 shotgun red-zone pick to Jeff Heath on a ball off the hands of Crowder…also with a drop on that drive was Josh Doctson on a Kirk second-and-12 shotgun incompletion.
- Redskins’ seventh offensive drive…was the opening drive of the second half…resulted in a third-quarter punt…Ryan Grant had a drop on a Kirk second-and-even shotgun incompletion.
As for Kirk, I will not kill him for his performance in this game. In fact, if you just isolate his performance, he was more good than bad. Consider some of what he did, especially on third downs:
- Redskins’ sixth offensive drive…resulted in Kirk’s late-second-quarter third-and-three 20-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Ryan Grant…third play of the drive: Kirk did a tremendous job of spinning and getting away from DeMarcus Lawrence on a third-and-five six-yard shotgun scramble…three plays later: Kirk made a terrific off-schedule play in buying time by moving to his left, back-pedaling and then throwing while falling backwards on a third-and-six 33-yard shotgun completion to Jamison Crowder.
- Redskins’ seventh offensive drive…was the opening drive of the second half…resulted in a third-quarter punt…Kirk extended the play and through on the run on a third-and-16 24-yard shotgun completion to Ryan Grant.
- The Redskins’ ninth offensive drive, which resulted in Kirk’s fourth-quarter second-and-six 14-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Josh Doctson, saw the Redskins go no-huddle the majority of the way on a nine-play 87-yard drive. Kirk went 8-for-8 for 84 yards and a touchdown on the drive.
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) sits on the bench in the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Running Game: D
Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall combined for 16 carries for 50 yards. The Redskins trailed 17-0 in the second quarter and 24-7 in the fourth quarter and thus could not commit to the run. But it’s not like it was working spectacularly.
Samaje Perine, off becoming the first Redskin with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since Alfred Morris in 2013, had 12 carries for 38 yards. Included in that mix was a second-and-nine 15-yard under-center-handoff run on the Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in a first-quarter punt. He otherwise had 11 carries for 23 yards. And so many of the bad runs were first-and-10 runs.
- Redskins’ eighth offensive drive…resulted in a third-quarter punt…Perine had a second-and-five under-center-toss run for minus-three yards.
- The Redskins’ second offensive drive, which resulted in Kirk’s first-quarter second-and-11 shotgun red-zone pick to Jeff Heath on a ball off the hands of Jamison Crowder, was filled with bad runs…first play of the drive: Morgan Moses whiffed on DeMarcus Lawrence on a Perine first-and-10 under-center-handoff run for minus-two yards…three plays later: a Perine first-and-10 one-yard offset-I pump-draw-handoff run…two plays after that: a Kirk first-and-10 shotgun read-option run for minus-one yard.
- Redskins’ third offensive drive…resulted in a first-quarter punt…the first play of the drive was a Perine first-and-10 I-formation-handoff run for no gain. Boy was that dangerous given that the Redskins had the ball at their 1.
- Redskins’ first offensive drive…resulted in a first-quarter punt…third play of the drive: a Perine first-and-10 under-center-handoff run for minus-one yard.
Of the 38 points allowed by the Redskins, 17 were off special teams or short fields created by Redskins turnovers. But in no way can you say that the defense did well in this game.
One of the most painful aspects of the loss was seeing former Redskin Alfred Morris have 27 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown. The 127 rushing yards were his most in a game since the Redskins’ loss at Minnesota – another Thursday Night Football game – in Nov. 2013. Morris had 15 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
- The Redskins got steamrolled by Alf on the Cowboys’ 10th offensive drive, which resulted in his fourth-quarter first-and-goal one-yard I-formation-handoff touchdown run …first play of the drive: Preston Smith missed on a tackle on an Alf first-and-10 nine-yard under-center-toss run…the next play: an Alf second-and-one six-yard under-center-handoff run… the play after that: Deshazor Everett had a missed tackle on an Alf first-and-10 15-yard under-center-handoff run…the play after that: an Alf first-and-10 11-yard under-center-handoff run.
- Cowboys’ ninth offensive drive…resulted in Dak Prescott’s third-and-five 13-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Dez Bryant on the first play of the fourth quarter…first play of the drive: an Alf first-and-10 nine-yard under-center-handoff run…three plays later: an Alf first-and-10 eight-yard under-center-handoff run…the play after that: an Alf second-and-two eight-yard under-center-handoff run.
- Cowboys’ fifth offensive drive…resulted in Dak’s second-quarter second-and-four eight-yard pistol play-action touchdown pass to Jason Witten…second play of the second quarter: an Alf second-and-seven seven-yard under-center-handoff run…the play prior to Witten’s touchdown reception: Ryan Kerrigan and Ziggy Hood missed on tackles on an Alf first-and-10 six-yard offset-I-handoff run.
The Redskins injured Dak Prescott’s hand and held him to just 11-of-22 passing for 102 yards. But he had two touchdown passes, was sacked just once and led a Cowboys offense that went 7-for-14 on third downs and 4-for-5 in the red zone.
- The Cowboys’ 10th offensive drive…resulted in Alfred Morris’ fourth-quarter first-and-goal one-yard I-formation-handoff touchdown run…Dak had a third-and-three 10-yard shotgun completion to Terrance Williams, who beat Josh Norman…three snaps later was the Redskins committing an inexcusable second-and-13 five-yard 12-men-on-field penalty…two snaps after that was Bashaud Breeland committing a third-and-10 16-yard pass-interference penalty in covering Dez Bryant in the end zone, giving the Cowboys the first-and-goal at the 1.
- Breeland got beat by Dez on his third-and-five 13-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter despite committing a pass-interference penalty that was declined. Earlier on the drive was a late-third-quarter Dak third-and-six 24-yard shotgun completion to Dez as Breeland and Deshazor Everett had missed tackles.
- The Cowboys’ fifth offensive drive resulted in Dak’s second-quarter second-and-four eight-yard pistol play-action touchdown pass to Jason Witten, who got inside leverage on Everett…two snaps prior to the touchdown was Kendall Fuller committing a second-and-11 six-yard pass-interference penalty…and the final play of the first quarter was a Dak third-and-five 13-yard shotgun scramble on which Matt Ioannidis, perhaps because of his fractured hand, couldn’t get off the block of Zack Martin.
Special Teams: F
As was the case in the Redskins’ Week 8 loss to the Cowboys at FedEx Field, Redskins’ special teams were terrible in this game. Let’s take the many gaffes sequentially:
- Jamison Crowder had a lost fumble on a first-quarter punt return, though the ensuing Cowboys drive did result in a three-and-out. The Chris Jones 41-yard punt that came from that drive was downed at the Redskins’ 1, and the ball then was moved back even further thanks to what was technically a 0-yard holding penalty on the Redskins. The ensuing Redskins drive resulted in a first-quarter punt.
- The kickoff that came off Dak Prescott’’s second-quarter second-and-four eight-yard pistol play-action touchdown pass to Jason Witten was caught by Maurice Harris near the sideline at the Redskins’ 5 and then returned for 13 yards. All Harris had to do was catch the ball with one foot out of bounds and the Redskins would have gotten the ball at their 35. The ensuing Redskins drive resulted in Kirk Cousins’ lost fumble on DeMarcus Lawrence’s third-and-four sack-strip.
- The Redskins gave up an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown to Ryan Switzer in the second quarter thanks to a low punt by Tress Way and some terrible tackling. This was a killer, as the ensuing extra point put the Redskins down 17-0.
- Kendall Fuller muffed the catch of an early-fourth-quarter Dan Bailey kickoff to the Redskins’ 1, recovered the ball and then authored a mere 12-yard return to the Redskins’ 13. The ensuing Redskins drive, though, did result in Kirk’s fourth-quarter second-and-six 14-yard shotgun touchdown pass to Josh Doctson.
This loss essentially – though not officially – eliminated the Redskins from playoff contention. They will not be making the playoffs for the 20th time in 25 seasons.
So what now? This is one of the hardest playoff-less Redskins seasons to evaluate in years. Double-digit-loss Redskins teams like those in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 were bad, plain and simple. I still don’t believe that this is a bad team.
- The Redskins not making the playoffs this season starts with an injury situation that has been absurd: 15 players on injured reserve, weekly injury reports that have included more than 20 players, practices converted to walk-throughs due to a lack of available bodies. Throw in a schedule that was brutal over the first 10 games (during which eight of the Redskins’ 10 games were against the top nine teams in ESPN’s Football Power Index as of Nov. 13) and being 5-7 is understandable. Speaking of the FPI, the Redskins enter Week 14 as the no. 15 team in the NFL this season per FPI despite being 5-7. The analytics recognize that this isn’t a bad team.
- But on the other hand, there’s no excuse for the Redskins looking as inept as they did for so much of this game. Just like there was no excuse for the blowing of a 15-point lead with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans. Just like there was no excuse for playing so poorly and lifelessly in the Week 17 loss to the Giants last season, costing the Redskins a playoff spot. Just like there were no excuses for the Redskins looking so poor in Week 1 home losses to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia the last two seasons. I like Jay Gruden. I think that he’s a pretty good head coach. But there’s no denying that the Redskins have looked not just bad but just off in more than a few games over the last two seasons. Is that just the nature of the NFL and of a team that is still building a quality roster? Yes. But you also can’t just absolve Jay or the organization.
The Redskins’ first offensive drive, which resulted in a first-quarter punt, yielded a Tress Way 33-yard punt to the Cowboys’ 10 on a fourth-and-two at their 43. This was another one of those instances on which going for it made sense.
Playing-time and production observations:
- Kirk Cousins did not play on every Redskins offensive snap in a game for the first time since 2015 Week 17 win at Dallas. Colt McCoy played on the Redskins’ final four offensive snaps in this game.
- Left tackle Trent Williams was back off having been inactive for three of the previous five games due to an ailing right kneecap that will require surgery. He played on 92 percent of the offensive snaps and seems like a candidate to go on injured reserve now that the Redskins’ realistic playoff hopes are over.
- Right guard Brandon Scherff, center Tony Bergstrom and Ty Nsekhe played on every Redskins offensive snap. Nsekhe played both left guard and right tackle due to Morgan Moses playing on 16 offensive snaps due to one of his ailing ankles. The Redskins ended up leaning heavily on Arie Kouandjio (73 percent) in this game.
- Josh Doctson played on every Redskins offensive snap for a second consecutive game in leading all Redskins receivers in offensive snaps for a fourth consecutive game. And yet he has 13 receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns on 23 targets over those four games. He’s playing as much as a no. 1 receiver, but he isn’t producing like one.
- Ryan Grant was in on 88 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps. Jamison Crowder was in on 82 percent. Maurice Harris played on just five offensive snaps due in part to suffering a concussion.
- Vernon Davis played on 90 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps but had just two receptions for 15 yards on two targets. He officially has been targeted just three times over the last two games.
- Samaje Perine played on 57 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps. Byron Marshall was in on 43 percent.
- Josh Norman and D.J. Swearinger were the two Redskins who played on every defensive snap in this game. Deshazor Everett was in on 97 percent. DeAngelo Hall played on one defensive snap off not playing on any in the Thanksgiving-night win over the Giants.
- Bashaud Breeland played on 91 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. Kendall Fuller was in on 68 percent. Quinton Dunbar played on just three Redskins defensive snaps.
- Martrell Spaight was back off having been inactive in the win over the Giants on Thanksgiving night due to an ankle injury suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans. But he played on just eight defensive snaps. Zach Vigil was in on 78 percent. Zach Brown was in on 91 percent.
- Ryan Kerrigan played on 84 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. Preston Smith was in on 71 percent. Junior Galette was in on 28 percent.
- Matt Ioannidis led all Redskins defensive linemen in playing time in being in on 65 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. Ziggy Hood was in on 54 percent. Stacy McGee was in on 43 percent. Anthony Lanier II was in on 41 percent. A.J. Francis was in on 38 percent. It is notable that a decent-money free-agent signing in McGee played about as much as two bargain-basement signings in Lanier and Francis in what was the Redskins’ most important game of the season.
The Redskins’ offense played this game without:
- Tight end Jordan Reed (inactive for a fifth consecutive game due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 8 loss to Dallas)
- Center Chase Roullier (inactive for a second consecutive game due to a fractured hand suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Receiver Brian Quick (inactive; he has played on just 34 offensive snaps the entire season)
- Running back Chris Thompson (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 21 due to a fractured fibula suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Running back Rob Kelley (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 14 due to an MCL sprain suffered in the Week 10 loss to Minnesota and ailing ankle)
- Center Spencer Long (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 21 off being inactive for a three of the previous four games due to two knee injuries that emerged in the Week 7 loss at Philadelphia on Monday Night Football)
- Left guard Shawn Lauvao (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 21 due to a stinger that was aggravated in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 21 due to an ankle injury)
- Tackle T.J. Clemmings (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 16 due to an ailing ankle)
- 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)
The Redskins’ defense played this game without:
- Safety Montae Nicholson (inactive for a second consecutive game due to a concussion suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Defensive lineman Terrell McClain (inactive for a second consecutive game due to a toe injury suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Linebacker Pete Robertson (inactive)
- Defensive lineman Caraun Reid (inactive for a third consecutive game)
- Linebacker Mason Foster (placed on injured reserve on Oct. 28 due to a torn labrum suffered in the Week 2 win at the Rams; he missed the Week 3 win over Oakland but then played the next three games with the injury before going on IR)
- Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (placed on injured reserve on Oct. 19 due to a Lisfranc injury suffered in the Week 6 win over San Francisco)
- Linebacker Will Compton (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 14 due to a Lisfranc injury suffered in the Week 10 loss to Minnesota)
- Defensive lineman Arthur Jones (placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11 due to a shoulder dislocation suffered in the Week 9 win at Seattle; the Redskins signed him on Nov. 1)
- Safety Su’a Cravens (placed on the reserve/left-squad list on Sept. 18; this off being 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
Redskins special teams remained without Dustin Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 18 due to a right-hip injury.
NFL insider Jason La Canfora tweeted the following on Saturday night: “Lost amid all of the speculation about Kirk Cousins future (I expect a tag), the Skins are working to extend LB Zach Brown I’m told.” This is not surprising but still is very good news. Brown has been the anti-Pryor this season: a free-agent acquisition signed to a one-year deal who has been terrific. The Redskins signed Brown in March to a one year, $2.3 million that was shockingly low given that he had been named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro second team and to the Pro Bowl and finished fourth on Buffalo in defensive snaps in 2016. He has been terrific this season. Brown has been no. 1 in the NFL for weeks now in tackles, exiting Week 13 with 117 tackles per NFL.com. He is no. 2 on the Redskins in defensive snaps this season (98.48 percent), trailing only D.J. Swearinger (99.49). Brown isn’t very good in pass coverage, but his run-stopping and tackling have been really good, and his speed has been as good as advertised. Other major Redskins scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason: receivers Ryan Grant, Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Brian Quick; tight end Niles Paul; center Spencer Long; left guard Shawn Lauvao; corner Bashaud Breeland; linebackers Mason Foster, Will Compton, Trent Murphy and Junior Galette; and, oh yeah, quarterback Kirk Cousins.
I got this e-mail from Cort Stell in Los Angeles the day after this game: Hey Galdi, I listen to your show every morning from Los Angeles. I love your work. But I do disagree with you wholeheartedly on a comment that you made on…Friday’s show regarding Alfred Morris. You said that you can’t blame the Redskins for allowing Alfred Morris to walk. Well that’s kind of going against your own argument regarding Kirk Cousins. You always say that if the Skins allow Cousins to walk, who do we have on the horizon that can replace him, and you are absolutely right in that thinking, but the same applies for Morris. When we let Alfred walk, who did we have to replace him that was better???? Nobody. Matt Jones sucked, Fat Rob Kelly didn’t do much and Perine so far hasn’t been better than Alfred. Just saying. Maybe it wasn’t Alfred. Maybe it was Jay Gruden’s pathetic offense that isn’t conducive to a good running game.
- As stated earlier, one of the most painful aspects of the loss was seeing former Redskin Alfred Morris have 27 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown, including 15 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown in the second half. The Redskins’ run defense on the drive that resulted in his fourth-quarter first-and-goal one-yard I-formation-handoff touchdown run was embarrassing; the drive began with four Alf carries that totaled 41 yards. But the notion that this game somehow validates that the Redskins were wrong not to re-sign Alf after the 2015 season is wrong.
- It must first be noted that Alf declined significantly in each of his three Redskins seasons that followed his amazing 2012 rookie campaign. His yards-per-carry, rushing yards, rushing first downs, DYAR and DVOA all went down in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Alf went from a 254 DYAR in 2012 to a -52 DYAR in 2015. He went from a 10.3 DVOA in 2012 to a -15.0 DVOA in 2015. Spending any kind of decent money to retain a player who had declined so precipitously and consistently would have been foolish and is the kind of thing that people would have ripped Bruce Allen, Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden for. If we’re using the Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha as a comp, Kirk has demonstrated improvement, not falloff, since the 2015 season
- DYAR is Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, which gives the value of the performance on plays where a running back carried the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage…DVOA is Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which represents value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations.
- Another major part of the Alf-Kirk comp is positional scarcity. Good running backs are far easier and cheaper to find than good quarterbacks. Heck, how did the Redskins get Alf? A 2012 sixth-round pick. And, yes, I know, they got Kirk via a 2012 fourth-round pick. But the point remains. No position in sports has been devalued as much as NFL running back over the last 10 years, and the relative ease with which you can find quality backs is a big part of that, to say nothing of how the NFL has become more of a passing league and how so many of these running backs decline so quickly.
- All of this said, it is true and frustrating that the Redskins haven’t had a true no. 1 stud running back since Alf in 2013. Jay’s running games over his four seasons as Redskins head coach have been inconsistent at best and downright awful at worst (the Redskins had the worst rushing attack in the NFL in 2015 per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric). Jay and the Redskins deserve a lot of credit for the development of Chris Thompson over the last three seasons. But the inability or lack of desire to identify, draft, sign and develop other backs over the last four seasons is undeniable. I feel your pain, Cort.