Analysis of the Redskins’ passing game, running game, defense and special teams in the win over the Cardinals
Week 15: Redskins improved to 6-8 with a 20-15 win over Arizona at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 17, 2017)
Passing Game: C+
The Cardinals entered Week 15 with the eighth-best passing defense in the NFL this season per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric. The Redskins played this game without Trent Williams, Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson. And yet Kirk Cousins had two touchdown passes versus no picks, averaged 7.54 yards per pass attempt, completed 18 of his 26 pass attempts (69.23 percent), was sacked just once and had a Raw QBR of 52.8. Factor in that he did those things despite his running game again being basically nothing, and this was, all things considered, not a bad game for the passing attack.
However, the Redskins were atrocious once again on third downs, going 1-for-9. Yes, the Redskins had one third-down conversion the entire game. That was a big reason for the team running just 47 offensive plays the entire game. The Cardinals ran 47 offensive plays in just the first half and 80 for the game. The Redskins lost the time-of-possession battle by 12:32.
And yet the Redskins won this game. So let’s first highlight some of the positive plays from the passing game.
- The Redskins’ third offensive drive resulted in Kirk’s early-second-quarter second-and-10 36-yard under-center double-play-action touchdown pass to Kapri Bibbs on a screen. Bibbs generated great YAC, making Deone Bucannon miss on a tackle…the second play of the drive was a Kirk second-and-14 10-yard shotgun completion to Bibbs on a choice route one snap after Bibbs committed a second-and-nine five-yard false-start penalty on the first snap of the second quarter…the next play saw Kirk fire a bullet on a third-and-four five-yard shotgun completion to Jamison Crowder…and the snap after that saw Josh Doctson draw a first-and-10 16-yard pass-interference penalty on Tramon Williams.
- Redskins’ first offensive drive…started at the Cardinals’ 6 thanks to in Anthony Lanier II’s first-quarter third-and-seven sack-strip that was recovered by Preston Smith…the second play of the drive was a Kirk second-and-goal five-yard shotgun read-option play-action touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder off him abusing Patrick Peterson, who had fallen down.
- Redskins’ seventh offensive drive…resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ third-quarter 24-yard field goal…second play of the drive: a Kirk second-and-six 14-yard under-center play-action off-schedule completion to Crowder…two plays after that: a Kirk second-and-six 11-yard under-center completion to Niles Paul on a hitch…two snaps later: Bibbs drew a first-and-15 five-yard holding penalty on Olsen Pierre on a shotgun screen…two plays after that: a Kirk second-and-six 23-yard under-center play-action-boot completion to Samaje Perine…and the play after that: a Kirk first-and-10 24-yard under-center play-action completion to Crowder.
- Redskins’ 10th offensive drive…resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ fourth-quarter 32-yard field goal…second play of the drive: a Kirk had a second-and-six 11-yard under-center play-action-boot completion to Vernon Davis.
Speaking, though, of Vernon Davis, he was responsible for the worst play of the game for the Redskins’ offense. The very first play of the Redskins’ fifth offensive drive, which followed Preston Smith’s second-quarter first-and-goal-at-the-9 interception, was a lost fumble by Davis on a hit by Howard product Antoine Bethea on a Kirk first-and-10 seven-yard completion. The ensuing Cardinals drive, though, resulted in Phil Dawson’s 19-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Josh Doctson had just two receptions for 16 yards on four targets, including yet another frustrating play. The Redskins’ 10th offensive drive resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ fourth-quarter 32-yard field goal. The play right before the field goal was a Kirk third-and-five shotgun incompletion on which he got blasted by Chander Jones while throwing to Doctson. The throw was high, but a leaping Doctson was unable to make the catch despite getting his hands on the ball. That’s a play that a guy like Doctson is supposed to make.
Kirk also was guilty of some bad decisions in the second half.
- Redskins’ ninth offensive drive…resulted in a fourth-quarter three-and-out…Kirk had an easy first down to Vernon Davis but never looked at him on a third-and-four shotgun incompletion intended for Jamison Crowder.
- Redskins’ 11th offensive drive…resulted in a fourth-quarter three-and-out…Kirk was trying to throw to a covered Niles Paul on a second-and-eight under-center play-action-boot incompletion.
- Redskins’ seventh offensive drive…resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ third-quarter 24-yard field goal…Kirk made a dangerous throw that wasn’t high enough and could have been picked off by a leaping Tramon Williams on a third-and-goal-at-the-6 shotgun end-zone incompletion intended for Vernon Davis.
Additionally, Kirk’s ball-security problem popped up again. The Redskins’ fourth offensive drive, which resulted in a second-quarter three-and-out, included Chandler Jones abusing Ty Nsekhe for a third-and-six sack on which Kirk had another near-fumble. He was, thankfully, down, and the play resulted in a nine-yard loss.
Running Game: D-
The Cardinals entered Week 15 with the third-best run defense in the NFL this season per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric. And so not shockingly Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs and LeShun Daniels combined for 17 carries for 45 yards (2.65 yards per carry). The Redskins, by the way, signed Bibbs from their practice squad to their active roster on Dec. 12 and signed Daniels from their practice squad to their active roster on Nov. 21.
The only thing keeping the grade from being an F is that Perine did get going a bit on the Redskins’ 10th offensive drive, which resulted in Dustin Hopkins’ fourth-quarter 32-yard field goal. The drive began with a Perine first-and-10 four-yard under-center-handoff run. Two plays later was a Perine first-and-10 four-yard shotgun read-option run. And three plays after that was a Perine second-and-10 five-yard under-center-handoff run.
Those three runs totaled 13 yards. Samaje Perine’s other 11 runs in the game totaled 24 yards.
- Redskins’ 11th offensive drive…resulted in a fourth-quarter three-and-out…the first play of the drive was a Perine first-and-10 two-yard under-center-handoff run…two plays later was a Kapri Bibbs third-and-eight shotgun-handoff run for no gain.
- Redskins’ fourth offensive drive…resulted in a second-quarter three-and-out…Perine had a second-and-five shotgun-handoff run for minus-one yard.
- Redskins’ ninth offensive drive…resulted in a fourth-quarter three-and-out…the drive began with a great Perine first-and-10 six-yard under-center-toss run…but the next play was a Perine second-and-four under-center-handoff run for no gain.
- Redskins’ third offensive drive…resulted in Kirk Cousins’ early-second-quarter second-and-10 36-yard under-center double-play-action touchdown pass to Bibbs on a screen…the first play of the drive was a Perine first-and-10 one-yard under-center-handoff run on the final play of the first quarter.
- Redskins’ sixth offensive drive…resulted in a third-quarter three-and-out…Perine had a second-and-10 one-yard under-center-handoff run.
- Redskins’ second offensive drive…resulted in a first-quarter punt…the second play of the drive was a Perine first-and-10 two-yard under-center-handoff run.
But by far the Redskins’ worst running play of the game came on their eighth offensive drive, which resulted in a punt on the first play of the fourth quarter. Josh Doctson had a disastrous late-third-quarter first-and-10 end-round run for minus-14 yards thanks in part to Brandon Scherff getting demolished by Frostee Rucker.
It’s important to first note that the Cardinals are bad offensive team. They are down to their third quarterback this season in Blaine Gabbert. They entered this game with their top two running backs, David Johnson and Adrian Peterson, on injured reserve and came into Week 15 with the single-worst rushing offense in the NFL this season per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric. And the Cardinals came into this game with a banged-up offensive line that was part of the team entering Week 15 just no. 27 in the NFL in sacks-allowed percentage.
But all of that said, the Redskins themselves were without a number of key defensive players for this game: Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Jonathan Allen and Montae Nicholson (just to name a few). The Redskins’ defense had been really bad in four of the previous five games. And so I don’t take for granted that the Redskins…
- …held the Cardinals to just 4-for-19 on third downs and 0-for-6 in the red zone.
- …held Gabbert to 16-of-41 passing and a woeful 4.61 yards per pass attempt.
- …totaled five sacks, nine quarterback hits, 13 pass defenses and two takeaways.
Three Redskins defensive players stood out in particular in this game.
The first was Anthony Lanier II. The Redskins signed Lanier as an undrafted rookie out of Alabama A&M in May 2016. He has been a favorite of this coaching staff, and he had the game of his life: two sacks, including a sack-strip, and three pass defenses.
- The Cardinals’ first offensive drive ended with a Lanier first-quarter third-and seven sack-strip that was recovered by Preston Smith. Lanier did a terrific job of swimming through two offensive linemen in A.Q. Shipley and Alex Boone.
- Cardinals’ 13th offensive drive…resulted in a late-fourth-quarter turnover on downs that iced the game…the third-to-last play of the drive: Lanier had a huge pass defense on a Gabbert second-and-10 shotgun incompletion.
- Cardinals’ ninth offensive drive…resulted in a third-quarter three-and-out…Lanier had a pass defense on a Gabbert third-and-nine shotgun incompletion.
- Cardinals’ sixth offensive drive…resulted in Phil Dawson’s 19-yard field goal on the final play of the first half…the play right before the field goal: Lanier had a pass defense with his right arm on a Gabbert third-and-one shotgun incompletion.
- Cardinals’ second offensive drive…a 16-play drive that resulted in Phil Dawson’s first-quarter 40-yard field goal…the play right before the field goal: Lanier had a third-and-12 sack of Gabbert for a four-yard loss.
Another guy who stood out big time in this game was Preston Smith. I spent a lot of time on The Morning Blitz with Al Galdi on the Friday before this game asking why Junior Galette hadn’t played nearly as much as Smith had this season (302 defensive snaps versus 590). And while I stand by that, all props to Smith for having an excellent game: a sack, four quarterback hits, a pick and a fumble recovery.
- Smith ended the Cardinals’ fifth offensive drive with a second-quarter first-and-goal-at-the-9 pick at the Redskins’ 8, as Gabbert threw the ball right to Smith. It bounced off him, but he ultimately made the catch
- Cardinals’ 11th offensive drive…resulted in a fourth-quarter three-and-out…Smith had a second-and-14 sack of Gabbert for a five-yard loss thanks to him running out of bounds.
- Cardinals’ fourth offensive drive…resulted in Phil Dawson’s second-quarter 35-yard field goal…the play right before the field goal: Smith blasted Gabbert on his third-and-three under-center incompletion intended for Jaron Brown.
And then there was Kendall Fuller, who continued his breakout season with a team-high-tying eight tackles and two pass defenses. Nickel corners don’t usually make Pro Bowls, but Fuller has played at a Pro Bowl level this season and has had the best season of any Redskins defensive back.
- Cardinals’ 13th offensive drive…resulted in a late-fourth-quarter turnover on downs that iced the game…Fuller did a great job of breaking on an out route by Larry Fitzgerald on a Gabbert third-and-10 shotgun incompletion intended for Fitzgerald…the next play: Fuller blanketed Fitzgerald (and may have gotten away with pass interference) on a Gabbert fourth-and-10 shotgun incompletion intended for Fitzgerald.
- Cardinals’ ninth offensive drive…resulted in a third-quarter three-and-out…Fuller made a great tackle on a Kerwynn Williams first-and-10 one-yard under-center-handoff run.
- Cardinals’ eighth offensive drive…resulted in a third-quarter three-and-out…Fuller had another great tackle in the flat this season, teaming with Josh Norman for the tackle on a Gabbert third-and-three two-yard shotgun completion to D.J. Foster.
- Cardinals’ first offensive drive…resulted in Anthony Lanier II’s first-quarter third-and-seven sack-strip that was recovered by Preston Smith…the play right before the pick: Fuller had great coverage on Ricky Seals-Jones on a Gabbert second-and-seven under-center play-action-boot incompletion intended for Seals-Jones.
- Cardinals’ second offensive drive…a 16-play drive that resulted in Phil Dawson’s first-quarter 40-yard field goal…Fuller again played a screen well this season in tackling Larry Fitzgerald on Gabbert first-and-10 shotgun screen for a three-yard loss.
Also impressive in this game was Junior Galette, who was actually the highest-graded Redskin in this game per Pro Football Focus. Two plays before Phil Dawson’s first-quarter 40-yard field goal was Galette just abusing Will Holden for a second-and-five sack of Gabbert for a seven-yard loss.
And Ryan Kerrigan stood out as well. The two plays right before Phil Dawson’s fourth-quarter 32-yard field goal were Kerrigan plays. He stuffed Elijhaa Penny on a second-and-three under-center-handoff run for no gain. And Kerrigan then brought heavy pressure on a Gabbert third-and-three shotgun play-action incompletion.
The Redskins did allow the Cardinals to rush for 141 yards on 34 carries (4.15 yards per carry), but this was on the whole a good game for the defense.
Washington Redskins defensive lineman Anthony Lanier (72) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (7), forcing a fumble and a turnover resulting in a Redskins touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Special Teams: D+
This was yet another game in which Redskins special teams were guilty of a number of major gaffes. This has been easily the Redskins’ worst special-teams season since the special-teams season from hell of 2013 under Keith Burns.
Let’s start with kickoff returns. The Redskins were set to receive the opening kickoff of the second half, but inexplicably no Redskin fielded the ball, which was recovered by Budda Baker at the Redskins’ 22. The ensuing Cardinals drive, though, resulted in Phi Dawson’s early-third-quarter 34-yard field goal
Bashaud Breeland had a second-quarter 30-yard kickoff return, but his other two kickoff returns were terrible. He bobbled the ball prior to catching it on a first-quarter 17-yard return to the Redskins’ 18. And he had a third-quarter 14-yard return to the Redskins’ 16.
Maurice Harris did have a fourth-quarter 34-yard kickoff return.
But Jamison Crowder continued to struggle as the Redskins’ punt returner. Each of his two actual punt returns went for nine yards, which is decent. But he erred twice in not fielding punts. Crowder let a third-quarter Andy Lee punt bounce at around the Redskins’ 23 and be downed at their 6. And Crowder let a first-quarter Lee punt land at the Redskins’ 44 and roll to their 37. Crowder reall is coming off like a guy who doesn’t want to be fielding punts given his fumbling problem this season.
The Cardinals’ 10th offensive drive, which resulted in Phil Dawson’s fourth-quarter 32-yard field goal, was extended thanks to an A.J. Francis 15-yard leverage penalty on a Dawson fourth-and-five 54-yard field-goal attempt (which was good).
A positive was Tress Way, who averaged 53.2 yards and 42.7 net yards on six punts. But the Redskins did give up a Brittan Golden fourth-quarter 15-yard punt return that set-up the Cardinals’ final offensive drive at their 48 while trailing by five with 1:59 left.
The Redskins the day before this game waived Nick Rose and activated Dustin Hopkins, who had been on injured reserve since Oct. 18 due to a right-hip injury. He went 2-for-2 on field goals of 24 yards in the third quarter and 32 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Redskins won this game despite having just 218 total net yards of offense, going 1-for-9 on third downs and losing the time-of-possession battle in the first half by 16:52.
This win improved the Redskins to 4-0 against the NFC West this season.
I heard from some of you on Twitter after the game about how the Redskins winning was a bad thing because all the victory did was drop the team in the 2018 NFL Draft. While I get the logic of losing out being a good thing if you’re not going to make the playoffs, I am not on board with that philosophy. The Redskins losing out would mean losing to three bad teams in Arizona, Denver and the Giants. The Redskins losing out would mean that the team is even worse than we realize. What good is having a first-round pick that’s six-eight spots higher if it means that the team is actually six-eight players worse than we thought? Additionally, while draft order obviously matters, it is not the be-all and end-all. There are great players in draft, and they are found in every round. The key is identifying and taking those guys. You can find a great player with the no. 18 overall pick just like you can find a great player with the no. 8 overall pick. This Redskins season is going to make me think one of two ways: either this was a good, playoff-caliber team that just saw its season largely wrecked by injuries and a brutal schedule over the first 10 games, or this was a team that just wasn’t that good. I would much prefer for the former to be the case. And losing out would have prevented that.
Playing-time and production observations:
- Trent Williams was inactive for a fourth time in eight games due to his ailing right kneecap that will require surgery. Jay Gruden was noncommittal after the game regarding whether Williams will finally be going on injured reserve. Ty Nsekhe started at left tackle. He, right guard Brandon Scherff and center Chase Roullier were the only three Redskins offensive linemen who played on all of the team’s offensive snaps. Roullier was back off having been inactive for the previous three games due to a fractured hand suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans. Right tackle Morgan Moses and left guard Arie Kouandjio each played on all but one of the Redskins’ offensive snaps.
- Josh Doctson played on 98 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps in leading all Redskins receivers in offensive snaps for a sixth consecutive game. And yet he had two receptions for 16 yards on four targets. He has 18 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 33 targets over those six games. He’s playing as much as a no. 1 receiver, but he isn’t producing like one.
- Ryan Grant played on 82 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps. Jamison Crowder was in on 72 percent. Maurice Harris, who was back off being inactive for the Week 14 loss at the Chargers due to a concussion suffered in the Week 13 loss at Dallas on Thursday Night Football, played on just three offensive snaps. Brian Quick played on just two offensive snaps and now has played on just 6.63 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps this season.
- Vernon Davis played on 92 percent of the Redskins’ offensive snaps but had just two receptions for 18 yards on four targets. And, of course, had that brutal late-second-quarter lost fumble. Davis now has just six receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown on 14 targets over the last four games. He had 33 receptions for 527 yards and a touchdown on 48 targets over the first 10 games of the season. Davis has not been winning enough on routes and has not laid out for a potential diving catch now in each of the last two games.
- Josh Norman, D.J. Swearinger and, believe it or not, Zach Vigil were the three Redskins defensive players who played on all of the team’s defensive snaps. Vigil played so much thanks to Zach Brown being inactive due to a number of ailments.
- Martrell Spaight was the Redskins’ other starting inside linebacker and played on 60 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Josh Harvey-Clemons was in on 31 percent.
- Bashaud Breeland, off playing on just 39 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps in getting benched in the Week 14 loss at the Chargers, started and played on 91 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps in this game. He did, though, suffer an AC-joint sprain.
- Deshazor Everett remained the Redskins’ starting strong safety with Montae Nicholson still out and played on 95 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. DeAngelo Hall did not play at all and now has played on just one defensive snap over the last four games since the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans.
- Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier II tied for the most playing time among Redskins defensive linemen, as each played on 64 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That was a career high for Lanier. Ziggy Hood was in on just 38 percent, which tied for his second-lowest play-time percentage this season. Stacy McGee was in on 36 percent. A.J. Francis was in on 34 percent. It remains very telling that McGee, who the Redskins signed to a five-year, $25 million with $9 million guaranteed, has played on just 41.44 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps this season.
- Ryan Kerrigan played on 76 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. Preston Smith was in on 68 percent. Junior Galette, despite basically telling anyone who will listen lately that he wants to play more, played on 41 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps. Ryan Anderson suffered a patella-tendon strain and played on just 12 defensive snaps.
The Redskins’ offense played this game without:
- Left tackle Trent Williams (inactive for a fourth time in eight games due to an ailing right kneecap that will require surgery)
- Receiver Robert Davis (inactive for a second consecutive game)
- Guard Kyle Kalis (inactive for a second consecutive game)
- Center Demetrius Rhaney (inactive)
- Tight end Jordan Reed (placed on injured reserve on Dec. 12 off having been inactive for six consecutive games due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 8 loss to Dallas)
- 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)
- Running back Byron Marshall (placed on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 14 loss at the Chargers)
- 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:
- Linebacker Zach Brown (inactive off not practicing during the week due to four ailments: Achilles, toe, hip and illness)
- Safety Montae Nicholson (inactive for a fourth consecutive game due to a concussion suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- Defensive lineman Terrell McClain (inactive for a fourth consecutive game due to a toe injury suffered in the Week 11 overtime loss at New Orleans)
- 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)
- Linebacker Chris Carter (placed on injured reserve on Dec. 12 due to a fractured fibula suffered in the Week 14 loss at the Chargers)
- 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
There was big NFL news prior to this game that could impact the Redskins for next season. Marvin Lewis reportedly will be out as Cincinnati’s head coach after this season. That could mean that Paul Guenther will be the Redskins’ defensive coordinator in 2018. He reportedly was Jay Gruden’s no. 1 choice to replace Joe Barry as Redskins defensive coordinator after last season but wasn’t allowed to interview for the position. Of course, there are several things to consider:
- Guenther is considered a candidate to be Lewis’ successor as Bengals head coach.
- The Redskins have a defensive coordinator in Greg Manusky, who had the Redskins’ defense playing pretty well until the Week 10 loss to Minnesota.
- Guenther coming to the Redskins to be their defensive coordinator presumes that Jay is back for a fifth season as Skins head coach.