A struggling quarterback and offensive line need to help each other in pass protection
The offensive line has long been a problem for Washington. It has struggled to maintain pass protection and give its quarterback the extra second or two to make a pass. It hasn’t just been one player either. Everyone on the line, including Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, has played poorly.
This was a third-and-10 play for the Redskins last Sunday. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul takes on Williams on the edge, while left guard Shawn Lauvao also gets matched up one-on-one.
Williams struggles to contain Pierre-Paul, who uses his speed to reach the edge. Inside, Lauvao gets grabbed and pulled.
Lauvao is pulled off balance and allows the defensive tackle to use a swim move to get past. Center Kory Lichtensteiger crashes on a stunting defensive tackle, and didn’t recognize the defensive end stunting in behind him. On the edge, Williams can’t stop Pierre-Paul from turning the corner.
The Giants get two free rushers up the middle while Pierre-Paul is arcing around the edge against Williams.
Robert Griffin III has nowhere to go with the football and gets sacked before he can try and scramble.
It’s been clear to see that the Redskins offensive line has struggled. But for me, pass protection is a two-way street. The quarterback can have just as big a part to play in pass protection as the offensive line. The best quarterbacks will identify blitzes, set the protection, change the play to find a better matchup, read the coverage and get the ball out of their hands quickly to give the defense as little time as possible to get pressure.
Redskins quarterbacks haven’t been able to do that enough this season. One of Griffin’s biggest flaws this season is holding on to the ball too long and not anticipating throws. That has lead to plenty of sacks this year, including one against the Giants.
This was a fourth-down play. Washington called for a slant-flat route combination that should give Griffin a quick easy throw to tight end Jordan Reed on the slant route.
When Griffin reaches the top of his drop, he has Reed breaking inside. In my opinion, he could get rid of the ball now and trust Reed to shield the ball from the defensive back and get the first down. But whether Griffin saw the defensive back sitting on the route, or the linebacker flying to the flat underneath, he must have decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
But the bigger problem I take issue with is Griffin not anticipating Reed running open. Maybe he thought the linebacker charging to the flat was a zone defender, but he never once looked back to Griffin for the ball. He should have been able to anticipate Reed running open after the flat defender cleared the lane. But instead, Griffin moves on to his second read, Andre Roberts, who is also open.
But Griffin waits the extra second to make the throw, giving Pierre-Paul the time to bulldoze over Williams and get to Griffin in the backfield for a sack-fumble.
You only had to look at the other side of the field to see how a quarterback can bail out his offensive line. Eli Manning had a very similar play to this for the Giants.
The Giants have Odell Beckham Jr. running a slant route.
Manning pump-fakes to the flat, getting both E.J. Biggers and Bashaud Breeland to bite. That allows Beckham to work in behind on his slant route.
Manning, having seen Biggers bite, anticipates Beckham running open behind him. He throws the ball, with Redskins defenders in his face, before Beckham is open.
Manning takes a hit from Ryan Kerrigan, but he gets the throw away and hits Beckham in stride. Beckham repays the effort from Manning by taking it all the way in for a touchdown.
Quarterbacks and offensive lines work hand-in-hand on pass protection. The best offensive lines give their quarterback the extra second or two that he needs for a route to develop; while the best quarterbacks anticipate throws and get the ball out of their hands quickly to keep the blocking time to a minimum. It’s rare that teams have both a great quarterback and offensive line, but the Redskins’ problem is that they have neither. Both are making the situation worse for the other, and will continue to do so unless the problem is addressed.
Gruden counting on veterans to ‘right the ship’ against Philadelphia
With two more games to overtake Dallas for the NFC East title, the Philadelphia Eagles (9-5, 3-1) will have no lack of motivation Saturday against Washington (3-11, 1-3) at FedEx Field.
Among the challenges facing first-year Coach Jay Gruden is getting his squad to match the Eagles’ intensity after last Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants cemented Washington’s last-place finish in the division for the sixth time in seven years.
“It’s a division rival, No. 1, No. 2,” Gruden said, asked what Washington had to play for. “It’s a chance for us to come and play a home game in front of our fans and try to right the ship and show what we are made of. Anytime you get an opportunity to right the ship after some poor performances, it’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys.”
Defensive end Jason Hatcher, who sat out his fifth consecutive practice with an ailing knee Thursday, indicated afterward that he may have played his last game this season. If so, Hatcher would become the latest in a long list of aging free agents whom Washington signed for multi-millions after their prime.
Hatcher, 32, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee the day after signing a four-year, $27.5 million contact with Washington, which included $10.5 million guaranteed. He registered 11 sacks for Dallas last season but reached half that total for Washington (5.5) before being sidelined by an ailing knee.
It’s likely starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather will miss his third consecutive game with an injured toe.
Nonetheless, Gruden said he intends to stick with his veterans Saturday, rather than devote the balance of the season evaluating young players.
“We’re still playing to win football games,” Gruden said. “I’m not going to pull a veteran out of the lineup because I want to see a young guy play if the veteran deserves to play. The veterans want to play. They have earned the right to play, and they’re going to play unless we decide the younger guy is better.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have gotten significant reps, and we have some veteran guys that are still playing and competing and want to win this football game. That’s what it’s all about man, I don’t care how old you are. I just want the best players out there on the field.”
Washington last won a game Oct. 27, when quarterback Colt McCoy led a come-from-behind upset of the Cowboys at Dallas. Its six-game losing streak is the NFC’s longest and second only in the NFL to Tennessee’s nine-game slide.
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Injury report: Brandon Meriweather has setback after testing out toe
Strong safety Brandon Meriweather was unable to practice in any capacity on Thursday, the day after testing out his injured big toe on Wednesday, and appears unlikely to play Saturday when the Eagles visit FedEx Field.
Meriweather took part in a limited number of position drills on Wednesday, but had a setback, coach Jay Gruden said.
Meriweather on Thursday revealed that he had an MRI exam on the toe the previous afternoon, but said that he didn’t know what results those tests turned up.
Also not practicing for the Redskins on Thursday were defensive end Jason Hatcher (inflammation in his right knee) and backup linebacker Gabe Miller (sprained left ankle). The Redskins haven’t made a determination on any players’ availabilities for Saturday’s game, but Hatcher, who missed the previous game, appears unlikely to play.
Left tackle Trent Williams practiced for the first time this week because of the strained right shoulder that forced him out of the final quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Giants. Williams was limited Thursday, but remains hopeful that he can play Saturday. Inside linebacker Keenan Robinson (right knee) also was limited in practice.
Backup safety Trenton Robinson missed practice with an illness.
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Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher: ‘A big possibility’ his season is over
Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher said Thursday there is “a big possibility” that he has played his last game this season. The 32-year-old did not practice again Thursday as he deals with inflammation in his right knee, which forced him to miss Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants.
“It’s progressing, but not like I want it to be. It’s just one of those things,” Hatcher said. “I gave it all I had and I took it to its limit and now it’s time for my body, just to give it a break.”
Hatcher was Washington’s highest-profile free agent signing this offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $27.5 million contract after a career year with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. But the nine-year veteran has been saddled by injuries all season.
“Sometimes you have to be real with yourself, man,” Hatcher said. “I played through a lot this year. I gave it all I had, so you just got to evaluate the situation the best you can and make the right decision, so that’s what I’m doing at this point. … It’s just being smart about what’s going on and how to attack this situation.”
Hatcher underwent surgery on his left knee before training camp began, then suffered a hamstring injury when the Redskins lost to Philadelphia back on Sep. 21. This right knee ailment is the latest setback in a year Hatcher would like to put behind him.
After finishing with a career-high 11 sacks last year, Hatcher has 15 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 13 games this season.
“You have those years. In my early career, I’ve dealt with them. It’s a learning process,” Hatcher said. “I feel like you’ve got to learn from any adversity you go through. I feel like it’s setting me up for next year and motivating me to be as healthy as I can be.
“I got a late start. I had the surgery right before camp and I never was pretty much healthy all season, so I’m looking forward to these eight months, getting my body healthy and be the player I’ve always been.”
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Do the Redskins have a penalty problem? Here are the numbers
Mike Jones’s story yesterday dealt with Washington’s troubles with penalties, and whether they’re an indication of an overall discipline problem with this team. The players and coaches didn’t seem to think so, reasoning that the infractions that come as a result of trying hard during the game are tolerable, and the preventable mental mishaps are not. Pretty much what every coach says, beginning in high school.
Let’s take a look at where Washington is most penalized, and how that compares to the rest of the league.
The first thing to consider is that penalty data isn’t always easy to match up across sources, because some consider every flag thrown, and some only consider those enforced. As any NFL viewer knows, a handful of penalties are declined. For our purposes, let’s use NFLGSIS.com and look at everything called.
This year’s Washington team, through 14 games, is most penalized for
● Offensive holding: 22 times ● False start: 20 ● Unnecessary roughness: 8 ● Defensive pass interference, delay of game, illegal use of hands: 7 each ● Unsportsmanlike conduct, face mask, illegal block above the waist, neutral zone infraction, illegal contact, illegal formation, defensive holding: 5 each ● Roughing the passer: 4 each ● Every other call: 3 times or fewer
Holding (554), False start (526), defensive holding (197), defensive pass interference (184) and illegal use of hands (148) are the most-called penalties throughout the league, so it’s not surprising that those are among Washington’s most-called. But Washington is tied with St. Louis for the most unsportsmanlike conduct calls in the league this year. (And, according to NFLpenalties.com, the Redskins have been the biggest beneficiary of offensive holding, illegal use of hands and unnecessary roughness calls on opponents — perhaps justification for the long-running ‘Orakpo always gets held’ joke).
The false starts, illegal formations and unsportsmanlike conducts are the calls that drive coaches nuts. Making mistakes (and giving away free yards) on preventable mental errors or attitude-related infractions aren’t often things successful teams do. But as Mike points out in the story, this year, good teams have been penalized a lot — Seattle, Denver, New England and Buffalo are all in the top five, just ahead of Washington, when offsetting and declined penalties are ignored. Jacksonville (2-11) is terrible, but is the least-penalized team in the league.
Jacksonville is still the league’s least-penalized team when you consider the amount of time it is on the field. Going by penalties per play, however, Washington is third worst. Only Tampa Bay and Seattle have more.
How can the defending Super Bowl champs get away with it? Here’s what Kedric Golston says in Mike’s story:
“If I’m not mistaken, some of the great teams in the league have a lot of penalties . . . but I think you have to understand where you are as a team and you have to understand that we’re not good enough to overcome ourselves. You have to go out as if you have no room for error, and we don’t . . . you have to understand that you’re not at that point. You need to attempt to go out and play a flawless game and definitely not give away any yardage in penalties.”
Here are Washington’s most penalized players this season:
● Bashaud Breeland: 12 ● Trent Williams: 10 ● Logan Paulsen: 7 ● Akeem Davis, Tom Compton and Shawn Lauvao: 5 each ● Keenan Robinson, Jarvis Jenkins, Kirk Cousins and Perry Riley Jr.: 4 each
The league admitted that two of the five penalties called against Breeland should not have been called, and two of the penalties assessed against him this season were declined. But the rookie cornerback has still given the opponent nine first downs. Williams, on the other hand, has stalled four drives with his penalties. Paulsen and Cousins have stalled three.
Williams and Breeland aren’t having great years here, but cornerbacks and tackles are among the players most exposed to penalties, given what’s often called. While Washington’s other starting cornerback, David Amerson, has only been called for three penalties this season, all of which have been declined, the Redskins’ other tackles (Tom Compton, Tyler Polumbus and Morgan Moses) have picked up nine flags.
There might not be major conclusions to draw here, but it’s interesting to play around with the data. Here are a few places where you can dig into the numbers further: The NFL, NFLpenalties.com, TeamRankings.com and pro-football-reference.
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