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Posted at 04:50 PM ET, 10/20/2014

Colt McCoy named starter for Dallas; Gruden won’t rule out Robert Griffin III return


Quarterback Colt McCoy is in line to get his first start for the Redskins. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Robert Griffin III returning for the upcoming Monday night game at Dallas, but went ahead and named third-string Colt McCoy as Washington’s starter.

“He still has a long way to go,” Gruden said of Griffin during Monday’s press conference. “I wouldn’t rule him out, but he has got a way to go to show that he can play, show that his ankle is 100 percent. That’s the big thing: He has got to be 100 percent ready to go. We don’t want to put him out there at 85 percent, have it be weak and have him do something to it. We want to make sure he’s ready to go when he’s out there.”

Griffin dislocated his left ankle in the first quarter of Washington’s Sept. 14 game against Jacksonville and has been sidelined since. Backup Kirk Cousins stepped in to win that game but lost the subsequent four and was on a downward trajectory Sunday against Tennessee, having turned the ball over twice, when Gruden benched him at halftime in favor of McCoy.

McCoy’s first throw, a short throw to Pierre Garcon, went for a 70-yard touchdown. He finished 11 of 12 for 128 yards and engineered three scoring drives, including the touchdown that reclaimed the lead and the field goal that clinched the 19-17 victory with three seconds remaining,

“Right now we’re going to move forward with Colt,” Gruden said. “I’d like to make the decision as soon as we can so we can get the reps. I’m a big rep guy. I want to make sure we get the starter ready to go, so we’re moving forward with the Cowboys with Colt, and Kirk is going to get the reps he gets and he’ll be ready to go if need be. But Colt will be the starter on Monday night.”

Gruden laid out several hurdles Griffin will have to clear before he’s comfortable sending him out in a game. That work starts in earnest Wednesday, when Griffin is expected to join the team for the first of four days of practice heading into the Dallas game.

“Robert has to, first of all, be honest with himself in how he’s feeling,” Gruden said. “He has got to get out there, run around. Ultimately if he gets cleared from the doctors, which we don’t know if he is fully cleared yet. We’re still going through the drills at the rate we want him to go through them. We’ll give him a little bit more this week and see where he’s at.

“Ultimately, can he cut without pain? Can he run without pain? Is he full speed? Is he sturdy enough? Does he feel like it is (sturdy enough)? (How does he fare) with the brace on?

“A lot of issues that go into making him a starter or seeing if he’s ready or not, and a lot of those are out of my hands. He’s going to have to make those decisions and so are the trainers.”

Gruden said he had no concerns about Griffin’s readiness from a mental standpoint, noting that he has attended all the quarterback meetings and kept abreast of the offense.

“I think it’s just getting back in the flow, calling the plays in the huddle with the [starters], going through the concepts over again, making sure he didn’t forget anything, which I don’t think he has,” Gruden said.

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Tuesday’s Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Wise: Resist the temptation to bring Griffin back too soon

Mike Jones’s five observations from Redskins’ win over Titans

D.C. Sports Bog: Cooley says start McCoy | Cousins hanging his head

Fancy Stats: Here’s when Cousins lost the fan base

More NFL:  Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow:  @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

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By  |  04:50 PM ET, 10/20/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Colt McCoy, Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III

Posted at 01:40 PM ET, 10/20/2014

Brian Orakpo out for the season with pectoral injury


Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has another pectoral injury. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Linebacker Brian Orakpo is expected to miss the remainder of the season after learning that he indeed tore his right pectoral muscle in Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

Orakpo, a three-time pro bowler, left the game on the second play of the fourth quarter with what was originally described as a right shoulder injury.

After the game, Coach Jay Gruden said that the injury actually was to Orakpo’s right pectoral and described the damage as significant.

Orakpo had an MRI exam on the area Monday morning, and the team learned shortly after that he suffered a tear.

It’s the third such injury that the former first round pick has suffered in his six-year career.

Orakpo tore the left pectoral muscle at the end of the 2011 season, and then tore the same muscle two games into the 2012 campaign.

He recorded 10 sacks last season, and it was set to become a free agent. But Washington retained his services by using the franchise tag on him, paying him a one year, guaranteed salary of $11.45 million.

The linebacker had struggled this season, recording only half a sack in seven games while playing with a dislocated middle finger on his left hand and a sprained ankle.

Rookie Trent Murphy, a second round pick out of Stanford, will likely take over at the right outside linebacker position.

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Tuesday’s Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Wise: Resist the temptation to bring Griffin back to soon

Mike Jones’s five observations from Redskins’ win over Titans

D.C. Sports Bog: Cooley says start McCoy | Cousins hanging his head

Fancy Stats: Here’s when Cousins lost the fan base

More NFL:  Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow:  @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  01:40 PM ET, 10/20/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 10/20/2014

Five observations from the Redskins’ win over the Titans

The Redskins managed to stop the bleeding, pulling off a 19-17 comeback victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. A matchup of two struggling teams, the game featured few highlight-worthy plays.

But the Redskins did enough to win. Colt McCoy came off the bench and helped spark the offense. Kai Forbath knocked down four field goals, including the game winner. The defense, aided by the struggles of the Titans, came up with some timely plays, particularly late in the fourth quarter when Tennessee would have preferred to run out the clock.

But there were a lot of areas of concern that again manifested themselves.

Let’s go over the bad, the ugly and a little good.

1. Cousins’s last stand — You could tell Jay Gruden’s patience was wearing thin. He tipped his hand last Wednesday when he said that he believed Kirk Cousins had the capability to bounce back from his fourth-quarter meltdown against Arizona, but then added “He is facing quite a bit of scrutiny and obviously if things continue in this downward spiral there is always a chance to see Colt.”


Quarterback Colt McCoy, left, waits to go back in the game in the fourth quarter as the player he replaced, Kirk Cousins, right, walks the sidelines. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Cousins failed to deliver, and unlike previous games, his collapse came in the first half. When he saw Cousins throw an interception on what he described as a simple route that the team has practiced and run many times, Gruden said he had no choice.

What does this mean for Cousins? It’s hard to say. There’s no denying he’s intelligent and possesses a strong work ethic. He knows this offense. That’s not the issue. He goes to the line knowing where the ball should go. But the problem appears to be that Cousins makes up his mind too quickly, throwing to that spot before he really sees. It’s easier to speed a quarterback up than it is to slow him down, multiple coaches have told me. A coach can call quick-hitter plays to get that quarterback moving. Slowing down is a matter of that internal clock. Is Cousins beyond repair? It’s probably too early to say that, but his ongoing struggles in this area have cost him a chance to wrestle this starting quarterback job from Robert Griffin III.

Gruden has said Cousins basically is a rookie because he has only a small body of work (now nine games), and that young quarterbacks need to work their way through their struggles. The problem is, it’s hard for a team to remain patient in the face of the intense pressure to win. Cousins may have seen his last start for some time now. He may have to continue working and trying to learn as a backup, and then hope that his opportunity comes somewhere down the road when called on in a relief effort. It sounded as if his final interception squelched at least the short-term optimism Gruden had.

2. Accountability — Gruden used this word when discussing his decision to bench Cousins. And then we saw the coach hold another player accountable for his struggles.

Gruden started off the second half swapping Tom Compton in at right tackle for Tyler Polumbus. “Tyler had a couple of plays he struggled on and Tom had put some good work in at practice,” Gruden said. “We thought that it was time to look at Tom at right tackle. He deserved an opportunity to play.”

Gruden knows he has to get this thing turned around, and the only way he is going to get the attention of his players is to make changes in the lineup so they realize that things just aren’t cutting it as they are.

Polumbus and Compton rotated in and out during the second half, so it’s hard to say if this will become a full-time thing for Compton, or if Polumbus will have received a wakeup call and respond with improved play.

Cousins and Polumbus aren’t the only players struggling and deserving of having their playing time jeopardized. Washington’s defensive backs — most notably E.J. Biggers, Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather continue to struggle. For a second straight week, Clark blew a red-zone tackle that would have prevented a touchdown. Meriweather had a hit on the quarterback, but he is otherwise a near non-factor. Biggers continues to struggle in coverage. He got beat off the line by Derek Hagan and couldn’t recover, yielding a 38-yard touchdown play. On that play, Clark bit on the tight end, and also didn’t recover in time to help over the top. It was just a bad play all around and one of many for the secondary this season.

The problem is, the coaches don’t have many options for replacements. The secondary ranks are extremely thin. Chase Minnifield can play nickel, but he still is learning, and at this point, coaches don’t believe he is ready to take on a larger role. You could argue that it can’t get much worse. But given that this coaching staff is ready to start putting veterans on notice, you have to believe they would make a change there if they could. The continued injury absence of Tracy Porter, who could help here if he could ever get on the field, proves costly week in and week out.

3. Sluggish run game — Gruden tried to stick with the run better than he had in previous weeks, but the results remained largely the same. Alfred Morris again found daylight hard to come by and mustered only three yards a carry while finishing with 54 yards on 18 attempts — his heaviest workload since a 23-carry day against Philadelphia in Week 3.

As discussed last week, part of the problem involves a lack of the threat that Robert Griffin III brings as a runner. You can see the defenses load up the box when they see Morris in the backfield, and there’s little daylight. Roy Helu Jr. had some success (five carries for 29 yards), but that’s because with Helu in the backfield, the defenses expect pass, and leave fewer defenders in the box.

But there’s more wrong with the rushing attack than just a lack of Griffin. Left guard Shawn Lauvao struggled against the Titans. Far too often you see Lauvao knocked off the ball and getting up off the ground at the end of a play. He consistently struggles to get to the second level. Center Kory Lichtensteiger and right guard Chris Chester both had some struggles as well on Sunday, but not as significant as Lauvao. The problem, however, is that on those stretch zone runs, the line has to work together as one, and one guy missing his assignment can blow up a whole play. Given the opportunity Compton got at right tackle, you have to wonder if Josh LeRibeus will get a look at left guard with Lauvao’s struggles continuing.


Titans tight end Delanie Walker reaches for a pass, but it was intercepted by Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

4. Young players on D — There were some bright spots on defense from some of the younger members of the unit. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland recorded the first interception of his career. As a whole, he did well and probably played his best game thus far. He played with greater patience and didn’t get burned because of overaggression. His instincts and feel for this pro game are sharpening. He had the illegal contact call on Delanie Walker, which extended a drive. But I didn’t agree with that call. Walker cut over and ran up and into Breeland. The young corner said after the game that he was surprised he got called for that, but said next time around, he’ll just try to be more mindful and read the receiver more closely and try to move with anticipation to avoid getting lured into such a call.

Young inside linebackers Keenan Robinson and Will Compton also played well. They didn’t get torched by a talented tight end as we have seen Washington’s linebackers do in previous games. They also did well against the run, displaying good instincts and sure tackling. Robinson tallied a team-high 14 tackles, including seven solo stops. Compton added six tackles (four solo).

Meanwhile, backup defensive end Frank Kearse continues to make the most of his opportunities and recorded the only sack of the game. (Washington’s top pass rushers again got shut out, which is concerning). This is what you want and need as you try to build a strong team.

Washington could have to turn to another young player in rookie linebacker Trent Murphy. If Brian Orakpo (right pectoral) is sidelined for an extended period of time, Murphy will likely take over as the starter. It remains to be seen if coaches would start him on the left edge and move Ryan Kerrigan over to the right to work against opposing left tackles, or if they would go with Murphy there. He has seen action at both spots. Coaches hoped to bring him along this year behind Orakpo and Kerrigan. But given Orakpo’s struggles even before this latest injury, Murphy’s minutes could have been on the verge of increasing anyway.

5. QB watch — Gruden didn’t commit to a starter for next Monday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys because as of now, far too many unknowns remain. Griffin, who has missed the past five games while recovering from a dislocated left ankle, is expected to begin practicing this week. But until the coaches and medical staff get a good, long look at him on Wednesday, they will not know if he’s even capable of playing at a high level.

Griffin probably can move close to decently enough, and that’s what the trainers and doctors will be looking for. But the coaches will be gauging his command of the offense. The young quarterback was trying to develop better rhythm and timing in this offense even before he got hurt. Now not having run it since Week 2, it’s only natural that he would take a step backward. But can he do enough to give his team a chance to win?

The other thing is, moving fine in practice is one thing, but game speed, with 300-pound men flying at you, requiring you to make sharp cuts? Totally different. Gruden had hoped to see Griffin practice fully for two weeks before turning him loose. But the pressure now has increased thanks to Cousins’s struggles and benching.

However, the Redskins don’t want to risk Griffin going out there and having a setback. Meanwhile, it sounds as if Colt McCoy could be the next-best option at this point, in the minds of the coaches. McCoy displayed good poise, recognition and accuracy on Sunday despite not having thrown to the starting receivers since training camp. He was able to identify blitz packages and make the necessary adjustments to deliver timely throws. Right now, his confidence level is higher than Cousins’s and so coaches would be inclined to game plan around him. For now, Griffin is the wild-card, however.

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E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Tuesday’s Mailbag.

More from The Post:

D.C. Sports Bog: Cooley says start McCoy | Cousins hanging his head

Fancy Stats: Here’s when Cousins lost the fan base

Boswell: Big picture still has flawsTakeaway: McCoy delivers

Griffin expected to practice Wednesday | Orakpo injures pectoral

More NFL:  Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow:  @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  12:30 PM ET, 10/20/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Bashaud Breeland, Chase Minnifield, Colt McCoy, E.J. Biggers, Frank Kearse, Keenan Robinson, Shaun Lauvao, Tom Compton, Tracy Porter, Trent Murphy, Tyler Polumbus, Will Compton

Posted at 09:55 AM ET, 10/20/2014

Washington’s running game still not up to snuff


Running back Alfred Morris looks for an opening in the first quarter Sunday. He carried 18 times for 54 yards. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

During the Sunday afternoon on which Dallas running back DeMarco Murray made NFL history by becoming the first to rush for 100 yards or more in seven consecutive games to start a season, Washington’s running game continued to struggle to find its footing.

The Redskins Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris has yet to have a single 100-yard game but led the rushing attack with 18 carries for 54 yards (3.0 average) in the 19-17 victory over Tennessee that snapped a four-game winning streak.

Coach Jay Gruden made a concerted effort to call more running plays; they accounted for 26 of the 57 offensive plays in the game, gaining 3.8 yards per rush and accounting for 100 yards of the total offensive output of 351 yards.

“We had some good runs and some not-so-good runs today,” Gruden said afterward. “We have to improve our running game, obviously. It’s still not that up to par, in my opinion, for us to be successful. We want to get the ball out of our hands, for good reasons.”

Washington’s third series opened with three carries by Morris: around left side for 14 yards, up the middle for three and around left end again for five yards. He hurt an ankle on the latter play and briefly came out of the game. The drive stalled on the next play. Morris didn’t miss a series, returning for the next drive.

Roy Helu Jr. broke off bigger chunks, gaining 29 yards on his five carries.

With quarterback Colt McCoy directing the offense in the second half, fullback Darrel Young gained 14 yards around left end on a third and one. The series ended in the punt that Tennessee’s Dexter McCluster muffed and tight end Niles Paul recovered. The ensuing drive produced a field goal that extended Washington’s lead to 16-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Washington’s third-down efficiency remained poor. The team converted just 27 percent (3 of 11); Tennessee posted identical numbers.

After Tennessee had re-taken the lead, 17-16, Washington went three and out, with Morris carrying for two yards and McCoy being sacked twice.

On what proved the game-winning drive, Gruden chose to throw on third and two from Tennessee’s 29, with 43 seconds remaining, rather than run the ball. McCoy’s pass, deep to DeSean Jackson, fell incomplete but drew the crucial pass-interference call that put the Redskins in easy field-goal range.

“I knew if we handed it up the middle, we would be way short because they were bringing the house,” Gruden explained. “We called a max protection play and we let [wide receiver] DeSean [Jackson] take it up the corner. If it’s incomplete, we could kick it field-goal range, worst scenario. I thought DeSean would have won there. Unfortunately, but we got the PI [pass interference]. I knew a handoff up the middle would get stuffed, so it was take a shot with a deep ball with our best receiver or kick a field goal if it didn’t work.”

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Tuesday’s Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Boswell: Big picture still has flawsTakeaway: McCoy delivers

Griffin expected to practice Wednesday | Orakpo injures pectoral

McCoy steps in at half, leads Redskins to 19-17 victory | Box score

Cousins realizes turnovers did him in | Titans say they let one get away

Photo galleryD.C. Sports Bog: Redskins vs. Titans best and worst

More NFL:  Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow:  @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  09:55 AM ET, 10/20/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr.

Posted at 08:13 PM ET, 10/19/2014

Robert Griffin III expected to resume practicing Wednesday


Injured quarterback Robert Griffin III, left, celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Pierre Garcon Sunday, and Griffin could be back throwing to Garcon in practice this week. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden left FedEx Field with the second victory of his NFL career in his pocket and one major question hanging over his head.

Which quarterback will start the next game, Oct. 27, under the white-hot spotlight of Monday Night Football at Dallas?

Starting quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has been sidelined since Sept. 14 by a dislocated left ankle, could be cleared to resume practicing on Wednesday, Gruden said during his post-game press conference.

Griffin is expected to be put through a rigorous workout that day that will give team officials a better sense of where he is in his recovery. To date he was joined the Redskins for pre-practice stretching, warmups, individual drills and limited handoffs with the scout team.

Gruden has said more than once that he’d like Griffin to log at least two weeks of practice before returning to the lineup. If he’s able to start that process Wednesday, that would put his return to competition at the Nov. 2 game at Minnesota. For him to return sooner, at Dallas, would be a surprise.

Second-string quarterback Kirk Cousins was benched after turning the ball over twice in Sunday’s 19-17 victory, replaced by third-stringer Colt McCoy, who rallied Washington from a four-point halftime deficit with a 11-of-12 passing performance for 128 yards. McCoy’s first throw of the game resulted in a 70-yard touchdown.

Assuming Gruden’s choices are between Cousins and McCoy, it appears that McCoy has the inside track.

“It’s a good sign the way Colt finished the game, ran the offense,” Gruden said, alluding to his poise and efficiency in engineering the game-winning touchdown drive on the last possession, which started with 3 minutes 14 seconds remaining. “Very smart and very efficient. Did some good things.”

Asked about this timetable for naming his starter against Dallas, Gruden: “You’d like to have your decision made as soon as possible to get ‘em ready. Then you throw Robert in the mix. Robert has a chance to practice on Wednesday, so we’ll have to see where he is — see where he is health-wise, and from there I will make a decision from watching the tape of what I’m going to do.”

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Tuesday’s Mailbag.

More from The Post:

McCoy steps in at half, leads Redskins to 19-17 victory | Box score

Takeaway: Gruden didn’t want to turn to McCoy, but QB delivered

Cousins realizes turnovers did him in | Titans say they let one get away

Photo galleryD.C. Sports Bog: Redskins vs. Titans best and worst

More NFL:  Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow:  @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  08:13 PM ET, 10/19/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Colt McCoy, Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III

 

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