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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 11/28/2014

The strengths and weaknesses of Colt McCoy

After failing to fully grasp and run Jay Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense, Robert Griffin III was benched in favor of backup Colt McCoy. The decision generated mixed reaction. While I agree Griffin needs to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, he was playing so poorly that he was making the most basic errors. He wasn’t getting any better and there wasn’t a worse quarterback in the NFL over the past few weeks than Griffin. The change had to be made.

It’s not so much about McCoy being the future either. He’s had his chance in the past and failed too, but what he proved in his two games this season is that he can execute the basics of the offense well enough to make use of the many weapons the Redskins have. With DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Andre Roberts, among others, simply doing the basics well and efficiently should be enough to make the offense competitive.

Right from the first pass the threw against the Titans, he showed he could make a quick decision and get the ball out quickly at the top of his drop and trust his receivers, all things Griffin struggled with this season.

McCoy’s first pass was a “Thunder” route, a West Coast offense staple. It asks the wide receiver to read the coverage and change his route depending on the coverage. Against cover-two, the receiver runs a fade. Against off-man coverage, the receiver runs a five-yard hitch route. But on this play, the Titans are in press coverage against Pierre Garcon, which tells him to run a seven-yard stop route. The quarterback and the receiver have to be on the same page and trust each other to make the same read on the coverage.

Despite having hardly thrown a pass to Garcon all offseason because he was the third-string quarterback, McCoy reaches the top of his drop and gets the ball out quickly, before Garcon has even made his cut.

That allows Garcon to catch the ball before the corner has a chance to break on the ball. It gets the ball to Garcon at the point of most separation, giving him the opportunity to make a move and try to elude the corner. Garcon did just that, dodging the tackle and taking it all the way to the end zone.

It may have been a simple read and throw, but it’s something Griffin had trouble doing consistently. McCoy had no such troubles, carrying these traits into the Cowboys game.

With the Redskins approaching the red zone here, McCoy needed to take care of the football. Washington called for a comeback route by Garcon.

As he drops back, McCoy keeps his eyes down the middle of the field, looking off the safety. Griffin had struggled with this, often staring down receivers, leading to his pick-six against the Buccaneers.

Once McCoy’s back foot reaches the top of his drop, he then turns to look at his intended target. He trusts Garcon to make his cut back towards the sidelines.

McCoy takes the quick hitch and then delivers the ball as Garcon begins his cut, once again maximizing the separation from the corner. I’m not sure Griffin makes this throw. He might have seen the zone defender and hesitated to pull the trigger. But McCoy is confident and trusts himself to make the throw.

The ball is on target, but lacks velocity. Garcon has to wait for it, despite the ball being delivered on time. Throwing to the sideline from the opposite hash mark requires a strong arm, which is McCoy’s biggest weakness. He gets everything right about this throw but lacks the arm strength to deliver it as well as you’d like.

The arm strength is a legitimate question that McCoy will have to answer in his opportunity as a starter, particularly with Jackson out wide. McCoy connected with Jackson a couple of times deep, but really should have done better.

Backed up deep in their own half, the Redskins call for a deep shot. Jackson runs a go route.

The deep safety bites on Garcon’s underneath route, leaving Jackson free to run past him.

Jackson has two yards on the trailing corner, but he has to start slowing down to adjust to the ball from McCoy.

McCoy underthrows Jackson, nearly allowing the corner to catch up and break up the pass. Jackson does an excellent job adjusting to the ball and making the catch, but is then tackled immediately. That should have been a touchdown, and the only reason it was not is McCoy’s arm.

But after a few more deep shots to Jackson, McCoy did eventually recognize that it’s nearly impossible to overthrow Jackson.

On this play, Jackson runs a corner route. But with the ball on the near hash, Jackson has to get inside leverage first.

Jackson quickly gets a step on his defender. McCoy knows with the deep safety on the far hash and Jackson breaking outside, his speed will have him open. He reaches the top of his drop and then pulls the trigger.

Jackson again tracks the ball excellently, taking the ball over his outside shoulder in stride. The ball from McCoy was on the money, proving that he can do it if he anticipates the throw and gets rid of the ball early enough. But it will be interesting to see if he can manage this consistently.

McCoy didn’t make too many poor decisions in the two games that he played in. But he does have to avoid turning over the ball.

The Redskins look to take another shot on the Cowboys’ defense here. They use Jackson on a fake screen pass to try and sneak Garcon or Roberts open deep.

If McCoy was going to make a throw, it would be to the inside post route here. But with the safety over the top, it would be a small window.

Instead, McCoy opts to take the deep shot down the sideline. But his receiver wasn’t open and the safety was in position over the top to break on the ball.

The safety makes a great play on the ball to make the interception, but it was a poor decision from McCoy. He didn’t make many mistakes, but this one cost him. Kirk Cousins was benched for McCoy because he made too many poor decisions leading to interceptions; McCoy can’t afford to do the same.

One other aspect of McCoy’s game that caught my eye against the Cowboys in particular was his mobility. He is deceptively mobile and can extend the play to give his receivers extra time to get open.

In overtime, Washington looks to hit Garcon on a post route.

McCoy potentially has a throw on as Garcon breaks open and perhaps could have pulled the trigger. But he feels the rush coming.

So McCoy begins to scramble. The Cowboys defensive end spots the scramble and works back inside of Trent Williams, forcing McCoy to go around him to get outside.

McCoy stays composed, keeping his eyes down the field as he runs. He spots Reed and signals for him to go deeper.

McCoy then makes an awkward throw on the run and puts good touch on it to get it over the defender, but keep it in reach of Reed.

Reed does a fantastic job controlling his body as he adjusts to the pass. He brings in the catch and gets both feet down inbounds.

Overall, I’m not expecting to be blown away by McCoy. I don’t think he’s the future of the Redskins at quarterback, but I do think he can be efficient in these final five games as a starter. His mobility should help him, but he has to be smart with the ball, as he has been for the most part, and avoid turnovers. As we’ve seen against the Titans and the Cowboys, efficient should be enough with the weapons in this offense to be successful. How long he can stay efficient, however, remains to be seen.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his Redskins impressions without the benefit of access to the team. For more, click here or here.

By Mark Bullock  |  11:15 AM ET, 11/28/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Colt McCoy

Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/28/2014

Redskins concerned about being shorthanded in defensive backfield vs. Colts

No NFL team can afford to be thin in its defensive backfield, particularly when preparing to face the league’s top-ranked passing attack.

That’s among Washington’s concerns as its girds for Sunday’s meeting with the 7-4 Indianapolis Colts, who under third-year quarterback Andrew Luck are averaging an NFL-best 323.1 passing yards per game.

On the encouraging side, Washington (3-8) will once again have the services of starting cornerback David Amerson, who was benched for last Sunday’s 17-13 defeat at San Francisco as punishment for missing a team meeting.

But the availability of cornerback E.J. Biggers, who figures prominently in the nickel package, is in question after the sixth-year player suffered a concussion in the latest loss. Biggers is undergoing the NFL’s concussion protocol and hasn’t been able to practice this week.

“There is some concern,” Coach Jay Gruden said this week. “We want to make sure E.J. is obviously 100 percent. He’s going to go through the proper measures and if there’s any lingering side effects whatsoever, obviously safety first with these players and we’ll have to make adjustments and work out some other guys inside in the nickel.”

If Biggers isn’t cleared to play, the Redskins can turn to rookie Greg Ducre, who snagged his first career interception on the third snap of his NFL debut at corner against San Francisco, and Chase Minnifield, recently elevated from the practice squad. Gruden noted that safety Trenton Robinson is an option in the nickel role.

The Colts’ starting wide receivers, deep threat T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne, have combined for 113 receptions and 1,688 yards. And tight ends Coby Fleener (31 catches, 467 yards) and Dwayne Allen (26 catches, 374) have accounted for 11 touchdowns between them.

Lacking Amerson against San Francisco last Sunday, the Redskins ran out of cornerbacks after Tracy Porter and Biggers went out with injuries, which necessitated some radical reshuffling of duties.

“We had safeties playing corner last week,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “We had linebackers playing safety. [Safety] Ryan [Clark] said it was fun. Maybe fun for him, but it wasn’t real fun for [defensive backs coach] Raheem [Morris].”

Haslett said officials yelled at him more than once to get Morris off the field, after the defensive backs coach sprinted out between calls to try to instruct the young players. At one point, Morris was even prepping veteran wide receiver Santana Moss to step in at cornerback if one more man went down.

Nonetheless, the defense forced three turnovers, but they translated to a lone field goal as Washington’s offense sputtered.

Haslett said he felt it was important that Amerson be disciplined for his mistake but regretted that the punishment had to be exacted for a game in which he was needed so badly.

“I’ll be surprised if that ever happens again,” Haslett said. “Young guys like that sometimes put themselves in a bad position, and they pay for it. He did. And the team paid for it more than him.”

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 11/28/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  David Amerson, E.J. Biggers, Greg Ducre, Trenton Robinson

Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 11/28/2014

Haslett on Colts’ Andrew Luck: ‘One of the best I’ve seen in the league’

Even as he worried about how to disrupt him, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett couldn’t hide his admiration for the Indianapolis Colts’ third-year quarterback Andrew Luck.

“He’s one of the best I’ve seen in the league,” Haslett said Luck, whom the Colts made the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft before Washington chose Robert Griffin III with the second pick. “He gets the ball out of his hands. Things don’t bother him. He knows where to go with the ball. He’ll take a hit, and it doesn’t really affect him.”

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Luck is completing 63.4 percent of his passes (294 of 464, for 3,641 yards) and has thrown 29 touchdowns to 10 interceptions this season. His sturdiness and quick decision-making pose a particular challenge for Washington’s pass rushers, who must be both physical and quick to have any hope of disrupting him in Sunday’s game at Indianapolis.

“The object is not just to hit him or put pressure on him or get a quarterback hit on him,” Haslett said. “Obviously you’ve got to get a sack on him or try to get the ball or dislodge it from him, which is not easy because he’s a big human being.”

Haslett said that what jumped out as he watched video of Luck running the offense was that defenses seemed to be doing a good job and then, suddenly, the Colts connected on a 50-yard pass play or 70-yard pass play.

Washington’s defensive line is in a slightly precarious state heading into Week 12. Defensive end Jason Hatcher, the major free-agent acquisition on defense, has been unable to practice this week with lingering knee soreness that Coach Jay Gruden attributed to “wear and tear.”

Gruden said he hoped Hatcher would be able to play Sunday.

“That’s our goal,” Gruden said of Hatcher, 32, whose five sacks are slightly off the pace he set in his 11-sack Pro Bowl season at Dallas last season. “We want to make sure he just gets the needed rest — big guy, he plays hard obviously and just has a little bit of soreness in his knee.”

Nose tackle Chris Baker, who missed last Sunday’s game at San Francisco with a chest injury, was limited in practice Thursday. With Baker out, Barry Cofield took most of the snaps at nose tackle.

And after taking a fall at Redskins Park, defensive line coach Jacob Burney had surgery Wednesday, as did special-teams captain Adam Hayward, whose season ended with a broken leg. While Burney recovers, outside linebackers coach Brian Baker is taking over primary responsibility for the defensive line and Haslett is minding the outside linebackers.

“Tough being in this building this day and age,” Gruden said. “We’ve got some guys going down. Coach Burney [fell] just as he’s going from the stairs to the floor in the kitchen, and he had to have surgery yesterday. I think he’ll be okay. He’ll have a full recovery, but he’s going to be tied up for a while.”

Washington is 3-8 heading into Sunday’s game, in which Colt McCoy, who supplanted Robert Griffin III as the starting quarterback this week, will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak. The Colts are 7-4.

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By  |  09:30 AM ET, 11/28/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Brian Baker, Chris Baker, Jacob Burney, Jason Hatcher

Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 11/28/2014

The Test: How first-year starters Trent Murphy and Keenan Robinson are helping the run defense excel

The Test asks two Post specialists to take unique looks at a Redskins issue leading up to each game. Neil Greenberg of our Fancy Stats blog runs the numbers; Separately, Mark Bullock gives it the eye test. 

Neil Greenberg’s take: There is a bright spot for the Redskins this season: their run defense. They allow the seventh-fewest yards per carry (3.8) and, according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, have one of the best run stoppers at the linebacker position in rookie Trent Murphy.

Murphy, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, has earned the fourth highest rating for stopping the run among all outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

So far this season, Murphy has 12 solo tackles which resulted in a loss of yards, two sacks, five hits and 12 hurries. Five of those stops came against San Francisco this past Sunday. But more importantly, he has just two missed tackles, a major problem for this team last season.

Mark Bullock’s take: The Redskins’ defense battled through injuries and absentees in the secondary to keep the team in the game right until the end against the 49ers. A big part of their success was their ability to defend the run. Both Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde averaged less than three yards per carry. San Francisco is a team built on a power run game, which frequently uses multiple tight ends and backs to try and add more blockers up front and create more gaps for the defense to account for. But by using run-heavy formations, they played into the Redskins’ strength on defense.

Washington was allowed to play in their base defense for large portions of the game and often bring down strong safety Brandon Meriweather as the eighth defender in the box.

This is the ideal for Washington. They’ve struggled in the past when teams have forced them into their nickel package, removing a defensive lineman for a defensive back to help cover. They are much weaker against the run when teams do that. But the 49ers opted against that, instead creating extra gaps and using different blocking schemes to try and catch the defense by surprise.

But the Redskins’ front seven (eight, counting Meriweather in the box) played with strong fundamentals, which allowed them to limit the 49ers’ efforts with their run game. The first key in the run game is always to set a strong edge. The edge defenders have to stop the run bouncing outside and force it back inside to the rest of the defense. Rookie Trent Murphy was tested in this regard by the 49ers and responded well.

San Francisco ran to Murphy’s side here. They pull their left guard around the edge to kick out Murphy.

But Murphy plays it excellently. He does a great job staying low, despite being a tall player. He gets underneath the pad level of the guard and blows up the block.

Gore is forced to cut back immediately, thanks to Murphy blowing up the edge. As the eighth man in the box, Meriweather is left unblocked. The run is funneled back inside by Murphy and Meriweather comes in to clean it up.

Meriweather makes a solid tackle and keeps Gore to a minimal gain.

Murphy was particularly strong in this aspect of his game on Sunday. There were multiple occasions on which Murphy forced the run back inside, or made the tackle when the runner attempted to bounce it back outside.

Here’s another example:

On this play, Hyde replaces Gore as the running back. The 49ers again run at Murphy. They also use their right guard to try and reach linebacker Perry Riley Jr. on the second level.

Riley does a nice job identifying the run and charging to the hole, avoiding the right guard completely.

Murphy sets the edge, forcing the run back inside. Defensive end Stephen Bowen also takes outside leverage on his blocker, forcing Hyde to cut back into the awaiting Riley. Riley makes the tackle for a minimal gain.

With Murphy setting a strong edge, the runners were forced back inside to linebackers Riley and Keenan Robinson. Riley made some good plays, as we just saw above, but his inside linebacker partner Robinson stood out to me.

This was another run to the left by the 49ers.

This time, Meriweather comes flying around the corner to set the edge and force the run back inside. Barry Cofield, playing nose tackle on this play, occupies the right guard and right tackle to keep Robinson clean.

With the run forced back inside, Robinson can begin to approach the line of scrimmage and attack the running back. The right guard begins to peel off his double-team block on Cofield, but Cofield occupies him just long enough to keep Robinson clean.

Robinson and outside linebacker Everette Brown combine to make the tackle, again keeping it to a minimal gain.

Robinson can’t always be kept so clean by his defensive linemen. But Robinson is good enough to get off blocks and still make plays.

The 49ers run to their left again, but this time running an inside play instead of looking to get outside. They use a blocking stunt on the back side of the run that involves the right tackle pulling around the right guard to reach the second-level block.

The tackle does a good job pulling around and locates Robinson to make the block.

But Robinson plays the block aggressively. He keeps his pad level low and explodes into the block.

That allows Robinson to break through the block attempt and wrap up the running back cutting in behind it.

The Redskins’ run defense played well throughout the game, keeping them in the game right until the very end. When it came down to the biggest moment in the game, on third and short with the 49ers looking to run out the clock, they came up with the big stop.

San Francisco look to pull their left guard and run behind him. But Cofield and defensive end Jason Hatcher blow up this play.

If the right guard pulls, the center normally has to reach across to block the defensive end. But on this play, Cofield occupies the center, allowing Hatcher to shoot right through the gap left by the pulling guard.

Hatcher charges into the backfield and brings down the runner for a loss. But more importantly, he stops the third down conversion and gets the offense the ball back with an opportunity to win the game.

It was an excellent effort from the Redskins’ defense all round, but particularly up front in the run game. The 49ers average nearly 120 yards per game, so for Washington to hold them to a total of 66 yards was a great performance.

Neil Greenberg runs Fancy Stats, where numbers meet news. Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions without the benefit of access to the team. He also posts here.

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By Mark Bullock and Neil Greenberg  |  08:00 AM ET, 11/28/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Keenan Robinson, Trent Murphy

Posted at 02:28 PM ET, 11/27/2014

Left tackle Trent Williams eyeing return against Colts

The goal for Sunday isn’t for Trent Williams to be fully recovered from the sprained ankle and knee he suffered two weeks ago. It’s for Williams to be mobile enough to help Washington’s offensive line protect quarterback Colt McCoy against the pass rush of the Indianapolis Colts.

By that standard, Williams looks like a “go” for Sunday’s game after he took part in Thursday’s full practice at Redskins Park.

“He looked good today,” Coach Jay Gruden said of the Pro Bowl left tackle, who missed last Sunday’s game at San Francisco, a 17-13 loss, with the injuries, ceding his spot to rookie Morgan Moses.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III, who was benched this week in favor of McCoy, was sacked five times and held to 77 net yards passing.

Williams, who hadn’t missed a game since 2011, said it was tough to watch from the sideline.

“Just felt like I wanted to be out there so bad,” Williams said. “Especially the game wasn’t going the way we wanted it to go, for the most part, so I felt like I could do something to help. It was very difficult to watch.”

In other injury-related news, cornerback E.J. Biggers did not practice Thursday, still undergoing the NFL’s concussion protocol. That said, he hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Defensive end Jason Hatcher, who is ailing with a knee injury, stretched with his teammates but sat out practice.

Nose tackle Chris Baker (sternum) was limited in practice, as were safety Ryan Clark and tight end Jordan Reed.

Gruden said there was concern about Biggers’s availability for Sunday but added that the team had options in Greg Ducre and Chase Minnifield if short-handed at cornerback. Washington will also have starter David Amerson back from his one-game benching for missing a team meeting. The coach was more optimistic about Hatcher’s status.

By  |  02:28 PM ET, 11/27/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Chris Baker, David Amerson, E.J. Biggers, Jason Hatcher, Jordan Reed, Ryan Clark, Trent Williams


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