Five observations from the Redskins’ 38-31 loss to the Bengals

September 24, 2012

Robert Griffin III holds onto ball as a Bengals defender leaps over the rookie quarterback. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins suffered another close loss, falling 38-31 to Cincinnati on Sunday, and dropped to 1-2.

 With the loss, the Redskins suffered their seventh consecutive defeat at FedEx Field, and also now sit alone in last place of the NFC East, where the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all own 2-1 records.

 There was a lot to digest from this game. Let’s take a stab at it. Here are five observations:

1.) More secondary struggles — The Washington Redskins talked all week about how they needed to shore up their defense, particularly their efforts in the secondary, but those struggles continued as the Bengals racked up six plays of 25 yards or more (touchdowns of 73, 48 and 59 yards). A.J. Green simply blew past DeJon Gomes on the opening play of the game. The Redskins saw the Wildcat formation and expected a run, but Mohamed Sanu made a great throw to catch Washington off-guard. The Redskins gambled and lost on the Armon Binns touchdown. Jim Haslett’s unit had the Bengals in a second-and-20 situation, so the defensive coordinator dialed up a cover-zero blitz (the corners are matched up one-on-one with receivers and have no safety help over the top because the safeties are in the box trying to get to the quarterback). The Redskins have been burned on this in the past, and their cornerbacks dislike this scheme, but as Coach Mike Shanahan said, “Some times you have to take a chance.” Well, you need to have solid coverage also, and Josh Wilson, who’s normally Washington’s best cover corner, struggled greatly. He was way off Binns, and then stumbled while trying to get to the receiver along the sideline as the catch was made. Thing is, even if Wilson hadn’t have stumbled, I’m not sure he would’ve made the play, because he appeared to have taken a bad angle and was already behind Binns instead of on-target and ready to knock him out of bounds. What could’ve been a 10-yard out turned into a 48-yard touchdown. Rookie Richard Crawford gave up the 59-yard touchdown to Andrew Hawkins. Crawford was matched up with the speedy Hawkins, and the safeties were playing over the top on the outside to help the corners with Green and Binns. That left the whole middle of the field open — tough spot for a rookie (in for the then-injured Cedric Griffin) to be in. Crawford was called for holding and still gave up the big play. Haslett came under fire last week, and he’ll continue to have to answer questions about the struggles, but players said after the game that they need to execute better and that being in tough situations and having to take chances in coverages are just part of the game. The Redskins go back to the drawing board once again this week. Secondary coach Raheem Morris is likely racking his brain over what adjustments to make, because he was supposed to upgrade this area of the defense and things appear to have gotten worse.

 2.) Depth pays off up front — The Redskins would have loved to have Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker on the field, but all week long, players and coaches expressed confidence that the depth assembled at the defensive end and linebacker positions would enable them to weather the injuries. Sure enough, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson made plays in place of Orakpo, and Jarvis Jenkins didn’t appear to do poorly in place of Carriker. Those positions certainly aren’t the reason the defense has gone from formidable unit to turnstile seemingly overnight. The one positive on defense is that the Redskins did well against the run, limiting the Bengals to 93 yards on 28 carries. That was an improvement over last week when the Rams rushed for 151 yards.

 3.) Second-half adjustments on offense — The Redskins couldn’t get much of anything going on offense for much of the first half. Unlike past games, where play-calling set up Robert Griffin III nicely to settle into a rhythm early on, it seemed that aside from trying to establish the run, Kyle Shanahan was set on having Griffin make plays downfield and thus hold onto the ball longer, even after left tackle Trent Williams went down with injury. After one half, the usually efficient Redskins offense had only 68 yards and 10 points to show for. But Shanahan did a good job of making adjustments after halftime. He didn’t go away from the run game, but went with more option plays to keep the Bengals off balance. And Griffin did a better job of getting the ball out of his hands more quickly. Then there were times when Shanahan used the same option formations to lure the Bengals into looking for the run, and the Redskins would pass instead. Washington gained 313 yards in the second half and almost had a chance to force overtime.

 4.) Not going for it on fourth down – One call that may have changed the outcome of the game was Washington’s decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 44. The Redskins had scored 14 unanswered points, had 12 first downs and had held onto the ball for just more than 11 of the 15 third-quarter minutes. Griffin gained seven yards on third and eight, and the Redskins were going to go for it on fourth and one. Mike Shanahan said that he felt like the Bengals were tired, and that the Redskins could have kept moving the ball. But Cincinnati called timeout, and Shanahan felt like maybe the break both gave the Bengals a breather and a chance to make some adjustments, and Washington instead punted. Two misfortunes happened for the Redskins. Sav Rocca’s punt landed inside the 5-yard line, but Washington’s gunners couldn’t keep the ball from touching the goal line. They tried, and Shanahan challenged the call, but lost — and rightfully so — but that blew Washington’s final timeout, and the touchback gave the Bengals a shorter field than what they would have had. On that possession, Cincinnati started attacking Washington’s secondary again, and struck gold, marching downfield to score and go up 31-24. It was a curious decision considering the Bengals had no answer for Washington’s offense in all of the third quarter. Now Shanahan and the Redskins are left wondering ‘What-if?’ Going on a bunny-trail here, but one thing is clear over the last few weeks, that with Griffin, Washington’s offense always has a chance. He proved this again through the second half, and was particularly impressive in the fourth quarter when he drove his team 79 yards with 1:47 left on the clock and no timeouts. Griffin was 3-for-3 passing for 35 yards and also rushed for 29 yards, and also got his team another 15 yards, drawing a late hit. But a sack, Fred Davis’ false start, no timeouts, and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that appeared to be on Kyle Shanahan (the team didn’t make him available to give insight on this despite requests) kept Washington from coming any closer.

 5.) Frustration starting to mount — The Redskins players are trying to say and do all the right things, but the frustration is indeed starting to grow. Yes, they’re only 1-2, but the problems on defense appear to be very real. Washington has now lost two very winnable games because of an inability to defend. It’s an odd turn of events — after years of futile offenses and strong defenses, Washington now has a potent offense (33 points per game) and an anemic defense. The defensive players want to correct the problem, but it remains to be seen if they have the ability to do so. The offensive players understand the importance of not pointing fingers, though. After years of being in the position that their defense currently stands in, they can sympathize. As Santana Moss said, “It’s football, man. Every year it’s something different. As a team, we’re all in this together regardless of offense, defense, special teams. We’re all in this as a team together, and we’re only going to achieve this as a team. We all have to make sure if somebody’s lacking, we hold them down on the other end, and that’s how it goes.” The Redskins need to get a victory soon to ease the pressure and save their chances of accomplishing something this season. Yes, it’s still in the first month of the season, but the snowball effect is hard to stop once that ball gets rolling. And, the efforts of the offense could be hampered going forward depending on what the MRI exam on Trent Williams’s knee reveals today. The team was able to move the ball without him in the second half, but there is a big drop-off between Williams and Jordan Black. The athleticism, speed and strength that Williams (charged with protecting Griffin’s blindside) has to offer are rare.

 

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Keith McMillan · September 24, 2012

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