Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Giants

Robert Griffin

Robert Griffin III has one interception and one lost fumble against the New York Giants. (Associated Press)

The Washington Redskins get some time today to stew over their crushing loss to the New York Giants before they try to regroup and find a way to cope with the loss of Fred Davis and the ongoing absence of Pierre Garcon.

 As Robert Griffin III said Sunday, “Rex [Grossman] told me in the locker room, there are certain games you’ll be a part of that you should’ve won and you lost, and there certain games that you should’ve lost but you won. We definitely feel like this is one we should’ve won that we lost.”

The Redskins had plenty of opportunities, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning was not at his best until his game-winning touchdown pass. Washington’s loss was the result of self-inflicted wounds (three fumbles and an interception, blown pass coverage).

 Here are five observations from Sunday’s 27-23 New York Giants victory over the Redskins.

 1.)  Scheme not to blame for Cruz TD – Right after Manning completed the 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz for what eventually became the game-winning play, my phone began chiming with e-mail and twitter notifications. One criticism of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett after another rained down. But execution and a couple of other factors, not scheme, was to blame on this play. Yes, Haslett has gone with some tactics in the past that wind up proving costly, but this was not one of them. The Redskins had the proper defense for the situation. Josh Wilson was lined up over Cruz with Madieu Williams further upfield to give him help, and Cedric Griffin was on Hakeem Nicks with Jordan Pugh backing him up.

Dan Steinberg did a great job of breaking down in images what went wrong on this play. And watching it on tape, you can tell Pugh immediately dropped back further to ensure he wouldn’t get beat deep if Nicks dusted Griffin. Williams didn’t move until it was too late, and he and Wilson never were able to keep up. Williams has to get deeper because in that situation, his very simple mission is to make sure he doesn’t get beat deep. You give up underneath stuff, and take away the top. Williams didn’t do this.

And Wilson didn’t do anything to impede Cruz as he started his route. Both defensive backs said, “They made a play, and we didn’t execute.” Mike Shanahan said the Redskins had what they wanted with two receivers double-teamed, and Cruz just beat them.

In addition to execution, another problem was again magnified: the Redskins’ lack of speed in the secondary. Williams is a very intelligent player, and Wilson has a great understanding of the defense as well. But the Redskins continue to demonstrate how badly they need speed. There’s nothing they can do this season, but this will be a priority in the offseason.

Another factor is a limited pass rush. Stephen Bowen was the only player to get to Eli Manning, but he did so too late. Washington’s decision-makers elected to make do in the secondary with the hope that the front seven would be able to apply pressure on quarterbacks and help compensate for their limited defensive backs. But with Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker out, the Redskins’ efforts are further hampered.

 2.) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers – In previous weeks, the Redskins have been able to capitalize on opposing teams’ turnovers and take care of the ball themselves. On Sunday, they were unable to do either. On Griffin’s interception, you have to wonder what would have happened if Davis had been in the game, because he runs that route with great frequency, and it was obvious there was a miscommunication between Griffin and Logan Paulsen. Griffin took the blame, saying he shouldn’t have thrown it, and he did appear to have his mind made up, because Paulsen wasn’t even close. But the tight end definitely appeared to break off his route prematurely.

On Griffin’s fumble, two things went wrong. First, Niles Paul was supposed to come across to lay a block at the right edge, and he ran right past Jason Pierre-Paul, and instead got to the next level and blocked Giants’ linebacker Keith Rivers. That left Pierre-Paul to run untouched into the backfield, where he tackled Griffin and forced the fumble. But the fumble is partially on Griffin as well. He appears to be looking at Pierre-Paul just as he begins to fake his handoff to running back Alfred Morris. At that point, it already looked as if Paul wasn’t going to get to Pierre-Paul, and Griffin probably should have allowed  Morris to take the ball for a dive up the middle. Instead, he pulls the ball out and tries in vain to get around Pierre-Paul. Morris at least would’ve gotten back to the line of scrimmage.

3.) Rough day for Paul – Niles Paul had a rough day in general. He also was to blame for Osi Umenyiora’s sack, because like the Griffin fumble, the tackle (this time left tackle Trent Williams) was blocking down, and Paul was supposed to come across and pick up Umenyiora. Paul said he simply didn’t get there in time. The young player is still learning the tight end position and is a ways off. Paul admitted that because of Davis’s absence, he was being asked to do some things he isn’t familiar with. He wasn’t making excuses, just explaining. As was evident by all of the targets Paulsen received, the Redskins coaches aren’t very comfortable with Paul yet. Paulsen primarily has been a blocking tight end/H-back, but became a primary target Sunday, and did well with four catches for 76 yards. Paul plays hard and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work on special teams or offense, but his conversion from wide receiver to tight end remains a work in progress.

 4.) Compensating on offense – The Redskins already were limited before they suffered the loss of Davis. That required offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to come up with more ways to move the ball and keep the Giants off-balance. We saw the involvement of fullback Darrel Young, who had a career-high five carries for 26 yards on those dives up the middle. With Griffin, Morris and Young alternating carries, the Giants weren’t able to key on any one player, or get a feel for what the Redskins were trying to do.

The Redskins also turned to Santana Moss with their two big pass catchers out. Leonard Hankerson made some plays with six catches for 70 yards, but couldn’t come up with the reception on a bomb from Griffin. Aldrick Robinson and Griffin couldn’t get synched up late in the game on another deep attempt. Now is the time for Josh Morgan, Hankerson and Robinson to step up, because it sounds as if Garcon won’t be back for some time, and Davis is gone. Can Chris Cooley turn back the clock? Even if he does, the Redskins need more. Griffin elevates everyone’s game, that’s evident. But there’s only so much he can do.

 5.) Griffin continues to dazzle – Where would the Redskins be without their rookie quarterback? Yes, they lost and own a 3-4 record, but Sunday marked the fourth game in five that Griffin has played with the game on the line and the ball in his hands with a chance to be the hero. He delivered quickly with the perfect 30-yard toss to Moss – maybe too quickly – and had his team moving again before Moss’s fumble. Throughout the game, Griffin made plays – the fourth-down scramble and pass to Paulsen would be on everyone’s lips and the highlight shows had the Redskins won. On Sunday Griffin became the first rookie to pass for 250 yards and rush for 80 yards in one game. The Redskins believe that they always have a chance with Griffin, and once again, he showed that they do. As the quarterback said, they committed four turnovers and still had a chance to win. “If we can cut back on that and continue to put points on the board, it’s going to be hard to be stopped,” he said.

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