Redskins bye week Q&A

November 8, 2012

Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris look to get the Redskins offense back on track after the bye. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

 

It’s the bye week, and while Washington Redskins get a chance to get away, heal up and recharge, we’re taking a look at various areas with the team.

You have submitted questions via Twitter and here on the comments section of the blog in the last two days. Here are some of the best questions, and a stab at answering them.

 

Mike Jones: The biggest thing slowing the offense is a lack of playmakers. The best thing would be a healthy return of Pierre Garcon, who has the speed to stretch the field, and also can make plays in the mid-range passing game. But the chances of that happening don’t appear very strong. Josh Morgan and Logan Paulsen both have demonstrated good toughness, but neither is a game-changer. More consistent play from Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson would help. Robinson hasn’t been able to hold onto the ball. Brandon Banks isn’t a threat in the passing game. He has mustered only seven yards on six catches this season. The only remaining bright spot on the receiving corps has been Santana Moss, who has five touchdown catches. He is used only sparingly, however, and on Sunday, he played 40 of his team’s 81 snaps and had one catch for two yards on two targets.

 

Reader Mistamoe: How did teams figure out over two weeks how to shut down a prolific offense? 

MJ: At first glance, you do get the impression that teams figured out the offense, but after going back over the last two games, two things are clear: The Redskins hurt themselves with 10 dropped passes (two in the end zone, missing out on 14 points) against Pittsburgh, and poor execution in both games. Sometimes it’s the little things that ruin potential big plays.

Take a play from the Carolina loss: Aldrick Robinson cost himself a wide-open touchdown catch because of a lack of patience. How? On first-and-10 from Carolina’s 34, he was wide right and the Redskins went play-action. The defense was thinking run, and Robinson got behind the defenders, cutting toward the left corner of the end zone. Robinson was wide open for a period of time, but he was too open, too early. He made his break while Robert Griffin III was still pulling off his fake handoff and before Griffin had rolled out of the pocket. Robinson should have kept running upfield and waiting a bit longer before making his break. By the time Griffin had rolled out, the cornerback had recognized Robinson on his route. One coach said it’s hard for a receiver to carry out his route with such patience, particularly when he realizes how open he is. But the devil’s in the details.

The other problem with the offense is that the Redskins lack game-breakers with Garcon sidelined and Fred Davis done. Because no one on the roster boasts similar explosiveness, the Redskins have to rely on pristine execution to compensate for a lack of threats. Right now, they’re not getting that.

 

Another from Mistamoe: Are Kyle’s formations creating bad situations as the use of the pistol with WRs in the backfield encourages defenders to play closer to the line and thus be in a better position to defend the option and face a limited ‘spread’ space to cover?

MJ: You could make that argument, but by drawing defenders closer to the line, the Redskins also better set up the play-action attack. If you get a tight end or receiver leaking out the backside after the defenders creep up, then you set yourself up for significant gains.

Another plus of the wishbone formations we’re seeing — where Griffin will line up with a tight end on one side, and a back on his other side — is that the defense has no idea which side to key on. Line up in the backfield with one back on your right and no one on the left, and the defense has a better idea of which way a handoff, or protection, will come from. Instead, the Shanahan is setting his offense up to throw a defense off with all kinds of misdirection, and those split-second hesitations from defenders can translate into extra yards gained by the offense.

These formations have worked well this season, and yes, efficiency has dropped off in the last two weeks, but it’s more personnel-deficiency related.

 

 

MJ: The jury remains out on Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen as talent evaluators in Washington, but their first three classes (27 players) haven’t yielded as much as they probably believed they would.

From the 2010 draft, only Trent Williams (fourth overall) and Perry Riley (103rd pick) remain on the team, but both are starters and are playing well. Of the 12 players drafted in 2011, Ryan Kerrigan, Jarvis Jenkins and Leonard Hankerson start, but all three have struggled with consistency in their sophomore seasons. Running back Roy Helu had been reduced to a seldom-used backup before going on IR. Safety DeJon Gomes played significantly last season, but now is used primarily on special teams. Evan Royster went from starting candidate, but now also is a backup, and struggles in pass protection. Niles Paul is a strong contributor on special teams, but up and down on offense. Aldrick Robinson hasn’t accomplished much yet, nose tackle Chris Neild is on IR, and Maurice Hurt was inactive last week. Meanwhile, Brandyn Thompson and Markus White are no longer with the team.

Obviously, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris are shining, but the same can’t be said of their classmates. Third-rounder Josh LeRibeus has played three snaps (special teams) while dressing for just two games. Kirk Cousins didn’t do awful when spelling Griffin against Atlanta and remains ahead of Rex Grossman on the depth chart. Keenan Robinson sees spot duty and is a ways off in his development, and cornerback Richard Crawford has gone unused the last three games.

 

 

MJ: If there’s one area of weakness we’ve seen in Griffin’s game, it’s throwing the deep ball with accuracy. He has a strong arm, but is still working on this area, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said this week. He connected with Leonard Hankerson on the 68-yard bomb at St. Louis, but more often than not, has overthrown receivers going deep. “It’s just something that takes time,” Shanahan said.

And so, the play-calling has featured a lot of roll-out, mid-range passes. Griffin is most accurate when throwing on the run. Straight drop-back throws, not so much.

 

 

MJ: He hasn’t been officially ruled out, but will he return this season? I’m not so sure. Garcon and the Redskins continue to hold out hope, but he has now sat out five consecutive games, and this will mark a sixth week of inactivity.

Early this week, he was still walking with a limp and unable to run. I was told with this type of injury, sprinters have been known to require six to eight weeks of inactivity for it to heal if they opt against surgery. Next week (when the team comes back from the bye) would mark the seventh, and Garcon doesn’t appear to be improving. He wants to play, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he doesn’t return and winds up having surgery instead.

 

 

MJ: It’s still too early to tell. He still has to get back “into football shape,” as Mike Shanahan is so fond of saying, and there’s no guarantee that he will even be activated. Right now, Brown remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and has been cleared to practice. The Redskins can evaluate him over a 21-day window before making a determination on whether he’s healthy enough to play this season, or if he must be placed on IR.

If Brown is healthy enough to play, then the Redskins would have to make the determination on whether he is a better option than Tyler Polumbus, and what swapping in a new piece to the puzzle would do for the chemistry and cohesion that the line has developed this season.

 

 

MJ: The draw plays had worked very well during the first seven games, but the Redskins seem did go away from them in the last two weeks, especially against Carolina. After using Darrel Young effectively on dives up the middle against the Giants, Washington hasn’t used him as much. Young had a three-yard plunge for a first down on fourth-and-1 this past week, but that was his only carry. I was expecting to see Griffin on the draw in goal-line situations because the Panthers really were doing a good job of setting the edge. I wasn’t a fan of the screen passes to Banks inside the red zone. Would’ve much rather seen Griffin on the draw, or Morris fighting for yards up the middle instead. But, Kyle Shanahan obviously felt like he could catch Carolina off-guard by going to the outside rather than up the middle. He said on Tuesday that he definitely wished he could’ve had the unsuccessful swing passes to Banks back so he could have called another play.

 

 

MJ: Right tackle Tyler Polumbus did have a some struggles this past Sunday, but right guard Chris Chester has been solid, and bailed Polumbus out on a couple of plays. LeRibeus has worked exclusively at left guard and center, and while he dressed over Maurice Hurt this past week, he’s not ready to take Kory Lichtensteiger’s job. LeRibeus and Gettis simply aren’t NFL ready. And Compton is on the practice squad. He’s even further behind in his development than LeRibeus and Gettis.

 

 

MJ: Despite being 3-6, the Redskins aren’t statistically eliminated from wildcard contention. It will take a near-miraculous run down the homestretch – no worse than 6-1 in the final seven games – and help from others. But it has been done before – only three times since 1990 – but it’s been done. Now, will they make it? It’s hard to see it happening, especially given the ongoing defensive struggles and lack of weapons at RGIII’s disposal on offense.

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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