The Outsider: A closer look at how the Redskins played at Dallas

The Washington Redskins dropped to 1-4 after a disappointing 31-16 loss on the road to NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys. Here’s my position-by-position look at how Washington fared.

Quarterback

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III was willing to run against the Cowboys. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III started out positively. He looked focused and ready to go as he completed a 19-yard pass to Leonard Hankerson on a post route off the back of play-action on the Redskins first offensive play. The post route on play-action was a big staple of the passing game last year, but Washington has struggled to utilize it this year as they’ve failed to establish a running threat.

We saw a much more explosive and mobile Griffin last night. He was more willing to take off running when the play broke down and offered himself as a legitimate rushing threat to the defense for the first time this season. The Cowboys’ defense played a lot more man coverage than we have seen from them this season. That meant that corners were focused on their receivers instead of watching Griffin in the backfield, which offered Griffin plenty of running room when he did take off. The explosiveness through his cuts is a definite positive for Griffin and the Redskins’ offense going forward.

However, in the second half, Griffin was far from his best as a passer. I felt like he was forcing some throws into tight coverage. Brandon Carr did a great job covering wide receiver Pierre Garcon, but Griffin would occasionally try to force a ball into a very tight window when really he should have moved onto his next read.

His protection was overall very poor up front, which stopped Griffin from really stepping into throws or repeating solid mechanics. That was a big part of the reason his throws in the second half would often miss receivers over their head or bounce short.

Running backs

The offensive line gave Alfred Morris very little to work with. Dallas set out to take away the zone stretch game, and they did just that. Morris had hardly any room to run for a large portion of the game. He still did well to break tackles and pick up yards that he shouldn’t have been able to. There was a second-and-seven run late in the first quarter. Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus all missed their blocks on the back side of the play. Morris stayed with the run to the left as Jordan Reed and Fred Davis maintained good blocks on the edge. Trent Williams managed to cut off Sean Lee from making the play and Morris ran through three tackles to pick up seven yards and the first down when others would have been tackled for a loss.

The one play where the offensive line executed, Morris took 45 yards for a touchdown. Chester managed to hook a defensive lineman inside while Will Montgomery blocked Lee on the second level. Morris cut back in the hole and broke a tackle before taking it for a touchdown.

Roy Helu Jr. once again looked sharp when he got on the field. His speed and quickness offer a nice counter from Morris’s strength and power. He was able to pick up some big plays in the hurry up offense both on the ground and in the air as a receiving threat. Helu did miss a block on Lee in the first half. Lee bounced off Helu in his pursuit of Griffin, who was forced into a rushed throw that was nearly intercepted.

Wide receivers

Garcon and Hankerson just couldn’t manage much separation all night. As mentioned, Carr did a great job sticking on Garcon all night. He was aggressive in keeping tight with Garcon, particularly on the post routes from play action. Dallas saw those post routes tear them up last year and wouldn’t allow such a big throwing windows this time around.

Hankerson did a good job early against Morris Claiborne. He used his size well to shield the smaller Claiborne away from the ball. He looked more likely to beat Claiborne than Garcon did against Carr. It looked like a step forward for Hankerson until they went to him on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. Griffin placed a perfect pass right into the gut of Hankerson, but Hankerson let the ball go right through him and dropped it. Those inconsistencies from Hankerson are what’s keeping him from securing the Z receiver spot.

Tight ends

Washington obviously wanted to feature rookie Jordan Reed in this offense. Reed was up for the task and was a constant mismatch for linebackers in coverage. He beat out several linebackers with a stutter step before cutting inside across the face of the defender. The tight end screen to Reed showed off his athleticism. Polumbus missed a block on Orlando Scandrick, but Reed dodged him anyway on his way to a first down.

His blocking has improved drastically from what I saw of him in college. At Florida, Reed desperately struggled as a blocker and questions were asked if he could ever develop into at least an average blocker. He was still inconsistent last night, but he was trusted as the number one tight end and made several good blocks on the edge.

But after all the success in the first half, Washington only went back to him once in the second half, a pass that was incomplete in the fourth quarter.

Offensive line

Let’s start with the positive. Trent Williams was always going to be left on an island against DeMarcus Ware. Williams stonewalled him from the start right up until the point Ware left the game injured. Williams and Ware have had a lot of good battles since the Redskins drafted Williams with the fourth overall pick back in 2010. But Ware usually has managed to get the better of him on one or two plays. Who knows what would have happened had Ware not got injured, but Williams had shut him down until that point.

But that Ware injury was a turning point from my perspective. To help make up for the loss of Ware, Dallas was more aggressive in sending more blitzers. While Williams was able to keep Griffin protected from his blind side, the rest of the line struggled to pick up those blitzes.

Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had probably his worst game in a Redskins uniform. He missed several blocks in the running game against a very thin looking Cowboys defensive line. But he was a liability in pass protection. Rarely was he able to adjust and re-anchor against a defender’s second move as he failed to maintain multiple blocks and allowed quick pressure on Griffin up front. One positive Lichtensteiger did have was recovering a fumble from Griffin in the third quarter after Jason Hatcher had knocked the ball loose on a sack.

Chester, a fellow guard, was more consistent in pass protection, but struggled in the running game. Chester was perhaps the Redskins’ second-best lineman last season, but has found himself missing assignments and getting beat this year, particularly when run blocking. Credit to him on the Morris touchdown run as he managed to hook a defensive lineman and create the initial hole. But outside of that, Chester couldn’t maintain blocks up front and wasn’t able to get to the second level quick enough to stop linebackers like Lee from getting to Morris.

Polumbus might have been Washington’s best lineman besides Williams. Even then, he also missed several blocks. He failed to block Scandrick on the screen to Reed early on as well as completely missing his cut block on the previously mentioned seven-yard run by Morris. Polumbus didn’t give up quite the same pressure he normally does from the right side in pass protection, but that might be more because the pressure was getting to Griffin up the middle quicker than it could from the right side.

Defensive line

Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Kedric Golston failed to squeeze the running lanes on the Cowboys’ opening drive. On the first play of the game, Bowen got cut off to the outside by Tyron Smith as the guard came in to double team Cofield. That opened up the B gap that Bowen was meant to contain. Murray picked up 11 yards. But after that opening drive, the Cowboys’ running game was kept in check. The front three did a good job with their gap responsibilities and Dallas quickly went away from the rushing attack.

Linebackers

London Fletcher looked like a 38-year-old who has lost a step. There were a few plays, particularly in the first half, were Fletcher appeared to know what he wanted to do, but just couldn’t get there quickly enough. On the third and one in the second quarter, Fletcher read the play the whole way but couldn’t get to the hole as quickly as he used to, which allowed Murray to convert the first down. He was also a step behind tight end Jason Witten in coverage at times, although Witten did only finish the game with three receptions.

Perry Riley Jr.

Perry Riley Jr. closes in on Cole Beasley. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Perry Riley Jr. has been an effective blitzer for the Redskins for a few seasons now, but needs to control himself better sometimes. He gave up an obvious roughing the passer penalty in the first quarter when it was clear the ball was gone. Riley made amends later on as he ran a well-disguised delayed blitz that saw him come free at Romo after some pressure from Brian Orakpo. Romo had nowhere to go and Riley got the sack to force a three and out and give the Redskins a momentum swing.

As edge rushers, Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan were ineffective in their attempts. Some of this was because of the blitzes Washington ran that called for one of them to slant inside to allow a path for a corner blitzer to run free. There were plenty of people suggesting that the Cowboys got away with a lot of holding penalties on both of these two. It’s not something I noticed when watching live, so I couldn’t say for sure either way. But I’ll keep an eye out for it when watching the game again later on.

Rob Jackson made his return from his four-game suspension and once again came up with a big play against the Cowboys. He didn’t see too much time on the field as he worked his way back into shape, but he did manage an interception. Washington showed a heavy blitz look to the right of the offensive line, but rotated out of it and sent a corner blitz from the other side. Jackson dropped back into coverage and located the ball in the air after it had been tipped by Josh Wilson.

Secondary

This was perhaps the best the Redskins secondary has performed in the Griffin era, maybe longer. DeAngelo Hall was the undoubted star in my mind. Just as Carr was tight in coverage on Garcon, Hall was on Dez Bryant’s hip for most of the game. Romo completed three passes to Bryant that Hall couldn’t do anything about. Bryant ran a quick stop route, a crossing pattern and a quick screen, all of which Hall couldn’t stop because he was in off-man coverage. But Hall was able to break on the ball and stop Bryant from picking up any extra yards after the catch. Romo threw a couple of very tight passes that Hall nearly intercepted. One was a slant to his left that Hall broke on and couldn’t quite steal away from Bryant. The other was a quick out that Hall broke on faster than Bryant. Hall was inches from intercepting the ball and probably taking it all the way back.

But perhaps Hall’s best play came in the fourth quarter. Hall played up to the line and jammed wide receiver Miles Austin, forcing him inside where Hall was expecting safety help. Hall dropped off into his zone before he noticed that Brandon Meriweather had bit down inside on a post route. That left Austin wide open down the sideline. Hall sprinted back full speed and made up the ground, tipping the ball at the last possible second to break up the pass and save the touchdown. That play by Hall kept Washington in the game as Dallas had to settle for a field goal. It was probably the best game I’ve seen Hall play for the Redskins.

Josh Wilson had a similarly effective game. Jim Haslett appears to have found a role for Wilson as the slot corner. Just like last season, Wilson was sent as an extra blitzer from the slot on multiple occasions. Romo’s interception came as a result of Wilson blitzing. Wilson saw Romo motioning to throw over the top of him, so he jumped to tip the pass. The ball was batted high into the air and into the arms of Jackson, who had dropped into coverage after showing a blitz look.

Wilson also made a nice play against the run in the third quarter. He started on the outside, but his receiver motioned inside into a run-heavy look. Wilson read the play well and attacked the hole, hitting the runner before the back had reached the line of scrimmage. Run support from corners isn’t something the Redskins have had consistently this year, but plays like this from Wilson go a long way to help the front seven.

If there was one play to be critical of Wilson, it was Romo’s touchdown pass to Terrance Williams. Wilson was blitzing from Romo’s right, but took a bad angle that allowed Romo to roll to his right and get the throw away. It was a great play by Romo, who deserves full credit for avoiding the tackle from Wilson, but Wilson could have kept contain better on the edge and the play might have had a different result.

Rookie David Amerson had a rough start to the game. He was matched up against his fellow rookie, Williams, but Williams won the match up on the opening drive. Amerson was forced into a defensive holding penalty to save a potential touchdown as Williams ran past him. Williams later ran a nice comeback route, but Amerson was very late to break on the ball. Normally he is very quick to break on the ball, so I wonder if he was worried about a double move from Williams. But Williams was left uncontested for the catch and then dodged a tackle attempt from Amerson on his way to picking up 12 yards and a first down. Amerson settled down after that and played well until he was knocked out of the game with a concussion after a big hit while playing special teams.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Mike Jones’s five observations from Redskins-Cowboys | Ask a question for mailbag

Griffin says ‘no quit’ | Opening Kick: At 1-4, where does the season go from here?

Griffin happy to shed knee brace in pre-game | Special teams emphasis this week

D.C. Sports Bog: Costas explains his franchise-name comments | More Bog

Shanahan defends clock management | Kehl, Sundberg to have MRI exams

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Also on The Insider

'No quit' in Redskins, Robert Griffin says