Redskins mailbag: Fred Davis’s future, Santana Moss’s role and more

Fred Davis

Have the Redskins seen the last of Fred Davis, shown here warming up before the Raiders game? (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins got a win on Sunday and tomorrow begin working toward Sunday’s challenging matchup with the Denver Broncos.

As the dust settles from the victory, however, we take some time to break down a couple of problem areas, like Fred Davis’s future, Santana Moss’s role, special teams struggles and more.

Thanks, as always, for taking part, and keep your questions coming for next week’s installment of The Mailbag. Drop me a line at mike.jones@washpost.com and be sure to have “Mailbag question” as your subject line.

Here we go …

What was the reasoning behind the Redskins seemingly giving up on Fred Davis? Was it the fact that he was coming up on a contract year and Jordan Reed is playing just as good as Davis ever has if not better, or they just didn’t want to take the risk of signing him long term given his history of off-the-field issues?

— Bradford Gillens, Orlando, Fla.

The Redskins re-signed Davis to one-year deal this past offseason because of the potential that he boasted two years ago, but also well aware that he was coming off of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and because of his track record of not exactly being the most reliable guy off the field. That’s why they drafted Jordan Reed. They believed they could find ways to utilize both of their talents, and Davis remained the starter in training camp and the preseason. But his regular season didn’t get off to a good start. He’s had some inconsistent play, didn’t display the greatest attentiveness in meetings and blew assignments in the first two games of the season. Reed replaced him down the stretch of the Green Bay game and showed great promise. Coaches also were encouraged by his blocking abilities. They knew from his college tape that Reed (a former wide receiver and quarterback) had great athleticism and route-running ability. But they didn’t know how reliable he would be as a blocker. He has done well in this area, and he has seized every opportunity thus far. His production, Logan Paulsen’s strengths as a run blocker and Niles Paul’s contributions as a special teams ace all make Davis expendable. We’ll see if the team can work out a trade, or if they wind up releasing him. Or, if they for some reason decide to hold onto him, and say someone has an injury, then Davis would have a chance to redeem himself. But for now, he’s very much in the dog house.

Can you please tell me why the Oakland Raiders can sign a perfectly healthy Josh Cribbs (a Washington, D.C. native) and upgrade their special teams personnel, while the Redskins continue to sit on their hands and stick with these horrible kick returners? I am sick of watching Chris Thompson and Josh Morgan only gain about 10 yards per attempt, not to mention the other three or four they bounced forward for. They are abysmal and I would take my chances with Brandon Banks any day. He gives you the potential to break one every time despite the fumbles and lack of size.

— Jemar Battle

I think you, and the Redskins, would be thrilled if Chris Thompson and/or Josh Morgan averaged 10 yards a punt return. That would at least put them among the top 15 in the league. But instead, the demoted Thompson averaged just 5.1 yards per punt return (39th in the league) and Morgan has averaged 4.3 yards a return on four attempts (43rd). The Redskins’ kickoff return opportunities have been limited. On 15 attempts, the team is averaging just 19.0 yards per runback, which is next to last in the league. The Redskins need better play out of their return men, but also from the blockers ahead of them. Banks averaged only just more than six yards a punt return. The player the Redskins really miss is Richard Crawford, who took over in the final stretch of the season and averaged 19.5 yards a return. Now, one of those returns went for 64 yards, but even if you eliminate that return, he averaged just more than 13 yards per punt return. That would make a difference. As to why they didn’t have interest in Cribbs? I’m not sure. He did have knee problems, so maybe those concerns scared them off. I was just told numerous times they had no interest in him. (Banks is now playing in the CFL, by the way).

I have a pretty sensible solution to the return game woes. Put Santana Moss as punt returner and Roy Helu at kick returner. Tell me how that wouldn’t be an improvement over the current candidates?

— Kareem Demain, Pittsburgh

Santana Moss does seem like a player worth giving more looks as a punt returner. He returned one for nine yards earlier this year, which is one of the longest so far (pretty sad). But at 34 years of age, the Redskins don’t want to overtax him and diminish his effectiveness as a slot receiver, where he already hasn’t been as effective as last season. I’m not sure about Helu as a kick returner. I mean, I suppose he could be an option, but the balls are sailing out the back of the end zone more times than not, and so opportunities are hard to come by. Niles Paul would be my pick. He’s big, fast and strong and can break through tackles a little more effectively than a smaller return man, which given how there is less room to work with now with the kickoff point moved up, that could help the team, one would think. Keith Burns was asked about Niles Paul yesterday, but he wouldn’t explain his thinking on going away from him as the kickoff return man.

Why not replace Santana Moss with Fred Davis? In my view Santana Moss is not making any major contribution as a slot receiver. I think Fred Davis can replace Santana and provide RGIII with many more options.

 — Brian Chambers

Well, Fred Davis is a tight end and Santana Moss is a slot receiver. Now, Davis does go in motion and line up in the slot from time to time. (Or, I should say he did in the past). But normally, you look for a quicker guy like the Mosses, the Welkers and guys like that in the slot receiver role.

What has happened to Moss? He was Mr. Clutch and catch anything remotely close, now he can’t catch anything. Is he hurt?

— Steve Lapp

Moss does seem to have dropped off some this year. He has 17 catches on 32 targets, which is only 53 percent. Last season, he 41 catches on 61 targets (67 percent). Sunday was probably the first time I have seen him have shockingly blatant drops like he did. He hasn’t been listed on the injury report for anything. Perhaps he’s just in a funk. Or, at 34, has he lost a step or sharpness? He takes great care of his body, so a drastic drop-off from one year to the next is surprising. He has gotten separation, but hasn’t held onto the ball. Other times, Griffin’s throws have been a little off. So, not all of the struggles are Moss’s fault. Maybe he just needs to find his groove again and can work his way out of this. The Redskins need him to do so, because he is basically their only slot threat.

I’m concerned about this: What does it say about the offense that it has to rely on the run or else it can’t put together a winning effort? Second, what does it say about Shanahan and the coaching staff that they’d design a team dependent upon a strategy that is seemingly outdated? Third, what does it say about RGIII as a franchise quarterback if he must rely on a running game to be an effective passer? 

— Matt Powers

Mike Shanahan’s philosophy has always centered around a balanced attack — utilizing both the run and the pass to keep defenses off balance. You want to be able to do both well because if you’re only good in one area, the defense just has to take away that strength, and then you’re out of luck. You have to play to the strengths of your personnel and for the Redskins, that’s the zone-blocking stretch plays, the play-action passes that get the defense keying on the run only to have the quarterback either drop back or roll out and find a receiver in a one-on-one matchup. Now, for some teams — if you have a Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers-type quarterback, a strong offensive line across the board and exceptional wide receivers — can have success with a pass-heavy attack. But balance, more times than not, is the key to success. Think about the teams that were in the Super Bowl last season: strong rushing attacks as well as big-play quarterbacks and receivers. The Redskins do need to do some work in the offseason and upgrade their receiving unit and offensive line so they can become more potent, so if the situation calls for it, they can better engage in a shootout.

Is there a reason it seems we always get to the line with only 10 seconds left on the play clock and then snap the ball just in time? When I see a sharp offense and quarterback operating from the better teams in the league, it looks like they are lined up with about 15-20 seconds to go and then the quarterback has plenty of time for pre-snap reads and audibles.  Does our system not rely as much on these reads? What’s the deal?

 — Max Potasznik

Kyle Shanahan actually likes to run a more uptempo offense that gets in and out of the huddle more quickly. The Redskins haven’t consistently done a good job of this thus far this season, and it is a point of emphasis that they would like to see improve. Some of it could be youth as Griffin is seeing different defenses and looks. In those cases, it’s a part of the learning process. A guy like Manning or Brady has just about seen it all, and so they can make a diagnosis and then quickly adjust.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

What’s ahead:

â—Ź Jones on Griffin’s mobility.

More on the Redskins:

Meriweather appeals suspension | Safety out two games for repeated illegal hits

Reid: NFL sends the right message about head hits | Hamilton: Help wanted

Broncos’ Manning almost didn’t make it through neck-surgery ordeal

Short-handed at S | Trading TE Davis? | Special teams improved? | Shanahan and Denver

D.C. Sports Bog: Bennett wanted to punch Meriweather | Deion: RGIII scripted | More

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