The Washington Redskins were never going to burst out of the gates and shock the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football; They have not looked able to do that to anyone all season. But to come out and not score a touchdown was a very poor performance from a deflated Washington offense. The defense did a good job to keep the Redskins in the game for as long as possible, but they eventually cracked on their way to a 27-6 loss at home. Here’s my position-by-position review.
We saw Robert Griffin III continue to struggle with the same things he’s struggled with all season; quick pressure, poor mechanics and some questionable decisions. Griffin’s team hasn’t been able to help him out as much as they would like to, with receivers dropping passes and the offensive line failing to sustain blocks. But when you watch how the top quarterbacks deal with similar problems, Griffin doesn’t stand up. On a positive note, Griffin did a good job scrambling and avoiding some pressure, particularly from his right. He did a nice job on occasion of climbing up into the pocket to allow his tackles to walk pass-rushers by him.
But things like his decision to throw to Pierre Garcon on a naked bootleg when the outside linebacker was closing down on Griffin was a poor one. Griffin should have been taking the dump-off option to Logan Paulsen underneath. But instead he put it up for grabs and it ended up looking like an ugly interception. Griffin also made a bad throw on a deep shot to Aldrick Robinson. Robinson had gotten inside of former Redskin Carlos Rogers, and had clear field ahead of him. Griffin needed to lead him away from Rogers with his throw, but instead threw to where Robinson was. Robinson was still able to get hands on the ball, but the throw allowed Rogers a chance to get back in position and interrupt the pass.
Griffin’s mechanics look very inconsistent. At times, he threw out-breaking routes to the sidelines on time and accurately. But then he would see some pressure and his mechanics would fail him. On more than one occasion, I saw Griffin almost bounce up off his back leg rather than driving off of it to make a throw. He’s still not planting his front foot and transferring his weight over his knee efficiently.
Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. had a tough night with not a lot to work with. Clearly, Washington wanted to run away from 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, but Ahmad Brooks dominated the right side of the offensive line. Morris often had nowhere to go and did well to get back to the line and avoid losing yards on many plays. Helu saw a few more touches. His quickness and elusiveness helped the offensive line as he was more willing to cut back and hit the hole quicker.
But in reality, neither had much room to maneuver. The 49ers run defense is as stout as they come, and Washington couldn’t create the running lanes. When a team that’s built to run the ball has both running backs averaging 3.7 yards per carry, it’s unlikely they will see success on offense.
Aldrick Robinson looked the most threatening of all of Washington’s receivers. Twice they took deep shots to him, and they should have really connected on both. The first came early on. Griffin stepped up in the pocket before launching it deep. Robinson appeared to stop his route before he noticed the ball was in the air. Had he continued at full speed, he had a good chance at what would have likely been a touchdown. Then the second time they went to him, Robinson ran past Rogers only for Griffin to make a poor throw. Washington desperately needed to connect on a deep shot to counter San Francisco attacking the run game. They had two good chances, but couldn’t hit either of them.
The rest of the offense was limited to screens and short timing patterns. Garcon dropped his first screen, but after that made the most of his opportunities. Joshua Morgan, back from the inactive list, also did a good job picking up the odd first down on a screen pass. The Redskins used screens to try and counter the 49ers pass rush, but it didn’t work. By the end of the night, the 49ers were blowing up the screens and still getting a strong pass rush, which took away any time for intermediate or deep routes to develop.
Logan Paulsen is the Redskins best blocking tight end, but he couldn’t block Brooks in the run game all night. You want the tight end to either get inside leverage on the edge defender and drive him to the sideline, or cut him off inside and allow the runner to stretch the run outside. But Brooks dominated Paulsen at the line and pushed him two yards back constantly. Paulsen couldn’t get any sort of leverage on him, which enabled Brooks to get inside or go outside depending on what the runner did. Brooks made multiple tackles early, but also forced the run back inside earlier than desired, often resulting in very little gain for the runner. Brooks was a tough assignment for Paulsen, but to get dominated like that was disappointing.
His struggles in the run game carried over to the passing game. On one bootleg, Paulsen appeared to run his route too deep and dropped a pass that was intended to hit Garcon on a much deeper crossing route. He ended the game with no receptions. Not as if it needed saying, but the Redskins badly missed Jordan Reed.
Washington’s front five continue to fail them in pass protection. Tyler Polumbus was no match for Brooks, surrendering pressure quickly and often. San Francisco wanted to match up Justin Smith in one-on-one situations against the Redskins’ guards. Whenever they managed it, Smith took advantage. On one play, Smith drove left guard Kory Lichtensteiger back four or five yards into the backfield and stopped Griffin from stepping up into the pocket and escaping Aldon Smith on the outside, who eventually got the sack.
Trent Williams’s play has been down the past few weeks. He’s had some tough matchups, sure, but he’s previously thrived on those. Aldon Smith is up there with the best rushers in the NFL when he’s allowed to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. But for Williams to get beat as consistently as he did was odd. Smith used speed rushes to set Williams up for an inside move. Smith took a big step outside before quickly cutting back inside Williams, who had no answer to the move. Smith went straight through and sacked Griffin before he had reached the top of his drop.
What was perhaps the most worrying was that the offensive line also failed in the run game. This line is built to run the ball, but when they can’t do that, it looks ugly. Granted, the 49ers’ run defense is a strong one, but Washington rarely got blockers to the second level. Inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were often allowed to roam freely without having to worry about a guard running at them. They racked up 11 tackles between them, each with four additional assists.
I actually thought the defensive line did a good job, despite the absence of starting defensive end Stephen Bowen. Barry Cofield had a good game at nose tackle, maintaining gap integrity. He did a good job chasing down stretch runs from the 49ers and holding the point of attack against power runs. He also was effective as a rusher, pushing the pocket when required and eating up blockers on stunts. He was a big part of the reason why Colin Kaepernick was often running around and scrambling out of the pocket.
Jarvis Jenkins has been improving over the past couple of weeks. When he was drafted, Washington had high hopes that he’d be a stout run defender, but also an effective pass rusher, something not a great deal of 3-4 defensive ends can do. He suffered a big setback with his knee injury in his rookie year and has taken a while to recover fully from that. But he finally appears to be over it and playing at a higher level. Like Cofield, he did a good job on stunts to eat blocks and set other rushers free. Jenkins’s sack came on a nice stunt up front.
Jenkins and Cofield will attack gaps to their left, allowing Kerrigan to come back inside.
Jenkins attacks the right shoulder of the center, which cuts off the right guard from reaching Kerrigan in the process. Kerrigan gets into the backfield and flushes Kaepernick out of the pocket into an eagerly awaiting Jenkins.
Brian Orakpo quietly had one of his most complete games as a Redskin. He was a constant thorn in the side of one of the best left tackles in the game, Joe Staley. While he only registered one sack, which came as Kaepernick slipped, Orakpo managed to get pressure on Kaepernick’s blind side for large parts of the game. He used his athleticism to attack Staley on speed rushes, and Staley was often on the back foot trying desperately to run Orakpo past Kaepernick. But Kaepernick felt the pressure, often stepping up or breaking the pocket and scrambling as a result. Orakpo also did a good job in the run game, setting the edge when the run came his way and forced it back inside. He blew up one run, shooting his gap with a fantastic jump, and tackling the runner in the backfield for a loss.
He dropped into coverage more than you would expect a star pass-rusher to, but wasn’t a liability in his zones. But overall, I liked how smart he played. He forced Kaepernick to throw the ball away on a designed receiver screen. Orakpo initially began to rush, but then peeled off and got his hands in the air to cut off the screen pass. It’s a play we’ve become accustomed to Ryan Kerrigan making, but not so much Orakpo. Orakpo’s play has been improving over the past few weeks, but I do wonder if it’s the result of him being over his injuries, or just that he’s feeling the urgency of playing for a new contract.
Perry Riley Jr. had one of his better games in coverage, although he should have had an interception. He dropped back into an underneath zone on what appeared to be a Cover-3 defense. Kaepernick looked around for an open target before locking onto a slant pattern. Riley read the play the entire way and did a great job breaking on the ball. But once Riley gets himself into a position like that, he needs to capitalize. He got both hands on the ball and should have pulled in the interception. He would have had a good chance of turning it into a touchdown had he caught the ball. He also tipped a pass that Kaepernick attempted to throw over him down the sideline. Riley did a nice job staying with the play and locating the ball in the air to get a hand on it as it fell incomplete.
I also noticed London Fletcher make a couple of nice plays in the run game. Fletcher isn’t on the field every down any more, like we’ve seen in years gone by. Washington appears to be limiting his coverage responsibilities as much as possible. But when he was on the field, he made some good tackles to stop the runner picking up more yards than he could have. He ended the game with five tackles and was part of a front seven that kept the 49ers rushing attack to 2.3 yards per carry on average.
Jim Haslett had an interesting game plan for his best corner, DeAngelo Hall. Hall lined up over Anquan Boldin on the majority of first and second downs, but then switched to cover tight end Vernon Davis on third down. For the most part, Hall played to the level he’s been playing all season. He rarely gave up a reception to his man or in his zone. Hall has been playing fantastically all season, and it will be interesting to see how the Redskins approach his contract situation at the end of the season.
While Hall did a good job on Boldin, Josh Wilson struggled mightily. Wilson took over Hall’s responsibilities on Boldin on third downs to allow Hall to cover Davis. Kaepernick and the 49ers offense were more than willing to attack that match up. On some of the passes, Wilson couldn’t do much about. There was one play where Kaepernick threw it up for Boldin to go up and grab. Wilson had solid coverage, but Boldin jumped and caught it over the top of Wilson. But Wilson was at fault plenty of times. He surrendered the deep out too easily to Boldin on the 49ers’ first touchdown. On a third down in the third quarter, Boldin ran right up the seam against Wilson. Wilson couldn’t stay with him, and Kaepernick found Boldin for a big gain and easy conversion.
Wilson was clearly struggling on Boldin, and the game was out of reach fairly early on. I would have liked to see Washington make a switch and put Amerson on Boldin. That’s not to say Amerson would have done a better job than Wilson, but Amerson could have learned a lot from covering a physical receiver like Boldin. Washington eventually made the switch late in the fourth quarter, but I would like to have seen it earlier. The experience Amerson would have gained could have helped him greatly down the line.
Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.
● Mike Shanahan’s 3 p.m. news conference with reporters.
● The Redskins practice at 11:40 a.m. on Wednesday and 10:25 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.
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