The Takeaway: During the bye week, the Redskins did not fix their special teams problems

The Washington Post's Jason Reid analyzes what went wrong Sunday in the Redskins game against Dallas and what they will need when they face the Chicago Bears. (The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist October 14, 2013

The show on offense was so impressive here last season, you sensed something big was beginning for the Washington Redskins. They still had lots of heavy lifting ahead of them, but in 2012 the Redskins got rolling during a road victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

On Sunday night in the Cowboys’ house, the Redskins may have become totally unglued. They’re in a bad spot after a 31-16 loss to the Cowboys dropped their record to 1-4.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

In a familiar story this season, they failed to do enough on offense and were awful on special teams. Despite ongoing shuffling in the secondary, the Redskins’ defense played well at times against Tony Romo but not well enough.

For the Redskins, last season’s victory at AT&T Stadium — in which Robert Griffin III threw four touchdown passes — was their second in a season-closing, seven-game winning streak that propelled them to the NFC East title. At this point this season, the Redskins don’t appear capable of stringing together consecutive effective performances, let alone winning back-to-back games.

The Redskins entered their bye week with major issues on special teams. They weren’t resolved over the break. Let’s start there.

Poor kick coverage

Special teams coordinator Keith Burns is dealing with a mess. From Week 1, the players on the kickoff and punt coverage teams have taken poor angles in pursuit.

The result has been gaping holes for opposing returners, some of whom have failed to exploit the mistakes.

On Sunday night, Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris connected for two home runs. Harris had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter and a 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that set up a Tony Romo touchdown pass. On both returns, Harris had huge running lanes.

Burns has to get back to basics with the coverage teams.

He also has to keep working on the Redskins’ ineffective return game.

Rookie Chris Thompson, who was inactive Sunday night, apparently has lost his spot handling punt returns in addition to being replaced on kickoff returns. Wideout Josh Morgan filled both jobs against Dallas, and it’s doubtful the Redskins will turn back to the shaky Thompson.

Although Thompson is one of the fastest players on the team, his poor judgment on returns — he fielded balls he should have let bounce, let balls bounce he should have fielded, failed to follow blockers — was a source of frustration for the coaching staff. Despite maintaining they were committed to Thompson, the Redskins used the bye week to move in a different direction.

Pierre Garcon is the Redskins’ No. 1 wideout, and Leonard Hankerson has become a bigger part of the offense in his third season. Offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan will monitor Morgan’s workload on offense while he adjusts to his additional duties on special teams.

The Redskins would rather have Richard Crawford as their primary returner. Unfortunately for them, Crawford suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, and Thompson was their best choice to replace him. They’ll have to hope that the third man up eases their pain.

Defense improves

The Redskins’ defense has been moving in the right direction for three games, and the group delivered its best performance statistically in limiting the Cowboys to 213 total net yards.

Romo set a franchise record with 506 yards passing in a Week 5 loss to the Denver Broncos. The Redskins limited Romo to 170 yards. Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson deserve much of the credit for slowing the Cowboys’ passing attack.

Hall, who has been strong in coverage the past few games, wanted the challenge of facing star wideout Dez Bryant. Hall had Bryant covered tightly on many routes.

Bryant finished with five catches for 36 yards. Wilson tackled well and often was in perfect position within the scheme. The Redskins only had one sack, but the defensive line pressured Romo enough in the second half to help Hall and Wilson, for the most part, contain the receivers they were assigned to cover. Good technique and anticipation — Hall and Wilson were a step ahead of the Cowboys on several plays — provided the foundation for success.

The Cowboys were hurt by the loss of running back DeMarco Murray, who was sidelined in the first half and did not return. Still, Hall and Wilson led a good effort on defense.

Running man returns
In the first four games, Alfred Morris rarely resembled the rusher who set a Redskins franchise record with 1,613 yards as a rookie last year. That guy reappeared in the second half on Sunday night.

The Redskins’ line has struggled blocking on stretch plays. Morris can’t make big plays running on the edge of the line, which he did often last season, if blockers fail to win battles.

On Morris’s 45-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, the Redskins blocked effectively on a stretch play to the right side.

Morris displayed excellent vision and demonstrated his ability to change direction while cutting back into the middle of the line, outracing the Cowboys’ defense into the end zone. If Morris finally gets going and Griffin regains something close to his 2012 form, the offense would have a chance to improve.

Reed is still rising

There’s no longer any question about who is the best tight end on the Redskins. Coach Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan are all in on rookie Jordan Reed, who continues to make the most of his chances.

Reed runs his routes smoothly and is sure-handed. After he catches the ball, he often manages to break away from defenders or outrun them, as he did on a 29-yard gain in the first half. Logan Paulsen started against Dallas, and Fred Davis still is on the roster, but Reed is the Redskins’ present and future at the position.

The takeaway

Obviously, the Redskins are not a good football team. They’ve proved that over five games. But the Redskins are in the NFC East, and you don’t have to be good to remain in the hunt in the NFL’s worst division.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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