It’s the classic lament of angry sports-radio callers: Why doesn’t our team ever make adjustments? It’s a hard question to answer without being on the sidelines and knowing whether adjustments are actually being made, or if not why they aren’t, or whether that even matters. Sometimes, the question just feels like another way to blow off steam, another way of asking “Why weren’t we good enough to win?”
But Redskins fans screaming about in-game adjustments received a bit of support from the team’s locker room after Sunday’s dispiriting 27-23 loss to the Cowboys. Because here was veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, talking about how Dallas seemed to adjust its offensive strategy as the game went on, and how Washington seemed not to respond in kind.
“It just feels like they game-planned the hell out of that [running game],” Francois said. “At one point, we were stuffing it, we was getting them where we wanted to, and then they went from inside runs to outside runs. It was like they adjusted to what they [saw]. And not taking anything away from [rookie quarterback Dak] Prescott, but whoever’s the offensive coordinator sitting upstairs, up top, did a hell of a job by seeing something and adjusting to it and showing the kid what he needed to see to become a good quarterback and to actually pull off this game for them.”
For the record, Dallas’s numbers rushing the ball in the first half (16 carries for 51 yards) and the second half (14 carries for 51 yards) were nearly identical. The Cowboys had 231 yards and 13 points in the first half, and only 147 yards (and 14 points) in the second half. And the Redskins did change their secondary coverage as the game went on, with Josh Norman at times trailing Dez Bryant around the field.
“I’m asked to do what I’m asked to do,” Norman said. “The coaches ask me to do something, I’m gonna do it to the full extent of my abilities, and I’m gonna get the job done and execute flawlessly, and that’s what I did.”
Still, Francois was asked if Washington’s defense didn’t respond to the perceived Dallas adjustment as well as it could have.
“We didn’t,” he said. “Let’s be real. Let’s be truthful. We didn’t respond to it, because if we would have, Alfred [Morris] wouldn’t have had a touchdown. Ezekiel Elliott had a few big breaks. And those big breaks, if we would have actually adjusted and seen what they were doing quick enough, we would have had it. And I just feel like even from the [playoff loss to the] Packers from last year, every team that sees us adjusts. Every team that adjusts to us, we don’t adjust to them. Every team we play against, it just feels like they see something and then they pounce on it and they keep doing it. And it feels like we’re just not responding to it.”
And whose responsibility would it be to make those adjustments?
“I have no clue,” he said. “That’s one answer I would love to know.”
This did not appear to be a common refrain on Sunday, and the game was back-and-forth throughout. Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said his team was “persistent” in the running game, and that Prescott showed “poise and composure” in the go-ahead drive.
“I thought [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan did a great job mixing things: mixing personnel, mixing formation, moving guys around,” Garrett said. “I thought we stayed aggressive throughout the game. They did a good job on a couple of those drives with keeping us out of the end zone … and obviously at the end of the ball game we did what we needed to win it.”
As for the oft-heard suggestion that making in-game adjustments is difficult, Francois wasn’t having it.
“We’re professionals, right?” he asked. “You move on the run, right? That’s no excuse. If Peyton Manning can sit down and can adjust to everything you do, and you don’t adjust to him, you’re not a good player. I don’t care if you’re on offense or defense. That’s what makes Ray Lewis the person he is; he adjusted. That’s what makes Ed Reed the person he is, he adjusted. I can even go back to Derrick Brooks. They always made adjustments. We have to be that team. As soon as we see them making adjustments, and they figure something out, we have to make those adjustments, too. If we don’t, I’m gonna be right back here sitting in your face again, and y’all gonna be asking me the questions of what happened.”
Finally, the veteran lineman was asked if the responsibility for this adjustments lies with players or coaches.
“That goes to the players and the defensive coaches,” he said. “I mean, both. It goes both ways. I’m not just gonna put it on the coaches. I’m gonna put it on the players, too. There’s a reason they drafted you, there’s a reason they brought you in, there’s a reason you play in the National Football League. You have to be able to adjust on the run. … If you can’t adjust in the NFL, there’s no way you’ll win a game, especially with the schedule we have. It doesn’t get no easier, at all.”