When you watch a game, some things come through crystal clear. It’s easy to tell if the quarterback played well, or if the place kicker shanked his kicks, or if the receivers hands were sticky or not so much.
I watched the Bucs game with a focus on two of the most maligned units on the Redskins, the offensive line and the secondary. Those are also two of the positions where it’s most difficult to tell what’s really what in real time. The secondary, unless you have access to the all-22 footage, is off the screen half the time, and the O-line, you have to watch and rewatch plays to figure out who was responsible for which assignments.
As we look ahead to the Falcons, it’s important to have an informed conversation about who is playing well, and who isn’t. It’s too easy for us to label games as poor based on one memorable bad play, or units as poor based on one poor player.
Certainly I’m no coach, so my look at the video is subjective, but I thought the offensive line played really well, and the secondary was good except for a few bad breakdowns. The game-situation awareness was really lacking in the secondary, because the big plays given up probably could have been prevented just by better anticipating what the Bucs needed to do given the situation they were in. The line had a day, putting Alfred Morris over 100 yards, and really every guy kicked in. Robert Griffin had time to throw and really was hardly touched, save for three big hits taken when he was running the ball.
Here’s a more detailed look at how the two units performed:
The offensive line
It doesn’t make sense to analyze player by player on the Redskins line, because so often they are expected to move in sync. You can really see it on the inside and outside zone running plays, where the fivesome moves as one. They were also great in pass protection, but I think they benefited a lot from the offense working as the Shanahans design it to: Once there’s some success in the run game, the heavy dose of play action really freezes the pass rush. In the notes I made, I counted the word “untouched” 12 times, on both a handful of run and pass plays. I also counted 13 plays where the Tampa Bay defensive line or linebackers clearly defeated the Redskins’ OL, which might sound like a lot, but is pretty good when you consider the Redskins ran 67 plays.
Oddly, in those same notes, kudos for the blocking of Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis come up a few times, including on Morris’s 39-yard touchdown run. There was another Morris run in the first quarter straight up the middle where the ball is snapped at the 29, it’s a quick toss that ends up going up the middle, and no Buccaneer touches Morris until the 45-yard line, after he’s gained 16. On the first play of the third quarter, Morris takes a toss sweep on a play that starts at the 11, and no Buc touches him until the 23. Tackle Tyler Polumbus pulls and is out in front of that play, but Paulsen and Davis make key blocks as well, the latter from the backside of the play.
In the second quarter, Tampa Bay dials up a blitz that it used a few times in the game, twisting or looping their linebackers around one another. There were times when it worked, but on this play, the line picks up everybody, Griffin calmly stands in the pocket and completes a pass to Darrel Young. I’m not sure where you rank this on the scale of football aesthetic, but seeing a team rush six or more at the quarterback, and watching them all disappear into the abyss of a functioning offensive line is a beautiful thing.
That’s not to say it was a flawless game. Center Will Montgomery was nailed for a costly clipping penalty, though it really looked like he fell into the back of a Buccaneers defensive lineman. Guard Chris Chester nearly got Griffin killed when he was late on a blitz pick up and the Buccaneers sacked the quarterback on what was nearly a safety. There was also a play that Gerald McCoy made in the fourth quarter that I watched several times and couldn’t figure out who was at fault. Chester pulled and joined a double team. Every other O-lineman puts a body on a man. But McCoy, a defensive tackle, was stunting on the play and ran right past the double team and stopped Griffin for a loss. On the next play, Bill Cundiff missed a field goal, and 12:13 remained in the fourth.
If there was any quibble with the O-Line, it’s that when there were chances to put this game away, the line came up short. But overall, the run game worked without the need for much trickery, and Griffin hardly took any hits as he threw. Almost all of the plays were designed to be quick, but some Griffin had plenty of time.
And on the biggest hit Griffin took, the Mark Barron bodyslam early in the game, I wouldn’t even blame the O-line. The Redskins ran the option right into a Tampa Bay safety blitz. The outside linebacker had the pitchman accounted for, so Griffin had to eat the ball, and the blow from Barron, the blitzing safety.
This unit was a different story. They’re also easier to break down by player, so here goes:
Josh Wilson: I’m glad I don’t give grades, because he had some A plays and some F plays, but I’m not sure they averaged out to a C, because of the times in the game they occurred. His best play was probably a sideline pass breakup while covering Vincent Jackson, which seemed to be almost exclusively DeAngelo Hall’s role. On the broadcast, you can even hear the ‘ball!’ call, which means somebody in the secondary who wasn’t in position to make the play was at least communicating, so that Wilson could put his hands up at the right time. Wilson was in on a few other nice plays in the first half, but he gave up a bad completion — you could see it in his body language — when the Bucs were backed up inside their own 5-yard line. Josh Freeman didn’t really make any great throws in the first half, but this one, in the third, had touch. And Mike Williams got his toes inbounds if he caught it. Still, Wilson didn’t anticipate the throw very well, and doesn’t seem to be at his best when pressing tight. Then there’s the play you likely remember, where he got toasted by Williams, and safety Madieu Williams whiffs, and Wilson actually turns his body around to finally bring the Bucs’ Williams. With the Redskins leading by anywhere from eight to 18 points, the cornerbacks did a poor job of preparing for deep passes.
Hall: Up and down, as you might expect. Spent most of the day on Jackson. Had a really nice interception in the first half, where he pressed Jackson off the line, and then played the route so well he was in position to pick it off, though Freeman’s throw was behind him. Hall was in on a couple of tackles of LeGarrette Blount and Freeman. He gave up a touchdown pass to Jackson when he let the receiver take two steps before attempting to jam him. Jackson blew through the attempt and caught the pass before Williams could come over to help. On the deep pass to Jackson, Hall was all alone in coverage and step for step with the big receiver. It was a great throw from Freeman, and it seemed like Hall misplayed it slightly, to where Jackson could lay out and fingertip catch it.
Williams: Very active game at safety. Was in on a lot of tackles, and whatever catches he allowed, the receiver was quickly tackled. Had a good breakup on Jackson in the first quarter, but didn’t seem to be helping the cornerbacks all that much either.
Reed Doughty: Very quiet game. Mostly solid, not in the frame on any of the really bad pass plays. Most memorable play was getting run over by Blount on a punishing run.
Richard Crawford: In the slot, he was the guy who really struggled. He gave up two completions to Tiquan Underwood in the fourth quarter when the Bucs went ahead, including one when he was just flat-footed at the snap while Underwood was bursting off the line. He also was out of position on a first-quarter pass in the middle of the field that wasn’t a big play because Freeman threw behind the wide receiver.
In the comments, post your standout moments or concerns about these two units in the first four games to date, and coming up against the Falcons. The secondary will be tested, but all in all, save for the two big plays, everything else Hall and Wilson did you can live with, and the safeties were okay.