The Washington Redskins finally managed to put together their second win of the season against a tricky Chicago Bears team. The game turned into somewhat of a shootout, with the Redskins coming out on top with a 45-41 win at FedEx Field. Here’s my position-by-position review of the game:
Robert Griffin III continues to look more and more like the Griffin of old as each week passes by. He displayed the same explosion we saw last week again Dallas whenever he took off running. With the aggressiveness of the Bears’ defensive line penetrating on the stretch run plays, Washington needed Griffin to run the read option and make Chicago pay for being overzealous. Griffin pulled the ball more than he has done this season and managed to make some big gains. That opened up the stretch running game and kept the Bears’ defense honest. I will take issue with him cutting back upfield on one play to fight for an extra yard. He drew a fortunate flag, but could have taken a much bigger hit than he did.
I also had problems with his decision to pull the trigger on the 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson. Both Charles Tillman and safety Chris Conte were in position to make the play and I felt that Griffin should have moved to his next read or scrambled. He got lucky that the safety ran into Robinson and that Tillman misjudged the ball in the air. While the result was positive, the decision was not.
On his interception, the Bears appeared to drop to Cover 3, with Tillman covering the deep outside third. Griffin came out of a play-action fake and saw Hankerson crossing deep across the middle, but never saw Tillman in his zone outside, Tillman broke on the ball and made the interception.
Griffin struggled to find timing and rhythm with his wide receivers; some passes were poorly located, others were dropped. His communication problems with Pierre Garcon weren’t apparent, but it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the two started to link up. But Griffin was more than willing to feed rookie tight end Jordan Reed the ball. Griffin found Reed when under pressure a number of times and trusted Reed to make plays. It paid off. The touch and location on the fade to Reed in the end zone was perfect. The ball was placed where only Reed could make a play on it and had just enough on it to get it over the defensive back, but keep Reed in bounds.
Griffin again looked at his most comfortable in the no huddle during the third quarter. Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan spotted Lance Briggs out injured and decided to up the tempo. Briggs has a big role in setting the defense for Chicago, much like London Fletcher does for Washington. It’s tough to get the defense set against a no-huddle offense at the best of times, let alone when the guy who is in charge of such responsibilities is on the sideline. Griffin completed some nice throws with the accuracy we’ve come to expect from him during these uptempo situations.
Alfred Morris battled hard with little reward for much of the game. Chicago played extremely aggressively against the stretch game, which caused quick penetration in the backfield. Morris did a fantastic job, as usual, of bouncing off defenders and keeping his legs pumping to fight for extra yards. On the odd occasion the offensive line managed to seal the edge for him, Morris cut up field and broke off some big plays. He earned every one of his 95 yards and probably deserved a touchdown to go with them. But his willingness to pound the ball took its toll on the Bears defense.
That’s when Roy Helu Jr. came in and took full advantage. Helu had been used mainly as a third-down back, but saw more playing time against the Bears, particularly in the red zone. His speed and explosiveness make him a different animal to contain than Morris. Chicago failed to adjust to Helu whenever he entered the game. Helu made them pay with some nice cuts on his way to three touchdowns. I particularly liked the patience he showed on his second touchdown. He pressed the hole to the outside and waited for it to open, before sharply cutting back in for the touchdown.
This group in general failed to make much of an impact on the game. Aldrick Robinson did have two big receptions, after doing very little to start he season. He ran a nice intermediate-level crossing route and picked up 31 yards on his first catch. His speed on crossing routes is very hard for a defense to contain, whether in zone or man coverage. Robinson did well to stick with the play on his 45-yard touchdown. He had a step on Tillman, who did pull up to try and locate the ball in the air. I was impressed how Robinson was able to bounce off the Conte and still find the ball. Lots of other receivers wouldn’t have been able to stay on their feet or locate the ball in that situation.
Pierre Garcon took a while to really get into the game, but ended with five receptions for 58 yards. The Redskins would ideally like to see their number one receiver get more than just five catches, but Garcon came up clutch when needed in the fourth quarter. He made himself available after Griffin was forced out of the pocket quickly. Griffin kept his eyes downfield and Garcon found some space. The Bears should have had Griffin down for a loss of yards, but thanks to him and Garcon, Washington was able to pick up a first down.
Leonard Hankerson and Joshua Morgan were again disappointing. With the Z receiver spot up for grabs, the Redskins hoped that one of these two would have stepped up. Hankerson has flashed on some very good plays, but then takes a step back. Against Chicago, Hankerson was only able to record one catch that he, to his credit, nearly scored from. But he also failed to adjust to passes that weren’t perfectly placed. Griffin threw a pass low and behind Hankerson in the first half. Hankerson made the adjustment back to the ball and got both hands on it, but dropped the pass. Sure it was a bad pass, but any time the receiver gets both hands on the ball, you expect him to be able to catch it.
Reed was the obvious standout player and offense and perhaps the player of the game for the Redskins. Not only did he have a career day with nine receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown, he came up big when it mattered most. Reed ran multiple in-breaking routes across the middle against both safeties and linebackers. Nobody could cover him and he was often wide open for Griffin.
On his touchdown catch, Washington put Reed’s versatility on display. Lined up near the Bears goal line, Reed split out wide as a receiver. Chicago had their corners on the opposite side of the field covering Garcon and Hankerson, leaving nobody on Reed for a split second. Eventually the Bears got a safety over just in time to cover Reed. The Redskins have split Reed wide before on the goal line, but previously have had him run slant routes. This time they went with the fade. Reed’s height and athleticism allowed him to go up and get the ball over the safety and still get both feet down in bounds.
Reed made a huge third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter. Washington was down by three with 58 seconds left. Reed began his route with a fake to the outside, before reverse pivoting back inside. The defenders had no chance and Reed bought himself a yard of space, enough for Griffin to pull the trigger. Reed did an excellent job holding onto the ball after taking a big hit quickly after securing the catch. Helu scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
The interior offensive line had similar issues against Chicago to the ones they had against Dallas. They allowed too much penetration that Morris was unable to avoid in the backfield. I noticed the Bears switching the assignments of defenders to confuse the offensive line. Here’s an example:
Here Chicago lines up in a 4-3 over front. The 3-technique defensive tackle on the play side would normally attack and control the B gap between the guard and tackle. The Mike (middle) linebacker would then cover the A gap as the defensive tackle forced the run back inside to him. But on this play, they switch responsibilities.
The tackle crashes inside to the A gap, taking Chris Chester with him. This begins to create a hole in the B gap.
Montgomery gets to the second level, but the Mike backer that normally plugs the A gap is further outside covering the B gap, leaving Montgomery to block the Will (weak side) linebacker.
The Mike ‘backer, Jon Bostic is able to plug the hole and attack Helu in the backfield. Helu has nowhere to go and is wrapped up behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.
These kinds of plays from the Bears caused Washington a lot of problems up front. But once Griffin became a rushing threat on bootlegs and with the read option, Chicago was forced to play more honest and straight up. That allowed the Redskins’ offensive line to get back into the game and create some running lanes for Morris and Helu.
Chris Baker continues his impressive run. Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett praised Baker for his recent performances, and he appears to be building a foundation for himself. On his sack, he did a good job on a crossing stunt to fake his normal rush and then slide back across the line. Ryan Kerrigan managed to take his tackle wide and cause enough pressure to force McCown to step up into the pocket, where he met Baker head on for the sack. Baker also made a great play against the run in the third quarter. Baker held his gap as he read Forte in the backfield, once Forte cut back against the direction of his blockers, Baker shred his blocker and wrapped up Forte for a minimal gain.
Kedric Golston didn’t have the best of games. On Matt Forte’s first two touchdown runs, Golston failed to hold his gaps. Both times Golston was cut off from the play without much trouble. With Jarvis Jenkins back from suspension and Baker improving each week, Golston will have to step up if he wants to hold down the starting defensive end position.
Barry Cofield was given plenty of breathers as Baker saw time at nose tackle. That kept him fresh for the last play of the game. Cofield got a great initial punch on the right guard to knock him off balance before working his way back inside. The center came over to help, but Cofield broke through the double-team effort. Forte made one final effort to slow him down, but Cofield bounced off his block attempt with ease on his way to McCown. Kerrigan had already got pressure on McCown and began to wrap up, but Cofield finished the job emphatically.
Washington used their linebackers in interesting ways against Chicago. Early on, they ran a couple of blitz packages with just one defensive lineman and five linebackers. This allowed them to further disguise where they were blitzing from. On one play, they dropped three of the five linebackers and sent a safety and corner blitz. On another, they sent more linebackers and overloaded one side. Jim Haslett has been criticized in the past for not being creative enough, but credit to him here for trying something new and mixing up his blitz packages.
Fletcher had a better game in coverage against Martellus Bennett, who was kept to just one reception for seven yards. Fletcher did a good job tracking Bennett up the sideline in the first quarter. Cutler pulled the trigger, but Bennett was never open and the ball fell incomplete. But when McCown came in, Chicago started using packaged plays and Fletcher was the target of them. McCown often had the option of handing off, throwing to the tight end up the seam or throwing a bubble screen based on what Fletcher did. Bennett’s single catch came when Fletcher crashed on the run. McCown pulled the ball and quickly hit Bennett up the seam for an easy seven yards. Fletcher was put in a tough position on these plays. The packaged plays are designed to put a single defender in such a position that he is always wrong no matter what he does.
One of the standout defenders for Washington was star pass rusher Brian Orakpo. Obviously his pick-six was the highlight. Orakpo did a good job to drop back and locate the ball as wide receiver Alshon Jeffery bobbled it. Once he was in position, it was a fairly easy catch and run for Orakpo, who took his first career interception 29 yards for a touchdown.
But Orakpo had a good game all around. While he failed to register much on the stat sheet, he did a good job setting the edge in the run game and forcing the ball back inside to his teammates. He also did a nice job creating pressure on McCown, but McCown did an equally good job stepping up in the pocket and then scrambling to avoid Orakpo. The effort is there from Orakpo. The less-mobile Peyton Manning (who Washington faces next week) probably wouldn’t have been able to escape all the pressure that McCown did.
DeAngelo Hall once again put in a good performance against a quality wide receiver in Brandon Marshall. Hall shadowed Marshall for large portions of the game and kept him quiet for the most part. Early on in the first quarter, Hall nearly jumped two third-down passes. The first was to Marshall, which Hall barely missed. Marshall managed to catch the pass but was touched down immediately short of the first down. Then Hall broke his coverage as he watched the eyes of the quarterback. He broke on a quick stop route inside and got hands on the ball despite that route not even appearing to be his responsibility.
Marshall had a better game than Bryant did against Hall a week ago, but he made a lot of his catches and yards when Hall was in zone coverage and not assigned to him. He did get the better of Hall on one occasion. Hall played off coverage against a in-breaking route. The ball was delivered on time moments after Marshall cut inside and Hall couldn’t react quick enough to stop the completion. Marshall took the pass for a first down.
Reed Doughty saw more playing time at strong safety. He made some nice plays filling holes as the eighth man in the box against the run, but his best play came on Orakpo’s interception. Doughty broke quickly on the high throw to Jeffery and hit him almost at the same time as the ball arrived. Jeffery couldn’t manage to hold onto the pass and bobbled it straight to Orakpo, who did the rest of the work. But a great read in coverage by Doughty, something that is not traditionally his strong suit.
I still am not convinced by David Amerson’s tackling. McCown found Jeffery on a deep crossing route in the second half. Jeffery entered Amerson’s zone and was able to bounce off Amerson’s feeble tackle attempt. Amerson failed to wrap up, instead opting for the big hit. Jeffery is a big-bodied receiver and was able to withstand the hit easily. Amerson flashes excellent tackling technique at times, but will completely miss as well. Consistency will be key for Amerson’s development going forward.
Washington really cannot afford any more penalties from safety Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather added two more illegal hit penalties to his tally this season, which might see him suspended, having already been fined for his previous penalties. The Redskins’ defense has done a much better job of late, but no defense can succeed when they constantly give up penalties because they go for big hits instead of wrapping up and making the right play. That’s what Washington needs from Meriweather right now, solid tackling over the knockout punch.
Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.
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