In this week’s mailbag, we sift through the plentiful list of problems and try to make sense of what we saw.
Thanks, as always, for taking part in the mailbag. Keep the questions coming. Email me at email@example.com with the subject line, “Mailbag question,” and we’ll do it all over again next week.
But first, the best of this week’s submissions:
At this point, I know that the failures of the Redskins’ run game have been noted during Jay Gruden’s tenure here. Is it the lack of a truly dynamic back, the inconsistencies of the offensive line, or is it on Jay for failing to establish it throughout the course of the game? Not saying that he should stick to what isn’t working, necessarily, but if the failure to run the ball effectively is causing him to abandon the run, and because he has abandoned the run, the backs can’t run effectively, how does the issue really ever get fixed?
— Jey Williams, Columbia, S.C.
Good question. It’s like which came first, the chicken or the egg, right? There definitely have been a number of times when Gruden seemed to abandon the run too quickly. It can take some time for linemen to find their rhythm, and for running backs to get a feel for the defense. So patience and conviction is required.
Conviction means sticking with the run when you get held to a two- or three-yard gain here and there, because you know eventually those little gains will turn into bigger chunks as the defense wears down.
But you also need production. The Redskins’ first eight rushing attempts gained two or fewer yards apiece. Washington ran on 12 of 24 first-down plays, and 17 runs total while attempting 40 pass plays. But 12 first-down runs averaged gains of just 3.5 yards, and the longest (a nine-yard pickup) was a Kirk Cousins designed run.
If you don’t have a lot of production on first down, it’s hard to stick with the run. Five times tight ends missed blocks, and the defender who eluded them wound up making the tackle for a loss, no gain or only minimal production. If you’re in a hole on second down, you then have to throw. The goal is to put yourself in manageable third-down situations, and the Redskins weren’t able to do that. if the Redskins want to use the run more, they need to do a better job of executing.
Rob Kelley said he sets a personal goal of five yards on each first-down carry so he can set up a second-and-five, which means possibly another run on second down to set up a makable third-and-short situation. But the Redskins couldn’t even muster that on Sunday because of their abundant miscues. So, it’s no wonder Gruden didn’t stick with the run. Bill Callahan and the linemen and Wes Phillips and the tight ends really have to work hard this week to correct the problem areas.
Rob Kelley is a good back. He is best at stretch zone plays. The Redskins had a fine zone stretch team under Mike Shanahan when Alfred Morris ran for three 1,000-yard seasons. Gruden, since he has been here, has opted to go with more power plays. Callahan as well. Why do we keep running those power plays with a very low success rate? Why not run those stretch plays and set up play-action, which will help Kirk? Shouldn’t we be running the plays that help the team be successful versus the style the coaches want? Otherwise the running game is a waste of time.
— Felix Trammell, Brandywine, Md.
I don’t have a problem with a coach opting for a different style. Aside from Trent Williams, who can shine in any scheme, the offensive linemen have all changed since the Shanahan era, so it’s not like Gruden is running a power scheme with Shanahan’s handpicked players. But the Redskins need to have better execution. As mentioned above, on multiple plays offensive linemen did indeed do their jobs, but tight ends missed blocks and Kelley or Chris Thompson were tackled behind the line for no gain even though a lane had opened. The unblocked guy off the edge got to the back before he could get to that opening. There definitely have been times where the tight ends make their blocks and then there’s something wrong up the middle.
Callahan isn’t strictly a power guy, though. There are times that they sprinkle in some stretch plays. Those plays did better on Sunday than the power plays. Why didn’t they use them more? I have no idea. But perhaps it’s something that should receive consideration, because as you said, success in the run game leads to play-action pass opportunities and more big plays.
Is Josh Doctson a Scot McCloughan guy, or a Jay Gruden guy?
— Anthony Lawrence, Northeast D.C.
Doctson was McCloughan’s surprise first-round pick in 2016. Many people in the organization expected a defensive player or possibly a center with that first pick. But McCloughan loved Doctson’s potential so much that he thought the Redskins couldn’t pass on him. Gruden has said he likes Doctson’s game and believes he can be a real weapon. Wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard has shared the same sentiments.
Why did they hardly use Josh Doctson? He barely played and I don’t think he was targeted at all. Gruden talks after practices about how he’s a natural receiver yet he’s not used at all. I know you can’t be 100 percent sure because you’re obviously not a coach, but maybe you could provide some insight/reasoning behind it!
Yes, Doctson’s minimal activity on Sunday was perplexing, especially after Gruden and Cousins and other teammates have raved about his abilities.
Doctson lined up for 20 snaps and didn’t receive a single target. But based on Gruden’s postgame comments, it all makes sense. Although they like Doctson’s skill set, there’s not a lot of trust of Doctson among Gruden and his fellow coaches. He hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy. He hasn’t proven that he can play through pain. He hasn’t proven he can shoulder an extensive workload. So, while he might boast great potential and an incomparable skill set, Doctson doesn’t yet offer everything Gruden needs.
Meanwhile, Ryan Grant, whom Gruden and Hilliard love, has earned trust by displaying durability, dependability and the ability to execute. Sunday, Grant had his most active day as a pro with four catches for 61 yards, averaging 15.3 yards per reception. Many fans roll their eyes and think, “Ryan Grant?” as they recall the Atlanta game in which he slipped in overtime, leading to a game-sealing pick-six. But Redskins coaches don’t see him as that guy at all.
Gruden, both on Sunday and Monday, talked about the need for Doctson to earn playing time. It sounds as if this coaching staff is trying to send the young receiver a message that he needs to work harder. Gruden’s words indicate that he and his assistants don’t care how talented Doctson is, because for now, he hasn’t shown them enough. As Doctson stays on the field and puts together one quality practice after another and improved play game after game, opportunities should increase.
Why did the Redskins lock in Jay Gruden until early 2021 instead of letting him prove himself until early 2019?
Back in March, I thought Gruden’s extension was deemed necessary to sign Kirk Cousins, and attract key free agents such as Zach Brown and Terrelle Pryor Sr. to long-term deals. However, all three players signed one-year contracts anyway, so there goes that theory. A defensive coordinator worth his salt could only view a head coach on a short leash as a potential opportunity to head coach the team down the road or coach elsewhere.
— Tim Foisie, Westport, Conn.
I don’t want to take away from any of the work that Gruden has put in during his three previous seasons as coach. He took a 3-13 team, struggled through a 4-12 season his first year while trying to sort out a messy quarterback situation, guided the team to a 9-7 division-winning/playoff-berth-earning campaign in Year 2, and then the Redskins posted a second consecutive winning season for the first time since the 1996-97 campaigns. Yes, had Gruden managed to coax one more win out of his team, that 8-7-1 would’ve been a 9-7 playoff team. But the coach has definitely played a role in changing the culture here.
However, I do understand what you mean about the timing of the contract extension. You have to remember what was going on at the time, though. It was NFL Combine week, and McCloughan was missing in action. Rumblings of dysfunction began to surface, and it became evident McCloughan was on his way out. Player agents found themselves asking, “Who’s in charge over there?” They perceived the Redskins as a franchise in disarray. So in an attempt to convey stability, Bruce Allen gave Gruden the extension before combine week ended, people around the league believe. Like you said, the move didn’t really translate into improved marketability, because Cousins remained unconvinced about the direction of the franchise and again opted against signing a long-term deal. You would certainly hope that Gruden can continue to push this team toward greater improvement and be here a long time. But, in the NFL, contract extensions really mean very little.
Is Morgan Moses injured? From watching him during the preseason and in yesterday’s Philadelphia game, his mobility appears significantly diminished over last season.
Right tackle Morgan Moses did injure an ankle in Sunday’s game, and he left the locker room with his foot in a walking boot. But it’s unclear when he suffered the injury. He wasn’t on the injury report leading up to the game. He did indeed struggle on Sunday, along with the entire offensive line. No one seems to be able to put their finger on the source of the problem. But the line as a whole looks out of sync and lacks the consistency that made it one of the better units in the league last season. It’s still early, though, so maybe Moses and his teammates get this figured out this week.
Simple question, why is the Redskins third down defense so horrendous? Multiple times Sunday they had the Eagles in third-and-long, and the Eagles converted. Eagles 8-for-14 on third down. Redskins 3-for-11 on third down
This is a simple question, but the answer is far from simple. The Redskins have to improve execution. But of course, that’s easier said than done. Forcing opponents into third-and-long is exactly what you want to do as a defense. Because those situations are more challenging to make than third-and-short. But the Eagles seemed near-automatic on third-and-long. There were times, like the first touchdown, where the Redskins had two hits on Carson Wentz and he still spun away and made a great throw downfield. That shouldn’t have happened. The receiver was really open, but that’s because someone on the back end lost him in coverage. That’s one play with three reasons the Redskins couldn’t get off the field on third-and-long.
There were other plays in which Wentz proved too elusive, or had time to beat the rush and make a great throw, or when receivers found openings and made clutch catches. The Redskins need to find a way to eliminate the miscues. A sack on that first third-and-long would’ve prevented a touchdown, and the game could have turned out very differently. The players on great teams find ways to lock in and execute in key moments. The Redskins are still trying to figure out how. It’s not like they don’t want those sacks and interceptions and drive-stopping tackles. But everything has to come together at the same time.