Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
Game Balls, Gassers and Observations: Texans 30, Redskins 27
Here’s a look at the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ 30-27 overtime loss to the Houston Texans, plus some observations from re-watching the game.
QB Donovan McNabb: McNabb’s final stats (28 of 38, 426 yards, 1 TD, 119.0 rating) indicated that he played a great game, but I needed to re-watch it to be convinced. And now I’ll say he was way better than I remembered. It’s difficult to find a starting point here because McNabb did so many things well. He was accurate on deep balls to WR Joey Galloway and TE Fred Davis. He zipped throws into tight windows, like his 20-yarder to WR Anthony Armstrong over the middle on third-and-10 in the third quarter. He stood in well against the pass rush on a 22-yard catch and run by WR Roydell Williams in the third quarter. He made several excellent throws off his back foot, including the 22-yard touchdown to TE Chris Cooley. For the second straight game, he did not turn the ball over. When it was appropriate to take the shorter options that the Texans gave him, he did.
McNabb wasn’t perfect, though. He overthrew a potential deep touchdown to Galloway late in the fourth quarter. He rushed a high, incomplete third-down pass to RB Clinton Portis in the red zone on Washington’s second series. He threw behind Galloway on a slant in the second half. Those mistakes, however, were clearly overshadowed by his positive impact on the game. He took advantage of a Texans defense that struggles against the pass in part because of its young corners. If McNabb repeats this performance a few times, the Redskins probably would contend for the NFC East.
SS LaRon Landry: For the second straight game, Landry played like a starved dog that was just let out of its cage. He has no regard for his personal well-being, and he’s playing a step faster than anyone else on the field. That’s a lethal combination. He’ll enter Week 3 as the NFL’s leading tackler with 28. He is taking good angles, and he is keeping his head up and eyes on his target when making tackles. His sack in the closing moments of the second quarter was quite impressive. He set up Houston RT Eric Winston with a little hesitation move to the outside and then shot inside him to get to QB Matt Schaub. Landry timed his blitzes well, and he crushed Schaub on several rushes. He also laid out WR David Anderson in the fourth quarter.
While I’m on Landry, let’s look at two problems. He and CB Carlos Rogers appeared to have some sort of miscommunication in coverage on the Texans’ first touchdown. Landry lined up over WR Jacoby Jones in the left slot, while Rogers faced a receiver on the outside. When Jones ran a quick out, Landry passed him off to Rogers. The problem was that Rogers ran with his own receiver, and Jones was wide open for the touchdown. And in the fourth quarter, WR Kevin Walter beat Rogers down the left seam for a 35-yard completion. Rogers appeared to be relying on Landry for deep, inside help, but Landry had run toward the line of scrimmage to cover a receiver running a shorter route. Another miscommunication, it would seem.
LDE Adam Carriker: I’m buying Carriker as an impact 3-4 end right now. He’s strong enough to set the edge on running plays, and he’s even generating a pass rush on occasion. To put it another way, he’s outplaying RDE Kedric Golston, the starter on the other side. Carriker stopped Houston RB Arian Foster for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter after he made a quick step inside the pulling left guard. He also beat a double team on the first play of the second half to stop Foster for a gain of 1. Carriker isn’t dominant—he was driven off the line of scrimmage on consecutive rushing plays during the Texans’ second series because the opposing lineman had better leverage—but he is flashing.
K Graham Gano (kickoffs): Gano superbly placed his kickoffs. He forced a bone-headed move by Houston RB/KR Steve Slaton that pinned the Texans at their 1-yard line in the first quarter. He also pinned the returner near the sideline on several other kicks. The Texans’ average starting field position after kickoffs was their 18-yard line. That’s stellar.
WR Santana Moss: You could almost consider Moss the Redskins’ running back because of how QB Donovan McNabb fed him short, quick passes. Moss had 10 catches for 89 yards, and his longest reception was for only 13 yards. When it became clear that the Redskins couldn’t move the ball on the ground, Moss was their go-to player to move the chains. He consistently got separation on quick slants, especially in the second half. He also made some defenders miss in space, as we’re used to seeing. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan obviously wants the ball in Moss’ hands, and Moss is taking care of his end.
P Josh Bidwell: Bidwell punted four times for 51 yards, 51, 38 and 52; and the 38-yarder was placed inside the 20-yard line. He was consistent for the first time in six games (including preseason). His 52-yarder at the end of regulation helped ensure the game would go to overtime. Bidwell also got down a high extra-point snap in the first half.
TE Fred Davis: Let’s start with the good: Davis’ 62-yard catch and run was the result of quality athleticism. He kept his balance after making the catch and did the smart thing by following RB Clinton Portis’ outstanding lead block. Now, the reason he’s here: Davis in the fourth quarter whiffed on Texans S Bernard Pollard on a 29-yard field goal attempt that Pollard blocked. Houston overloaded the left side of the defensive line with six players, and Davis responded on the right edge by barely extending his arm to disrupt Pollard’s rush. Considering the Redskins lost in overtime, it’s fair to wonder if Davis’ failed block cost the Redskins a win. Davis also gave up a sack to DE Mario Williams, but it didn’t hurt Washington because Houston committed a personal foul on the play.
LG Derrick Dockery: Every offensive lineman was responsible for at least one poor run block in this game (part of a greater collective problem, I know), but I noted three for Dockery—and two came in goal-line situations. Houston DT Shaun Cody cut Dockery and drove him back on first-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter. Dockery was pushed back toward FB Mike Sellers, who then jumped prematurely over the pile. Dockery also was pushed back later in the quarter when RB Clinton Portis was stopped at the 1. LG Kory Lichtensteiger rotated with Dockery throughout the game, and it doesn’t seem that Dockery did anything to win back some of his playing time.
CB Phillip Buchanon: When the opposing quarterback throws for 497 yards, some members of the secondary are responsible. It’s difficult to single players out in this instance because QB Matt Schaub had a record-setting day for many reasons. Buchanon, though, is on this list for his role on two key plays. He covered WR Andre Johnson in man-to-man on Johnson’s 34-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-10 with 2:03 left, but he appeared to leave FS Reed Doughty hanging when he peeled off of Johnson at about the 10-yard line. And there was no other receiver there for Buchanon to cover. Doughty was exposed, and Johnson made a fairly easy touchdown catch. Buchanon also was involved in WR Jacoby Jones’ 7-yard catch on third-and-4 on the game-winning drive. Buchanon was shaded toward Jones near the left sideline, but he slid toward the middle of the field when Schaub looked him off. Schaub then went back to Jones to extend the drive.
FS Reed Doughty: Doughty was late getting to receivers on several long completions, including a 21-yard reception by WR Kevin Walter early in the third quarter. Doughty also failed to break up the game-tying touchdown to WR Andre Johnson on fourth-and-10 with 2:03 remaining. Let’s stop here, though, and address a bigger issue. Doughty is out of position at free safety just as LaRon Landry was last season. Doughty excels around the line of scrimmage because he’s a sure tackler, he’s smart and he relishes contact. Coverage isn’t his strong suit, just like it isn’t Landry’s. I find it tough to blame him for the Johnson touchdown. He’ll be the first one to tell you he should have made the play, but he’s not in the best position to succeed there.
The first two games of this season raise the question of how well Doughty fits with the Redskins. Landry’s draft pedigree and raw talent and athleticism mean that he’s their guy at strong safety—and rightfully so. He’s playing great right now. Doughty is in the last year of his contract, and he wants to remain with the team because he and his family have made a home here. However, Doughty would probably find a better playing situation somewhere else. It’s something to keep in mind as the season progresses.
S Chris Horton: Horton made two mistakes when he replaced LaRon Landry after Landry was injured in overtime. He jumped offsides on the first snap, turning Houston’s failed third-and-9 into a third-and-4. Two plays later, he was beaten deep down the seam by TE Joel Dreessen. Horton was flat-footed when Dreessen ran past him at full speed, and the separation was enough for QB Matt Schaub to complete a 26-yarder into field-goal range.
RB Larry Johnson: The veteran runner made a poor decision to run backwards on a 10-yard loss on the first play of the fourth quarter. Johnson did not demonstrate the speed and explosiveness needed to excel with the one-cut style that best fits the Redskins’ zone running scheme.
Because the game turned so drastically in the third quarter, it was a bit difficult to classify players as having either a good game or a bad game. It was a mix for most.
TE Chris Cooley was one of those cases. He used a terrific swim move to separate from LB Xavier Adibi on his 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter. On the other hand, he didn’t get to S Bernard Pollard in time to prevent Pollard from blowing up an end-around for an 8-yard loss with less than 5 minutes to go. Questions about that play call aside, it pushed the Redskins back from the Houston 46 and doomed the drive. Cooley also got pushed back on a 2-yard run by RB Clinton Portis in the first quarter.
CB Carlos Rogers is another player whose performance was mixed. Not only did he have a couple breakdowns with SS LaRon Landry, it seemed he was trailing WR Andre Johnson on many of Johnson’s 12 receptions. Rogers did make a great read, though, on his first-quarter interception. He recognized QB Matt Schaub’s intention to pass over the middle, so he left his receiver on the outside and undercut the route.
Even though the Redskins had five sacks, it seemed at times as though their pass rush was completely ineffective. I’ll attribute that to two things. 1) The Redskins’ pass rush was all or nothing. For the most part, either they sacked Schaub or they didn’t get close to him. There were rare exceptions to that, including the fourth-and-10 touchdown on which QB Matt Schaub had to buy time in the pocket. And 2) Schaub was absolutely outstanding when the Redskins did not get to him. It seemed that he made them pay every time he got to stand comfortably in the pocket and step into his throws. He picked apart Washington’s zone. Schaub has a reputation for not being affected by the pass rush and keeping his eyes on his receivers while under pressure. He upheld that.
The complexion of the game turned when Houston converted third-and-15 with a 50-yard screen pass while trailing 27-10 in the third quarter. The Texans had the perfect play call on. The Redskins overloaded the left side of the defense and blitzed five players, including ILB Rocky McIntosh and CB DeAngelo Hall. It left the right side of the defense exposed, and RB Arian Foster gashed it. Houston scored a touchdown on the next play and the comeback was on. And perhaps the most impressive aspect was that WR Andre Johnson was on the sideline nursing an ankle injury.
LB Lorenzo Alexander continues to make a positive impact. He recorded a second-half sack despite being double-teamed by the left guard and left tackle. He finished the play with a strong slap move. The third-down sack pushed the Texans back six yards, and K Neil Rackers missed the ensuing field goal attempt. Alexander also had a nice hit on punt coverage.
RB Clinton Portis must stay balanced on that fourth-quarter run on second-and 5 from the 9. The play was designed to cut back left, but his weight seemed to get too far forward, and he fell with the end zone right in front of him. The next three plays: false start, incompletion, blocked field goal. Portis missed a chance to put the game away.
Generally speaking, the biggest problem with the running game appears to be blockers losing individual matchups, whether it’s the line or wide receivers. No lineman is going to be perfect, but the Redskins can’t get in synch. When one lineman wins his matchup, the other loses; and then the reverse happens. It’s also a matter of not having an explosive, game-breaking runner. Houston RB Arian Foster had speed, good vision and good balance, and it’s clear he’s comfortable reading cutback lanes and hitting them hard. He’s better than any running back the Redskins have on the roster (as a runner, at least).
WR Joey Galloway got behind the defense twice by outrunning his defender. He came away with a 62-yard reception the first time and was barely overthrown the second. Teams will see on tape that the 38-year-old can still stretch the field, and they’ll have to respect the deep threat he poses.
The Redskins offensive line could learn a few things from how effectively Houston’s line cut-blocked. It seemed that Redskins linemen were on the ground on every play. The Texans, obviously, have been utilizing those techniques for longer, so the disparity is understandable. But if that form awaits the Redskins’ line, it, too, could become a formidable group.
That said, I noticed one nasty chop block by Houston RG Mike Brisiel against NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu. C Chris Myers, who I thought played incredibly well, engaged Kemoeatu and tried to push him to the left. And while Myers still had one hand in Kemoeatu’s chest, Brisiel went low. It was very dangerous.
OLBs Andre Carter, Lorenzo Alexander and Brian Orakpo continue to be susceptible to bootlegs and play action because they sell out to the run and try to chase plays from the backside. It burned Alexander on Houston’s second touchdown. QB Matt Schaub’s fake handoff fooled Alexander into running entirely out of the play, and Schaub hit Walter in the spot Alexander had vacated.
The play design on TE Fred Davis’ 62-yard catch was brilliant. WRs Joey Galloway and Santana Moss were wide left, and Davis and TE Chris Cooley had their hands on the ground on the right side of the formation. Galloway and Moss ran slants off the line of scrimmage to clear out the defense. QB Donovan McNabb faked a handoff left and circled back to the right eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. That gave the play time to develop. Davis sold his run-block for about two seconds before slipping out the left side of the formation. Because Galloway and Moss had cleared the defense, Davis was wide open. The run fake stymied the pass rush, and McNabb made the easy throw.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said during training camp that players near the line of scrimmage have the option of lining up in a 3-point stance even if their assignment is to drop in coverage. Well, I hadn’t seen anyone actually do that until Houston’s final drive of the first half. ILB Rocky McIntosh put his hand down on the line of scrimmage, only to drop after the snap. McIntosh’s disguise wasn’t particularly effective, though. He gave away his intentions by leaning too far back.
RT Jammal Brown’s false start on third-and-1 from the 5 in the fourth quarter was a killer. I’ve never before seen a lineman jump before the quarterback was actually under center. Third-and-1 would have been easier to convert there than third-and-6. Houston brought an ‘A’ gap blitz on the next play because a pass was predictable.
We’re still waiting for that first punt return by Phillip Buchanon. He sure knows how to build the suspense.
Someone in the locker room after the game mentioned missed tackles, so I kept an eye out for them but saw only six. Adam Carriker had two, Andre Carter had two and Rocky McIntosh and Phillip Buchanon each had one.
OLB Brian Orakpo’s sack was the product of hustle. LT Duane Brown rode him past QB Matt Schaub on the play, but when OLB Andre Carter forced Schaub from the pocket, Schaub ran back into Orakpo’s path. Carter, by the way, did better as a pass-rusher than he has at any time since training camp.
…Whew, that’s it. What’d I miss? Leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.