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: Rams 30, Redskins 16
A look at the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ loss to St. Louis, plus some observations from re-watching the game:
TE Chris Cooley: This was one of Cooley’s best games as a blocker. He helped RB Ryan Torain gain five yards on second-and-goal from the 7 by getting his hands inside LB Larry Grant’s and finishing the block. On a second-and-13 in the third quarter, Cooley went out on a pass route but turned upfield when QB Donovan McNabb found RB Clinton Portis in the right flat. Cooley quickly switched to blocking mode and sealed MLB James Laurinaitis to allow Portis to get the first down. Cooley also executed a perfect combination block with LT Stephon Heyer to spring Torain’s 36-yard run in the second quarter. He helped on a lineman before releasing to the second level and driving out Grant.
LDE Phillip Daniels: Daniels’ strength and explosiveness off the snap were tremendous assets. He almost single-handedly kept the Rams off the scoreboard after they had first-and-goal from the 1 late in the first half. Twice at the 1, his initial surge drove RT Jason Smith backwards, and he disrupted the play in the backfield before it got started. He then blocked a field goal with impressive agility, hurdling the line and jumping up to swat the kick. In the first quarter on a second-and-4, he limited RB Keith Toston to a 2-yard gain with swift pursuit from behind and a diving tackle. Daniels, along with Adam Carriker, is the strongest lineman the Redskins have. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll start seeing more of him, even on the right side opposite Carriker, because he can anchor against the run better than Kedric Golston.
S Reed Doughty: Doughty appeals to me because he’s a hard worker with a pragmatic approach to the game. He took a lot of heat for the Andre Johnson touchdown on fourth-and-10 against Houston (much of it unwarranted, it turned out) and ceded his starting spot to Kareem Moore, but he didn’t sulk. He found a way to positively impact the game on special teams. His hit on KR Marty Gilyard forced a fumble at a point in the game when the Redskins desperately needed to capture some momentum.
CB DeAngelo Hall: Hall made headlines last Monday with some brazen remarks, and he did not back them up. He was very slow coming out of his breaks on several downfield passes, and QB Sam Bradford exploited that with some perfectly-timed throws. He surrendered a 25-yard reception on third-and-20 when WR Mark Clayton ran a deep comeback route and beat Hall out of the break. A conversion on third-and-20 should never happen. WR Brandon Gibson did the same for a 14-yard catch in the third quarter. Hall also slipped on two key plays—the 12-yard out to Clayton on third-and-2 that put the Rams at the Washington 1 in the second quarter, and the 30-yard catch-and-run to Clayton in the second half.
RT Jammal Brown: Brown had trouble with DE Chris Long. Long beat him with an inside spin move on a third-and-10, flushing QB Donovan McNabb from the pocket and forcing him to dump the ball down on the run. Long later beat Brown around the edge when Brown dove into his initial punch and got off-balance. Brown was OK in the run game, but sometimes his feet just aren’t quick enough in pass protection. He’s still getting used to playing on the right side, and don’t forget he sat out all of last season. Despite all that, he’s still much better than what Stephon Heyer was on two bum knees last season.
WR Joey Galloway: Galloway made no impact for the second time in three games. I don’t need to tell you this, but he’s the team’s No. 2 receiver. You can’t expect an offense to put up points without two good receivers, much less one who can’t produce even one catch. I suppose it’s not as much Galloway’s fault as it is the architects of this team (Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen). Anyhow, it’s difficult to know how often Galloway is getting open because the public doesn’t have access to the coaches’ film, but it’s safe to say that if he was getting open, he would have at least one catch. Too bad we can’t give QB Donovan McNabb some truth serum on this one. Galloway was targeted on two deep balls, but he was covered both times. He was the primary receiver on a second-and-10 in the third quarter, but the cornerback defended the deep hitch well and Galloway wasn’t open.
LG Kory Lichtensteiger: Lichtensteiger played the whole game, but he didn’t exactly secure the starting job going forward. He was not sharp. He whiffed on his attempt to block a linebacker on a first-quarter run that resulted in a 3-yard loss. On first-and-10 in the third quarter, he pulled around the left edge alongside FB Mike Sellers, but they let LB Na’il Diggs split them and disrupt RB Ryan Torain’s path. He committed a false start on first-and-10 with about four minutes to go in the game. On the ensuing first-and-15, he appeared indecisive about whether to help LT Stephon Heyer with a pass block or double DT Gary Gibson inside. He ended up blocking no one, and Gibson batted the pass down as it came out of QB Donovan McNabb’s hand. Lichtensteiger had a couple of good blocks in the run game, but he didn’t distance himself from Derrick Dockery.
RG Artis Hicks: Each offensive lineman was inconsistent and could have a place on this list, but Hicks stood out to me for too many negative plays. Leverage was problematic at times, which was the case early in training camp. He pulled right on a second-and-7 in the second quarter but never engaged a defender, and RB Ryan Torain lost a yard. He had to hold DE Chris Long on the ensuing third-and-8 because Long got under his pads and pushed him back. The refs didn’t see it, and QB Donovan McNabb scrambled for a first down. On a second-and-10 in the third quarter, DT Chris Hovan drove into Hicks hard enough to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, enabling Hovan to shed the block and tackle Torain for a loss of 1.
LOLB Andre Carter: Give Carter credit for playing hard and committing himself to the scheme even though he is playing out of position. Think of him as the anti-Haynesworth. I wonder, though, how much longer he’ll keep his starting job. It would be one thing if he made up for his deficiencies in space by rushing the passer well, but Carter isn’t consistently generating pressure. And this has been the case since training camp began. RB Kenneth Darby easily juked Carter on a swing pass in the right flat for 8 yards on a second-and-10. Carter couldn’t get off the tight end’s block on a 13-yard second-half run. The fullback put him on his backside with a lead block on a late 3-yard gain.
Having said all that, I do want to note a positive play Carter made. The Rams ran a bootleg his way in the second quarter and Carter kept backside contain. Too often this season Carter has gotten caught selling out for the run, but he stayed home, pressured QB Sam Bradford and forced an incompletion. That’s improvement.
RB Keiland Williams: Williams completely missed his block on Rams WR Dominique Curry when Curry blocked a punt in the first-quarter. Curry set Williams up with a fake to the outside and cut back inside for an easy block. Williams didn’t duck his head, as he sometimes does on blocks. He simply was faked out. Williams was subsequently taken off the punt protection unit. Darrel Young took Reed Doughty’s place as the up-back, and Doughty took Williams’ place on the right edge of the line.
I re-watched the game expecting to see NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu and RDE Kedric Golston being driven off the line of scrimmage repeatedly, but that didn’t happen as often as I remembered. If you take away RB Steven Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown run, which neither Kemoeatu nor Golston were on the field for, the Rams averaged only 2.5 yards per carry. That’s pretty darn good. The problem, however, is that they didn’t sufficiently keep offensive linemen off of ILBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh. Fletcher and McIntosh have to stay clean in order to provide run support, and Fletcher, in particular, took on too many linemen. It’s up to the front three to clog things up and prevent the combination blocks that helped the Rams sustain drives.
As usual, several players produced mixed results. They warrant mentioning even though I didn’t place them in either of the above categories.
WR Santana Moss was the only Redskins’ receiver who made a positive impact (have you heard that one before?). The bottom line with him: He gets open on a variety of routes. He also made a key block downfield on RB Ryan Torain’s 36-yard run. Moss doesn’t get a game ball, though, because he fumbled in the first quarter. And, boy, was it costly. He also committed a dumb crackback block penalty.
FS Kareem Moore displayed his ball skills by reaching back for an errant throw and intercepting it. The Redskins were down 14-0 with the Rams positioned to score again, but Moore changed the game with that pick. On the downside, he missed tackles on both of the Rams’ touchdown runs. That’s the tradeoff between Moore and Reed Doughty.
LT Stephon Heyer did made some positive contributions to the running game (I’ll get to that in a moment), but he was a liability at times, too. With the Redskins down 24-16—still a one-possession game—in the fourth quarter, he put them in first-and-20 with a holding penalty. The hold didn’t affect the play, but a first down pass to WR Santana Moss was negated, and the Redskins punted three plays later. On first-and-10 in the third quarter, Heyer gave away the Redskins’ intent to pass by not getting in a three-point stance. The ensuing play-action fake didn’t fool the safety, who got over the top to help with deep coverage on Moss.
Things went wrong from the first play of the game. K Graham Gano, who spectacularly placed his kickoffs last week, booted the opening kickoff out of bounds. That gave the Rams great field position at their 40-yard line, and they scored a touchdown eight plays later.
That was just the beginning of Washington’s horrific start. In the first nine minutes of the game, the following miscues occurred: kickoff out of bounds, offsides penalty (which was declined), 42-yard touchdown run surrendered, illegal crackback block penalty, lost fumble, 3-yard touchdown pass surrendered, two false start penalties and a blocked punt. That’s called not showing up to play. We went over this last year a million times, but the Redskins are not good enough to take any opponent lightly. I’m not sure how many times they have to lose to an NFL bottom feeder to learn that.
The Redskins are susceptible to the run in their nickel defense. Overall, St. Louis rushed eight times for 77 yards and two touchdowns against their nickel package. In order, the gains were: 42 yards, 12, 13, 6, 3, 1, 0, 0. On the gains of 3 and 1, SS LaRon Landry came into the box to help support the run defense.
Steven Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown was obviously the biggest blow. We’ve seen that defense get taken advantage of on some draw plays in short yardage, but this occurred in a passing situation (second-and-14). In the nickel, the Redskins’ best run-stopping linemen usually aren’t on the field.
On Jackson’s score, DL Albert Haynesworth lined up over the center and stood straight up on the snap. That enabled LG Jacob Bell to block him without difficulty. It also allowed C Jason Brown to leave his double-team on Haynesworth and get to ILB London Fletcher. Meanwhile, TE Daniel Fells and RG Adam Goldberg blocked LBs Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter (who both lined up on the left side of the defense), respectively, one-on-one. That allowed RT Jason Smith to release off the line of scrimmage, get to ILB Rocky McIntosh and drive him out of the play.
Kareem Moore’s missed tackle obviously didn’t help. Also, it appeared that Rams WR Brandon Gibson should have been flagged for illegally blocking CB Phillip Buchanon from behind. Gibson put his shoulder into the center of the “3” on the back of Buchanon’s jersey. It was egregious, and the play should have been called back. Buchanon confirmed that on Monday.
Now to the aforementioned positive contribution by LT Stephon Heyer. He made a great combination block to help spring RB Clinton Portis’ 27-yard run in the first quarter. He and LG Kory Lichtensteiger initially double-teamed the 3-technique, Gary Gibson. Then Heyer got off that block and sealed the hole by blocking MLB James Laurinaitis. Heyer’s weren’t the only quality blocks on the play. RT Jammal Brown tracked down WLB Larry Grant in space and blocked him inside.
On RB Ryan Toran’s 36-yard run, TE Chris Cooley and LT Stephon Heyer executed a textbook combination block. WR Santana Moss blocked CB Ron Bartell about 15 yards downfield. FB Mike Sellers took out S O.J. Atogwe with a lead block.
Everyone did their jobs on those two runs. There were no weak links. Neither running back had to do much other than run through the hole. It shows that the success of the running game is determined by the quality of the blocking much more than who’s carrying the ball.
The Redskins were killed by nine penalties for 65 yards, and there were some stupid ones, too. LB H.B. Blades, a core special teamer, was offsides on a kickoff. We already addressed WR Santana Moss’ crackback. He’s a veteran who knows he can’t get away with that. Washington also was penalized for delay of game on third-and-4 from the eight. That’s a killer in the red zone.
Overall, the Redskins committed at least one penalty on each of their first seven series. Winning teams don’t do that.
TE Fred Davis needs to be utilized more in the passing game, especially considering the dearth of production from the secondary wide receivers. Davis outran Bradley Fletcher—a cornerback—to draw a 39-yard pass interference penalty in the first quarter. He presents mismatches downfield against linebackers, and Kyle Shanahan has to exploit that.
The play call and execution on WR Santana Moss’ 21-yard touchdown was superb. The Redskins beat a double cornerback blitz with a play-action rollout. CB Ron Bartell blitzed from QB Donovan McNabb’s right, but he slipped when he changed direction after realizing McNabb did not hand the ball off. RB Clinton Portis stuck CB Bradley Fletcher on the left with a great block. Sliding the linemen along the line of scrimmage helped neutralize the Rams’ pass rushers up front. Moss, then, took advantage of a one-on-one matchup with backup S James Butler. Butler didn’t respect McNabb’s ability to throw back across the field, and Moss slid toward the sideline to free himself for the catch.
DL Albert Haynesworth freed OLB Brian Orakpo on his first-half sack. Haynesworth took the left guard and left tackle with him off the snap, and Orakpo twisted inside. He dodged the running back’s weak attempt to pick up the blitz, and he showed impressive agility by changing directions and chasing QB Sam Bradford down for the sack.
WR Roydell Williams missed a block on a pass to TE Chris Cooley on third-and-9 from the 13. Cooley could have converted the middle screen, but Williams was slow getting out in front of him. I couldn’t help but wonder if Devin Thomas—a reputed good blocker—would have made a positive contribution on that play.
Speaking of Thomas, his 28.4-yard kickoff return average ranks sixth in the NFL among players with more than three returns. His strength enables him to consistently get yards after contact.
The Redskins on one second-half play showed how their 3-4 base run defense is supposed to work. St. Louis came out with two receivers to the right and two tight ends left. RB Keith Toston took the handoff left behind the tight ends. RDE Kedric Golston and ROLB Brian Orakpo slid right and engaged the left guard, left tackle and the inside tight end. That’s two defenders occupying three blockers. When the outside tight end released to block someone in the secondary, that freed ILB London Fletcher to shoot the C gap and tackle Toston for a 1-yard gain. Now, if the Redskins could just repeat that, they’d be on to something.
RB Ryan Torain’s pass protection breakdown showed why the Redskins would have to keep RB Clinton Portis on the sideline at their own risk. After a play-fake on second-and-12 in the fourth quarter, Torain tried to pick up MLB James Laurinaitis blitzing up the middle, but he ducked his head and missed the block completely. QB Donovan McNabb dodged Laurinaitis but was sacked by DE James Hall, who beat LT Stephon Heyer.
…that’s it for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.