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Game Balls, Gassers and Observations: Redskins 16, Packers 13 (OT)
My review of the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ 16-13 overtime win over Green Bay, plus some observations from re-watching the game.
SS LaRon Landry: After two relatively quiet games, Landry got back to playing at a Pro Bowl level. In addition to his 13 tackles, he forced two turnovers, including the critical interception in overtime. What stood out to me was how well-positioned Landry was on several plays. You can tell he’s putting in the work in the classroom. On the interception, for example, he read the route and positioned himself to undercut WR Greg Jennings. And when QB Aaron Rodgers’ throw was off target, Landry’s athleticism shined. He slid and reached back to corral the ball before it hit the ground. He’s also taking better angles, as evidenced by his tackle of TE Tom Crabtree one-on-one in the flat on a 3-yard gain on second-and-5 in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t perfect in coverage—Jennings once beat him with a double move for a 20-yard gain—but his play-making made up for that.
WR Anthony Armstrong: Armstrong continued his emergence as the Redskins’ best complement to WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley. He showed a Moss-like ability to adjust to a throw in midair by breaking down, turning and leaping to haul in his 48-yard touchdown. His strength on that catch was impressive, too. S Charlie Peprah got his arm in between the ball and Armstrong’s body, but Armstrong ripped the ball into his possession. He also did a much better job this week releasing off the line of scrimmage. Twice I saw him beat CB Charles Woodson’s attempt to jam him at the line. The second time, he got inside Woodson on a slant and drew a critical pass interference penalty that positioned the Redskins for an easier game-winning field-goal attempt. Armstrong also made a heads-up, athletic play by diving to catch a third-down throw that RB Keiland Williams tipped. Plus, Armstrong had the awareness to get up and run for the first down. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he soon overtakes Joey Galloway for that No. 2 receiver spot.
OLB Brian Orakpo: Orakpo made sure the Redskins got a possession in overtime by exploding around LT Chad Clifton and sacking QB Aaron Rodgers on third-and-12. He stayed very low and got around the edge with quickness that rivaled that of Green Bay OLB Clay Matthews. Orakpo generally applied more pressure after the first quarter, and that helped disrupt Rodgers and Green Bay’s passing game. You figured he’d get a sack or two against Green Bay tackles Clifton and rookie backup Bryan Bulaga, and he came through. Orakpo also drew a holding penalty on a run play, of all things. I counted three plays on which he was held but no penalty was given.
PR Brandon Banks: Banks’ job is to give the Redskins a spark, and he did that with his 30-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. That ball was headed out of bounds inside the 10-yard line, and a more conservative returner would have let it go. Banks is hungry for chances, though, so he took a risk, grabbed it and headed upfield. Two plays later, the Redskins scored their only touchdown. Later in the fourth quarter, Banks fielded another punt inside the 10-yard line and managed 17 yards. As long as he holds onto the ball, Banks is here to stay. It’ll be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan incorporates him into the offensive game plan more, but I still think his size limits him in that regard. The Redskins could run only certain plays with him in, and that helps the defense.
P Hunter Smith: Smith punted incredibly well for a guy signed off the street four days prior to the game. He averaged 44.6 yards on eight punts and placed five inside the 20. That’s an upgrade from Josh Bidwell. The Packers’ 52-yard punt return in the first half wasn’t Smith’s fault. FB Mike Sellers and S Reed Doughty were sealed out of the running lane.
OLB Chris Wilson: Wilson made the most of his playing time, especially during the Redskins’ goal-line stand in the second quarter. He quickly got around the left edge to help tackle FB John Kuhn on second down from the 1. On fourth down, he didn’t bite on the play fake and successfully pressured QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers hurried his throw, which was incomplete. Wilson also pinned the Packers at their own 8-yard line to start the game with a great tackle on kickoff coverage.
RG Artis Hicks: Hicks is one of several offensive linemen on this list. As far as the line was concerned, this game had a 2009 feel. Afterward, Hicks marveled at the athleticism of the Packers’ front, DE Cullen Jenkins in particular. Hicks’ technique broke down on several plays throughout the game. DE Mike Neal used a rip move to get past him for a third-quarter sack. Neal also overpowered him during a jailbreak sack in the second quarter. On a 1-yard run by RB Ryan Torain in the first quarter, Hicks was pushed back when he wasn’t low enough. On the first play of the second half, he didn’t get NT B.J. Raji down with his cut block attempt, and Raji closed the running lane on the 2-yard gain. He played right tackle on the last series of the game after the line was shuffled due to injuries, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan protected the group by calling quick passes.
LG Kory Lichtensteiger: This is the third straight week Lichtensteiger has been on this list. He simply hasn’t impressed since taking over as the full-time starter. It makes you wonder how bad Derrick Dockery has looked in practice. Lichtensteiger is quicker and more agile than Dockery, but he hasn’t consistently demonstrated the strength to supplement that. Like Hicks, Lichtensteiger was very critical of his performance in the locker room after the game. He referenced “three or four plays where you’re just gonna be almost embarrassed of your performance.”
Quite a few were evident from re-watching the game. The worst: He whiffed on LB Brady Poppinga coming through the B gap on Poppinga’s third-down sack in overtime. He didn’t pick up LB Desmond Bishop’s delayed blitz on a sack in the second quarter, something he’s had problems with. He began the play helping C Casey Rabach inside and didn’t shift in time to account for Bishop. To be fair, Lichtensteiger wasn’t all bad. He and LT Trent Williams generated a strong surge on the left side of the line to spring RB Ryan Torain’s 8-yard run in the second quarter.
RT Jammal Brown: Brown, like many offensive linemen in the NFL this season, had a lot of trouble with OLB Clay Matthews. Matthews was too quick around the edge for him, and he maintained low leverage that Brown could not match. That was the case when Matthews beat him for a half-sack in the second quarter. LB Brad Jones beat Brown with an inside move and pressured McNabb on a third-down play in the third. Brown struggled in the run game at times, too. He missed a linebacker on a 1-yard run by RB Ryan Torain in the first. He also committed a false start. Brown injured his left knee late in the first half, came back but did not finish the game.
CB DeAngelo Hall: Hall hasn’t exactly made a huge impact since speaking out about his role in coverage after the loss to Houston. He quietly played a good game last week, helping to shut down Philadelphia’s speedy receivers, but Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers capitalized several times on Hall’s off coverage. This happened on the first play of the game, when WR Greg Jennings caught an easy 8-yard hitch. Perhaps the most glaring example was the Packers’ penultimate play from scrimmage in regulation. With Hall backed off the line of scrimmage on first-and-10, Rodgers hit fourth-string TE Andrew Quarless on a slant that went for 21 yards. Granted, Hall’s top priority there is to prevent a really, really big play, but we’re talking about a fourth-string tight end. It’s tough to analyze off coverage sometimes because it’s difficult to be sure of a player’s exact responsibilities and technique on a play. I’ll try to get to the bottom of that this week.
Let’s look at two players, in particular, who didn’t make either of the above categories.
QB Donovan McNabb: McNabb had one of those inaccurate passing days that drove the Philadelphia fans crazy. He was low with some throws and high with others. It was clear that Green Bay’s pass rush made him uncomfortable. It took him until the second half to start looking to his secondary and tertiary receivers. Despite all that, however, McNabb made some spectacular plays to help the Redskins win. One was his 52-yard completion to WR Santana Moss on third-and-18 late in the first half. On that play and others, he sensed pressure and extended the play with his legs. He also protected the ball despite taking some shots. He’s a reason the Redskins fell behind, and he’s also why they came back to win.
RB Ryan Torain: His rushing totals (50 yards on 12 carries) were unspectacular, but that was mostly because of blocking breakdowns in front of him. I counted at least four times when Torain had to make his first cut at least three yards behind the line of scrimmage. That’s never a good sign. Still, Torain managed to salvage a few of those plays. DE Cullen Jenkins (who was a monster) burst into the backfield on one second-quarter play, forcing Torain to bounce the run outside 3.5 yards behind the line. But Torain still turned the left corner and gained four yards.
There was one run in the second half on which I thought Torain should have hit a different cutback lane, but what do I know? It was also apparent that he ran the wrong way on a screen in overtime. He ran right, but his blockers ran left. After McNabb’s pass was batted down, McNabb corrected him.
Regarding Torain’s pass protection, I thought he held up fairly well. There was only one breakdown to speak of. He doesn’t punish pass rushers like Clinton Portis does, but he at least stopped their progress to the quarterback. Most notably, he kept his head up to see LB Desmond Bishop’s fake and turned him inside to buy McNabb time to roll right and hit Anthony Armstrong on the 48-yard touchdown.
I didn’t take an exact tally, but LB Andre Carter lined up with his hand on the ground more against Green Bay than he previously has this season. On the first play of the Packers’ third series, Carter lined up in the nickel package at right defensive end with his hand down before dropping into coverage. That was the first time I’ve seen him drop from a 3-point stance this year.
The Redskins did not truly blitz until Green Bay’s sixth series, which began at the 4:36 mark of the second quarter. They rushed five on two plays before that, but they were playing the run both times. One was play action and the other was a one-step drop, quick screen on second-and-3. Washington also rushed seven on fourth-and-goal from 1 in the first half. Coordinator Jim Haslett adjusted by sending CB Carlos Rogers from the slot on several plays. ILB London Fletcher also got a half-sack on an A-gap blitz in the second half. SS LaRon Landry wasn’t a factor rushing the passer because he was needed in coverage; SS Reed Doughty was used instead. He played about half the game in the Redskins’ dime package, and I thought he played quite well. Haslett used him around the line of scrimmage, which is his strong suit.
In addition to bringing more pressure, Haslett had the Redskins disguise their rushes. He showed more five- and six-man lines to keep Green Bay’s linemen guessing. For example, on one of the Packers’ unsuccessful third-down attempts in the fourth quarter, LBs Brian Orakpo, Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter each lined up along the line of scrimmage. On the snap, though, Carter dropped and SS Reed Doughty blitzed from the secondary. On third-and-2 late in regulation, DL Vonnie Holliday dropped into coverage from his nose tackle spot in a 3-point stance and batted down a pass.
Speaking of Holliday, he played a vital role in the sack that ILB London Fletcher and OLB Lorenzo Alexander split. Holliday lined up over the center and attacked the center’s right shoulder off the snap. That surge caused the right guard to pinch down to help. That, in turn, created a hole between the guard and tackle that Alexander ran through. Rookie RT Bryan Bulaga for some reason didn’t engage him. On the other side, CB Carlos Rogers blitzed from the slot at the left guard. With the center occupied by Holliday and the left guard focused on Rogers, Fletcher ran between them and met Alexander for the sack.
Three breakdowns lead to RB Brandon Jackson’s 71-yard run in the first quarter. First, the Packers’ offensive line pushed Adam Carriker and Kedric Golston, who were effectively defensive tackles in a 4-3 concept, out of the middle. That created the hole for Jackson. Next, ILB Rocky McIntosh flowed too far left immediately after Jackson got the ball, and he vacated the gap that Jackson ran through. Finally, FS Kareem Moore was juked out in a one-on-one situation—something we saw on St. Louis’ long touchdown run three games ago. The play was ugly all around.
In referencing the fumbled shotgun snap, QB Donovan McNabb after the game called it “high.” After watching the replay a few times, I disagree with him. Maybe C Casey Rabach snapped it too hard or fast, but the height seemed fine.
I believe the game turned on QB Donovan McNabb’s 52-yard completion to WR Santana Moss on third-and-18 late in the second quarter. It was the first sign of life from the Redskins’ offense. McNabb was pressured but rolled right to extend the play, as he did several times during the game. Meanwhile, Moss saw McNabb in trouble and broke off his crossing route. He turned up field and got behind the defense. McNabb recognized it and perfectly placed a 50-yard throw on the run. The degree of difficulty on the throw was off the charts, but McNabb put it in the only spot Moss could catch it and stay in bounds. Just two play-makers making a big play—something the Redskins haven’t had enough of.
The Redskins got away from the run in the second half to help QB Donovan McNabb get into a rhythm, coach Mike Shanahan said afterward. In one second-half stretch of 21 plays, the Redskins called 19 passes—and one of those runs gets an asterisk because it was a hurry-up call designed to prevent Green Bay from challenging WR Anthony Armstrong’s diving catch.
After watching the game, everyone should have an understanding of why Green Bay’s defense ranked second in the NFL last year in its first season in a 3-4 scheme. They used the ninth-overall pick on NT B.J. Raji and the 26th-overall pick on OLB Clay Matthews. They filled two positions that must be studs in this scheme. Matthews and Raji had stellar games on Sunday.
I’m not sure the Redskins’ offense would have come alive if Matthews had stayed in the game. For the record, McNabb was 12-of-25 for 150 yards before Matthews injured his hamstring and 14-of-24 for 207 yards after.
In addition to getting juked by RB Brandon Jackson on the 71-yard run, FS Kareem Moore also took a bad angle on WR Greg Jennings’ 34-yard catch-and-run. Jennings went to the ground after making the catch behind the first level of the Redskins’ zone. When Jennings got up to keep running, Moore overpursued and slipped, himself.
The Packers’ receivers bailed Washington out with at least a half-dozen drops. The biggest was Donald Driver’s after he cruised down the seam through the Redskins’ zone on third-and-1 from Washington’s 29. The catch would have given Green Bay first-and-goal. Instead, K Mason Crosby missed a 48-yarder wide right.
On DE Phillip Daniels’ sack in the fourth quarter, LOLB Lorenzo Alexander beat the running back and forced QB Aaron Rodgers to step up. Daniels overpowered his lineman and then shed the block to haul Rodgers down.
Before you hand Anthony Armstrong the No. 2 receiver spot, note that two of Joey Galloway’s three catches were for first downs.
This was one of the worst-officiated games I’ve ever seen. Calls that would have benefited both teams were missed. DL Jeremy Jarmon should have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on QB Aaron Rodgers on the overtime interception. Jarmon led with his head and connected, even though he lifted his hands to give the impression he was backing off. Considering Rodgers suffered a concussion on the play, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jarmon is fined this week. The refs missed at least three holding calls that OLB Brian Orakpo drew. OLB Clay Matthews would argue that he was held by RT Jammal Brown in the end zone in the first half. They also missed pass interference calls on both teams. Heck, Green Bay even ran a guy onto the field DURING a punt and it wasn’t called. I’ve never seen that before.
…that’s about it. If I missed anything or if you want to sound off, leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.