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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Game Balls, Gassers & Observations: Redskins 17, Bears 14
My take on the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ 17-14 win over the Chicago Bears, plus some observations from re-watching the game a few times.
CB DeAngelo Hall: It actually says it on the first page of the Game Balls & Gassers manual: “Any player with four interceptions automatically gets a game ball.” So this one’s easy. Hall’s record-setting performance resulted from a combination of great instincts, superb athleticism, a bit of good luck and some wretched decisions and throws by Chicago QB Jay Cutler. His four interceptions merit a more detailed analysis, and that is posted below. Hall, however, finally backed up his “my defense” comment from last month. So it took five games. Who’s counting?
DL Albert Haynesworth: The big fella gave the Redskins a significant return on their investment for the first time this season. Credit Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett for realizing they can salvage something from this mess by playing him exclusively in the nickel and short-yardage packages—situations in which he can attack the ball without having to move laterally and make reads. Haynesworth manhandled LG Chris Williams by pushing him back into QB Jay Cutler on his first-half sack in a display of raw power few NFL players are capable of. He’s still vulnerable as a run defender on first- and second down—on a 12-yard run on first down he turned his shoulder and easily was pushed out of his gap, but he’s positioned to succeed in this specialized role.
RB Ryan Torain: I hesitate to overlook his two fumbles and his failed pass block of LB Brian Iwuh in the second half that directly resulted in a QB Donovan McNabb sack/fumble. Torain, however, compensated for those mistakes with patient, hard running. He dominated the fourth quarter (10 carries, 90 yards) and was a big reason the Redskins got to kneel down at game’s end for the first time in four wins.
In all, he broke eight tackles and ran for 107 yards after contact. Of those 107, 83 were on fourth-quarter runs. He usually fell forward after getting hit; he gained at least one yard after contact on 14 of his 21 carries. He was patient and saw the field quite well. On a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter, he never broke stride around the right edge despite having to adjust his path because RT Jammal Brown was pushed two yards back. And he did all that against the NFL’s third-ranked run defense.
WR Santana Moss: Another fine performance by Washington’s best offensive weapon. His crisp post-flag-post triple move freed him for an easy touchdown catch. He runs hard, sharp routes every time. He also blocked fairly well on the edge. He sealed CB Tim Jennings to the sideline on RB Ryan Torain’s 22-yard run around the right side in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, his cut block on Jennings helped spring Torain for 23 yards. He’s on pace for 1,250 yards and a career-high 96 catches. He’s the offensive MVP through seven games.
RT Jammal Brown: It’s understandable why Mike Shanahan planned to decrease Brown’s playing time beginning with this game. He did not play well against Green Bay and Indianapolis, and it’s clear that his hip and knee injuries are limiting his athleticism. Shanahan admitted Monday that Brown does not have full range of motion. That’s evident in how stiff he appears. He’s not bending his knees well, and on Sunday that allowed Bears DEs Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije to constantly get better leverage and push him back. I had him down for eight bad blocks, four against Peppers. One positive: He got to MLB Brian Urlacher and sealed him inside on RB Ryan Torain’s 22-yard run in the fourth quarter.
QB Donovan McNabb: McNabb’s worst game as a Redskin produced his worst passer rating (56.8) since the 2008 playoffs. Two bad decisions resulted in two interceptions. He needed to recognize the back-side blitz on CB D.J. Moore’s interception return for a touchdown. And once he was in Moore’s grasp, he should have taken the sack. McNabb admitted this on the radio Tuesday. On his second-half interception, WR Joey Galloway was not open on the bench post route. The safety was high over the top, and McNabb should have gone elsewhere. Making matters worse, he overthrew Galloway.
McNabb was late and bounced a throw to WR Santana Moss in the end zone in the fourth quarter. He was spared a second interception return for a touchdown by a delay of game penalty. A positive: His awareness and mobility helped prevent a safety in the third quarter when he slid left to avoid DE Julius Peppers’ rush and found TE Fred Davis in the left flat for a first down.
K Graham Gano: Gano told reporters after the game that he missed his 37-yard field goal off the left upright because of the wind. Whatever. The bottom line is that he’s made 4 of 7 attempts from 40 yards and longer, and now the troubles have crept inside that distance. He has now missed a field goal in each of the last three games, and this offense is not playing well enough to leave three points out there every week. He’s improving his job security with his kickoffs, which have been good all year. And I believe Shanahan’s statement that Gano has been good in practice because he was when we were allowed to watch during training camp. Something’s got to give, though. A perfect game against would serve Gano well heading into the bye week.
LT Trent Williams: Like Brown, Williams struggled against DEs Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Idonije beat him in the fourth quarter for a sack/fumble on QB Donovan McNabb. Williams set too deep, and Idonije easily cut inside for a direct route to McNabb. On McNabb’s second interception, he didn’t pick up DE Henry Melton when he stunted with Peppers around the edge. There were problems in the run game, too. On third-and-1 near midfield late in the fourth quarter, Williams was late off the snap and didn’t get to LB Pisa Tinoisamoa in time. Tinoisamoa burst inside Williams’ block attempt and made the tackle for a 1-yard loss.
It seems to me that Williams, like Brown, isn’t healthy. He gets much better leverage than Brown, but still he’s limited. The strongest evidence is how he struggles to recover when beaten, which was his strong suit before the toe/knee injuries. On second-and-20 from the Redskins’ 3 in the third quarter, Williams set as if he expected Peppers to take an outside route to the quarterback. When Peppers went inside, Williams reached for him instead of repositioning his base to block Peppers’ path. Peppers easily got inside Williams, and McNabb’s mobility was all that prevented a safety. I imagine Williams is one of the players that will benefit most from the upcoming bye week.
CB Phillip Buchanon: After a couple big pass breakups on Indy’s final drive last week, Buchanon had a rough one. He was beaten on the Bears’ only offensive touchdown when he lost sight of WR Johnny Knox. When QB Jay Cutler slid up in the pocket, Buchanon stepped forward to position himself to make a tackle. That created enough space for Cutler to throw over him. It appeared that CB Carlos Rogers had Cutler lined up if Cutler had run, so Buchanon didn’t need to bail on Knox. He also missed a tackle of WR Earl Bennett on a 16-yard catch-and-run. His coverage was good on WR Devin Hester’s crossing route on third-and-2 late in the third, but he didn’t break up Cutler’s pass.
WR Joey Galloway: This was the third game this season in which Galloway did not record a reception. He was not aware that QB Donovan McNabb threw him the ball on the third-quarter interception. Also, his failed run block on CB Charles Tillman in the fourth allowed Tillman to get a free body shot on RB Keiland Williams, who was held up in the pile. Part of the offense’s problem is a lack of weapons, and you can’t expect a 38-year-old to get better. The Redskins appear stuck here.
Let’s address the ’tweeners first, shall we?
You could argue that TE Chris Cooley deserves a game ball. He was the Redskins’ best blocker against DE Julius Peppers in both the running and passing game. His quick feet helped him get leverage against Peppers and negate his power disadvantage. The Redskins motioned him to Peppers’ side on occasion, and it was an effective strategy. On RB Ryan Torain’s 23-yard run in the fourth quarter, Cooley blocked Peppers 1-on-1 and moved him to the right, allowing Torain to cut inside. He also helped seal the game with his catch, run and decision to stay in bounds on second-and-12. Cooley failed on a few run blocks—one was an ineffective cut block against Peppers; another time he didn’t get off his first block on a combination play. He also fumbled in the red zone and was forced to commit an illegal batting penalty that pushed the Redskins back.
CB Carlos Rogers blitzed eight times on 44 dropbacks (18 percent) and never got home. If the Redskins are going to expose the back end by blitzing a defensive back, he’s got to do a better job of getting all the way to the quarterback. Rogers’ best blitz, however, was a big one. He came free off the right edge and hurried QB Jay Cutler into an atrocious pass that CB DeAngelo Hall intercepted and returned 92 yards for a touchdown. On the downside, Rogers didn’t get his head turned in time to stop WR Earl Bennett’s 48-yard catch. He also missed a tackle on RB Matt Forte that turned out to be beneficial because ILB Rocky McIntosh forced a fumble later in the play.
WR Anthony Armstrong’s drop on the second series hurt. I’m not sold on the notion that it would have been a touchdown, though, because he dropped it at the 25 and S Chris Harris was coming over. Still, it was a big play that could have been the difference between winning and losing. Armstrong, however, did make several positive contributions. He recovered one of RB Ryan Torain’s fumbles. He made the tackle after the Torain fumble that the Bears recovered, and he had 42 receiving yards. I continue to be impressed by how sharply he gets in and out of his breaks. Unlike Galloway, Armstrong is only going to get better.
OLB Brian Orakpo had two sacks. His superior speed and leverage on outside rushes were too much for RT J’Marcus Webb at times. However, Orakpo didn’t win a lot of 1-on-1 battles against the rookie. He could have done more, and I imagine he’d be the first to admit that. He also was flagged for two offsides penalties in one drive.
A breakdown of CB DeAngelo Hall’s four interceptions, as promised.
1. Hall made an incredibly athletic play to dive in front of WR Devin Hester. He anticipated a skinny post because of what he saw from the Bears on film, but he adjusted brilliantly when Hester stopped on the curl. Hall drove hard on the ball and laid out. He later said that he read the same key that he thought he saw last week when Indy beat him for a 57-yard score. When you’re a ball-hawk like Hall, you win some and you lose some.
2. Hall was correct in giving props to his blitzing teammates on the interception that produced his touchdown. CB Carlos Rogers came free off the right edge and OLB Brian Orakpo applied pressure from the left. QB Jay Cutler rushed a weak throw off his back foot. Hall’s athleticism shone, again, on a one-handed catch.
3. Hall, on the left side of the defense, turned his back to Cutler off the snap. When WR Johnny Knox broke in on a slant, however, Hall opened up his right hip and drove on the route, cutting Knox off. Knox sort of gave up on the route after being outmuscled, and Cutler threw it right to Hall.
4. This was a true gift. Hall’s intention was to prevent a long gain with the lead late in the game, and he made sure he stayed between Knox and the end zone. Hall read Cutler almost the whole way, and Cutler stubbornly forced a deep pass that was overthrown. Another easy one.
Given how effectively Indy ran the ball against the Redskins’ sub defenses last week, I’m surprised that the Bears didn’t try the same thing more often. They ran only nine times out of a three wide-receiver set against the Redskins’ nickel package, but they averaged 5.4 yards on those carries. DL Albert Haynesworth was in the game on four of those rushes, and Chicago totaled 27 yards on them (6.75-yard average). I’d love to know why they didn’t spread the Redskins out and run it more.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in the first half used a creative bunch formation to get WR Santana Moss open for a first down and a 16-yard gain on third-and-3. Moss motioned to the left, where TE Chris Cooley and WR Anthony Armstrong were both positioned in the slot. When CB D.J. Moore went in motion with Moss, QB Donovan McNabb could diagnose man-to-man coverage. Cooley and Armstrong cleared out their defenders off the snap. Moore shaded Moss to the outside, so Moss easily got separation by faking out and cutting back in. Moss unnecessarily jumped for McNabb’s perfect throw, and he fell as a result. Still, it was an easy throw and catch to extend a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
TE Chris Cooley’s awareness and connection with QB Donovan McNabb helped the Redskins convert third-and-2 later on that drive. McNabb bootlegged to the right, and Cooley released into a pass route. But when the defender continued with him to the right sideline, Cooley sat down in the zone. McNabb recognized it and hit Cooley in the window for a first down. It was an example of their familiarity with each other paying off.
Chicago DE Julius Peppers was not on the field for WR Santana Moss’ touchdown catch. QB Donovan McNabb had ample time to let Moss run a triple move and get separation.
The Bears’ offensive line was reminiscent of the Redskins’ porous unit from last season. A good example is the sack that OLB Brian Orakpo’s and DL Vonnie Holliday split. Orakpo was too quick and too low for RT J’Marcus Webb. Holliday freed himself on a twist with LB Andre Carter on the interior line. DL Albert Haynesworth got to QB Jay Cutler after he bounced up from a cut block. It was a jailbreak.
I agree with the Redskins’ plan to punt away from Devin Hester, but P Hunter Smith twice erred on the side of caution and left a few yards out there. On his 20-yard punt to the Bears’ 30 and his 25-yarder to Chicago’s 22, he would have been better off just booting it through the end zone. Still, Smith ultimately gets credit for preventing a big special teams play.
For the second straight week, LG Kory Lichtensteiger stayed under the radar. It’s a good thing at this point if he’s going unnoticed. He committed a holding penalty, but I tagged him for only one bad run block. A true test of his progress is this Sunday against Detroit DT Ndamukong Suh.
ILB Rocky McIntosh was quieter than I remembered. His strip of RB Matt Forte in the fourth quarter stopped a potential scoring drive. His sack was the product of good coverage; he just waited for QB Jay Cutler to run right to him when no one was open. On the downside, he was beaten in coverage by TE Greg Olsen twice in the same drive. Coverage has never really been his strong suit. Olsen isolated McIntosh in space on the left side and easily got separation with a hard break toward the sideline. That resulted in a 12-yard reception for a first down. Three plays later, Olsen beat McIntosh down the seam for 23 yards when he didn’t get his head turned in time. McIntosh also missed a tackle in the left flat, which allowed a first down.
OLB Andre Carter started over Lorenzo Alexander when the Bears opened in a three-receiver set and the Redskins countered with their nickel package.
The defensive linemen in the base package—NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu, DEs Adam Carriker, Kedric Golston and Phillip Daniels—collectively played well in that formation, as you’d expect against Chicago’s offensive line. The Redskins’ base 3-4 front held Chicago to 17 yards on six carries (2.8-yard average). DL Albert Haynesworth’s only snap in the base defense produced a 4-yard loss on third-and-1 when he overpowered C Olin Kreutz. After the Bears gashed Washington’s nickel package for consecutive 12-yard runs in the third quarter, the Redskins went with their base against Chicago’s three-receiver set and limited RB Matt Forte to a 3-yard gain. OLB Lorenzo Alexander was lined up in the slot against a wide receiver on the play, but the Bears didn’t exploit that.
Chicago effectively contained KR/PR Brandon Banks. He averaged only 5.3 yards on four punt returns and 21.3 yards on three kickoffs. Banks also fumbled the opening kickoff when he slipped and his left elbow hit the ground. The ground can’t cause a fumble if the ballcarrier is contacted, but Banks slipped without being touched, so it was a live ball. Banks now has 176 punt return yards on 12 returns. By comparison, Antwaan Randle El last season had 102 yards on 17 returns. But you didn’t need me to tell you that Banks is more productive.
…That’s it for this week. Let me know what I missed. Leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.