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.
Initial Thoughts: Vikings 17, Redskins 13
Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 17-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings this afternoon:
Same old story, huh? The Redskins’ defense holds an opponent to less than 20 points but the offense can’t get in the end zone more than once. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Much of Washington’s difficulty moving the ball resulted from an ineffective running game. Washington finished with only 29 yards on 13 carries. Minnesota’s front four, led by Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams (three tackles, three passes batted down), prevented the Redskins from consistently generating any sort of push up front. It didn’t help that the Redskins had two relatively inexperienced backs—Keiland Williams and James Davis—running the ball. A few times they didn’t read cutback lanes in time to hit them and get upfield, or they missed them altogether.
The Redskins aren’t good enough to overcome many self-inflicted wounds, and there were too many today. Dropped passes, for example, were a huge problem. WR Santana Moss doesn’t drop many, so it was shocking to see him drop an easy third-down conversion and another pass deep in Washington territory that resulted in an interception. Moss said the throw on the interception hit him in the face mask and that he should have caught it.
“Plays like that can cause you to lose, and that might have been one of the plays,” he said.
Penalties also were a problem. Washington had six for 35 yards. LB Perry Riley’s block in the back was the big one. It negated Brandon Banks’ 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, which would have put the Redskins’ ahead with 7 minutes remaining. This is where injuries hurt. If guys like SS LaRon Landry, CB Carlos Rogers and S Chris Horton were healthy, Riley—a rookie—wouldn’t have been on the field in that situation. Instead, Riley for the first time this season practiced all week to play on the punt return unit. He ended up with two penalties for illegal blocks.
After the game, special teams veteran LB Chris Wilson spoke about how it takes time for a player to get accustomed to the chaos of a punt or kick return. A player must learn the feel of blocks within the breakneck pace of a special teams play. Wilson and special teams coach Danny Smith expressed confidence that Riley will get it eventually, but the game got away from him at a decisive moment.
“Banks did a good job setting the dude up,” Riley said. “I thought I hit him on his shoulder rather than his back. Of course I feel bad about it, but it was all in good spirit. I was thinking positive on the play. It turned out bad on my part, but it’s something I will fix.”
And for what it’s worth, the call looked correct to me. The irony is that Banks didn’t need Riley’s block to go the distance. He was already past the defender.
Minnesota is built the right way: from the inside out. Their management has fortified the independent positions in the trenches, and that allows skill position players to thrive. RB Adrian Peterson goes down? No problem. Just plug Toby Gerhart in for 22 carries, 76 yards and a touchdown. Turnovers have been a killer for them, but if they clean those up–as they did today–they’re a winning team.
The Vikings won this game in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line, which has struggled at times this season, generally did a good job moving the Redskins’ three linemen in the base package, allowing Peterson and Gerhart to grind out yards. I mentioned the defensive front four above. LG Kory Lichtensteiger and C Casey Rabach, offensive linemen who generally struggle against very strong defensive linemen, did not appear to have good games. The Redskins for the most part left LT Trent Williams one-on-one against DE Jared Allen, and Allen finished with three tackles in the backfield and a sack.
Turnovers are a big reason the Vikings’ season is a failure. They came in with a league-worst minus-13 takeaway ratio, and they had turned the ball over in every game this season. Until today, that is.
QB Brett Favre, who had thrown an interception in nine of 10 games this season, protected the ball today. The Vikings did a good job using play-action and misdirection to move the pocket and change his release point on the field. He generally saw the field well and didn’t have to force any throws because Minnesota played with the lead for most of the game.
The Redskins’ defense has done a much better job forcing turnovers this season, but failing to get one today factored heavily in the loss.
I must admit I thought the Redskins’ offense seemed ready to take a major step forward after marching 83 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive. QB Donovan McNabb completed all eight of his passes. The protection was good. The blocking downfield was good. Receivers were open. The playcalling was creative, with a little Wildcat mixed in. They converted all four third downs. Everything was perfect.
The Redskins couldn’t duplicate it, though, for reasons we’ve mentioned: dropped passes, no running game, pressure on McNabb, penalties that forced unmanageable third downs. What a tease.
At 5-6, the playoffs seem to be almost entirely out of reach. Even with the 4 p.m. games still in progress, the Redskins are guaranteed to be at least two games out of a playoff spot by the end of the day. They need a lot of help overcoming that deficit with five games left. For starters, Washington needs Chicago to hold on for a win over Philadelphia and for Tampa Bay to lose to Baltimore. Then we’ll see how things settle by the end of the night.
And how about this: The Redskins are now 2-4 at FedEx Field. Three of those losses have been by a combined 10 points. Ouch. Gotta hold serve at home to be a playoff team.
…let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment, send me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.