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: Vikings 17, Redskins 13
Here’s my take on the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ 17-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, plus some observations from re-watching the game.
K Graham Gano: It’s probably not a good sign if the kicker gets the first game ball, is it? The offense had only one high-quality drive, though, and the defense didn’t get off the field in crunch time or come up with a much-needed takeaway against the turnover-prone Vikings. Gano, meanwhile, made field goals from 40 and 42 yards in the fourth quarter to help keep Washington in the game. He’s now 10-for-12 this season from 40-49 yards; his 83-percent accuracy is tied for seventh in the NFL. His 10 makes from that range are tied for the most in the league. His kickoffs continue to be good, too. Minnesota’s average starting field position on their four drives following Redskins’ kickoffs was their 24-yard line. When the season is over and we take stock of what pieces the Redskins added going forward, Gano probably will be near the top of that list.
KR Brandon Banks: So will this guy. A quick Google search proves that I’m late on this, but I had never heard Banks called “Mighty Mouse” until color analyst Charles Davis said it on the telecast. That’s a good one. I’m sensing an opportunity for a certain entrepreneurial owner. After muffing a kickoff late in the third quarter, Banks picked up the ball and got to full speed in only a couple of strides. He made one defender miss while turning the corner and, with the help of quality blocks by TE Logan Paulsen, CB Byron Westbrook and FB Mike Sellers, sparked the Redskins with a 65-yard return. His 77-yard punt return for a touchdown was negated by an unnecessary blocking penalty, but it was fun to watch. Banks froze one defender with a stutter-step, turned the corner and hit full speed quickly. He can cut without slowing down, get to the edge and turn the corner in a flash and get to full speed in just a few strides. Those are traits of a great play-maker. I also believe the Redskins should have been awarded a first down after Banks was held on a third-and-8 screen in the third quarter. As for his two plays in the Wildcat, I’ll have more on that below.
DE Andre Carter: Carter probably should have gotten a game ball last week for his fill-in performance at left outside linebacker against Tennessee. He played well again this week, though, at defensive end. He registered a half-sack on third-and-goal from the 7 by using a rip move to get around RT Phil Loadholt. He met DL Albert Haynesworth at QB Brett Favre on the play in a flashback to 2009. On third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, Carter lined up in a three-point stance at left end. However, he dropped into coverage and got enough depth to help CB Kevin Barnes stop WR Percy Harvin a yard short of the first down. Carter drilled Favre in the first half after looping from one side of the line to the other. He also surged through the tight end to stop a first-half run from the backside for a 2-yard gain. Maybe it has taken Carter this long, but he finally appears more comfortable on the field.
DL Albert Haynesworth: Haynesworth didn’t play a big role in this game because the Redskins often stuck to their base 3-4 alignment to stop the run, but he did well when he was on the field. Basically, he was the only Redskins’ lineman powerful enough to consistently withstand Minnesota’s massive offensive line. (Maybe I’d put LDE Adam Carriker in that category, too.) Washington needed Haynesworth in its 3-4 package in this game, but his difficulty adapting to/refusal to learn the new scheme denied the Redskins a better chance to succeed up front. That said, Haynesworth split a sack with DE Andre Carter on third-and-goal by bull-rushing five-time All-Pro LG Steve Hutchinson back into QB Brett Favre. His penetration helped the Redskins’ defense stop the Vikings on two separate third-and-1 rushes. He cleared the way for LB London Fletcher to tackle RB Toby Gerhart for no gain in the second quarter, and he helped stop FB Jeff Dugan for no gain in the fourth.
NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu: The Vikings’ big, powerful interior offensive linemen consistently exposed Kemoeatu’s lack of strength and questionable leverage. I counted almost 10 plays on which he was pushed back at least 2 yards from the line of scrimmage by the time the ball carrier got back to the line. He didn’t consistently get blown off the field, but he generated no push. The Redskins’ defensive line as a whole rarely produced better than a stalemate.
Kemoeatu also didn’t keep the Redskins’ inside linebackers clean, which is his job in the 3-4. On second-and-5 early in the fourth quarter, Vikings C John Sullivan and LG Steve Hutchinson double-teamed Kemoeatu off the snap. Hutchinson easily got free and continued his combination block on ILB Rocky McIntosh. The run went for 4 yards. You know the linebackers are dealing with offensive linemen too often when ILB London Fletcher is credited with only one solo tackle. Kemoeatu repeatedly was overpowered on the Vikings’ final drive, and coordinator Jim Haslett replaced him with Albert Haynesworth because the Redskins desperately needed someone to anchor and make a play with the clock running out. Haynesworth’s first play, a second-and-8, went for no gain.
LB Perry Riley: Not that this one needs an explanation. Riley was flagged twice for an illegal block in the back on special teams. The rookie’s second one negated a go-ahead touchdown with 7 minutes to play. After the game, core special teamer LB Chris Wilson expressed confidence that the chaos of kick/punt returns eventually will slow down for Riley. But, man, what an inopportune time to learn a lesson. Here’s hoping he also learned from his postgame mistake of blowing off reporters. Not only did that open him up to media criticism, but teammates notice such unprofessionalism. After Riley bolted from the locker room, other players had to speak for him about his mistake. No player wants to do that. It puts them in a bad spot, and it’s not their responsibility anyway. A Redskins official eventually convinced Riley to talk to reporters on the phone.
WR Santana Moss: You’d still have a hard time convincing me Moss is not the Redskins’ best offensive player. He just had a bad game. He didn’t get his hands up in time to catch a third-quarter slant deep in Washington territory, and the ball hit him in the face mask, ricocheted into the air and was intercepted. Moss compounded his mistake by trying to catch the deflected ball in traffic instead of knocking it down. He also dropped a pass on crossing route that would have resulted in a first down. He has a bad habit of sometimes taking an unnecessary bunny hop when catching balls over the middle, and he’d secure the catch more easily by staying on the ground. On the plus side, Moss’ block helped spring WR Roydell Williams for a third-down conversion on a 19-yard catch-and-run on a first-quarter screen pass.
LG Kory Lichtensteiger: It’s tough to be hard on The Steiger here because it’s not his fault he was placed in this mismatch: Vikings DT Kevin Williams, an All-Pro each of the last four seasons, versus a second-year guard who converted from center only this year. Not exactly a winning proposition on paper, is it? Williams gave Lichtensteiger all the problems you’d expect. His speed and power were too much in both the running and passing games. Williams set teammate Brian Robison up for a third-quarter sack by quickly slapping Lichtensteiger’s punch away, penetrating the backfield and forcing QB Donovan McNabb to step up. The sack Lichtensteiger directly surrendered in the first half was against DT Letroy Guion.
LT Trent Williams: The Redskins for most of the game left their first-round pick alone against Vikings three-time reigning All-Pro DE Jared Allen. That didn’t go so well. Allen had a sack and finished as the Vikings’ second-leading tackler. The sack on the last play of the third quarter was textbook on Allen’s end. When Williams reached to engage Allen coming off the edge, Allen hacked down on Williams’ arms with his left hand. That allowed Allen to get into Williams’ body and rip up with his left arm. That got Allen’s inside shoulder (left) to Williams’ outside shoulder. One more step and he was free to QB Donovan McNabb.
Williams missed a block of Allen on a third-quarter screen. Allen appeared to read the play early, and he slipped inside Williams to make the tackle. Also, Williams gave up the pressure that McNabb said effected him on the underthrown deep ball to WR Anthony Armstrong in the fourth quarter. When Allen dropped into coverage off the snap, Williams slid to his right to help LG Kory Lichtensteiger with DT Letroy Guion. DT Kevin Williams, however, looped around the edge pushed between Williams and Lichtensteiger.
RG Artis Hicks: Hicks was benched in favor of Will Montgomery after two series. He said after the game that his ailing thigh/groin was not an issue, and that he just didn’t get the job done. I’ll take his word for that. He was beaten by a spin move on an early pass rush when he was too upright off the snap. He was pulled after DT Kevin Williams slapped his hands away and easily got past him for a sack on the second series.
RDE Kedric Golston: Golston’s problems were similar to NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu’s. He didn’t generate much push into the backfield and often was blocked on running plays by RT Bryant McKinnie, who has four inches and 25 pounds on Golston. I counted a couple plays on which Golston was pushed at least 2 yards back from the line of scrimmage by the time the running back got to the line. It wasn’t as consistently poor as Kemoeatu, but clearly this was a game in which the Redskins needed Albert Haynesworth to have bought into the 3-4 and anchored up front. RB Adrian Peterson ran through Golston’s attempted tackle on his first-quarter touchdown run. Credit Golston, at least, for playing very hard. Every time he was pushed back or blocked out, he gave maximum effort trying to claw his way back into the play.
The performance of several players who weren’t on either of the above lists must be discussed. Let’s start with QB Donovan McNabb, who was up and down again this week. He made several great throws. For example, his touchdown to TE Fred Davis was perfectly in stride in the corner of the end zone. He also made a smart decision under pressure to run for the first down on third-and-1 on the opening drive. However, his underthrown deep ball to WR Anthony Armstrong in the fourth quarter might have been the difference between winning and losing. McNabb said the pass rush affected him; however, he was not contacted on the play. He has to hit that for a touchdown. That’s the difference between playoffs teams and the rest, between the Drew Breeses and the rest.
I also wonder whether McNabb should have thrown to Armstrong on third-and-8 from the Vikings’ 26 in the fourth quarter instead of checking down to RB Keiland Williams. Armstrong ran an intermediate crossing route from the right side past the line to gain. When WR Santana Moss came across the field from the left, LB E.J. Henderson slid with him, giving McNabb a passing lane to Armstrong. The safety on the left side of the field was deep, but I wonder if McNabb was worried about him coming up in front of Armstrong—because Henderson shouldn’t have been a factor, I don’t think. Something to find out this week, I suppose. I bring it up because it was a critical missed opportunity that forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal there.
RB James Davis didn’t look particularly smooth running the ball, but that probably should be expected considering this was his first game in 10 weeks. Compared to how smoothly Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams have read running lanes in the zone scheme this season, Davis appeared a bit herky-jerky. It certainly didn’t help that quality running lanes were rare. He properly diagnosed a lane on the backside of one play in the third quarter and would have gained at least 10 yards, but RT Jammal Brown was too slow getting to MLB E.J. Henderson, and Henderson ducked inside Brown and tripped Davis. That run showed Davis’ potential. Let’s see how he does in a game that isn’t so one-sided in the trenches.
Davis’ pass protection was a major uncertainty coming in, and I thought he did OK in that area. On a 9-yard completion to Fred Davis in the first half, James Davis stepped up in the pocket and blocked OLB Ben Leber after Leber got past LG Kory Lichtensteiger. On the 45-yarder to Armstrong, Davis cut down a linebacker blitzing from the right. One negative play I noticed: Davis appeared to prematurely leak out of the backfield on a pass route on a third-quarter sack.
WR Anthony Armstrong was inconsistent. He did well hanging onto a high throw over the middle early in the game despite a crushing hit by LB Chad Greenway. Then his adrenaline got the best of him and he spiked the ball, incurring a delay of game penalty. Later, Armstrong adjusted to McNabb’s underthrown deep ball and made a sliding catch—something he has proven since the preseason that he can do. However, he dropped an easy 6-yard completion in the flat on the very next play. Instead of setting up a manageable second and third down in scoring position, the Redskins ended up failing to convert, and they had to settle for a field goal. Now that Armstrong has proven he can contribute at the NFL level, he needs to be more consistent.
I would have given game balls to LB London Fletcher and CB Phillip Buchanon, but both were beaten on key plays in the game. Fletcher overpursued RB Adrian Peterson on a screen pass on the opening drive and lost contain on the backside of the play. Peterson cut it back and raced 34 yards, setting up a touchdown. Fletcher had only one solo tackle, but he spent much of the game taking on linemen. Still, he was fantastic in one-on-one coverage against TE Visanthe Shiancoe down the deep middle in the first half. Fletcher turned his head early to avoid pass interference and then got his hands up in time to break up the play. He didn’t have all these deep coverage responsibilities under Greg Blache, but he has adjusted quite well and hasn’t complained.
Buchanon had several quality breakups near the sideline, and he cut off WR Sidney Rice on an incomplete deep ball, but he gave up a completion to Greg Lewis—Minnesota’s fifth receiver—on a hitch on third-and-5 on the final drive. The Redskins didn’t get off the field until the game was over.
Dropped passes really hurt the Redskins. We’ve already discussed Moss’ drop that resulted in an interception, and his drop that cost the Redskins a third-down conversion. We discussed Armstrong’s drop after his sliding catch. TE Chris Cooley and RB James Davis also dropped passes. It goes without saying, but this offense isn’t good enough to let opportunities for completions get away. Better focus is required.
Minnesota in the second half moved QB Brett Favre out of the pocket on a bootleg or designed rollout seven times, compared to none in the first half. Favre’s injuries have limited his mobility this season, but changing his release point on the field helped shift the defense. The play action also disrupted the Redskins’ secondary. CB Carlos Rogers gave up a long third-down completion to Shiancoe after he froze on a play-fake. FS Kareem Moore sold out on stopping the run on one first down, vacating the middle for an easy 20-yard completion to WR Sidney Rice.
I got the general sense that the Redskins’ receivers had trouble getting open. Much of that was due to the Vikings’ ability to pressure McNabb with only four pass rushers and drop seven into coverage. It was a stark contrast from the Tennessee game, when a lot of intermediate routes were open, as the Titans sent five and six blitzers.
The Wildcat was a novel wrinkle, but the two plays netted a total of only six yards. WR Brandon Banks admitted on Monday that he has two options on the play: Run it himself or hand the ball off. He makes that decision based on a simple read of the defensive end. He kept the ball on both of his plays Sunday, appearing to make the correct read. However, because the Redskins aren’t a threat to throw out of that formation, Minnesota stacked the line of scrimmage and stopped it. Until Washington gets creative and proves it will throw out of the Wildcat, its success probably will be limited.
I feel sorry for everyone at home who had to listen to FOX play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton call Banks’ punt return for a touchdown. At the stadium, people could see the referee throw the penalty flag immediately after Perry Riley’s illegal block. Stockton, however, didn’t see it. His call was: “Touchdown! No flags down!” How many of you went bonkers when you heard the play-by-play man assure you there were no penalties, only to have your hearts ripped out a moment later? Brutal!!
…that’s it for this week. Let me know your thoughts or what I missed. Leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.