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Initial Thoughts: Redskins 20, Jaguars 17

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 20-17 overtime win over Jacksonville:

Washington’s patchwork defense did a fantastic job taking away the run—Jacksonville’s strength—and pressuring QB David Garrard. Sure, the Jaguars suffered a dropoff without injured RB Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Redskins also were handicapped without SS LaRon Landry, OLB Brian Orakpo, etc. That works both ways.

The defensive line, in general, controlled the line of scrimmage as well as it has all season. DL Vonnie Holliday gave some of his teammates a lesson in leverage. NT Anthony Bryant hasn’t been dominant, but he has anchored better than Ma’ake Kemoeatu.

Stopping the run was a team effort, though. OLBs Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter did well setting the edge against the run. London Fletcher blew up running lanes and clogged the perimeter. Even DBs Phillip Buchanon and Kevin Barnes had big stops in run support.

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Once the Jaguars realized Washington was set on stopping the run and they started passing more, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett successfully challenged Jacksonville’s protection schemes, specifically inexperienced RB Rashad Jennings, with pressure up the middle. Delayed blitzes, stunts and overloads disrupted Garrard’s attempt to exploit the Redskins’ depleted secondary.

Washington’s pass rushers also won many individual blocking matchups. Practice squad call-up LB Rob Jackson exceeded expectations. He had a where-has-HE-been-all-season? performance. His hands and quickness were too much for LT Eugene Monroe at times.

On one play, Bryant drove C Brad Meester back into Garrard—Haynesworth style—forcing a short throw. Kemoeatu hardly ever collapsed the pocket like that. Fletcher got to Garrard on a delayed blitz. Carter beat the right tackle to split a sack with DL Jeremy Jarmon at the end of the first half.

The game’s decisive play—CB Kevin Barnes’ interception—was the result of pressure on a six-man rush. LBs Rocky McIntosh and Chris Wilson came up the middle and forced Garrard into a terrible throw.

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Generally speaking, the Redskins’ secondary covered well enough to allow Haslett to bring pressure. Yes, Garrard successfully challenged new FS Macho Harris on Jacksonville’s touchdown drive, and Barnes’ lapse was responsible for a converted third-and-long on the field-goal drive, but the back end never gave up the home run. CB Carlos Rogers had an interception and pass breakup before he got hurt, and Buchanon was active in his place.

Garrard simply missed some open receivers, too. That helped.

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Sorry to go this long without mentioning QB Rex Grossman. These games are all about him, I suppose. But Grossman wasn’t particularly impressive.

His interception in the end zone was underthrown. WR Santana Moss was open in the back corner, but Grossman put the ball in a spot where CB Derek Cox could get to it. That can’t happen in the red zone. He also underthrew Moss on a 38-yard gain in the first half. Moss slowed down to make the catch and cut back inside, but a catch in-stride could have been a touchdown.

Grossman held the ball too long at times, which makes me question whether receivers were open for him down field. Credit him, then, for not forcing throws into coverage when the offense stalled. He knew he had to protect the ball better this week, and he threw it away a few times instead of trying to do too much.

Grossman made some great (easy) throws against Jacksonville’s zone in the second half. When he had time and open receivers, he wasn’t bad.

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Third-and-longs are one of the biggest hindrances to the offense this season. Eight of the Redskins’ 15 third downs today were 10 yards or longer. Penalties and offensive line breakdowns were to blame. For example, RG Will Montgomery’s false start turned a third-and-6 into third-and-11. Stephon Heyer’s breakdown on a first-down run put the Redskins in a passing situation on second and third downs.

If the Redskins were better up front on first and second downs, third downs would be more manageable.

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TE Chris Cooley’s four drops in the first half were shocking. It seems he has dropped more throws this season than ever before. And when he’s not making catches, whether it’s because of drops or not being targeted, it slows down the entire offense. He was targeted a game-high 11 times.

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I liked coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter. The Redskins’ defense was playing well, and it was reasonable to expect the defense to force a punt if the offense didn’t convert.

The execution of Kyle Shanahan’s play call was fantastic. Cooley, TE Fred Davis drove back the left side of Jacksonville’s front, and FB Mike Sellers sealed the running lane by blocking the safety. And they’ll take RB Ryan Torain against a cornerback every time.

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The run-pass balance was lopsided again this week. Grossman dropped back 40 times, compared to 23 designed runs. At one point it was 8 runs to 25 passes. I didn’t have a big problem with that, though. Jacksonville’s defense entered the game ranked last in the league in yards allowed per pass play. And considering the coaching staff wants to evaluate Grossman, passing made sense.

They ran it more late in the game when playing with the lead.

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If K Graham Gano had missed the 31-yard field goal in overtime, I’m not sure coach Mike Shanahan would have forgiven him. Gano didn’t attempt any field goals last week, meaning today’s chances were his first since the debacle against Tampa Bay. He made an impressive 48-yarder against a serious crosswind, and the 31-yarder won it. Boy, Gano needed those.

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P Sam Paulescu’s had another poor game. His 35-yard line drive in the fourth quarter set up Jacksonville’s tying touchdown. His 40.6 gross average today won’t cut it in the NFL.

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ESPN’s report that QB Donovan McNabb plans to request his release after the season is no surprise. The situation has gotten so ugly that I can’t see how their union could be sustained. The big questions are whether Mike Shanahan will grant McNabb’s request, whether McNabb would be willing to repay the $3.5 million signing bonus he got when he signed his extension, and whether the Redskins believe McNabb has trade value. Regardless, it appears McNabb has played his last snap as a Redskin.

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