Game Balls, Gassers & Observations: Redskins 20, Jaguars 17 (OT)
My take on the best and worst performances from the Redskins’ 20-17 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, plus some observations from re-watching the game. I’m feeling generous this week because it’s the holiday season (and because I’m still patting myself on the back for correctly predicting a Redskins’ win; Shameless, self-aggrandizing plug: here). Let’s go…
OLB/DE Andre Carter: This might have been Carter’s best game of the season. He consistently set the edge in the running game because of his strength and leverage in blocks at the line of scrimmage against RT Jordan Black and TE Marcedes Lewis. On several plays he prevented Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings from getting around the corner and forced him back inside to ILBs London Fletcher or Rocky McIntosh or other teammates pursuing from the back side. Carter also rushed the passer effectively. He used his hands to disengage from Black and help sack QB David Garrard on the final play of the first half. He also maintained his backside responsibility on a second-quarter bootleg and forced Garrard to hurry a throw that bounced incomplete. Carter did give up a completion to FB Brock Bolen, but Jacksonville ultimately didn’t test him in coverage much. If Carter and the Redskins part ways after the season—a reasonable expectation considering how ill-fitted he is for the 3-4—he at least put a quality performance on film to help his search for a new team.
OLB Rob Jackson: Jackson had a fine game by any standard, but when you consider he was on the practice squad a week ago—wow. He said last Friday that his quick and strong hands are his biggest strength rushing the passer, and he proved that against Jaguars LT Eugene Monroe (the 2009 eighth-overall pick and a UVA product, by the way). He chopped down on Monroe’s arms to free himself for a strip-sack of Garrard in the third quarter. He helped the defense get off the field on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter by overpowering Monroe and redirecting his outside rush inside. He hit Garrard during the throw, and it fell incomplete. Jackson rushed from a two-point stance and still stayed low when engaging blockers.
Jackson did more than just pressure the quarterback. On the last play of the first half, he diagnosed Jacksonville’s screen and dropped into coverage. Garrard hesitated, which gave Carter and DL Jeremy Jarmon time to arrive for the sack. Jackson also anchored against TE Marcedes Lewis on a first-quarter run to help limit RB Rashad Jennings to a 1-yard gain. He also drew a holding penalty on Monroe on a first-down run.
DL Vonnie Holliday: One of many reasons why the Redskins controlled the line of scrimmage on defense. In sticking with the trend of Redskins defenders beating LT Eugene Monroe, Holliday held his ground at right end in the running game. He’s about 20 pounds lighter than DEs Adam Carriker and Phillip Daniels, but he compensates with superb leverage. He generally stayed low in his blocks and clogged running lanes at the line of scrimmage. He also consistently shed blocks and made five tackles. He shed Monroe’s block and stopped RB Rashad Jennings for a 1-yard gain on a first-quarter draw play. Holliday also got the defense off the field on third-and-4 in the third quarter by reading a designed screen and covering the back. QB David Garrard held the ball too long, and Jacksonville’s linemen were illegally down field as a result.
I believe Holliday has a place on this team next season. (According to league records, he is under contract for one more year.) He turned 35 two weeks ago, but he’s a solid backup, and the Redskins need someone to fill that role. He knows the 3-4 better than any other Redskins lineman because he has played in it most of his career. He’s a leader in the locker room (players voted him the team’s union representative) who embraces the selflessness required to perform the thankless responsibilities of a 3-4 lineman.
CB Phillip Buchanon: Buchanon didn’t have a perfect game, but he was sound in coverage and made some quality reads at critical moments. He read QB David Garrard’s intent to throw relatively deep down the left sideline on a second-quarter third-and-13, and he sprinted back from the left flat to narrowly break up the pass. He blanketed WR Jason Hill in man-to-man on two second-half routes that Garrard missed, one at the goal line. He came unblocked off the right edge and stopped RB Rashad Jennings for a loss. Buchanon also tackled Hill in the open field on a third down to force a punt.
On the downside, Garrard fooled him (and blitzing CB Kevin Barnes) with a pump fake on a third-and-6 that turned into a 31-yard gain in the first quarter. Jennings later planted Buchanon into the ground with a stiff arm on a third-down swing pass he converted. Buchanon tried to tackle Jennings too high.
Buchanon’s one-year contract expires after the season. He has been a serviceable No. 3 this season, and he filled in capably for Carlos Rogers when Rogers missed time due to injury. Buchanon knows how to read quarterbacks, excels in man-to-man coverage, and is opportunistic when it comes to forcing turnovers. At age, 30, I doubt the Redskins would bring him back in an expanded role, but he’s done nothing to wear out his welcome.
DE Adam Carriker: Carriker helped the Redskins stop the run by anchoring at the line of scrimmage and by clogging running lanes. He simply was too strong for the right side of Jacksonville’s offensive line to move out. That helped ILBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh stay freer of offensive linemen this week. He deftly used his hands to get underneath RG Uche Nwaneri in the first quarter for his first full sack of the season. He also made a tackle in space on the right by hustling from behind the play.
OLB Lorenzo Alexander: Told you I was feeling generous. Let’s keep ’em coming. This was Alexander’s best game in weeks. Like Carter, he set the edge in the running game on several plays by holding his block on the right side of the defense and not giving up ground. He even drew a holding penalty on TE Marcedes Lewis in the second half. Alexander also made big plays in the passing game. He ripped under LT Eugene Monroe (who, if you can’t tell by now, had a HORRIBLE game), got around the edge and would have sacked Garrard if London Fletcher didn’t get there first. Alexander also contributed to the first-quarter interception that set the tone for the game. He jammed TE Zach Miller, disrupting the timing of his flag route. Garrard overthrew it directly to CB Carlos Rogers.
RT Stephon Heyer: Heyer played the entire game and did not surrender a sack. Not to be snarky, but that’s a big deal. You can’t say the same about LT Trent Williams. Heyer, however, was best in the run game finishing his blocks. He did allow DT Tyson Alualu to get to his back shoulder and penetrate the backfield on a second-quarter stretch play to the left, but he consistently sealed running lanes for RB Ryan Torain. He drove LB Daryl Smith out on Torain’s 6-yard run off right tackle on the third series. He pushed Alualu to the inside on an early first-and-goal, opening a hole for Torain to gain 4 yards. And on Torain’s touchdown plunge on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Heyer manhandled DT Leger Douzable by driving him inside. Torain ran through the opening Heyer created.
LG Kory Lichtensteiger: The Steiger bounced back well from a rough outing against Dallas. Jacksonville’s defensive linemen weren’t as quick or powerful as the Cowboys’, and it showed. I noticed Steigs consistently making a positive impact in the second half. His best play helped the Redskins’ convert third-and-11 to extend their second touchdown drive. The result of the play was a 12-yard completion to WR Santana Moss, and The Steiger made it possible. Jacksonville blitzed five rushers, including two linebackers directly at him. He first engaged LB Daryl Smith but passed him off to RB Keiland Williams to his right when LB Kirk Morrison followed. The pickup was seamless, and Grossman had ample time and space to complete the throw. You’ll recall that Lichtensteiger has struggled with delayed and staggered blitzes this year, so this was a sign of improvement.
Later on that drive, Steigs cleaned up the mess after DE Jeremy Mincey worked inside LT Trent Williams. Williams appeared to set too far outside, and Mincey came underneath with a slap. Lichtensteiger picked Mincey up, though, without problem, allowing Grossman to convert third-and-3. Steigs also redirected a defender in space on a fourth-quarter screen pass.
CB Carlos Rogers: It’s rare that a player could earn a game ball after playing only one half, but that’s how good Rogers was before he injured his calf. (Hey, that rhymed.) His interception set the tone for the game. He read Garrard’s overthrow and peeled off his receiver to make the play over the top. And, yes, he gets credit for finally holding onto one. He made two open-field tackles, and he also broke up a pass by driving on Jason Hill’s comeback route and ripping the ball out.
Rogers might not play this week, which means we might have seen him play his last game as a Redskin. He’ll be 30 by the time training camp is scheduled to start next summer, and it will be interesting to see what kind of money Mike Shanahan is willing to commit to him. Rogers’ play this season has merited an extension, but the question is whether the two sides can match up the parameters.
K Graham Gano: This was Gano’s first true test since his debacle against Tampa Bay, and he aced it. His 48-yarder into the crosswind in the first quarter was a huge moment for him. The conditions were terrible but he nailed it. The 31-yarder to win it was just as big. The distance obviously isn’t overwhelming, but we know that hasn’t stopped Gano from missing. We’ve heard about his mental toughness since he arrived, and Sunday we saw an example of it.
TE Chris Cooley: QB Rex Grossman’s biggest supporter inside the locker room didn’t help out his buddy. Cooley could have landed here with his four drops, alone, but his run blocking sealed the deal. First, the drops. There’s not much to add, but I know no one feels worse about them than he does. The drop in the end zone is an all-timer. If you win the game, though, that stuff is secondary.
His run blocking regressed from his standout game against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. He struggled sustaining blocks, which was problematic for some of the longer-developing plays on the edge. For example, DE Derrick Harvey blew RB Ryan Torain up for a 3-yard loss in the third quarter after Cooley tried to block him on the run with one arm.
The good thing for Cooley is that games such as this are an anomaly and not the norm. He played better in the second half and finished with five catches. He helped Torain plunge into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 by teaming with TE Fred Davis to push DE Austen Lane out of Torain’s path. Lane turned his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, which made it easy for Cooley to drive him inside.
P Sam Paulescu: Paulescu struggled with distance and hang time again this week. He got away with a few short liners until Jacksonville finally made him pay in the fourth quarter. His 35-yarder stayed in the air for 2.9 seconds, unofficially. A good NFL punt stays up for well longer than 4.0 seconds. Jacksonville returned it 21 yards into Redskins territory and scored the tying touchdown four plays later. We’re seeing that inconsistency, poor distance and poor hang time are why Paulescu hasn’t held onto an NFL job.
Let’s review two players who didn’t make either of the above lists.
QB Rex Grossman was not as efficient as he was against Dallas, but he managed the game well enough to win. His biggest mistake was a late, underthrown ball to Santana Moss that was intercepted in the end zone in the first half. You’ll recognize those adjectives from past reviews of Donovan McNabb’s play this season.
Also, Grossman’s mechanics got sloppy at times in the second half. On the Redskins’ last drive in regulation, he missed a wide-open TE Chris Cooley when he didn’t step into the throw. He fell off sideways, and the ball sailed on him. Three plays later, he missed WR Anthony Armstrong down the left sideline when he stepped sideways with his left foot instead of at his target. His shoulders flew open and the pass was high. Coach Mike Shanahan also questioned some of the reads Grossman made after throwing his interception. Shanahan attributed that to poor focus. Grossman also was flagged for delay of game. This, after coaches and players spent last week praising his tempo in and out of the huddle. We’ll try to get to the bottom of that one this week.
Grossman does get credit for limiting his turnovers to the one interception. He had three against Dallas but only one against the Jaguars, and that was critical in an overtime game. He generally didn’t force throws when receivers were covered. He took a sack on third-and-10 in Washington territory late in regulation rather than risk an interception. He threw the ball away several times and even tucked it and ran once. Such conservative play allowed the Redskins’ defense to win it for them in overtime.
Kevin Barnes had an uneven game in his first start at safety, but he finished on the highest of notes with an interception that set up the winning field goal. He took too narrow an angle at QB David Garrard and missed the tackle on Garrard’s 20-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He allowed Jacksonville to convert third-and-15 with a 37-yard pass when he played a shorter inside route instead of gave CB DeAngelo Hall the deep help Hall expected on the outside. He also whiffed on a sack after being fooled by Garrard’s pump fake; that play turned into a big gain.
On the plus side, Barnes’ coverage was one reason why Garrard didn’t consistently beat the Redskins with deep passes. He’s a smart player capable of learning on the fly, and that showed as the game progressed. His interception came on a drag route he prepared for in practice during the week. Barnes also was active in the run support when the Redskins’ put eight in the box.
Rookie WR Terrence Austin’s first NFL catch was one to remember. He converted third-and-2 on the final drive of regulation by running a quality route that was helped by the play design. It started before the snap. Austin was isolated wide right about one yard outside the hash marks. Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis was two yards off the line of scrimmage playing outside leverage.
WR Santana Moss, however, came in motion from the left and lined up outside of Austin. CB William Middleton, who came in motion with Moss, switched with Mathis. And when Mathis moved out to Moss, Middleton lined up against Austin with inside leverage. That freed Austin for a quick out route that he deftly set up by angling inside to the hash mark before cutting out. Well designed and well executed.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan showed the Wildcat formation again, and it netted only a 2-yard gain. Jacksonville stacked the line of scrimmage expecting run, and they weren’t fooled when WR Brandon Banks handed off to RB Ryan Torain. It appeared to me that Banks would have had to beat two defenders if he kept it, so the play was doomed. It’d be interesting to see if the Redskins could add another wrinkle to it somehow.
After watching the replay of Jaguars CB Derek Cox’s interception a handful of times frame-by-frame, it appeared to me that the officials made the correct call in upholding it. The toe of his left foot barely was still on the ground when he caught the ball. So when his left foot came down on the sideline on his next step, he already had two feet down.
As we’ve mentioned, that was one was on Rex.
This was the offensive line’s best game in pass protection, collectively, since the win over Tennessee. Several times players picked up stunts without much problem. The protection calls seemed sound, for the most part. Only once or twice did a defender come unblocked, which indicates that Grossman and C Casey Rabach were on point.
How ironic that on the play after TE Chris Cooley’s drop in the end zone, Kyle Shanahan called a pass on which TEs Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen were the primary and secondary options. This, after Cooley in recent weeks voiced to Shanahan his desire to have more passes thrown his way. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe not. For what it’s worth, Cooley did run a pass route on Davis’ touchdown.
PR Brandon Banks showed his immaturity by throwing the football at Jacksonville’s Kassim Osgood after a short punt return. That was an easy call for the referee. I guess if you’re the Redskins, you’d rather him make that mistake in a meaningless game rather than at a pivotal moment. Banks has been bottled up lately as he continues to recover from knee surgery, and his frustration showed.
DL Vonnie Holliday on Monday said that he thought the Redskins’ pass rush was more effective on Sunday partly because they were more unpredictable with OLB Brian Orakpo out of the lineup. That’s an interesting hypothesis. It’s a fact that when the Redskins rush four out of their base Okie package, the majority of the time it’s Orakpo, not Lorenzo Alexander, who joins the three linemen rushing.
And why wouldn’t it be? That’s not necessarily a knock on Alexander. Orakpo is a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher who’s best used that way. On Sunday, however, Alexander rushed, Andre Carter rushed and Rob Jackson switched sides and got to the quarterback. If anything, it highlights the Redskins’ need for an elite pass rusher on the left side opposite Orakpo. We’ll hear defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s thoughts on the matter on Thursday.
The successful pass rush and blitzes helped cover for a depleted secondary. It forced Garrard to rush his throws, and the DBs didn’t have to cover as long. For example, the Redskins blitzed LBs London Fletcher, Jackson and CB Byron Westbrook on a fourth-quarter third-and-10. Garrard overthrew WR Mike Thomas, who was covered well by CB Phillip Buchanon.
…That’s it for this week. Let me know what I missed, what I got wrong or if you have any thoughts. Leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.