Notes & Observations: Eagles 33, Redskins 27
A variety of notes after reviewing the Redskins’ opening loss to the Eagles on Monday, including observations on Robert Griffin III’s return, Philadelphia’s speed, safeties and missed tackles and more.
BY ZAC BOYER
Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 33-27 season-opening loss to the Eagles on Monday:
* It’s hard to start anywhere but with Robert Griffin III, so let’s do just that. It was obvious from the way he played in the first half that he was suffering from a bit of a post-surgery hangover – or rust, whichever term you prefer. He wasn’t sharp, he wasn’t accurate and he wasn’t fundamentally sound. He did, however, get better as the game went on.
For some reason, Griffin wasn’t comfortable driving off his back foot during the first half. It’s something he had issues with early in training camp as he started to make his return from right knee surgery, but he seemingly had knocked most of those problems out of the way by the time training camp had ended. I also noticed two plays where he completed his throw with a brief hop, which was something else he did early in training camp. Perhaps it was a fear of twisting the knee, or even the anxiety of the situation; Griffin wouldn’t speak about his mechanics after the game. By the time the second half rolled around, when three of the six drives were more than eight plays long, he had gotten into a good rhythm and appeared much more comfortable with his limitations.
Counting the safety, he played a role in three of the Redskins’ four turnovers, which is unusual considering that he threw only five interceptions all of last season. His first interception, intended for Santana Moss on third-and-9 from his own 21 midway through the first quarter, was an uncharacteristic play and one he probably would not have made last season. Moss ran a post route out of the left slot and was 25 yards downfield when Griffin made the throw, perhaps anticipating that the receiver could pick up a step on cornerback Brandon Boykin and make the grab. But Boykin stayed with Moss and had a step inside, and by the time the ball arrived, it was an easy grab for Boykin. It didn’t help that Moss was also triple-covered, with safeties Nate Allen and Patrick Chung in the area. It was a bad read and one I don’t think Griffin would have made last year.
The second interception, made by cornerback Cary Williams early in the third quarter, was an instinctive play on a poorly thrown ball. Griffin tried to hit Pierre Garçon near the sideline on an out route, but the ball was thrown toward Garçon’s knees and Williams was able to dive in front of it to regain possession for his team. And though the pitch in the end zone that led to the safety was on Alfred Morris for bobbling it, Griffin also shares a large part of the blame. The pitch was so far outside Morris’ track that he had to reach out with his right hand to try to pull it in. That play might be more telling than the interceptions, considering how routine it was for the two last season.
As I mentioned, Griffin did get better. His two best passes came in the fourth quarter. On third-and-2 from the Eagles’ 42-yard line with 7:22 remaining, he looped a pass to Moss on a flare to the right that the receiver pulled in through a narrow window, grabbing it between charging cornerback Jordan Poyer and the sideline for a five-yard gain and a first down. His last throw of the night, on second-and-8 from the Eagles’ 24-yard line, was also a beauty. Leonard Hankerson ran a deep post from the right and Griffin draped a pass to him just in front of the base of the uprights for a touchdown. Chung, the free safety, played it poorly and was three yards away from Hankerson by the time the ball had arrived.
(As an aside, I got a kick out of Hankerson’s response when I asked him about that ball. “I mean, it was a great throw, you know?” Hankerson said. “Robert read the defense and he did a good job putting the ball in the back of the end zone. I tracked it down and the defender – obviously, you know he’s a DB because he didn’t track the ball at all. He stepped up and it went right over his head. It was a great play.”)
Finally, for all the worries about Griffin’s comfort and instinct when forced to make an off-schedule play, look at how he extended the play on third-and-10 with 7:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Redskins showed a four-wide set with no tight end and running back Roy Helu to Griffin’s left in protection. The Eagles sent four, and when center Will Montgomery failed to pick up a stunting Fletcher Cox and right guard Chris Chester was backed up by linebacker Connor Barwin, Griffin was in trouble. He took a few steps to his left as the right side of the pocket closed on him, but when left guard Kory Lichtensteiger was then bowled over by linebacker Brandon Graham, Griffin again changed directions, stepped up into what’s left of the pocket, cut up to his right in front of Barwin and Chester and unloaded a throw to Hankerson down the right sideline. Hankerson didn’t catch it, but just the workout Griffin went through to make the throw – and keep the play alive – spoke volumes about his increasing comfort in his knee.
* An ongoing tally: Griffin was hit five times and knocked down seven times (including three sacks), by my count. And the Redskins ran only six zone read plays the entire game – which isn’t surprising, given the deficit they faced in the second half.
*A few defensive players said last week that the Redskins would use their nickel package extensively against the Eagles to try to contain their speed, and they used it the entire game. That meant a lot of pressure situations for rookie defensive backs David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo, who struggled at times with open-field tackles and the general pace of the game.
Rambo looked to have missed an assignment on tight end Brent Celek’s 28-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter, and there were two other plays where running back LeSean McCoy easily shed Rambo’s attempt at a tackle. (To be fair, McCoy shed a lot of tackles in that game.)
I don’t know how much it would have practically helped, but Rambo has often said that fellow safety Reed Doughty has been a boundless resource during the offseason and preseason. Would having Doughty back there instead of cornerback E.J. Biggers, who said he had never played safety in his four previous seasons, been better for him? Shanahan said Tuesday that Biggers was the choice because of his speed, which makes sense because he’s faster than Doughty, Jordan Pugh and Jose Gumbs. But McCoy and Michael Vick shed his tackles easily, too – on McCoy’s 34-yard touchdown run, Biggers whiffed on a tackle in the box – and cornerback DeAngelo Hall told ESPN.com that he expected safety help on the 25-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter. I’m curious to get Biggers’ take on the whole situation Wednesday. That’s not an easy situation to be in.
* Enough has been written and said about the tempo, so it’s pointless to rehash it all. Players were tired, and though so much emphasis was put on swarming to the ball and gang-tackling, it’s hard to do a lot of those things when players are running on fumes. Consider, though, that any team the Eagles faced in the first week was going to look silly early on. Whoever revamps their coaching staff and offense this coming January better pray for an opening-week game against the toughest opponent on their schedule. It works.
The times, in seconds remaining on the play clock, of the Eagles’ offense during the first two drives: 22, 26, 22, 16, incomplete pass, 21, incomplete pass, 20, then 23, 21, 18, 23, 15 and three incomplete passes. That’s fast – and Chip Kelly told Philadelphia-based reporters on Tuesday he was even displeased with players not handing the ball to officials to get the next play going a second or two faster.
Players on both sides tired by the end of the game, and I’ll be curious to see whether the Eagles’ offense can run that fast and that often when they host, say, Chicago in Week 16.
* Kai Forbath sent all of his kickoffs into the end zone, and three of the four were touchbacks. That’s a marked improvement over last year and something he needed to work on entering this season, considering the second-year kicker had never done it in college. A fine job.
* It will probably take time, considering that he hasn’t routinely done it since high school, but Chris Thompson needs to improve his punt returns. He fair caught one at his own 4-yard line and then returned another from his 6-yard line. Shanahan said after the game and on Tuesday that’s something they’ll preach to him, but he does respect that the rookie running back is willing to stand in there with defenders bearing down on him.
* The hands team, for those keeping track (left to right from the kicker’s perspective): Amerson, Pugh, Brandon Jenkins, Jerome Murphy, Doughty, Forbath, Niles Paul, Bryan Kehl, Darrel Young, Biggers, Aldrick Robinson.
* The snap counts (as always, including plays negated by offensive penalties):
Offense (75 plays): Chris Chester 75, Will Montgomery 75, Tyler Polumbus 75, Trent Williams 75, Kory Lichtensteiger 75, Robert Griffin III 75, Pierre Garçon 55, Fred Davis 48, Santana Moss 46, Leonard Hankerson 40, Roy Helu 39, Alfred Morris 37, Joshua Morgan 34, Jordan Reed 25, Aldrick Robinson 22, Logan Paulsen 16, Darrel Young 12, Niles Paul 1, Tom Compton 0, Chris Thompson 0, Kirk Cousins DNP, Adam Gettis DNP.
Defense: (80 plays): Josh Wilson 80, DeAngelo Hall 80, London Fletcher 80, Bacarri Rambo 80, Perry Riley 78, Ryan Kerrigan 78, David Amerson 76, E.J. Biggers 74, Brian Orakpo 72, Barry Cofield 54, Stephen Bowen 47, Kedric Golston 32, Chris Baker 23, Darryl Tapp 11, Reed Doughty 6, Phillip Merling 6, Bryan Kehl 2, Brandon Jenkins 1, Jerome Murphy 0, Jordan Pugh 0, Nick Barnett DNP.