Notes & Observations: Packers 38, Redskins 20
A variety of notes after reviewing the Redskins’ loss to the Packers on Sunday, including observations on the team’s struggles, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Meriweather, the read option and more.
BY ZAC BOYER
Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 38-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday in Green Bay:
* Let’s get the numbers out of the way first: The Packers gained 580 yards of total offense, picked up 28 first downs and outscored the Redskins 24-0 in the first half. Aaron Rodgers threw for 480 yards, tying a franchise record, and backup running back James Starks gained 132 rushing yards after rookie Eddie Lacy, the starter, was knocked out of the game with a concussion (more on that later). According to 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen, the last time the Redskins yielded more than 480 passing yards was in 1996, when Boomer Esiason and the Bengals threw for 522 yards in an overtime victory at RFK Stadium. The last time the Packers had a player run for more than 100 yards was in 2010 in a game against the Redskins; the Packers, in 95 years of organized football, never had a 425-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher in the same game before Sunday.
Burn the tapes! And let nobody ever speak of the game again!
Many things went wrong on Sunday, and by the time the snowball finished rolling down the hill, it was a voluminous mass capable of crushing small villages. Start with the idea that the Redskins had a short week to prepare for Rodgers, undoubtedly one of the top five quarterbacks in the game, and were coming off a demoralizing performance against an Eagles offense that was difficult to prepare for and harder to stop.
The defense, to its credit, played fairly well during the first drive. Though the Packers finished a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a field goal, they were at the Redskins’ 9-yard line before a pair of sacks by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan pushed them out of the tight red zone. But the Packers, like any team that has won more than 10 games in each of the last four seasons, were able to adapt quickly. They threw more screen passes, undoubtedly something offensive coordinator Tom Clements noticed worked for the Eagles last week, and ran 25 plays without a huddle after only running eight in the opener against the 49ers. (One defensive starter told me on Monday that the Redskins were not prepared for that.)
They also tried to generate more one-on-one matchups in the passing game, which was, again, something the Eagles thrived on in the opener. And it worked. By my count, the Redskins missed 21 tackles, including two plays where three defenders lunged at a player’s feet before the fourth attempt brought him down.
* Tackling is a mentality, and for football players, it’s something that’s properly learned back in Pop Warner. Either a player can size up the ballcarrier, take the right angle and hit him, or he can be caught flat-footed and flail at whichever appendage happens to be the closest. On Sunday, there was a lot more of the latter than a team with four veterans in the secondary should be expected to do.
Now, that’s not entirely on the Redskins; the Packers have three reliable receivers, including the shifty Randall Cobb, and a well-built tight end in Jermichael Finley. It’s also not entirely on the two rookies, cornerback David Amerson and free safety Bacarri Rambo, who will surely get better as the season progresses. But the defense is responsible for its assignments, and there appeared to be a few big plays – the 57-yard gain down the left sideline by James Jones in the second quarter, for example – in which communication, or at least understanding, was an issue.
* One offshoot of that is the proper way to tackle a player, which now steers the discussion in the direction of Brandon Meriweather. A strong safety who missed 16 of the last 17 regular-season games because of injury, Meriweather was surely excited to play on Sunday. He finished with four tackles in 25 plays – a pretty good number. But perhaps while he was out of action, he failed to take note of the league’s points of emphasis on a player leading with the crown of his helmet. He went 2-for-2 in helmet-to-helmet hits leading to concussions – one on Lacy, one on himself – and will be the subject of additional discipline by the league, a person familiar with the situation told me on Monday, because of his history of reckless tackles.
And as an offshoot of an offshoot, Reed Doughty entered in place of Meriweather, not cornerback E.J. Biggers, early in the second quarter and finished with a team-high nine tackles.
* What’s the solution? Well, it’s tough to say. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said Monday that it starts with players being extremely critical of their own play; “I wanted to do this but…” needs to turn into “I didn’t do…” and then “I should do…” – and then doing it.
It’s not like the Redskins are a completely different team from the end of last season, when their numbers against the pass were quite respectable during a seven-game win streak. They’ve replaced Rob Jackson, a seventh-round outside linebacker, with Brian Orakpo, a very good pass rusher who’s been to a Pro Bowl. They now have a second-round pick in Amerson ending the carousel of third cornerbacks; don’t even worry about Rambo, who will improve, because play at free safety was inconsistent last year as well.
And consider this: The Redskins started off facing the Eagles, who have an unfamiliar offense, and the Packers, who have a powerful one. The issues would be significantly more pressing if it were the Browns and Jaguars combining for over 1,000 yards of offense in the first two weeks.
* Since we’re on the topic of stagnant offenses – nah, that was too easy. I actually thought Robert Griffin III looked much better this week than he did against the Eagles. I was fairly certain on Sunday, and on Monday, that the slow start to the offense was largely because Griffin still isn’t himself as he recovers from surgery on his right knee. That’s still a factor, no doubt, and it seems the two to three drives, or two to three quarters, that Griffin was supposed to need to get his timing back may more accurately be two to three games.
The Redskins went 0-for-5 on third down in the first half, as Mike Shanahan often pointed out after the game and on Monday, and also failed to convert on their lone fourth-down try – a ball Joshua Morgan couldn’t handle that ended up in defensive end/outside linebacker Mike Neal’s hands. That absolutely stunted their progress in the first half, when they ran just 24 plays.
It appeared offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tried to simplify the game plan on Sunday; early on, Griffin threw passes on outs, slants and screens, seemingly with the intention just to get the quarterback comfortable. His first attempt of the afternoon, a 14-yard strike to Leonard Hankerson on a slant, was a great throw; so, too, was the ball to Morgan that was intercepted, aside from the fact that Morgan appeared a yard or two short of the conversion with Clay Matthews baring down on him.
But Griffin overthrew his receivers, too, like on a short out route to Santana Moss on third-and-3 on the first drive of the third quarter, or on second-and-6 midway through that quarter, when Fred Davis had to lunge for a ball near the numbers on a crossing route. Even the touchdown throw to Jordan Reed with 11:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, one where the tight end was wide open over the middle of the field, was behind him. (It’s worth noting that Reed struggled to catch anything in training camp, yet now he’s made at least four catches in two games on balls he should have had trouble grabbing.)
I don’t think Griffin is entirely cured; I’m not a quarterbacks coach, but his mechanics still look off. And the fact that a player who ran for 815 yards last season and has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash isn’t taking off running on what’s supposed to be a healthy knee doesn’t add up. But it’s a step in the right direction – one that all the calls for Kirk Cousins to play absolutely would not be.
* The running tally, as I promised: Griffin was hit six times and knocked down three times, including a sack and that aborted, confused screen play mess in the first quarter. The Redskins offered nine zone-read looks, with Morris running three times and Griffin none. That’s 18 hits on the season with 10 knockdowns. And as far as the zone read is concerned, the Redskins have given the look 15 times, Morris has run with the ball five times and Griffin has not yet run with it.
* A few quick hits:
1) Aldrick Robinson played 10 plays and was targeted twice. He made one grab, gaining 13 yards, but was stripped of the ball while being tackled and would have lost it if his knee wasn’t down. That’s not a good way to take advantage of limited playing time.
2) Pierre Garçon played the second half like he was truly angry about the deficit. I thought his best grab of the day was a catch on a 13-yard slant with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter – a ball placed in a tight window by Griffin that the receiver kept away from cornerback Sam Shields. His presence of mind to keep the ball in bounds and reach around the goal line for a touchdown three plays later was exceptional.
3) For all the missed tackles, Rambo needs to be commended on a textbook open-field stop on Cobb with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter. It was said on the broadcast, but that’s a touchdown-saving tackle. Cobb gained 18 yards and could have had 48 more.
4) Way, way too many senseless penalties. Long snapper Nick Sundberg never lets his emotions get the better of him; tight end Niles Paul often does. Both were hit with special teams penalties that greatly affected field position. And center Will Montgomery will probably have a FedEx envelope in his locker Wednesday morning for a peel-back block on defensive end B.J. Raji. That’s a point of emphasis by the league this season and is now outlawed.
5) The Jaguars have scored 11 points in two games and are averaging 213 yards of total offense. It could be worse.
* The snap counts (Includes plays run but negated by offensive penalties; zero plays means the player only appeared on special teams):
Offense (61 plays): Chris Chester 61, Will Montgomery 61, Tyler Polumbus 61, Trent Williams 61, Kory Lichtensteiger 61, Robert Griffin III 61, Pierre Garçon 53, Alfred Morris 38, Santana Moss 37, Leonard Hankerson 30, Jordan Reed 29, Joshua Morgan 26, Logan Paulsen 25, Roy Helu 23, Darrel Young 18, Fred Davis 16, Aldrick Robinson 10, Niles Paul 0, Chris Thompson 0, Tom Compton 0, Kirk Cousins DNP, Adam Gettis DNP.
Defense: (72 plays): Bacarri Rambo 72, Perry Riley 72, Ryan Kerrigan 72, Josh Wilson 72, London Fletcher 72, DeAngelo Hall 72, Brian Orakpo 67, Barry Cofield 53, David Amerson 49, Reed Doughty 47, Stephen Bowen 41, Kedric Golston 33, Brandon Meriweather 23, Phillip Merling 16, Brandon Jenkins 13, Chris Baker 11, Darryl Tapp 5, E.J. Biggers 2, Jerome Murphy 0, Bryan Kehl 0, Nick Barnett 0.