Notes & Observations: Lions 27, Redskins 20
A variety of notes after reviewing the Redskins’ loss to the Lions on Sunday, including observations on Robert Griffin III, Calvin Johnson, the defense stopping the run, gang-tackling and more.
BY ZAC BOYER
Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 27-20 loss to the Lions on Sunday:
* While the quality of the opponent has to be kept in mind, all things considered, the Redskins demonstrated significant improvement on Sunday. The problem – there’s no SI column in the standings for the Redskins. They’re not 0-2-1. A loss is a loss.
Robert Griffin III deserves some praise for finally starting to look like the player he was for the first 12 games last season. There are still issues – what the heck is 251-pound backup defensive end Willie Young doing catching up to him? – but when it comes to actually operating within the Redskins’ offense, Griffin is doing a sufficient job.
Now, the fact that he’s not really a threat to run completely changes the way defenses are playing him, and I’m not entirely convinced he’s actually reading the defensive end on zone-read runs by Alfred Morris. Still, it’s a start. His first zone-read keeper of the season was on the Redskins’ fifth play from scrimmage – he gained seven yards – and the most Griffin-like run of the game was his 21-yard scramble up the gut. Of course, he fumbled away the ball because he insists upon diving, which I don’t think will ever change; his hackneyed slide in the third quarter made him look like an unwitting party guest whose folding chair collapsed beneath him on the backyard patio.
* The Redskins ran 22 of their 74 plays from under center. For comparison’s sake, they ran 11 out of 70 plays against the Eagles under center, and all but nine of 58 plays against the Packers were with Griffin in the pistol. I’m curious to see how much of that has to do with mobility tied to Griffin’s knee and how much of that is related to the game situations the Redskins have faced.
* After picking up 56 yards on seven carries in the first half, including a 30-yard touchdown run, Morris ran just eight more times for 17 yards in the second half. On the first two drives of the fourth quarter, when the Redskins faced only a three-point deficit, Morris ran the ball just twice. The Lions’ front seven definitely buckled down against the run game after halftime, but it was interesting to see the Redskins abandon it all together.
Washington also did something it did on occasion last year: Have Griffin toss the ball back to Morris when he lined up under center. Because Morris lined up about four yards back – where he would be during a typical pistol look, it could have helped his vision and allowed his line to set up blocks. His 30-yard touchdown run came on a handoff from Griffin where receiver Joshua Morgan and tight end Jordan Reed were able to hold blocks long enough on the right side for Morris to have nothing but daylight in front of him. If the Lions weren’t going to fully respect Griffin’s ability to run the ball, they’d have to for Morris, which is something neither the Eagles nor the Packers had to worry about.
* The Redskins offered 12 zone-read looks, with Morris running four times and Griffin twice. That’s 27 zone-read looks on the season: Griffin threw the ball 16 times, Morris ran it nine times and Griffin has now run it twice.
* I mentioned this briefly on Twitter the other day, and it bears repeating: Griffin threw 50 passes on Sunday and has thrown 139 passes in three games this season, which is the exact number of passes he threw after five games last year. Furthermore, not only was 50 passes a career-high for the quarterback, but it matched his career high during his time at Baylor, when he went 33-for-50 for 425 yards, a touchdown and an interception during a 59-24 loss to Oklahoma State on Oct. 29, 2011 – his senior year.
Mike Shanahan broke down the lopsided run/pass ratio on Monday by pointing to the end of the first half, when Griffin threw the ball four times and was sacked on a fifth try, and to the end of the game, when the Redskins were down 10 points with 3:51 remaining and threw the ball 17 times over their final two drives. That’s 22 passes, and subtract that from the 50 attempts and Griffin otherwise threw the ball 28 times. The Redskins had 22 rushes; add in a few running attempts in a close game – and a few pass attempts too – and the balance is just about even.
“Once you get into the two-minute situation, those numbers can get really carried away one way or the other, and that’s what’s happened,” Shanahan said. “But when you really break down the game, you’ve got to break it down and look at it, and the run/pass ratio was right at 50 percent.”
* It’s become popular to beat on Griffin as a passer, especially when he’s throwing the ball 50 times a game. His performance Sunday, though, was actually fairly strong. He did a good job moving the pocket and seemed generally in control of his throws. His interception in the second quarter is still a ball that needs to be thrown away – no, for real, what the heck is 251-pound backup defensive end Willie Young doing catching up to him? – but upon review, and as Shanahan said, that’s more on receiver Pierre Garçon, who thought the play was over, than on Griffin. (Still, throw it away.)
* Aside from the missed tackles forced by backup running back Joique Bell, and I’ll get to that in a minute, the Redskins did a very good job of stopping the run. That was one of their primary goals and is really the foundation of their defense; Lions running backs carried the ball 22 times for 61 yards on Sunday. Taking that a step further: Bell had seven carries for 38 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown run, in the first quarter and had just 13 carries for 25 yards the rest of the day.
The front seven did a very good job of that, especially the linebackers. London Fletcher and Perry Riley had a combined 18 tackles, and they were consistently assisted by outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Orakpo did a good job of setting the edge on a carry by rookie Theo Riddick late in the second quarter and managed to shed his blocker and drop the running back for a four-yard loss. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, with his hand free of a hard-cast club for the first time in a month, also played well.
* The tackling issues that had plagued the Redskins over the first two weeks mostly resolved themselves against the Lions, who really only had one player with the shiftiness of a LeSean McCoy or a Randall Cobb. That’d be receiver Ryan Broyles, who the Lions threw to three times for a total of 34 yards.
I counted 15 missed tackles by Redskins defenders, 11 of which were forced by Bell and eight of which came on two plays on the same drive. Bell shook off four defenders on a 37-yard catch on a checkdown, then broke four more tackles on his 12-yard touchdown run with 5:14 remaining in the same quarter (and to think they were intimidated by Reggie Bush!).
Several defensive backs mentioned gang-tackling as a necessity, and there was one fantastic example of that mentality. With 33 seconds left in the third quarter, Broyles caught a pass on an inside slant and was immediately wrapped up by cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who looked like he might have trouble hanging on. Instead of Broyles breaking free, four other players piled on to help Hall make the tackle, leaving Broyles with only a three-yard gain on third-and-5.
Having five players bring someone down on a dig route that gained only three yards isn’t going to happen each week. All things considered, it’s a rarity. There were also plenty of excellent individual stops; Josh Wilson’s tackle of Nate Burleson in the slot for just a six-yard gain with 12:11 left in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. Missing 21 tackles in a game, as the Redskins did last week, isn’t acceptable. Bell aside, missing four tackles on the rest of the team is a marked improvement.
* Matthew Stafford threw for 385 yards, but this is where big plays will turn a defense inside out. He completed passes of 47, 41, 37, 33, 23 and 20 yards to Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, Burleson and Bell, leaving him with 201 passing yards on six plays. To take it one step further: On the final drive of the first quarter, which included the 20-yard pass to Johnson, Stafford completed four more passes for a combined 50 yards. The Redskins were fortunate to hold the Lions to 4-for-13 on third downs, or otherwise a lot more than 27 points could have been scored.
* Regarding Johnson: Hall played him about as well as anyone could, and he should get a lot of credit for that. Granted, there were a few misplays, but that’s going to happen with a 6-foot-5 receiver. The interception that Hall had in the first quarter was a fundamentally sound play; he jammed Johnson, trying to run an inside slant, hard enough at the line to disrupt the timing of the route. He also did a good job of breaking up a pass in the end zone on the final drive of the second quarter that both player got a hand on; the Lions settled for a field goal.
As for the 11-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, there’s really not much else the defense could have done. Hall gave Johnson a cushion, and the receiver ran a post route from the right that was between the linebackers and safeties. It was a great throw from Stafford and a good grab by Johnson.
* Since we’re talking about mismatches, there won’t be any greater than the Redskins saw with 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria on his five-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. Stafford was under pressure by Fletcher, who blitzed up the middle, and even though Fauria was covered by Orakpo and safety Brandon Meriweather was over the top, Stafford knew he could throw a ball 10 feet in the air and Fauria would grab it. That’s exactly what happened. Not much you can do in those situations.
* A few quick-hitters:
1) Griffin dropped a well-thrown ball right over Aldrick Robinson on the not-57-yard touchdown reception, but Robinson still needed to slow down to try to grab it. Robinson looked like he may have turned a corner during training camp, but so far, he’s caught one of the six balls thrown to him for a total of 13 yards (one reception against the Lions was called back because of penalty). When you’re playing a dozen snaps a game as the last receiver on the roster and only play a moderate number of special teams plays, you need to catch the balls thrown to you.
2) Cornerback David Amerson had his moments against the Lions, some good and some bad, as he played every snap with the Redskins constantly using three cornerbacks. He had a pair of good breakups in the second half, swatting down throws to Burleson and Durham, but he was beaten badly on double moves by each player, too. Burleson’s 41-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter was solely because Amerson was beaten and still played the ball, not the receiver. Rookie move.
3) Morgan was in for rookie Chris Thompson on the final two kickoffs of the game, though the results were the same. It’s the responsibility of the off returner – here, Niles Paul – to determine whether or not the returner should leave the end zone with the ball, and Morgan said his decision to return a kickoff in the fourth quarter from seven yards deep was the result of a miscommunication.
4) Kudos to right guard Adam Gettis, who, until Sunday, was the anti-Fletcher. On the active roster for 18 games, Gettis, a fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa last season, hadn’t played in a single one. He played four snaps on the kickoff coverage team to make his debut.
5) Meriweather finished a regular-season game that he played in for the first time since Dec. 18, 2011.
* The snap counts (Includes plays run but negated by offensive penalties; zero plays means the player only appeared on special teams):
Offense (77 plays): Chris Chester 77, Will Montgomery 77, Tyler Polumbus 77, Trent Williams 77, Kory Lichtensteiger 77, Robert Griffin III 77, Pierre Garçon 68, Leonard Hankerson 54, Logan Paulsen 54, Alfred Morris 43, Santana Moss 41, Roy Helu 34, Jordan Reed 30, Joshua Morgan 24, Darrel Young 19, Aldrick Robinson 11, Niles Paul 7, Chris Thompson 0, Tom Compton 0, Adam Gettis 0, Kirk Cousins DNP.
Defense (67 plays): Perry Riley 67, David Amerson 67, Ryan Kerrigan 67, Brandon Meriweather 67, Josh Wilson 67, DeAngelo Hall 67, Brian Orakpo 64, London Fletcher 59, Kedric Golston 57, Stephen Bowen 54, Barry Cofield 54, Phillip Merling 19, Chris Neild 13, Nick Barnett 8, E.J. Biggers 4, Darryl Tapp 3, Reed Doughty 0, Bryan Kehl 0, Jerome Murphy 0, Bacarri Rambo 0, Brandon Jenkins 0, Jordan Pugh 0.