Notes & Observations: Redskins 24, Raiders 14
A variety of notes after reviewing the Redskins’ victory over the Raiders on Sunday, including observations on the defense’s improvement, Barry Cofield, the pass rush, Robert Griffin III and more.
BY ZAC BOYER
Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 24-14 victory over the Raiders on Sunday:
* It’s remarkably tough to take a lot out of the Redskins’ performance in the game, but a victory does them the benefit of sending them on a five-day break for the bye week with their heads held high. Face it: regardless of the performances of the other three teams in the NFC East, an 0-4 start is an extremely difficult hole to climb out of, and it’s why only one team in the last 23 years has made the playoffs after losing its first four games.
That being said, the Redskins need to win the games they’re supposed to win, and that’s exactly what happened here. The Raiders have made strides in trying to rebuild their franchise over the past two years, first with a new front office and then a new coaching staff. The talent, assumedly, will come. Head coach Dennis Allen is facing a similar situation to what Mike Shanahan faced in 2011, where he had gotten rid of all of the holdovers who couldn’t play the year before and is focused on moving forward with new pieces. I think the Redskins, who went 5-11 in 2011, had more success that season than these Raiders will in the next three months.
* Still, the Raiders looked greatly overmatched. I can appreciate that the team took caution not to allow Terrelle Pryor to play as he recovers from a concussion sustained in the previous game, especially after he exhibited sensitivity to the light on Saturday night, according to reports. Matt Flynn, much to Raiders fans’ chagrin, is a competent backup quarterback who played behind a patchwork offensive line that couldn’t adequately block for him. The Redskins feasted on left tackle Khalif Barnes all afternoon, and right tackle Tony Pashos looked like the same player he was in Washington’s training camp – unsteady and breakable.
It’d be interesting to see what would have happened had Darren McFadden not left the game in the second quarter with a strained hamstring. McFadden carried the ball five times for 29 yards, lined up once in the wildcat and, on one play early in the second quarter, ran a zone-read keeper as the quarterback. A defense that’s struggling to stop the run would have undoubtedly had problems had McFadden continued to run gimmick plays. As it was, his backup, Rashad Jennings, gained only 45 yards on 15 carries, with nothing longer than a six-yard run.
* Barry Cofield undoubtedly played his best game in two-plus seasons with the Redskins. The nose tackle had two sacks, recovered a fumble and was a big reason why the Raiders’ run game failed to get going. He was even more productive than the stat sheet indicated: he continually collapsed the pocket by overpowering center Stefen Wisniewski, and he even broke through combination blocks on occasion. His first sack, with 1:26 remaining in the third quarter, demonstrated how the Raiders struggled to stop him. Originally blocked by Wisniewski and left guard Andre Gurode, Cofield was freed up when defensive end Stephen Bowen twisted inside, requiring the center to chase him. Cofield then easily overpowered Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler in his 12th season, to drop Flynn.
Cofield wasn’t the only one generating pressure for the Redskins. In all, the team had seven sacks, marking the first time since Week 16 in 1993 that three players – Cofield and outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo – each had two sacks. Darryl Tapp had the seventh sack; not to minimize its value, but it was given to him when he and defensive end Chris Baker chased Flynn out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.
Kerrigan’s sack of Flynn with two minutes left in the second quarter exemplified the difficulties the Raiders faced. Kerrigan beat Pashos with a simple rip move, powered by leaning right guard Mike Brisiel and flattened the quarterback. On the other side of the line? Orakpo, who would have gotten through himself if not for Barnes’ desperation hold.
* One play of Kerrigan’s that I thought was noteworthy: When the Raiders ran a zone-read play on their first snap, the outside linebacker didn’t bite on the fake (not that he needed to with Flynn at quarterback, but forget that) and went straight at the quarterback. The Redskins prepared to face Pryor and the zone read all week, and Kerrigan knew what to do.
* An aside: the Raiders announced on Wednesday that Flynn will now serve as the Raiders’ third quarterback, essentially leaving him to run the scout team. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, who was in rookie minicamp with the Redskins, is now Pryor’s backup.
* The pressure up front didn’t leave the secondary to be tested often, but when it was, the Redskins held their own. This was the first time they didn’t spend significant time in their nickel defense, owing to the Raiders’ run-first philosophy. Conspicuously absent was rookie free safety Bacarri Rambo; Reed Doughty started at strong safety, with Brandon Meriweather patrolling deep as the free safety. Even Jordan Pugh, who played well late last season, saw his first defensive snaps of the year as a free safety.
One advantage to the Redskins’ base defense is that it gives offenses fewer opportunities to exploit rookie cornerback David Amerson. Amerson, and the coaches, can say all they want about a player needing to be ready to play when he’s given an opportunity, and they can all belabor the importance of learning from past mistakes. But Amerson, who played nearly every snap in two of the Redskins’ first three games, is going to take a thumping if he has to handle such a heavy workload so soon. Look at Rambo: going from every play the first two games, to special teams in the third, to not playing at all in the fourth is going to shatter a player’s confidence. That’s not to say that a player should continue taking the field if he’s not getting it done – far from it. At some point, a team has to cut its losses. It’s about not putting them in that position to begin with, and as was clear on Sunday – and really, for the last several seasons – the Redskins’ best safety tandem is usually when Doughty is on the field.
* Back to Amerson: the cornerback played his best game with the Redskins. It wasn’t anything particularly special; he still made two fundamental mistakes, including whiffing on a jam in the first quarter that led to a 34-yard catch by receiver Denarius Moore, and then later failing to tag Moore down, and instead leaping over him, when the receiver made a catch while falling down. (That’s a mental mistake – in college, a player is down once he’s on the grass, contacted or not). His 45-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter was played well, undercutting Moore on a lazy throw underneath to return to the end zone, and his touchdown celebration wasn’t flashy and made him seem like a player who had been there before.
* Glancing through my notes, because I don’t want to spend too much time on the defense (though, to be fair, it played a large role in this victory):
1) The touchdown pass to tight end Mychal Rivera in the first quarter looked like an exploitation of solid zone coverage. It appeared inside linebacker Perry Riley did what he was supposed to, handing Rivera off to his safeties, and Meriweather understandably took receiver Rod Streater, out left on a fly route, with cornerback DeAngelo Hall heading inside. Rivera caught the ball between Hall, Pugh and Meriweather. Good throw, good catch.
2) It would have been impressive if Orakpo picked off that high pass from Flynn intended for Rivera late in the first quarter. That ball had to be four feet above him, and he still almost got his hands around it.
3) After the Redskins missed 21 tackles against the Packers and 15 against the Lions, there were only eight missed tackles against the Raiders. There’s an opposing talent factor in that number, but it still shows the players have improved in this area.
* Robert Griffin III continues to improve, which is to be expected. It was odd that on his first zone read carry, which came on the Redskins’ second drive, he chose not to take fullback Darrel Young’s block and cut inside. He instead went outside for a one-yard gain. I wonder if that’s a case of Griffin overthinking while running; overthinking prevents instinctive play, and instinctive play is where he excels. Otherwise, I thought his sprint rollout on an incompletion to Santana Moss with 10:07 left in the fourth quarter was another play he made often last season that he hasn’t otherwise this year, and his completion to Roy Helu on the next drive, in which he scrambled away as the pocket broke down and made an off-schedule throw, was another positive step forward for him.
* The Redskins offered 14 zone-read looks. Griffin threw the ball seven times, Morris ran four times and Griffin ran three times, though one run was called back on a penalty and he threw the ball away on another when he realized he was going to lose yards. That’s 39 zone-read looks on plays that held this season: Griffin threw the ball 24 times, Morris ran it 13 times and Griffin has run it thrice.
* I got into a good discussion on Twitter about tight end Logan Paulsen’s fumble in the third quarter, and I maintain that Paulsen did nothing wrong on the play. He caught a pass over the middle on third-and-9 that would have given the Redskins a first down, but he was able to continue picking up yards with free safety Charles Woodson hanging off of him. The Raiders gang-tackled – cornerback Tracy Porter was next, and then cornerback Mike Jenkins entered the fray, and then linebacker Nick Roach came in – and Paulsen tried to protect the football by moving it to his outside arm. Paulsen couldn’t get down to end the play with three men pushing him forward, and it wasn’t until Jenkins appeared to grab Paulsen’s facemask as other defensive backs were swatting at the ball that it broke free. (Paulsen, on Tuesday, told me he had no idea if he had been grabbed or not and didn’t want to use it as an excuse.) In the end, it didn’t matter. Oakland went three-and-out on the next possession, Sebastian Janikowski somehow missed a 52-yard field goal and the Redskins regained control almost exactly where the ball came free.
* Watching the game the first time, I thought the offensive line struggled mightily. Watching it again over the last few days, my stance has softened and I think my initial impression was incorrect. Granted, the unit didn’t help running backs Alfred Morris and Helu out that much, but the Raiders are also a team that likes to take away the run. Plus, the few plays where Griffin was forced from the pocket were more on missed assignments in blitz pickup than on any particular lineman.
* One example of a team making an adjustment: With 3:03 left in the second quarter, Woodson was unaccounted for on a safety blitz and dropped Griffin for a 10-yard loss. Later, Woodson tried it again, albeit from the left side, and left tackle Trent Williams handed defensive end Lamarr Houston off to left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and picked up Woodson. Griffin’s pass was incomplete – but it wasn’t a sack.
* Other brief thoughts:
1) This game meant a lot to Helu, who was playing in front of 50 friends and family members 30 miles west of where he grew up in Danville, Calif. He played like it after Morris left the game with bruised ribs, and it could earn him a greater role in future games.
2) Riley told reporters after the game that the botched block on the punt block was on him, and that he failed to block the correct player even after seeing the Raiders run a similar stunt on tape. Case closed.
2a) The Redskins did the best they could against a fake punt. A step or two and receiver Aldrick Robinson would have had Taiwan Jones down in the backfield for a loss. Special teams coordinator Keith Burns said Tuesday that there’s only so much time you can devote to such plays – you prepare for them in theory and hope for the best.
3) I’ve written previously about the no-huddle look the Redskins sprinkled throughout the game, especially in the second quarter. It worked. It should not be abandoned when the circumstances dictate. Griffin has always thrived in such situations, and he did a remarkable job on Sunday.
* The snap counts (Includes plays run but negated by offensive penalties; zero plays means the player only appeared on special teams):
Offense (66 plays): Chris Chester 66, Will Montgomery 66, Tyler Polumbus 66, Trent Williams 66, Kory Lichtensteiger 66, Robert Griffin III 66, Logan Paulsen 65, Pierre Garçon 62, Leonard Hankerson 42, Roy Helu 35, Alfred Morris 31, Niles Paul 28, Santana Moss 20, Joshua Morgan 19, Darrel Young 18, Aldrick Robinson 5, Fred Davis 5, Chris Thompson 0, Adam Gettis 0, Evan Royster 0, Tom Compton 0, Kirk Cousins DNP.
Defense (66 plays): Brandon Meriweather 66, Perry Riley 64, Ryan Kerrigan 63, DeAngelo Hall 61, Josh Wilson 61, London Fletcher 60, Stephen Bowen 55, Brian Orakpo 54, Kedric Golston 38, Reed Doughty 34, David Amerson 32, E.J. Biggers 28, Chris Baker 23, Darryl Tapp 15, Jordan Pugh 6, Nick Barnett 6, Chris Neild 6, Bryan Kehl 2, Jerome Murphy 0, Bacarri Rambo DNP.