The View from Austin: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The first quarter of the 2013 NFL season is behind us, and it has been a wild and turbulent ride. After four games, did anyone predict that the NFC East would be 4-12? Did anyone see Green Bay and Atlanta only having one victory each? After having the 5th best running defense in the league in 2012, did anyone expect the Redskins to be 31st against the run? I certainly didn’t see this coming.
Are the Redskins as bad as their record indicates, or is there hope for the rest of the season? I honestly don’t know - it could go either way. But here are a few observations:
All eyes were on Robert Griffin III to emerge showing some of the confidence and flash that he exhibited last year. After a fumble, interception and safety to start the first game, it became obvious that he didn’t have his legs, timing and execution down. Dropped balls, stupid penalties, turnovers and poor decisions killed drives. Facing high-octane offenses, games quickly became lopsided. The Redskin’s offense became unbalanced, forcing Griffin to throw early and often to catch up. As the season progressed, Griffin gradually started using his legs more to extend plays, and make quick sideline runs for reasonable gains. He even tried sliding to protect himself, with predictably ugly results. Before the season started, I was hoping that Cousins would start the season to buy Griffin one more month of healing. I knew that was never going to happen, but in hindsight, I’m pretty sure Cousins wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this season thus far.
The receivers are an underrated bunch with Pierre Garcon being the star player. Garcon is playing in beast-mode, and is doing a great job of pulling down the ball, and gaining yards-after-catch. There is no sign of the plantar-plate issues that plagued him all of last year. Hankerson has developed into a dependable target. Santana is targeted for many clutch possessions, and he usually delivers. But he can also be counted on for drive-killing drops. When you are a 3rd down target, that comes with the territory. Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson have not figured in prominently. Jordan Reed has been an eye-opening surprise, and Logan Paulsen has been as dependable as ever. Fred Davis is working his way on to the bench, and Niles Paul has not factored significantly in the offense. Morris and Helu have played very well, but have had their roles reduced, because of the offensive need to play catch-up in lopsided games. The offensive line did a good job protecting the edges, but collapsed under inside pressure.
Horrible, horrible, horrible. I expected the secondary to have some problems, but I was certain that the Redskins would continue to lead the league in stopping the run. Poor decisions and abysmal tackling led to huge gains and record-setting yards after contact. Our linebackers and secondary made Vick, Rodgers and Stafford look like Pro-Bowlers.
The defensive front seven have been better at applying pressure. Kerrigan is a beast, and Orakpo is gradually returning back to form. Cofield is showing steady improvement and dominated against the Raiders. Fletcher is showing his age. He seems slower to react, is whiffing on tackles, and is lost in coverage. Occasionally he crashes a play, and reveals some of his former playing ability. But that’s highlight reel stuff. Riley is good for a couple of nice plays, but hasn’t been the instinctive, sure-handed tackler he was last year.
The secondary has struggled as I expected early on. Amerson is developing as a corner back, but he is still making some rookie mistakes. Hall has been playing better than expected, but Josh Wilson has dropped off in production. Rambo was in over his head, and needed to be benched. Meriweather has played better, but needs to stop using his helmet as a battering ram. Doughty, is solid, yet unspectacular. As a unit, the defense shows moments of promise, but they also look undisciplined, and often times lack communication.
Special Teams is really an issue of focus. Kai needs to come back healthy, or he will be replaced by Potter, who is on speed dial. Rocca needs to punt the ball consistently, or he will be replaced. Chris Thompson looks lost as a returner. There are way too many penalties on returns, and blocking is poor - as evidenced by the blocked punt against Oakland. I’m concerned but not overly worried about special teams. This unit will improve once the offense and defense get their houses in order.
So, are the Redskins as bad as their record? Yes they are, but this is a weird year. Take away some critical mistakes in the Philadelphia and Detroit game, and the Redskins could have quite possibly been 2-2 or 3-1. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Skins need to use the bye week to re-focus and make improvements across the board.
So how do the Redskins get back on track? Here are a few thoughts:
Make the No-Huddle and Hurry-Up a Staple Part of the Offense
I believe this is critical to Robert Griffin’s health, will open up the running game, reduce penalties and mask some of the Redskin’s offensive line deficiencies. The league is moving toward up-tempo and no-huddle offenses, and there doesn’t seem to be an answer for it. It’s this year’s read-option attack.
First, Robert loves running no-huddle. He excels in an up-tempo environment when he has a defense on its heels. The Redskins employed the no huddle against Oakland, and it was instantly effective. Oakland was forced into a base defense, and their players fatigued quickly. The best way to protect Griffin is to line up quickly, roll the pocket, and make those defensive linemen and linebackers run sideline-to sideline. Get back to the line and do it again. A worn-out lineman will not be able to chase Griffin down. As the linemen be come gassed, big running lanes will also open for Morris and Helu. Let Griffin bolt around the end on occasion if the sideline is open. Make someone account for him. Establishing a regular hurry-up rhythm could also result in fewer false-start penalties.
Offenses thrive on momentum, and Griffin looked like his old self running the no-huddle against Oakland. Even better, the rest of the offense looked comfortable. This needs to be employed against our upcoming opponents if we want to have any chance of winning the game.
The Eagles and Packers shredded our defense with hurry-up offenses. If we had responded in kind, there’s a chance that these games would have been less lopsided. I’m hoping the Redskins open against the Cowboys with a healthy dose of no-huddle. It will quiet the stadium (except for all the RGIII fans), put them on their heels, and force Romo to make ill-advised decisions. We have the talent to effectively employ the no-huddle. Let’s use it.
The defensive unit needs to have a players-only meeting, and rededicate themselves to executing better as a unit. Fletcher needs to share more time with Barnett. He’s too old to play 60 out of 66 defensive snaps, which happened against Oakland. Raheem Morris needs to figure out what his best personnel grouping is. Amerson is improving, and Rambo needs to find his mojo. Given our weaknesses at ILB, I wouldn’t mind seeing this defense become a little more “hybrid”. Shift to a 4-3 front on occasion, letting Rak and Kerrigan rush with their hands in the dirt, with Cofield, Jenkins, Bowen, Baker alternating on the interior line.
Oh, and tackling. This is all part of the players-only team meeting. Coaches coach, and players play. But this is tackle football, and the Redskins need to rededicate themselves to solid, fundamental tackling. There is no reason why this team can’t return to a dominant run-stuffing defense. They have the same personnel that made them 5th against the run. This is a mindset that needs to start with the Dallas game.
Can the Redskins Turn this Season Around?
Sure they can, at least in the NFC East. One of the teams in the NFC East will catch fire down the stretch and win the division. Right now, we have just as good a chance as the rest of the division, and the Redskins know it. Unfortunately, the same could be said for the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys. Right now, Atlanta and San Francisco also look beatable.
The offense and defense need to feed off each other, instead of relying on each other. In my view, it starts with offense. If Griffin & co. come out of the gates leading drives down the field, then the defense will respond in kind, force turnovers and return the favor.
There’s a long way to go. HTTR!