Redskins vs Bucs Offensive Review: Why Torain Disappeared When it Mattered

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 12: Fred Davis  of the Washington Redskins can't make this endzone catch with less than a minute remaining while Geno Hayes  of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defends at FedExField on December 12, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. The Buccaneers defeated the Redskins 17-16. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

The Redskins are a dreadful first down team, and have been so the whole year.  They usually don’t run the ball well enough to justify handing it off, and the Redskins have more incompletions on first down passing than any other team in football.  One of the biggest contributions made by Redskins running back Ryan Torain coming fresh off his injury wasn’t that he gained more than 150 yards in the first half, and more than 115 of those in the first quarter.  That was big, but the bigger, more important part of it from the Redskins perspective is that he was able to move the chains for them on first down.  That was a Redskins weakness, and Torain was able to solve it.  For a half.

Torain wasn’t successful because of a great offensive line in front of him, he was successful because of a terrible Bucs run defense which failed to adjust to the diverse running schemes of the Redskins.  Torain’s biggest contribution on the day was consistently making the first defender miss in the backfield.  This is big.  Rarely was the Redskins’ blocking strong enough to get the running back to the second level on their own.  But, even though Torain could have been wrapped up for a loss a number of times (and this has been Torain’s M.O. on the season — losses on backfield penetration) the Bucs contributed to the problems by being unable to finish the play there.  I can’t say for sure that any of the Redskins’ other runners would have broken long runs with the frequency that Torain did in this game, but this wasn’t a spectacular performance by the Redskins’ young RB or by their OL.  It was, mostly, poor run defense.

Which is exactly why Torain rushed 6 times for 14 yards in the second half.  By comparision, Torain’s worst 6 carry stretch in the first half also gained 14 yards.  The Bucs improved their run defense in the second half.  The Redskins dominated the two interior DTs in the first half, but in the second half, those two players (especially Roy Miller) did a much better job against the run.

And the Redskins were completely unable to replicate Torain’s first down performance.  They had 18 first down plays (14 of them runs) go for 209 yards in the first half (11.6 YPP).  In the second half, they had 12 first down plays go for 63 yards (5.25 YPP).  Just of those 2 were runs…but only 6 of the 12 came while the Redskins held the lead in a situation where the clock wasn’t a factor.  The blocking wasn’t any worse, but the run defense was better, and Torain, who was so hot in the first half, made some really horrible reads in the final three quarters, helping the Bucs run D out of their rut.

This is why Torain was a non-factor in the outcome of the game.  It’s not his fault that the Redskins failed to score in their first three drives despite Torain chipping in 140 yards from scrimmage.  But Torain has been significantly less effective near the goal line for one thing, and when the Redskins drives stalled, they were going to get 6 points max even had Graham Gano not forgotten how to kick a football straight.  They actually did score 2 TDs and a FG in the rest of the game, when Torain contributed only 42 total yards on 11 touches.  Torain had the best offensive day of any Redskin, but that might be the problem.  He did all of his damage in a scoreless first quarter.  His success set up a couple of play action passes to Santana Moss and probably the short TD toss to Logan Paulsen as well.  On both of the Redskins TD drives, they had two passing plays go for 15 yards or longer.

On all other drives, the Redskins had just three passing plays go for over 15 yards, two of them screen passes.  It was THAT kind of offensive day for the Redskins.  Donovan McNabb made a number of poor, inaccurate throws and bad decisions.  It wasn’t a banner day, but he was able to play his best football on the last two drives of the game, and being able to avoid a mistake until that point was pretty impressive given the way the Redskin receivers played.  Chris Cooley is frustrated with his role in the offense, but the Redskins need his pass protection a lot more than they need his receiving.  Santana Moss plays with inconsistent effort, Anthony Armstrong doesn’t always realize when the quarterback needs to find him hot, Roydell Williams hasn’t played well in relief of Joey Galloway, and Fred Davis — the Redskins best receiver this year on a per target basis — had a poor day.  To make matters worse, Donovan McNabb often knows on the snap when he’s going to find Keiland Williams, but Williams doesn’t always know where to be to get the ball, and gets McNabb killed or forced into desperation dumpoffs.  Finally, Donovan McNabb appears to be SO hurt over the last two weeks, that he’s no longer stepping up in the pocket, opting instead to take his eyes off of downfield action and wait for his safety release, or worse, to throw off his back foot under pressure.

The way that Torain had been running, things were set up perfectly to run some run-action bootlegs and get McNabb space to throw the deep ball, but the Redskins never did this in the second half.  Poor pass protection by Torain and James Davis only made McNabb’s job more difficult at the worst times.  The offensive line, Cooley, and Williams do a really good job protecting the quarterback, but if you play backs who can’t block, you’re still going to give up sacks.  McNabb is really playing as an immobile target right now which, 1) makes it more impressive that the Redskins protected him on 35 of his 37 dropbacks, and 2) explains why McNabb can play well for this team, but still not get the team in the end zone.  Such is the reality of trading for a 33 year old player.  The biggest difference in this game through the air was Josh Freeman’s ability to extend plays and make aggressive throws down the field and smart throw aways vs. Donovan’s desperation dump offs that were dead even if they were complete.

Kudos, in this one, to the offensive line.  Jammal Brown struggled in pass protection, and Will Montgomery was the leaky piece in the running game, but outside of a couple pressures credited to Trent Williams, this was a banner game for the OL in terms of protecting McNabb.  This group kept us on pace, but Torain ran with poor vision in the second half, Cooley wasn’t used in the passing game even though he would have been able to break down the Bucs cover two had the Redskins let him.  Cooley in the passing patters was the big difference in the final drive vs. three consecutive three and outs to begin the second half.

McNabb’s day likely would have been considered below average prior to the final offensive drive, but he came through and delivered in the clutch, finding his receivers on third downs and fourth downs (3/4 for 22 yards, with dropped TD pass by F. Davis).  Anthony Armstrong (18 yds), Keiland Williams (24 yards), Santana Moss (15 yards), and Chris Cooley (22 yards) all had multiple catches on that drive, backs against the wall.  That’s a positive sign.  The nicest thing you can say about the Davis dropped TD is that the back shoulder throw had A LOT more velocity than Nick Sundberg’s snap did two plays later.  Despite the rain, those were the ONLY two drops by the Redskins on the day.  McNabb’s receivers may not have been in the game start to finish, but at least they caught the ball when thrown, enabling McNabb to go 22/35 (62.8%).

It could have been worse for this offensive unit.  Ryan Torain could have not enjoyed such as spectacular first quarter, and the Redskins could have not enjoyed an 11 play advantage.  They could have gone 3 and out on that final drive, punted, and never have gotten the ball back.  They converted, and went down the field and set up the extra point play this season will be remembered for.  Two touchdowns and 3 field goal attempts: thats a 20 point offensive day 80% of the time.  The offense didn’t lose this game.  It also didn’t do anything to put it away early, managed the clock with a degree of embarassment never seen before in the Zorn era, and four separate times they got inside the ten and failed to score on three consecutive plays (both passing TDs came on fourth down).  They may have produced adequate results, but I can’t yet say that this unit isn’t underachieving.

I guess there’s always Dallas week to put everything together.

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