For the life of me, I can’t see what the Redskins don’t like about Keiland Williams as a runner. He’s really good at it. Maybe it’s a scheme thing. We’ve now had 4 different running backs carry the ball at least 15 times on this team, none of whom more effectively than Keiland Williams has all season. Still, in the name of evaluating other players, Williams has 8 carries for 35 yards in the last two weeks, which is about 1/2 of the team’s production on the ground and 1/3 of the carries. Williams had career days against Detroit, then Philly, then Tennessee. At 5-5, the Redskins decided that they didn’t like their new-found running game, and so now they don’t have one.
They, do however, have a passing game. And in the last three games, the Redskins had discovered that their cover-two happy opponents had a little bit of a weakness right in the middle of the field. The Giants are no different. FS Antrel Rolle is a bad player having a bad year who was bad in this game and tried many times to let the Redskins right back into the ball game. McNabb completed countless completions over the middle of the field, and threw for better than 290 passing yards. Anthony Armstrong was as proportionally close to an 100 yard day as McNabb was to 300. This wasn’t the Redskins playing the little sisters of the poor, or Orville Reddenbacher’s FarmBoys, these were the New York Giants who have one of the fiercest passing defenses in all the land. McNabb was sacked four times, but those sacks were mostly third down drive enders and other insignificant anomalies, as the Giants really weren’t that close to McNabb all day. With time to throw and open receivers in what Madden players would call the “vision cone”, this was an offensive explosion waiting to happen.
The coaches set it up like this. After years of Jim Zorn trying to outdiscipline and outlast the Giants while Greg Blache’s defense gave up long-sustained drives one after another, the Shanahan duo finally went after and attacked the Giants where they were weak. It was great preparation and a passing onslaught designed to knock the Giants from their perch.
And it didn’t work, because the Redskins couldn’t get out of their own way.
This was not a coaching/administrative issue. Like the defense, this was a flat failure of the offensive skill positions (not to mention individual pass blocking breakdowns [plural] by Keiland Williams, Stephon Heyer, Jammal Brown, and Will Montgomery). This game featured poor quarterback play, and it featured a lot of it. It featured an endless string of dropped balls — both before and after the catch — from receivers who looked like they just wanted to go home. Fred Davis, a drop. Chris Cooley, a fumble. Mike Sellers, a drop. Keiland Williams, a fumble. Santana Moss, a really bad drop. Anthony Armstrong, a really costly fumble. Donovan McNabb threw two interceptions and fumbled twice. The first interception was a horrible, deflating lack of first down discipline. The second was probably a worse lack of discipline, because it was essentially meaningless on the last play of the game and the play had no upside. The intended receiver, Anthony Armstrong, could have easily been hurt on the play (and was, though he appears to be fine now).
It’s hard to say who won their individual match-ups on the defensive line. I thought Kory Lichtensteiger and Casey Rabach combined to protect the quarterback pretty well, and Lichtensteiger had one of his best run blocking games, helping to lead an attack that had fantastic success running to the left. Trent Williams played in, I think, 3 series and did very well against Osi Umeniyora. He left because their wasn’t much strength in his shoulder. Stephon Heyer was excellent in run blocking at left tackle, but did poorly on his two screen/delay blocks, and was beaten around the edge by Osi Umeniyora for a critical sack. He also had a procedure penalty on a third and short that the Redskins needed to convert, because he’s Stephon Heyer. The Redskins really needed more out of Heyer in this one, because running the ball became a luxury the scoreboard didn’t allow them to have.
The right side of the line only performed adequately. Will Montgomery did not win the critical battle with Chris Canty, but did well enough to limit the damage, which is likely better than Artis Hicks would have done. He didn’t move him anywhere in the running game, and that limited the Redskins’ ability to go to the right side on the ground. Jammal Brown was pretty good, but had one inexcusable bad beat where he let his guard down with great position on Justin Tuck in the fourth quarter, and got beaten. Brown was put in a lot of bad situations, and while that one wasn’t one of them, he had one of his best games, and the protection for McNabb was really not an issue. A lot of times, McNabb could have evaded one guy and had a lot of time to make a play downfield, but gave himself up at the first sign of pressure.
Donovan’s decision making was poor all day. When you look at the Redskins third down performance in this one, it was a lot of short yardage situations set up by good plays on first and second down, and then the ball would go to Donovan to convert on third down. He made questionable reads both before and after the snap. Some of the sacks don’t happen if McNabb has a good idea of where he wants to go with the football. Roydell Williams was a popular target of McNabb on these downs and distances, with no success. That’s not a good match-up for McNabb. Moss or Armstrong are better match-ups. This was a dreadful performance against a good pass defense in very manageable downs and distances.
A bigger problem was that the Redskins could drive into Giants territory and never get to a third down situation because the turnovers came on early downs. Six turnovers in all: two interceptions, four lost fumbles, and four of the six turnovers came on first down, including both interceptions. The other two turnovers came after the Redskins had gained enough yardage for the first down, just not protecting the football. It’s going to be hard for McNabb to justify next year’s salary after putting this game on film, as I can’t think of a single time in his career where he made more mistakes in a game than this one. There don’t appear to be any answers either: the Kyle Shanahan response to all the bad things that happened in the first half was to start throwing the ball to Mike Sellers out of the backfield. The game was already over at that point but…it’s depressing.
One thing that worked really well for the Redskins was their 3 TE sets. It’s a good formation to run or pass out of and the Redskins have three great tight ends. The other thing is that Chris Cooley is having a remarkably great year as a blocker, and got the assignment matched up with Osi Umeniyora about four times in this game. Chris won on three of them, unfortunately he allowed pressure once on a third down, and McNabb threw high, not seeing an open receiver in the flat. But the three TE sets also open up great running lanes for the backs and create matchups against the front that the Redskins can dominate: Chris Cooley on a safety, Fred Davis on a linebacker, Kory Lichtensteiger up on the middle linebacker, and Trent Williams/Stephon Heyer kicking out the end. Both weakside and strongside runs worked out of this formation. It’s just another running game wrinkle the Redskins have for opponents.
At this point, it sounds like the running game should be really effective with all these different concepts the Redskins have to run with, but there is a refusal to commit to our best against their best in critical downs. We have a fairly proven runner in Williams who runs with good vision, and knows all the plays because he’s been here from the start. With the season on the line since his career day against Tennessee, he’s averaging 4 carries per game the last two games. For context, the Redskins have averaged 59 offensive plays in the same timeframe. Watching the film, I can understand why there is faith in the passing game: things look like they should be working against these cover two defenses with great consistency. The Redskins have protected McNabb very well on the road this year, and he’s selling his playfakes on boot action to buy himself even more time. But even with great protection and open receivers, the Redskins passing game didn’t work against the Giants. There was little play-to-play offensive rhythm, and turnovers rained down from the sky while there was just a lone passing touchdown.
The Redskins showed that they could both run and pass on a great defense, which is a positive. They also proved how little that means if you fumble six times in a game. The Redskins went into this game as one of the best teams at keeping the football off the ground, and left as pretty much an average team. That doesn’t mean much when we look at the talent of this team as a whole, but it’s just one more thing to add to the list of “things the Redskins aren’t really good at”. Which, I think, leaves just kickoffs. Even that skill is more useful for a team that scores.