There were numerous problems with the offense in this game, possibly none bigger than the fact that the left side of the offensive line from the first two games (Trent Williams and Derrick Dockery) did not appear in this game. Kory Lichtensteiger is clearly the new starting LG and he was pretty clearly the Redskins best offensive lineman in this game. I like Lichtensteiger because his field presence is far superior to players like Casey Rabach and Jamaal Brown. He adjusts very well to things the opponent do, and he’s really the best thing we’ve had on the interior since Pete Kendall in 2008.
This would normally be where I recommend that he start at left guard full time…but I actually think we need Lichtenstieger worse at center. This group of coaches aren’t big fans of Derrick Dockery (who you may remember was a teammate of Kyle Shanahan at Texas), and Dockery did not appear in this game. Dockery isn’t mobile, at least not in the way that Artis Hicks and Lichtensteiger are. This team likes to pull it’s guards a lot in the running game and Derrick Dockery is a big problem as that kind of lineman. He’s going to have to be in between the left tackle and the center when he makes his block and that limits what Kyle Shanahan wants to do with his play calling. It really makes you wonder how Mike Williams would have played RG in this system.
Still, even with the way that Kyle Shanahan is struggling to call an offense that doesn’t completely out talent all opponents, Dockery is a necessary evil. You just can’t play with Casey Rabach on the interior. Rabach didn’t have a particularly bad game, but you can credit Lichtenstieger for helping him correctly sort most protections and get double teams on generic Rams nose tackles such as Fred Robbins. The next move is Lichtensteiger as the long term replacement at center, and a new left guard next year, possibly Erik Cook?
Kory Lichtensteiger wasn’t perfect in this game — he had a false start in the fourth quarter, for example — but his mistakes are benign compared to the rest of the line. I thought Stephon Heyer played admirably in place of Trent Williams. He’s really worked to turn himself into a great run blocker and had a lot of key blocks for long runs by Torain and Portis. Two years ago, those holes aren’t there because Heyer was terrible in space. He’s still just a marginal pass protector, but when you consider that the Redskins gave him little help (outside of Lichtensteiger’s general awareness), his performance was pretty acceptable. The Rams have a nice prospect in George Selvie who is just a rookie, and he fought Heyer to a virtual draw on Sunday. Rams backups at that position did nothing.
On the other side, Chris Long would like to announce himself as the next pro-bowl level defensive end in the NFC. He did so against Jamaal Brown, who is playing like anything but a pro bowler. Brown had some help in a lot of max protect schemes, and still got schooled by a third year pro. The Redskins had just 46 snaps leading up to McNabb’s game icing interception, and about a 63% pass rate, or 29 dropbacks. Chris Long won on about a quarter of those dropbacks, and was by far the most dominant defensive force in this game. Jamaal Brown has been anything but impressive as a Redskin, and when Trent Williams is healthy, look for Stephon Heyer to get more and more of his reps. It’s probable — with a lot of football left to play — that Brown is a one season player here, and a trade that helped for depth, but may not have improved the starting lineup.
Then there was this week’s “lesson not learned from the Jim Zorn era.” Shanahan apparently sat Clinton Portis down for most of the second half for not finishing a run in the first half. With Portis on the bench, the Rams’ pass pressure schemes got more and more complicated, and the Redskins decided that they’d rather not run into these pressure schemes, rather, would let Ryan Torain learn to pass protect on the fly. It was hard to notice any progress. Torain, like Keiland Williams, is a willing pass protector, but has absolutely no aptitude to hit a defender in the backfield. He even struggles to make contact. The thing that de-railed Zorn’s offense as much as anything was his refusal to work Portis into the third down pass protection schemes, meeting the oft-injured RB halfway. If we’re in for another season of this garbage, we could have saved a lot of money just letting Zorn coach out his contract and replacing his coordinators.
Donovan McNabb is clearly adept at feeling the rush, but the cumulative effect of pressure finally got to McNabb in this game. The Rams started to get really creative with pressures when they felt they were safe from the Redskins running game, and they were able to create both mismatches on the Redskins line (i.e. Torain) as well as free rushers. By late in the third quarter, Steve Spagnuolo’s Rams defense had sufficiently confounded McNabb, making him an ineffective passer for the rest of the game. At the very least, McNabb didn’t have his play timing thrown off in the same way Jason Campbell appeared to last year — the ball still came out when it was designed to — but in the second half, McNabb clearly wasn’t getting into his progressions in any way that would have threatened the Rams defense down the field. The first play of the second half, a 55 yarder to Moss against cover-two, was the last long play of the game for the Redskins offense.
From that point, the Redskins managed 31 yards of offense (total yardage minus penalty yardage), final drive non-withstanding. The Rams defense doesn’t appear to be a great unit, but it appears to be an adequate NFL defense under Spagnuolo, and if we increased the sample, they would have won as many plays as they lost against the Redskins offense. The bottom line is that there simply wasn’t a sustainable talent or scheme advantage that the Redskins could use to exploit the Rams.
At the conclusion of this tape, I’m left thinking that the Rams and Redskins will go on to achieve similar success over the rest of the season. That could be good — both teams could win their respective divisions — or it could be just two last place teams. There’s no way to say for now, but one thing that’s clear is that the Redskins didn’t leave a bunch of plays on the field due to individual breakdowns. This was a dogfight the whole way, meaning, either the Rams are better than everyone thinks, or the Redskins are really just as bad as they looked.
Do the Redskins have a solution to the receiver issue?
Ummmm…probably not in-house. Here’s the deal, the Redskins use a lot of spread offense concepts, but they run these concepts from pure pro-style sets. Spread offenses excel by using the entire field and making the defense cover every inch of ground. These are the same tenets that the Redskins offense is built on, but the Redskins absolutely love to use a fullback in their offense. We’ve been a singleback offense for the past six to eight years that made an exception for the unique skills of Mike Sellers. Now we’re a two-back offense that plays Sellers on most plays because he plays the position of “fullback” which is the safety blanket of the offense. What that means is that the Redskins play almost no 3 WR sets in normal down and distances.
In other words, there is no reason to believe that this offense requires a complement to Santana Moss. About half of the total offense is thrown to either Moss or Cooley. Then based simply on formation preference, and in whatever balance Kyle Shanahan has that week, Mike Sellers and Fred Davis combine for another 5 to 7 targets between them (I imagine the optimal balance is all Davis and no Sellers). So what’s left for Galloway/Roydell/Armstrong/Devin? After accounting for the inherent percentage of the offense that becomes forced checkdowns, we’re averaging about five targets a game for ALL secondary targets, split pretty equally between Galloway, Williams, and Armstrong.
So most of the problem is pure opportunities. We are in need of just one guy who can take ALL of the reps and be consistently productive in a five to seven target per game role. It could theoretically be any of the three, but Galloway has a big problem with his route running.
For example, lets’s examine the Santana Moss touchdown. The Redskins ran a naked bootleg off a max protect, and ran it into a double corner fire. The run action was bought by all three linebackers, who were taken out of coverage by a beautiful play fake. McNabb’s fake even saved his own skin, as frontside corner Ron Bartell blitzed and took an angle to the running back, even after McNabb kept the ball and got outside contain. The playside receiver was Galloway, and the routes called were double deep comeback to the outsides. Both receivers were man to man with safeties. The Redskins had won, this is simple pitch and catch.
Only, Galloway simply didn’t beat Atogwe: the Rams safety won man to man. Luckily for the Redskins, McNabb reads the whole field, and didn’t hesitate to throw the ball to his favorite target. I’ve been critical of Moss’ route running, but it didn’t take him much effort to beat James Butler and catch a TD that perhaps only McNabb has the arm to throw. Joey Galloway should have had his first TD as a Redskin, and just did not get it done. McNabb and Moss found a way to hook up on that play. That speaks volumes.
Galloway still has his deep speed that the Redskins have utilized on posts because that’s where he can contribute to the team, but he’s also the least able of all Redskins receivers as a blocker, so he’s got to get fewer snaps. I’ve been impressed by Roydell Williams and would give him a crack at the number two receiver job. Anthony Armstrong has done well in limited time since his drop against Dallas. If he had made the play in that game, he would have established himself as our number two receiver. Right now, he’s just a guy.
So, what of Devin Thomas? Can he not play with the production we are getting out of the wide receivers? Well, if you grade him on a pure production basis, what we are getting out of Roydell Williams and Anthony Armstrong this season is exactly what Thomas gave us last season. So Thomas clearly can produce at the levels we expect of this offense. The biggest issue right now is that Galloway needs to get fewer steps, because there’s untapped talent in all three other guys. I don’t know who has the highest upside. I suspect its Armstrong, but that’s just a guess based on route running and a complete skill set. If you grade strictly on what is and not what can be, Thomas, Williams, and Armstrong are all about equally proven. They could all be interchangable in this offense, but again, the issue is that the available snaps in the offense are limited becuase the Redskins aren’t a three receiver base offense as most in the NFL are.
Receiver Stats, this game
- Santana Moss, targeted 8 times. 124 receiving yards and a TD on 6 catches with a fumble. 15.5 yards per target. 4 successful catches with two big plays for a 50% success rate.
- Chris Cooley, targeted 7 times, 5 for catches, but 3 unsuccesful catches for just a 29% success rate. 53 receiving yards for 7.6 yards per target. One fumble? Kind of?
- Roydell Williams, targeted 3 times. One catch for ten yards. Just a 33% success rate.
- Fred Davis, targeted 3 times, 3 successful plays for 50 yards of complete offense, which includes a 39 yard pass interference penalty. 16.7 yards per target.
- Mike Sellers, targeted twice, both passes complete. One successful, the other lost a yard. 10 receiving yards, which breaks down to 5 yards per target.
- Joey Galloway, two incomplete targets with the biggest one on a deep post. It fell incomplete, though there was a good chance to get pass interference called with a more competent officiating crew.
- Clinton Portis caught the one pass thrown to him, converting a 2nd and 13 for 14 yards and a first down.
- Keiland Williams was targeted three times for 14 yards (4.67 YPT), and was predominantly useful as a receiver in the hurry up. He was targeted once on a critical third and short and ran a fade against MLB Laurinaitis, which was defensed by Laurinaitis. The other two passes were caught, but ultimately meaningless.