Washington Redskins Weeks 16 & 17 Offensive Game Tape Review

One of the reasons that my posting schedule has been lighter at RHH than ever before has to do with all sorts of the last semester of college responsibilities I ran into that sapped me of lots writing time, and the remaining energy it takes to do anaylsis piece.  Today marks my return to analysis-writing, as I’ll look at the Redskins offensive performance over the last eighth of the 2010 season against Jacksonville’s dreadful defense, and a pretty darn good defense of the New York Giants.

Protecting Rex Grossman

For all the percieved concerns about Donovan McNabb’s consistency in the pocket, and what it potentially cost him here in Washington, Rex Grossman is really erratic in even the most fundamental of pocket skills.  Grossman gets a lot of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.  The instant line of thinking to explain this is that he’s short and has a low release point.  This is true, but Grossman’s lack of height hurts in a more significant way with the depth of his drops.  I think I speak for all short quarterbacks when I say that the hardest, most difficult part of overcoming height as a quarterback is the extra effort it takes for a guy like Grossman or Drew Brees to get the same depth on his normal dropback as a guy like Jason Campbell or Carson Palmer.  

Rex Grossman simply doesn’t get consistently deep enough on his drops to make the reads necessary for a pro quarterback.  This is the main reason, I feel, that Grossman works between the numbers so much more efficiently than he works outside of them.  And that makes Grossman difficult to protect.  Grossman tends to compound protection issues with longer reads and poor decisions.  But for the most part of these three games, the Redskins kept Grossman clean, and I was especially impressed with the play of Kory Lichtensteiger and Casey Rabach on the interior.  Will Montgomery was destroyed a fair share of times over these two games, but I think he’s got a shot at being a starting lineman for the Redskins in 2011.  He’s just not really RG material against dominant 4-3 DLs.  It’s too easy for a 4-3 team to isolate (and beat) a weak guard like Montgomery.  Interestingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars were in a 3-4 look more times than a 4-3 against Washington.

The Jaguar ends were pretty obviously vunerable to boot action, as they were often guessing on naked action as to whether Grossman had the ball or Ryan Torain had it.  Jacksonville has a serious weakness on the edge of their defense.  I thought rookie DE Austen Lane had some potential, but was clearly a rookie.  I wondered why third year DE Derrick Harvey didn’t play more: he had all the explosive plays made by the Jags ends in this game.  Jeremy Mincey was the worst offender of not ever being in position to make a play.  The Jaguars are strong on the interior with Tyson Alualu and Terrence Knighton, but the Redskins were able to get on the edge in this game and were able to run the football because the Jags ends are so weak, and they didn’t get any help at that position in the draft.

The problem against the New York Giants was that a mismatch was added on the right side of the line.  Against JAX, starter at right tackle Stephon Heyer didn’t look good on film, but he handled his matchup against Austen Lane and neutralized the Jags rookie.  Jammal Brown returned to the lineup against New York, and he got his lunch handed to him by the incredibly underrated Justin Tuck, and managed only a draw against the rookie DE Jason Pierre-Paul.  But the big plays in the game were provided by Osi Umeniyora, who would be my player of the game recipient with his two strip sack forced fumbles of Grossman.  On the first one, the Redskins got caught in a bad protection scheme where Chris Cooley lined up on Osi and gave up the edge far too easily.  Cooley had late help to the inside from Trent Williams, but he has to set the edge and Osi got him to stop his feet and went right around him.  The other sack-fumble was incredibly similar, except that Trent Williams had no help on Osi, which Umenyiora anticipated, and he got him to stop his feet and got around the edge for an identical play.  The toughest thing about playing Osi Umenyiora is how good he is at sensing screens.  If the Redskins are going to beat the Giants in 2011, Trent Williams has to beat Osi, and to truly beat him, he has to be dominant enough to get him off his game so that he’s not reading screens to his side.  At this point in his career, Williams isn’t much of a match for Umenyiora.  That could be different as soon as next year, and the Redskins could be a better team than the Giants because of it.

Rex Grossman does an excellent job getting rid of the football instead of taking sacks, however, the problem is often where that ball ends up: not always an intelligent throw from Rex Grossman.

Catching Rex Grossman’s Passes

Chris Cooley was dreadful in the Jacksonville game, as bad at blocking as he was at catching.  Fred Davis, as he has done all year, made more out of his opportunities than Cooley did.  The guy who absolutely tore up the Jacksonville secondary was, predicitably, Santana Moss, who also finished the season strong against the Giants.  Grossman to Moss has the potential to become a very productive relationship.  The Santana Moss conundrum is as such: Moss still has the ability and the precision and the speed to shread a defense that doesn’t make him the focal point of the Redskins offense during the week.  Chris Cooley, by contrast, doesn’t have that ability.  But every time that Santana Moss has ended up the focal point of the defense on every play of the game, Moss becomes a non-factor in the game.  If he’s accounted for in the scheme by the other team, he can’t make a play and oftentimes, checks out of the game mentally.  Of course, there are benefits to the rest of the Redskins offense if they get to play 10 on 10 (or in rare cases, 10 on 9, as Moss can typically be eliminated by one premier cornerback), but that does always (or even usually) work out in the Redskins favor.

Moss is still good enough to start for an NFL team, but the Redskins now have gotten four consecutive years of below average production from Moss (this on a per pass basis) simply because 9 to 11 opponents per year have been wise enough to take Moss out of the game.  Moss’ least productive games this year: Minnesota, Detroit, Philadelphia (twice), Giants (the first time), and the Redskins were 1-4 in those games, and didn’t move the ball in the second half of the win.  Furthermore, each one of those five games was a particuarly critical game on the Redskins’ schedule, and the team was fortunate, if anything, to post a .200 win percentage in those five games.

Santana had a lot of average performances this year, and fewer great ones than is typical.  Maybe the two average performances that best sum up where he is as a player is the final two divisional games against Dallas and New York, where Moss had a game-changing drop against the Cowboys, and a fumble that decided the second Giants game.  With a more productive player in Moss’ role, this is probably an eight win team that finished the season strong.  But with a less productive player, this is likely a four or five win team that is understaffed at the receiver situation.  If the Redskins were a 9-7 team, I would advocate for resigning Moss realizing that opening up that position for a younger could keep the Redskins out of the playoffs by lowering their passing production.  But as a six win team, I think letting Moss walk is the most prudent thing.  There have been too many close losses in the last three years attributable to something that Moss failed to accomplish.  There is plenty of risk involved with moving on from a guy who just caught 93 passes for a respectable 12 yards per catch.  Moss’ 2010 season may have well been a career year for someone like Brandon Marshall, and the Dolphins just coughed up two second round picks to get a player who is less productive than a player that I am advocating the Redskins part ways with.

Moss is strictly a 7.5 YPA player at this point in his career: he has been the last three years.  The NFL average for a starting WR is currently at 7.7 YPA.  He’s not irreplacable.  The Redskins best target, Anthony Armstrong, actually provides a skill the Redskins have not had in years: a receiver who is more than a standard deviation above the YPA mean, which Armstrong was in 2010.  He didn’t do a lot in these last two games, but the thing he did do was become just about the eighth receiver to roast Giants S Antrel Rolle deep for a big time TD score since Rolle became a Giant in 2010.  Rolle had his best season as a pro overall, but that’s not saying much given his career in Arizona.  To Rolle’s benefit, I did just find out the other day that he’s the #66 player in the NFL, which makes me wonder how high on the list the far-superior LaRon Landry will place.  I’m not that surprised that Armstrong became less effective as the season wore on: he may have been a 27 year old rookie, but that’s still a rookie.

I also want to mention Terence Austin’s excellent route running here.  Compared to the poor route running of Roydell Williams and Joey Galloway, Austin was the best third receiver who played for the Redskins this season, and he played in crucial moments in both the last two games.  I don’t know if Austin’s efforts will be good enough to make the 2011 team.  I see three locks on the roster* right now: Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks, and Leonard Hankerson*.  If Moss chooses to sign whatever deal the Redskins offer him, he would be the fourth lock.  The final two spots are open to general competition.

Rex throwing the football

Grossman’s lack of arm strength is an issue, but he’s just so erratic outside the numbers that it actually limits the arm strength issue a bit because the only throws worth making for Grossman are between the numbers.  Grossman can’t throw the out route.  He can throw the fade down the sideline (and hit Moss up the sideline vs. Jacksonville), but his best vertical route is the inside seam.  The Redskins can still attack outside the numbers by getting Grossman on the edge via boot and having him throw on the run, which is actually something he’s pretty good at.  The problem with this is the quick pressure that defenses can get on Grossman if they don’t bite on the run action.

Grossman under pressure is a bad quarterback.  The Redskins actually did a really good job keeping Rex clean during this stretch and able to make throws into tight windows, which Grossman typically completed inside the numbers.  He’s incredibly limited, but if he can limit the interceptions thrown, Grossman doesn’t take any of the real bad sacks that McNabb was guilty of, and can be manipulated by the system into a good quarterback.  All of Grossman’s INTs in this three game stretch came outside the numbers, and two were thrown to Mike Sellers, who made the same mistake of turning up the field before his quarterback had given up on trying to throw the sideline route.  Neither was a good fundamental decision by Grossman.  Both are situations where Grossman needs to come back to the middle of the field and find his outlet receiver.  Mike Sellers is simply not a guy to force a ball at.  At this point, the Redskins coaches need to be held accountable for their irrational love of Mike Sellers beyond the level at which he is actually able to contribute.

The Final Word on Ryan Torain’s Final Two Starts

Torain had eight more carries that netted negative yardage in these two games, bringing his season total to 28 times in just 164 carries, an astounding rate of losing yards and putting the Redskins edge run blockers (who had excellent seasons, all of them) in difficult binds.  There’s some element of dissonance here: Ryan Torain averaged 4.5 yards per carry this year, which is typically a good average.  Torain actually did it with only one run over 30 yards all season, when he busted loose for 52 against Tampa on the first offensive play of that game.

Torain did most of his damage in the 8-19 yard area (in terms of distance past the LOS), usually turning his successful runs into longer, more successful runs by simply being difficult to tackle.  Do that 15 times over the course of a season, and you move your YPC average from 3.8 to 4.5, which is exactly what Torain did.  Have you actually made a significant difference in helping your team win games?  The stats say that this year, Torain did not.  4.5 yards is 4.5 yards, but when you break down where the yards are coming from: not in the critical areas around the line of scrimmage, and not through long game breaking runs, it’s easy to see why the average Ryan Torain carry wasn’t a productive run.  The median Torain carry went for just two yards.

Torain does the small things well.  He’s a good pass blocker and he does some of his best work in space as a receiver.  You could do worse at starting running back.  Torain isn’t good enough to create his own space, and when you’re a runner who had only one “big” play of over 30 yards in 164 carries, the ability to create ones own space is a necessary skill.

Ultimately, the problem with the Redskins in the last three weeks is obvious.  You have a quarterback, who at his best, needs to be manipulated by the scheme to limit the size of the field.  You have a running back who needs the rushing plays and short passing plays to create space so he can get beyond the first five yards, where he is his most dangerous.  You have a fullback who is a much better special teamer than an offensive player.  You have two incredibly talented tight ends who haven’t found a good balance in three years of being on the same team, and in doing such, have prevented the position from being a team strength.  The wide receiver position has a good deep threat and another average, dependable player, but no real depth behind it, and the average player is quickly aging.  The offensive line, maybe the team’s best unit at the end of the year, has been much maligned for three years.

The problem for the Redskins’ offensive coaches is obvious: too many players who have flaws that must be schemed around, and not enough players who can win their battles on the gridiron and make things happen.  The defensive review will show a completely different issue on that side of the ball.