NFC East: Washington Redskins

Redskins' secondary overcomes injuries

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The exodus began before the game, when the Washington Redskins deactivated corner David Amerson for violating a team rule. It got worse as the game unfolded, with one defensive back after another exiting Sunday’s 17-13 loss to San Francisco.

And yet, it didn’t cause the defense to crumble. In the end, they had lost two more corners to injuries, with a third in and out because of cramps. That prompted some creativity by the coaches and the safeties, and solid play overall.

Yes, the defense gave up a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that allowed San Francisco to win. But look what the Redskins did: held San Francisco to 312 total yards and caused three turnovers. If the offense had done more, it would have been another defensive-led road upset (matching Dallas). The defense wasn't perfect -- and almost needed to be to win. But it was good.

The Redskins had to start Tracy Porter, but he left in the first half with a shoulder injury that will require further examination Monday. Corner E.J. Biggers, elevated to No. 3 for this game with Amerson out, also was lost in the first half with a concussion. That forced Greg Ducre into the game and he battled cramps throughout, causing him to miss action.

And that left the Redskins at times with four safeties and one corner (Bashaud Breeland) on the field. Breeland even had to leave for one play, as did safety Ryan Clark. Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Phillip Thomas were forced to play corner -- heck, Thomas had barely played safety in the NFL, let alone corner.

“I thought we played well,” Clark said. “I think I can be honest: It’s the most fun I’ve had since I played here. We were trying to find the best way to get a stop. When guys play the way Brandon did and the way [linebacker] Keenan [Robinson] did and the way the line played up front, you like to get those wins so those guys can get the credit for what they did. That part is sad. We have to find ways to win. ... We were up 13-10, so at that point if you make a stop, then you don’t put your team in that bad situation.”

Clark and secondary coach Raheem Morris divvied up coaching players pre-snap. Morris told Clark to handle one side and he would take care of those closest to him. They’d not only tell them the play, but exactly what to do on the play -- how they should shade the receiver, for example. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett somehow made this all work.

“That was the part I enjoyed, communicating with Haz and Rah, the way we were going to call stuff,” Clark said. “It worked out well. We’ve got guys who understand the scheme, we’ve got guys who know what the corner is supposed to do. We all relished in that and enjoyed it.”

It helped for Meriweather that he had played corner in college.

“It was fun,” he said. “Coach Rah teaches everyone [in the secondary] the defense. We’ve got to know what the corners are doing, and the corners have to know what we are doing.”

Clark said the defensive game plan wasn’t simplified a whole lot until they started losing players.

“When you don’t have [Amerson], that’s tough, one of your best defensive backs,” Clark said. “When you start seeing guys go down, it’s sad. [Then] I started laughing because it was like, this is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like that. It happens on the O-line or other positions sometimes. But I’ve never seen it at a position like corner that’s so important overall.

“If we lost another guy, Santana [Moss] was going to be the corner. Those Miami guys can do anything. I’m proud of the way we fought and the way we played. There are no moral victories, but there’s an understanding that no one quit.”

Their effort was one of the few areas head coach Jay Gruden was pleased with afterward.

“We had guys in positions I didn’t know they played,” Gruden said. “I’m really happy with the way our defense played. Moving forward, if we can play with that type of effort and intensity and continue to prepare, some of these losses will turn into wins down the road.”
SANTA CLARA -- The Washington Redskins' ability to spring an upset against San Francisco got a little bit harder Sunday morning. According to ESPN980's Chris Russell and the team's broadcasting network, corner David Amerson will be inactive Sunday.

There was no reason given as to why Amerson would not be active, and he was not listed on the injury report during the week. Minus Amerson, the Redskins would have to start either Tracy Porter or E.J. Biggers. Though Amerson has been inconsistent this season, he does give them length on the outside and would be missed. It also means that two corners who have had their own issues in Porter and Biggers, will be elevated into greater roles.

Amerson has played in the first 26 games of his career and started the first 10 games this season. The Redskins' secondary already was weakened earlier this season when fellow starting corner DeAngelo Hall was injured. Bashaud Breeland replaced Hall and has impressed the Redskins with his performance.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed and nose tackle Chris Baker won’t play Sunday at San Francisco, but tackle Trent Williams still has a chance to play – though whether or not it’s realistic remains to be seen.

Williams said his sprained right knee was “getting better” and that he was somewhat optimistic about playing. But he was walking rather stiff-legged. He also hasn’t practiced this week. Williams is listed as questionable on the injury report.

“He’s made some progress in the training room,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There is a little more [optimism], but we’ll see how it goes. The five-hour flight and all that stuff, that will be a big deal, [if it] swells back up.”

On Monday, the Redskins held out little hope of Williams playing and they’re still preparing rookie Morgan Moses to make his first start.

Meanwhile, guard Shawn Lauvao also is questionable. He was limited again in practice Friday.

With Reed sidelined again – this will be the fifth game he’s missed this season – the bulk of the pass-catching duties at tight end fall on Niles Paul. He’s third on the team with 33 receptions and the 49ers have some weak spots in coverage at linebacker.

With Baker out, the Redskins likely will keep veteran Stephen Bowen active. He was inactive last week. It also means Barry Cofield will return to nose, one week after playing mostly in the nickel packages in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. Veteran Kedric Golston will be the backup nose tackle.

Baker injured his sternum vs. Tampa Bay and said Friday, "It's tough to lift your hands up, to reach across your body, breathe when you get tired. ... I should be OK next week."

Redskins vs. 49ers preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
video When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara TV: CBS

The San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins meet for the second time in Week 12 in as many years. And just like last season, both teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. This time, though, the Niners and Washington meet on a Sunday in Santa Clara, rather than on a Monday night outside of the nation’s capital. NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez and John Keim break down the matchup.

Gutierrez: Hey, John, wasn’t too long ago that Robert Griffin III was the toast of football in his Superman socks as the epitome of the unselfish athlete. Now? Seems like he represents all that is wrong with Washington's NFL franchise and lacks an accountability gene. What is the truest picture of RGIII you can paint at this point in time based on your interactions with him and what teammates say?

Keim: I'll start with this: No one who was in his news conference Sunday felt he had thrown teammates under the bus. Or at least none of the people I talked about it with later. Before he said the one line in which he went too far, Griffin had spent the entire time blaming himself and saying how he needed to play better. I’ll knock him when it’s justified and in this case what he needed to do is what Jay Gruden later said: Worry about yourself. Yes, there are teammates who don’t like him and, especially last year, there were guys who felt he should take more blame. There are others who love him. A big problem was that so much became about him, especially after the knee surgery, that it dominated too much of the conversation. Also, it led to a circus atmosphere that players grew tired of and definitely turned off some players. But I'll also say: Even Darrell Green had his detractors when he played here, probably more than you’d think. I don’t worry who likes whom -- not since I was in high school at least. I worry more about whether the guy is earning respect based on his work and his play. Griffin has work to do in that area -- he certainly earned it as a rookie, but not the past two seasons. I think what he represents to Redskins fans as much as anything is lost hope. I’ve never seen a honeymoon with an athlete in this town like I did with Griffin, where he was almost irrationally beloved. And then he played the way he did as a rookie and fans rightfully dreamed of a fantastic future. Now they face a cold reality: Griffin hasn’t become who they hoped and might never do so and this franchise has no clue how to build a winner.

I liked Chris Borland in college, but felt he had strong limitations and would be vulnerable in certain areas and perhaps better in a 4-3 defense. But he seems like one reason this defense has continued to flourish despite injuries. Are you surprised by what they’ve done given some of their losses -- and how have they maintained a high level of play despite injuries? And what is the impact of Aldon Smith’s return?

Gutierrez: Given the amount of star power missing from the defense all season long, yes, I’m somewhat surprised by how well the defense has played. So kudos to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Truly, the Niners have been in every game but one, the blowout loss at Denver in what amounted to a coronation for Peyton Manning as the NFL's TD passing king, and that’s a credit to the defense. Because while the Niners' 308.8 yards per game surrendered average is the fourth best in the NFL and on pace to be better than last year’s mark, they are down in just about every other category. Points allowed is up from 17.0 to 21.2, third-down percentage defense is up from 34.1 to 44.7 and opponent total QBR is up from 39.9 to 48.8. And still, the defense has been the steadying influence. Sure, Patrick Willis is on IR, along with nose tackle Ian Williams. Glenn Dorsey is back to spell Williams, NaVorro Bowman's 21-day evaluation window was opened on Tuesday and Smith made an impact Sunday at the New York Giants, causing quarterback Eli Manning to hear footsteps as he threw five interceptions. Teams have to account for his brand of speed rush now and, with rookie Aaron Lynch a virtual Smith clone on the other side, Smith’s impact grows. So long as Ahmad Brooks buys in.

OK, time for a question so simple it’s hard: Is Washington a better team with Colt McCoy under center than with RGIII?

Keim: I think they’d look sharper in aspects of their offense with McCoy right now, though people forget in the first half of that win over Dallas the offense was put in fantastic positions and did almost nothing with him at quarterback. Then he flourished in the second half. I’d trust him to take the proper drops and get the ball out in rhythm, which would be a big benefit. Keep in mind, though, that the Redskins would have beaten Minnesota a week later with Griffin had the defense showed up in the second half. But he failed miserably against Tampa Bay. Still, with McCoy maybe they become a six-win team rather than a four- or five-win team by season’s end. I think he’s just a good backup ultimately. But the Redskins need to find out what they have in Griffin. His talent is terrific so if he develops he’d take them far. But there’s definite frustration, which you heard from Gruden Monday. Perhaps Gruden was sending a message to the owner as well, knowing that Griffin is his guy (after all, he gave up three first-round picks and a second-rounder only two years ago).

Washington always has drama, but it’s usually because the team loses and then the dam bursts. But the Niners have their own drama with Jim Harbaugh and what will happen in the future. What do you think will happen -- and how have the players handled this? How big a topic is it with them?

Gutierrez: To a man, at least publicly, the players insist the Harbaugh storylines are media created and driven and pay them no mind. And that’s easy to believe …when the Niners are winning games. But the stories pick up steam when they lose and you know that old yarn about where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Look, it’s a Super Bowl or bust season for the Niners and while they are three plays away from being 3-7 (the Eagles not pounding it in from the 1-yard line, the fourth-and-10, 51-yard catch by Michael Crabtree at New Orleans and the Giants unable to get into the end zone despite having first-and-goal at the 4-yard line), they are in the thick of the playoff race. Anything less, and I have a hard time seeing Harbaugh returning. In fact, with so much drama, real and imagined, I can still see Harbaugh moving on after the season, despite having one year left on his contract. The two most popular rumored destinations at the moment? Try his alma mater at Michigan and that Silver and Black outfit across the Bay in the Oakland Raiders. But like anything else, this is a very fluid situation. Very fluid.

The 49ers are 7-2 against the NFC East under Harbaugh, including 3-0 this season against the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants. Why does Washington have a chance Sunday in Santa Clara?

Keim: Because I’ve covered the NFL long enough to never be surprised by anything. A few weeks ago the Redskins went to Dallas as double-digit dogs and looked like a completely different team than they’ve looked for most of the season. They went to Philadelphia earlier this year and lost by three. Of course, they also lost at home by 31 to the Giants and by 20 to Tampa Bay. The problem is, I’m guessing offensive tackle Trent Williams won’t play and that leaves Washington vulnerable against guys like Smith. Very vulnerable. And the Niners’ defense still looks pretty good despite the injuries. The Redskins turn it over too much and take too many negative plays, which they absolutely can’t do Sunday. Their defense, I think, can do all right against the Niners’ offense and that could keep the game interesting for a little while. Then you never know. With DeSean Jackson, they’re often one throw from stinging a team. Maybe it’s a one-in-a-million chance they win. To which the Redskins would say, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

What have you thought of Colin Kaepernick’s play this season? Where has he progressed and what is he struggling with?

Gutierrez: I’ll use the words of a scout who gave me a breakdown of Kaepernick one month into the season -- he has not necessarily regressed, but he has not progressed as much as many thought he would have by now, either. A lot of that has to do with an uncharacteristic number of drops by his receivers, a decidedly down year by tight end Vernon Davis and his being sacked 32 times (tied for the league lead). Look, the offense goes through him more this year than ever, and even he would admit he has been inconsistent. Telling you exactly why is another matter entirely. But our good friends at ESPN Stats & Info provided a glimpse. His total QBR rating of 54.9 this season is his worst in any season since he became the Niners’ starter, trailing the 68.6 he had last year and the 71.8 he posted in 2012. And his yards per pass attempt (7.4), yards per rush (4.9) and sack percentage (8.5) are also career lows. He is still working on his touch on fades, though he did finally connect on one, to Anquan Boldin, and Kaepernick is dangerous as a runner, though the Niners would prefer he become more of the prototypical pocket passer.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Some nuggets left over from Thursday's post-practice interview sessions, including injuries:

Phillip Thomas: The Redskins have made it clear they’re not just going to play young guys just to “see what they have.” Typically, they have a good feel after practice and meetings. But safety is one position where it’s harder to gauge where they’re at just from practice, because there’s no live hitting.

So, at some point, Haslett said he’d like to see Thomas in a game. The second-year safety has dealt with a Lisfranc injury and a hamstring injury in his two seasons. This summer, he was noticeably bigger and then he added weight when he was sidelined. Haslett said he weighed 233 pounds but is back down to 210, a much more comfortable weight for him.

“We want to get Phillip some work,” Haslett said. “I don’t know when it is. We have to find out if he can play. At some point in season he deserves an opportunity to play. I don’t know when that will be. Is it during a game or a whole game?”


Haslett blamed himself for the failed blitz that resulted in a 54-yard touchdown pass to Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans last week. The problem is that linebacker Perry Riley didn’t blitz – a gap had opened where he was supposed to blitz. And the typically in that situation vs. that blitz, the Bucs would throw short.

But when Riley didn’t blitz, thinking he was supposed to drop into coverage, the Bucs capitalized.

“I’ll take that one,” Haslett said. “The score’s 20-7, we’re trying to make something happen, trying to get the ball back and you go with one of those risk-reward blitzes. Against Dallas, it was good. It didn’t work this week.”

Injury report

Defensive end Chris Baker (sternum), tight end Jordan Reed (right hamstring) and tackle Trent Williams (knee) did not practice Thursday. Guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) was limited and linebacker Trent Murphy (knee) was a full participant.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III's future with the Washington Redskins might -- and probably does -- depend on how well he plays over the final six games. He must prove to the franchise that he remains the long-term answer at quarterback -- and that he deserves a fifth-year extension.

But that's not Jay Gruden's concern right now. After losing two straight games, yes, to borrow a certain phrase, his focus remains on one game: San Francisco. While others view these next six games as Griffin proving one way or another his fate in Washington, Gruden said that's not what he's doing.

"Once the season is over, we'll take a long look at where we are as a football team, not just the quarterback," Gruden said. "We'll make our decisions in-house and talk about them, but right now, our only focal point can be on coach [Jim] Harbaugh's very tough San Francisco football team. If you start looking past anybody and thinking about 2016. ... Coaches have been let go after one year, two years, four years, you know? I'm not worried about that. I'm trying to put a product on the field that this city, this team can be proud of and something we feel we can build off for future years if I am here."

That's the same reason Gruden said he won't play every young player once the postseason is officially lost. At 3-7, that time is drawing close. Still, he did say Griffin needs to keep working on his game, which should be obvious given what he said about the third-year quarterback Monday.

"Robert has to continue to evolve as a quarterback," Gruden said. "As a young quarterback, all these quarterbacks are going through it. We have such high expectations for these kids coming out of college that they should be at the same level as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. It's not fair. They're going to have some growing pains. They're going to have some struggles from time to time against good defenses, good pass-rushers. They're just going to have to learn with the position. But it is a results-oriented league, and if you don't get the results, you're going to be subject to criticism and subject to not playing a whole lot longer."

For what it's worth, though Gruden never crushed Andy Dalton in Cincinnati the way he did Griffin on Monday, he wasn't shy about challenging Dalton, either. In spring 2013, Gruden told WLW-AM that Dalton had to improve on "everything."

"There's not one part of his game that he doesn't need to improve," Gruden said. "Hopefully some of our guys are working out with him and they're throwing. But really, within the offseason, your arm strength, your strength, your footwork, basically your fundamentals of football. And obviously he needs to get better with his deep ball accuracy and touch, and there's not really one part of his game that he can't really improve upon.

"He has to get better in every phase -- scramble ability, foot quickness, accuracy, deep accuracy, short, anticipation. He's got a long way to go. He's done some great things for a second-year quarterback, won a lot of games and thrown some good touchdown passes, but we feel like he has not come close to his potential. That's our job to get it out of him. And he knows he's gotta play better, and we all do."

Yes, Gruden regretted how strongly he dissected Griffin's game Monday. And, Gruden said, he's on the so-called same page as the front office.

"I've made this too much about one guy," Gruden said. "It's about this team and this franchise, this organization, and that's unfortunate. Moving forward we've got to make sure we talk about us as a group and not make it so much about one person."

Redskins numbers don't add up

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
Jumping inside the stats lab for some telling numbers on the Washington Redskins, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Yards per game is such a hollow stat. The Redskins rank 10th defensively and seventh offensively. Does anyone really think they are top 10 in both areas? The easy answer: No. And all you have to do is look at points per game on both sides of the ball to measure their effectiveness. While the defense catches the brunt of the criticism, it’s the offense that was supposed to be better.
  • The Redskins are 24th in points allowed and 22nd in points scored per game. Of the bottom 12 teams in points per game on offense, only one (Detroit) has a winning record. And of the bottom 12 in points allowed per game, only one (Indianapolis) has a winning record. It’s not as if yards allowed don’t matter (only three teams in the top 12 have a losing record; it’s the same number for yards per game offensively). But to measure a unit, you must discuss yards and points per game.
  • The Redskins rank sixth offensively at 5.99 yards per play. That’s not far off from their success in 2012, when they led the NFL at 6.17 yards per play. The defense is 19th in yards per play allowed at 5.47.
  • But situational football matters, too. That’s where the Redskins fall short again -- on both sides. On third downs, they rank 20th defensively (42.1 percent conversions) and 29th offensively (34.4). The latter stems from too many third-and-longs, as well as the overall play at quarterback.
  • The Redskins have allowed only 30 trips inside the red zone -- 19 teams have faced more. They’re 16th in overall red-zone defensive efficiency with 16 touchdowns allowed. Meanwhile, on offense, 20 teams have been in the red zone more than Washington and the Redskins rank 17th in this area (29 trips, 16 touchdowns).
  • The Redskins have faced five offenses ranked in the bottom 12 of points per game; four of them have scored more than their season average against Washington. They faced three defenses in the bottom 12 and in each case scored less than what those teams give up on average.
  • The Redskins are now minus-62 in points-off-turnover differential -- worst in the NFL. Believe it or not, they were plus-6 last season in part because the defense created 26 turnovers that turned into 94 points. This season, Washington has scored an NFL-low nine points off nine turnovers.
  • The turnovers are what have really hurt the defense. Their defensive metrics measure favorably to the final seven games of 2012, when they were praised for their performance. In the red zone and on third down they’re much better now (in this stretch in 2012, their red-zone percentage was 57.9 and their third-down conversion rate was 44.7). The difference: In 2012, they caused 15 turnovers in the final seven games and 31 for the season. Now they make bad plays and don’t compensate with good ones.
  • Meanwhile, the offense has turned it over 20 times. They’ve fumbled the ball away seven times -- and the average recovery is made at the opposition’s 44-yard line (sixth in the NFL). The Redskins allow points on 57.1 percent of those fumbles lost. The 13 interceptions have hurt worse. The opposition’s average drive after an interception starts at the Washington 41 -- only six teams have faced worst starting field position.
  • Houston is a good comparison here. The Texans’ average field position after an interception is the 41.4-yard line. The Texans have run 48 snaps in these situations to Washington’s 57. Houston has allowed a touchdown on 25 percent of these trips and points on 37.5 percent. The Redskins have allowed a touchdown on 45.5 percent of these trips and points 63.6 percent of the time. Houston is the reverse of the Redskins’ defense: 30th in yards allowed; eighth in points allowed.
  • This one might surprise you: The Redskins are first in the NFL at limiting yards after contact on receptions and seventh against runs. I don’t care who’s coaching the defense next season, the Redskins need a playmaker. They can be more sound -- and execute assignments better, too. But you’ll receive penance for your defensive sins if you make big plays. The defense makes very few.

The Film Don't Lie: Redskins

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Washington Redskins must fix:

The Redskins haven't been getting the ball enough to receiver Pierre Garcon, which makes you wonder how he factors into their future. And there's never really a good explanation as to why he's not getting more opportunities.

It's clear that DeSean Jackson is their deep threat, which obviously is no surprise considering that's what he's been throughout his career. The Redskins also like throwing the ball to Jackson on bubble screens, letting him use his speed to gain yards after the catch. This is an area Garcon excelled at his first two years in Washington.

During that time, he caught 44 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, averaging 10.14 yards after the catch and 2.31 yards after contact. This year, he's caught nine such passes and averaged 6.22 yards after the catch and 0.44 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Meanwhile, Jackson had 28 such plays the past two years combined in Philadelphia, averaging 8.57 yards after the catch. This year: eight catches, 9.75 yards. It's not a ton, but it's cut into one of Garcon's strengths. And Garcon's ability to block helps open lanes for Jackson (if they're on the same side, of course).

Garcon has to wonder what his future is in Washington. Just look at his targets: In a 21-game span before this season, he was targeted 10 times or more in 15 games. He's now gone seven straight games with six targets or less -- he's never had such a stretch since becoming a full-time player with Indianapolis at the start of the 2009 season.

Yes, having Jackson takes away catches; same with tight end Jordan Reed and receiver Andre Roberts. Reed is a valuable target on third downs because of his ability to win quickly vs. man coverage. But Garcon has only two receptions on third down -- that's one less than rookie Ryan Grant, who has played 439 fewer snaps. And Garcon's two catches are tied for 208th in the NFL.

Last season he had 32 catches on third down -- tied for second in the NFL. Again, there's more talent around him, but it's not as if the Redskins are shining on third down; they're ranked 29th in the NFL on third-down conversions (34.4 percent).

Garcon is signed through 2016 and next year will count $9.7 million against the cap (same as this season). If the Redskins somehow decided to part ways -- something his side might fear, but it's nothing I've heard from anyone in the organization -- it would free up $7.5 million in cap space. It also would leave them with a need for another strong receiver opposite Jackson. Jackson's presence, by the way, was supposed to help open areas up for Garcon, but that hasn't happened.

When the season began, I didn't think Garcon would come close to his 113-catch total of last season. I figured he'd be the leading receiver with 80 or so catches. He's on pace for 76 receptions and likely will lead the team. But his impact is way down and he's averaging a career-low 10.8 yards per catch.

Garcon plays with emotion and passion, which leads to frustration during times like this. He can still help the Redskins; they need to figure out a way to make that happen.

RG III: 'I have to do better'

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
videoLANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III knows he can’t lead the team to a win by himself. He also knows he must play at a much higher level if he wants to give his team a chance.

That much was clear after Washington’s 27-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which Griffin was sacked six times and completed 23-of-32 passes for 207 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown.

“If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Mannings, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well,” Griffin said. “I need every guy in that locker room and I know they are looking at me saying the same thing.”

Griffin was harsh when it came to critiquing his own game. Not every sack was his fault, but if there was a theme it was that he often held the ball too long -- whether it was from his own indecision or other factors. It led to issues in the pocket. Griffin missed seeing open receivers when extending plays.

“With some of the concepts we had for the coverage we were playing against, we should have had some open receivers,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There were some concepts where we should have been on the same page, and the ball should have been out and it wasn’t.”

Griffin was criticized last season for being slow to point a finger at himself after a bad game or play. Sunday, he blamed himself for the sacks and pointed out things he could have done better, something he rarely did in the past.

“All the sacks are on me, period,” he said. “I can do better and I have to do better. I need every man in that locker room, player and coach to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’ We have to take responsibility for it and try to find a way to get [the ball] out, try to find a way to change the protection and a way to pick it up…. I will be the first to say I could have done better, a lot better.”

Griffin was intercepted twice, with the first time a result of a teammate bobbling the ball into the air. The second one, returned for a touchdown, occurred after a tipped pass when the linebacker read his eyes and dropped into the throwing lane.

“There are some plays I would like to have back,” he said. “There are a couple of plays that come to mind where I feel I could have been more aggressive.” Griffin said he wasn’t worried about being replaced.

“I’m the guy,” he said. “My job is to go out and help us win and that’s the way I look at it. I know [Gruden] believes in me. I know those guys in the locker room believe in me, so that’s all that matters for me.”

Redskins' issues run deeper than RGIII

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
videoLANDOVER, Md., -- The loss was ugly enough, but the reality is just as stark. And that’s what has to frighten the Washington Redskins. Or, rather, their fans.

Because when you look at this franchise, it’s tough to know where to pin your hope. On the owner who has never seen one of this teams post winning records in consecutive seasons? On the general manager who has never been the main person in charge of constructing a football team? On the coach who is now 3-7 in his first season after a 27-7 loss to previously one-win Tampa Bay? On the quarterback who once upon a time looked like the future of the game but now, two years later, there’s doubt about him even being the future of this franchise.

Those just happen to be the five most important parts of a franchise. And, in each case, there’s zero proof to suggest that they can be successful in their jobs. Quarterback Robert Griffin III excelled two years ago, but that feels like a lifetime ago thanks in part to injuries. Sunday, he was sacked six times.

At times he held the ball too long. At times the protection broke down. When they happened at the same time? Yikes. Griffin missed receiver DeSean Jackson twice downfield when he was open enough that it could have impacted the outcome. If you hold the ball too long, but hit these plays? Different feeling.

But the problem is that Washington needs to see more consistency from Griffin. They need to see quicker decisions. The initial impression is that he left plays on the field by not throwing the ball more in rhythm or, at times, by putting his eyes down as he tried to escape the pocket.

And they can’t keep seeing him dive over or through defenders at the end of runs. They need to know he’s still a guy worth building around. Redskins coach Jay Gruden doesn’t come across as being sold yet. Not at all. Griffin is a young quarterback who still needs time. But he also must show progress.

“Nobody proved that they deserve to start anywhere after today’s performance,” Gruden said. “He has a lot of improvement to do, obviously.”

But it’s not just Griffin. His offensive line opened few holes and were overwhelmed at times by Tampa Bay’s rush. That’s a big problem, of course.

However, Gruden also has to prove he’s a good long-term solution as a head coach. He has changed the atmosphere around the team but not the culture -- that only changes when you win. He’s a coach who puts a lot of trust into his coaches and players. They’re not rewarding whatever faith he’s shown. They lined up wrong at times Sunday and they failed to carry out certain defensive assignments. Overreacting to one loss is tough, but sometimes a loss is revealing. Like this one.

The problem is, when you’re around this team, they come across like they’re 10-2 and on a roll. Maybe that’s why they eventually climb out of this mess. Then again, maybe that’s why they’re in it. It’s a lot easier to believe the latter right now. They make costly, sometimes elementary, mistakes.

"We had some things that seemed simple to the coaches that we had breakdowns with," Gruden said.

If the players want a coach like Gruden, they’d better start doing their jobs or eventually they’ll get someone who is the exact opposite.

Can you trust Bruce Allen, the general manager, and owner Dan Snyder to enter the offseason with the necessary blueprint to turn it around? If you do, based on what? Yes, we’ve again reached the point where this is again under debate. If they don’t win at San Francisco or Indianapolis, their next two games, they’ll be sitting at 3-9 with a month left.

“It’s a hard transition,” Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. “This transition is not about winning a Super Bowl as much as it is changing the culture, changing the way men work.

“I’m not saying the turnaround is tough. We made it tougher than it needs to be.”

Yes, they have. Now they must ask: Do they have the right people in the right spots to make the turnaround complete? The answer might scare them.

LANDOVER, Md. -- When Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams lay on the ground with his right knee in pain, his mind went to a bad place. Fortunately for him, his fears weren't founded.

He sprained the MCL in his right knee and also sprained his right ankle and will undergo an MRI Monday. But the initial diagnosis showed no ACL damage.

"You're automatically scared that it could be something serious," Williams said. "I was a little worried there."

It's still uncertain how much time Williams will have to miss. In Week 4, he dislocated his right knee cap but did not miss any games. But in Washington's 27-7 loss Sunday to Tampa Bay, Williams left after the first quarter and did not return. Rookie Morgan Moses replaced him.

For Williams, the loss was painful but the fact that it wasn't worse helped him feel a little better.

"It was a huge relief," Williams said. "To know that it's not the ACL was pretty gratifying."

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
LANDOVER, Md. -- Some initial thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 27-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday:

What it means: The Redskins can forget about a miracle turnaround like they had in 2012 when they won their last seven games. They now need to avoid a repeat of last season’s disastrous finish en route to a 3-13 record. This was a horrendous performance, coming off a bye week and after the players expressed confidence in what they could do over the final seven weeks. The Redskins will get, and deserve to get, tough questions over the next few weeks about the direction of this franchise -- and whether they have the right people in place to get them where they want to go at any of the key spots, starting with the front office on down. Tampa Bay had lost close games and clearly wasn’t going to be an easy opponent for Washington. But the Bucs looked much better coached and kept hitting Washington with big plays. An early 13-0 hole was too much to overcome. Against a 1-8 team. Time for Washington fans to start paying attention to Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Stock report: Down -- The franchise. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said earlier in the week that, with a few plays made here or there, they could be 7-2. But the reality is they are a 3-7 team that hasn’t shown any reason to believe the future will be a whole lot better than the past.

Down -- Robert Griffin III. The quarterback held the ball too long in the pocket and was victimized by poor protection. He missed DeSean Jackson on two deep balls. This was not the sort of game Washington needed from Griffin. He threw two interceptions, but one was tipped and another was bobbled by his own man first.

Injuries: The left side of Washington’s offensive line exited with injuries, starting with left tackle Trent Williams in the first quarter. He hurt the ankle and knee on his right leg. Left guard Shawn Lauvao left the game with a concussion in the fourth quarter. Williams is one of the best tackles in the game and would be a major loss. Lauvao has not played that well after being signed as a free agent. Still, the Redskins might be forced to start Morgan Moses at left tackle and Josh LeRibeus at left guard next week.

Game ball: Running back Alfred Morris. You can really stop with Morris, who rushed for 96 yards on 20 carries and caught two passes for 36 yards. Morris had a couple plays in which he turned absolutely nothing into a positive gain. On a 24-yard catch-and-run before halftime, he gained 16 yards after first contact by running through two defenders.

What’s next: A trip to San Francisco to play the 49ers followed by a road trip to Indianapolis. In other words, a rough couple of weeks.

Jason Hatcher: 'I got a lot of juice'

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
ASHBURN, Va., -- Maybe it’s the nagging injuries that slowed him or the fact he’s still learning the defense. Or maybe it’s just that he’s only had one season in which he was considered at a certain level.

Regardless, last week Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was playing well, but not at the dominant level they had hoped when they gave him a four-year contract worth a potential $27.5 million last offseason.

Hatcher was coming off a career-best 11 sacks; he had 20 in his previous seven seasons. The Redskins considered him the best inside pass rusher they faced last season, when Dallas used him more inside in a 4-3 front rather than as an end in a 3-4 front.

The Redskins use him in both ways: as an end in their 3-4 base package and inside in their nickel pass rushes.

[+] EnlargeJason Hatcher
AP Photo/Alex BrandonJason Hatcher hasn't dominated the way he did in Dallas last season, but he does have four sacks and draws plenty of double-teams.
“I think he’s playing pretty well,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “You’d like to have more [sacks], but we don’t have that right now. He’s coming off a little injury from earlier. But he’s picked it up and think these next seven games he’ll take off.”

Hatcher, 32, has had one Pro Bowl season – last year—so it’s not as if he had a history of being dominant. He’s been solid for the Redskins, though, with four sacks. Hatcher still draws double teams and typically is strong against the run. The Redskins have tried to give him more breaks – he’s averaging five fewer snaps per game in Washington than he did with Dallas last season.

Some of that could stem from the nagging hamstring injury. Hatcher said the bye week helped.

“I got a lot of juice, man,” he said. “It was one of those things. It was late in the season; you get a little worn down. I went and relaxed. I feel great right now. I got a lot of juice and my get-off looked great [in practice]. I’m excited to see what this weekend holds.”

Perhaps he’ll be helped by Barry Cofield ’s return, if they’re paired together in their big nickel – it features two down linemen. But Hatcher said he’s still learning the nuances of this defense. Sometimes that leads to stunts that aren’t as smooth as they’d like, for example.

“You have to understand where everyone’s at and how to play this scheme,” Hatcher said. “The more you learn, the faster you can play. You’re not thinking as much. We’re getting there; I’m getting there. I have to continue to learn when I can take chances in this defense and when I can be myself and when I’ve got to play the scheme.”

Hatcher said he just wants to do whatever the Redskins ask of him. That means, he said, it doesn’ t matter whether the game plan suits him or not. He just needs to play.

“They put me in situations that I can be myself, then I’ll go out and be the best I can,” he said. “If they don’t, I’ll just play the game plan. [Haslett] has a job to do and I have a job to do. He knows what he’s got in me as a player. If he decides one week I’ll let him be a decoy, that’s what it is. One week he says the bullseye is on you, let’s go out there and I’ll do it. I’ll be that guy. Whatever they decide, I’m not the type to complain.”

But, ultimately, he wants what the Redskins want: A dominant performer.

“I just need to get better,” Hatcher said. “Everybody’s accountable on this team. I’m accountable. I have to find a way to be the dominant player they signed me to be.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- This is a little old, but it was the first time we could talk to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett since the defense surrendered the lead twice in the fourth quarter of the 29-26 loss to Minnesota. That means it was the first chance we could ask a basic question: What happened?

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
AP PhotoRedskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said the scheme essentially worked against the Vikings, but there were too many second-half lapses.
Haslett blamed the ineffectiveness on several plays: third-down conversions or touchdowns that resulted from mistakes by young corners David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland, a roughing-the-quarterback penalty. Etc.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were doing, it was how we were doing it,” Haslett said. “We weren’t very good on third downs on those three drives.”

Indeed, they allowed Minnesota to convert all four of its third downs in the fourth quarter.

As for why they didn’t blitz as much against Minnesota as they did against Dallas, the answer wasn’t difficult: Minnesota played Washington differently. The Vikings often used more seven-man and eight-man protections than the Cowboys did. The Redskins blitzed on 60 percent of the dropbacks vs. Dallas and 40 percent vs. Minnesota. The latter is in line with their season average.

“We base if off what we see,” Haslett said. “Obviously in the first half, they had no points before the turnover and [100] yards of offense. What we were doing was working. We stuck with it, got out of kilter and we screwed up a few things and had a couple penalties that hurt us.”

Injury report

Tight end Logan Paulsen was limited in practice thanks to a hamstring injury plus plantar fasciitis. Paulsen has been cautiously optimistic about playing Sunday. For Tampa Bay, three players were limited in practice Thursday: running back Doug Martin (ankle), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (groin) and corner Alterraun Verner (hamstring).

Cofield’s role

Haslett said he’ll ease nose tackle Barry Cofield back into the lineup, the same way he did with end Stephen Bowen. That means Cofield will play some end – that’s where he’s been taking most of his snaps this week. Part of that is about keeping him fresh as he works his way back into more time. He takes more of a pounding at nose tackle.

Redskins want, and need, more turnovers

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
ASHBURN, Va. -- The best way for the Washington Redskins to turn their season around involves an area that has been difficult for them to master. Two years ago the Redskins rode turnovers, and an explosive offense, to a seven-game win streak and a playoff berth.

That’s what they want to do this season. But the ability to create turnovers is part of the reason they’re 3-6. Washington has forced only eight turnovers this season while turning it over 17 times. On Monday, coach Jay Gruden said they needed to make that even -- and as fast as possible.

“We have to turn that around,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.

Turnovers helped fuel the seven-game streak two years ago, but there’s a big difference between then and now. In 2012, the Redskins already were good at creating turnovers. They had forced 16 turnovers in the first nine games and forced 15 in the final seven.

But in their last 25 games, Washington has forced just 34 turnovers (ranking 24th in the NFL over that time). And this season, they’re tied with Oakland for the worst differential when it comes to points off turnovers. The Redskins have a minus-52 point differential off turnovers -- 61 points allowed, nine scored. Consider this: 16 of the 19 teams that have a positive point differential in this area have winning records. Of the 13 teams with negative turnover differential, only two have winning records.

It’s not a matter of working on it more in practice; the Redskins perform drills every day that focus on stripping the ball (and, likewise, protecting the ball).

“It’s got to translate to the field,” Gruden said. “We have to do a good job of forcing the ball out. We’ve had a couple opportunities this year. We haven’t got it done.”

The Redskins have only intercepted three passes -- 20 players in the NFL have recorded at least three interceptions -- and recovered five fumbles. Sunday’s opponent, Tampa Bay, has thrown 12 interceptions, so there’s a chance for success in this area.

“As coaches we have to preach it more and get after them and emphasize it more,” Haslett said. “Those things will come.”

If not, more losses will follow.