NFC East: Washington Redskins

LANDOVER, Md. -- The last time he started and finished a game the Washington Redskins won felt like a long time ago. Then again, that’s because it was.

Robert Griffin III hadn’t played an entire game in a Redskins victory since a Week 9 win in 2013 over San Diego. He started a Week 2 win over Jacksonville this season but only lasted two series before dislocating his left ankle.

So until Saturday's 27-24 win over Philadelphia, it had been nine games in which Griffin started and played the whole game since his team had won.

“It really isn’t about me,” Griffin said. "This win’s about this team, and we’ve been through the ringer a little bit this year. We’ve been through a lot of adversity, a lot of mess. Guys have responded. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Griffin completed 16-of-23 passes for 220 yards and an interception against the Eagles. He connected on passes of 51 and 55 yards to receiver DeSean Jackson. Another pass to Jackson in the end zone resulted in a pass interference penalty. At times Griffin hung in the pocket more than he had in the past. Redskins coach Jay Gruden pointed out Griffin’s 14-yard pass over the middle to receiver Andre Roberts on third-and-7 on the first series. Another time Griffin hung in and made a nice throw on a deep out that Roberts jumped for but dropped.

“The line gave him good protection, too,” Gruden said. “It works hand-in-hand. ... It was great to see Robert compete and play and he looked like he had a lot of fun out there and the players responded to him. It’s huge to get a win for him.”

Yes, not every player loves Griffin. But they love production and they love winning even more. It’s why you didn’t hear anything on this topic when Griffin was starring in 2012.

On the game-winning drive, Griffin only needed to complete one pass, but it was a hitch to Pierre Garcon, who broke a tackle and turned it into a 23-yard gain. A roughing-the-passer penalty added 15 more yards.

In the huddle before that drive started, fullback Darrel Young said he told Griffin, “Hey, this could be a chance to get people off your back a little bit. Go get this win, do something good.” Sometimes the smartest play is an easy one, and that’s what Griffin made in throwing it to Garcon.

“Those things are great and you feel that joy inside when you go get those wins, but you cherish those moments late in games when you can make a play,” Griffin said.

The win changed the mood, and that’s how narratives change, too.

“He’s the ideal quarterback,” Jackson said. “Has a lot of talent, he’s young. He just suffered some unfortunate injuries. ... He works hard, so a lot of characteristics, everything is there to be that guy. He just needs to be consistent. He needs to stick with it. Even when it’s not going right, he still has to stick with it.”

Redskins 27, Eagles 24: 10 observations

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday:
  1. Robinson
    During the week leading up to the game, the Redskins did not look like a team ready to spring an upset. Their practices, demeanor and locker room atmosphere were the same as what had produced a 3-11 record. Now, could the Redskins be competitive? Sure. I had not sensed players quitting. The hard part was looking at the players who couldn’t play -- Keenan Robinson in particular -- and figuring out how the defense could stop this attack. Then they lost Trent Murphy during the game. It’s not that he’s a great player, but they had to replace him with two guys not on the roster a couple weeks ago.
  2. Look at the numbers: The Redskins were bad on third down (2-of-9); were outgained by 190 yards; and were only even in the turnover margin. It helped that the Eagles missed field goals of 36 and 46 yards. But it helped even more that Washington committed only three penalties to the Eagles’ 13. For the season, the Redskins had the daily double no team wants: a team that commits a lot of penalties but also turns the ball over a lot. You can overcome penalties, but you can’t hurdle both problems.
  3. Four of Philadelphia’s penalties directly affected scoring drives. The Eagles had defensive penalties on third-down incompletions in the red zone on two Redskins touchdown drives, so instead of a potential six points the Redskins scored 14. Washington also drew a pass interference penalty on a second-and-8 from the 11-yard line; again, another touchdown. Maybe the Redskins would have scored a touchdown anyway on that drive (and it was interference to prevent a touchdown). Still, the penalty helped. Finally, there was another roughing penalty on the game-winning drive. That, plus two pivotal turnovers, is how you win when the other numbers don’t add up.
  4. Britt
    Also, it matters when you have players such as Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger return to a game in which they clearly are hurting. Williams in particular has played hurt for much of the last half of the season and has struggled. He re-entered a meaningless game for his team against the wishes of his position coach. “I was like, man, we’re right on the cusp of a big win,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to quit on my guys.” That mindset spills over onto others.
  5. The Redskins caught the Eagles’ defense in the right look on Alfred Morris' 28-yard touchdown run. The Eagles were in a nickel package and the Redskins had the numbers on the left side, at least enough to make it one-on-one blocking. For tight end Niles Paul, that meant blocking a defensive back, which he does well, rather than a linebacker, which can be spotty. Receiver Pierre Garcon had a good block as well and corner Cary Williams stayed wide, giving a clean cutback lane for Morris. Good call; good execution.
  6. The Eagles’ front causes problems because they do more movement than most. I saw them run blitz, stunt with their linemen on a run down -- right into the play -- or shift at the last second to the play side. They’d pack their three interior linemen in tight with the outside 'backers shading wide. It’s partly why they’ve done well against the run, but it leaves them susceptible when it doesn’t hit. So Morris had the 28-yard TD run but managed only 55 yards on his other 20 carries.
  7. While the Redskins had 29 runs to 23 passes, keep in mind that Robert Griffin III kept the ball five times and was sacked twice or the pass attempts would have been higher. The Redskins are best when he’s around 25 pass attempts. I’ll focus more on his game in a later post; there were some things I definitely liked that he showed more of Saturday. There are real things he must fix, of course, to be consistent. But you can’t ignore the good, either.
  8. Griffin
    Also, it’s up to coach Jay Gruden to make it work. He’s a straight shooter, which is good. But he won’t exactly have the juice after this season to force this issue with owner Dan Snyder, so he’ll have to adapt what he wants vs. what Griffin can do (if Griffin ends up as the 2015 starter; he must earn that distinction). The question is: Will that be good enough? Does Gruden trust Griffin with his future? I doubt one game changes a whole lot. But the other problem has always been: If not Griffin, then who? We can pick to death every one of these quarterbacks. It’s just that only one was the No. 2 pick in the draft and former Rookie of the Year. So the scrutiny of his game always will be more intense. That’s the way it is, folks.
  9. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland does a good job, typically, of adjusting to what’s happening. The Eagles ran a ton of hitches and had just done so with tight end Zach Ertz (18 targets, 15 catches; good lord. Yes, the Redskins missed Robinson). Breeland noticed earlier that the Eagles would then return with a hitch to a receiver. That’s why he played so tight on Jeremy Maclin on the game-changing pick. The throw was bad, but Breeland was in good position because of his anticipation. “That was their bread and butter,” Breeland said. “Send the tight end out and send the receiver on a hitch. As a game goes on, you get a feel for what they’re doing to you. Just about everything they ran, they showed on film.”
  10. Yes, the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson. Here’s what I loved about Jackson’s two deep receptions: He gave Griffin plenty of room to work with, and that allowed the quarterback to take the safety even more out of the play by throwing to the outside. There was room to the outside on the interception, too; Griffin knows he underthrew Jackson and tossed it too far inside.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The feeling in his chest made it tough to breathe, so Washington Redskins rookie corner Bashaud Breeland had to bench himself for a play. The combination of cold weather and running and the excitement of a game proved too much.

That’s what happened to Breeland three times against the New York Giants. He was forced out of the game so he could use an inhaler to help with a breathing issue. Breeland said it was bronchitis and added that his family has a history of bronchitis as well as asthma.

“When it gets colder and I’m running, it’s like mucus is building up in my chest and it’s hard to expand in the shoulder pads,” he said. “So I get short of breath. It put me on a little attack, and that sometimes happens when I get excited.”

But it’s only happened in one other game this season, which happened to be his best: The Oct. 27 win at Dallas. In that game, Breeland did not have anything on the sideline, but there was something for him to use in the locker room.

Last week, he had issues all week leading into the game, so they had an inhaler for him on the sidelines.

“It’s not that bad,” Breeland said. “It just that when it happens I have to come out, take a breather and go back in. It doesn’t bother me all the time.”

Breeland said it never happened to him at Clemson -- nor has it been an issue this week during practice. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said now that they know what the issue is -- they weren’t quite sure initially at Dallas -- they can be more prepared.

For defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, it led to some unusual moments last week because newly signed players such as Justin Rogers had to replace Breeland, leading to now-funny exchanges with secondary coach Raheem Morris.

“He was coming out and going in,” Haslett said of Breeland. “Raheem kept telling me, don’t look, just call it.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins’ defensive front hasn’t produced enough big-time plays – and there’s a chance that Brian Orakpo won’t return via free agency. That’s why Todd McShay went a certain direction with his first mock draft.

Yes, mock drafts. That’s the point we’re at in this season, with two games remaining and a team owning a 3-11 record. The Redskins currently own the fifth pick.

This pick will be debated for a long time considering how much time remains before the draft. And yes, the Redskins have multiple needs so there are a few directions they can go here. Oh, and, finally, we still don’t know all the players who will be available.

That said, in McShay’s first mock on the Insider's page, he has the Redskins selecting Missouri defensive end Shane Ray. If the Redskins remain in a 3-4 next season – and I say "if" on the chance that they change defensive coordinators and then schemes – then Ray would be transitioned to outside linebacker. One note: Ray is only a junior and hasn’t yet declared for the draft.

Anyway, here’s McShay said of Ray: “The Redskins need a lot of help on defense, and in particular could use a legit pass-rusher with Brian Orakpo unable to stay healthy and Trent Murphy currently starting opposite Ryan Kerrigan. Ray would help immediately. I studied the Missouri defense on tape a lot during last season's draft process, and it was Ray who jumped out on tape as the most talented player on a front that included Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. He is an absolutely relentless pass-rusher who is tough, aggressive, can bend the end and has an explosive first step. He's also versatile and has improved his ability to convert speed to power.”

As for the wisdom: You never have enough pass-rushers. Also, there was a split in the organization last season about re-signing Orakpo and he’ll now be coming off an injury, plus only having recorded 1.5 sacks. The real question will be how they project Murphy, last year’s second-round pick. It would be tough to draft a player fifth overall just to be a part-time player, though that one skill can change games.

I haven’t watched Ray play much at all, and while this might not be a popular pick, the Redskins need defensive playmakers. If there’s a better one available, I’m all ears. I’m not wedded to a position or a player.

For those wanting an offensive lineman: McShay’s first lineman was picked at No. 10, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff – a right tackle who could also shift to guard. I would not select a lineman at No. 5 who would be best suited for guard. Trade down and pick? Sure. As for safety, Alabama’s Landon Collins was projected to Chicago at No. 9. McShay has five defensive ends being picked in the first eight. Yes, all of this could change dramatically in the next four months.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The old Robert Griffin III was back. The play showed it: Griffin turned the corner, made a dash for the end zone and his gamble at the end of the half had paid off. Until replay officials got a hold of it -- and made a call that changed the game.

Instead of a touchdown and a situation where Griffin would be praised for his gamble, the Washington Redskins lost a touchdown, a chance for a field goal and set themselves up for disaster to open the second half.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Julio CortezFirst, Robert Griffin III lost control of the ball, then the Redskins lost their composure on the bench.
On the play, as Griffin runs inside the 5-yard line, New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul grabs his leg and the ball comes free just as the quarterback is about to cross the goal line. But Griffin regained control of the ball as he fell into the end zone as time expired. However, the officials ruled that Griffin needed to maintain possession until falling through to the ground, much like a receiver would have to on a catch. Once he lost control, it altered the way officials viewed him crossing the goal line.

It led to a loss of points and, instead of a 17-7 halftime lead -- and receiving the second-half kickoff -- the Redskins led by three. After the play was reversed, the Redskins received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, costing them 30 yards on the second half kickoff. That led to a successful onside kick and three points by the Giants.

“In those situations you have to trust your gut,” Griffin said, “and my gut was telling me I could get in and I did. When there is eight seconds left in the half and you scramble, it either has to be a sure bet getting into the end zone or not and it’s a blessing I was able to get in. In the future, you would just maybe throw the ball away to ensure those three points. But it didn’t come to pass in that situation because I did get in, even though it was taken back.”

Ah, he might have gotten in but the points did not count. The Redskins were arguing with the officials as they left the field to end the half, Santana Moss in particular. Moss was then ejected while fellow receiver Pierre Garcon had to be calmed by teammates.

“It was deflating,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We had a good momentum going in there and worst case scenario we go in with a field goal and Robert scrambled out of there and tried to get a touchdown and he thought he had it. Then we lose 30 yards in penalties because of it. It was unfortunate. We’ve got to keep our composure. Referees, I hear, got it right so it was unfortunate but we should have at least got a field goal there, no question.”

Moss called his frustration a 10-year buildup. No doubt it’s the result of yet another last-place finish, the Redskins' fifth in sixth years. There’s a chance they’ll finish with 13 losses for a second consecutive season as well.

“I was wrong for what I did, honestly,” Moss said. “When it comes to how far I went, I don’t think I went that far. I did say something. I did point at the ref. The ref put his hands on me first and I just moved his hands. It was wrong so I take full responsibility for that.

“But we’re fighting and I don’t want to have to fight against the refs. I want to fight against the team we’re fighting against and if they deny us I can live with that. When the refs deny something I can see visually it’s hard for me to take.”

Gruden did not learn that Moss had been ejected until he was told by Fox analyst Tony Siragusa in a halftime interview. Moss said he learned from teammate Leonard Hankerson that he’d been tossed.

“I regret it but I don’t take nothing back,” Moss said.

Turnarounds like that are a big reason Washington now is 3-11. And it started with Griffin and Pierre-Paul both trying to make a play.

“I was just trying to not let him score,” Pierre-Paul said. “And I guess I knocked the ball out of there.”

In doing so, he changed the game.

Jon Gruden: Washington is a mess

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
ASHBURN, Va. -- His brother owns a 3-10 record in his first season as a head coach and remains unconvinced that the one-time face, and future, of the franchise can help him win. So, yes, Jon Gruden thinks his brother, Jay, the Washington Redskins coach, is in a bad spot.

Jay Gruden has started three different quarterbacks this season and, because of injury or ineffective play, has had to make four changes at the position this season. It’s not ideal. When Gruden was hired, the Redskins hoped he could develop Robert Griffin III into a quality NFL passer, but that hasn’t happened. Griffin remains on the bench, though he’ll start Sunday in New York if Colt McCoy is unable to play because of a neck injury.

“The Redskins aren’t there yet, and they need to find, A, who their quarterback is, and, B, they need to find a nucleus of players they can win with,” Jon Gruden said on "Mike & Mike" this morning. “And all that combined has made a mess in Washington, and you’re right, unfortunately my brother’s in the middle of it, and I wish him luck.”

The problem, Jon said, is that the other teams in the division all have established quarterbacks. The Redskins do not.

“The bottom line is whether it’s Griffin or Billy Kilmer or whoever, they better find a quarterback in Washington,” Jon said.

The question for Jay Gruden and the Redskins after the season will be what to do with Griffin. Gruden has made it clear he considers Griffin a player who could take a long time to develop, calling him a raw passer. Gruden was displeased after a 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay with Griffin’s mechanics and hesitation.

But the organization might decide it still wants Griffin on the roster.

If that’s the case, and the Redskins tell Gruden he has to make that work, then Jon Gruden said, “Well, you probably look for a new job at some point if the quarterback doesn’t perform in your offense or for your team. I mean, that’s the reality of it. If you don’t get the quarterback playing well, you’re going to have a hard time surviving in pro football.”

Jay Gruden agreed with his brother that he’s in a tough position overall.

“Three and 10, that’s a big mess no matter where you are. It’s not a good situation,” Jay Gruden said. “Coaches put a lot of time and effort into this thing -- GMs and all that. You want to see success and we haven’t witnessed a lot of success here lately. It’s our job to keep coaching, try to get this thing turned around, and try to create a stable environment here, an environment that is conducive to working and learning and trying to get the best out of our players. Results may not show right now, but hopefully in the future with hard work and preparation they will.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins still don't know who their quarterback will be Sunday -- and there's still a chance it could be any of the three on the roster.

Colt McCoy, who injured his neck Sunday in a loss to St. Louis, was able to participate in practice and said afterward he expects to start if he's healthy. But if he's not, then the Redskins are still considering their options, which is why both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins took first-team snaps in practice.

Coach Jay Gruden said a lot of the decision still rests on McCoy's health. That's why he said he won't announce his decision until later in the week.

"It's just a matter of getting his full range of motion back, but he did good today," Gruden said. "We'll get a look at him [Thursday] to see if he progresses."

McCoy spent Monday and Tuesday getting his neck checked out by various doctors and a specialist. He said doctors have told him he doesn't risk further injury. That's why his status rests as much on his range of motion as anything.

"I'm doing a lot better," McCoy said. "It has to continue to calm down. But I've seen significant recovery over the last few days."

During individual drills, McCoy threw the ball like normal, completing go routes and deep outs. McCoy is not known for arm strength, but rather good anticipation and that was the same, too. There was no noticeable difference in his game, though McCoy said the test will come when he gets hit, which won't happen in practice.

"I threw the ball well," McCoy said. "It never was a shoulder. I'm just dealing with a little aggravated disc, an aggravated nerve in my neck. If that calms down, we'll be fine."

On Monday, Gruden said in his news conference that Griffin would start if McCoy can't play. However, on Sunday and again during the week a team source said Cousins would still receive consideration. That's why both players received an equal amount of first-team snaps.

One source said McCoy's injury left the door open for someone else to possibly emerge. Redskins coaches have talked about Griffin being still a raw player, which suggests it would be hard for him to develop enough in the past two weeks to change that opinion.

"Both of them had some good plays and had some plays we've got to talk about," Gruden said. "We're just going to get these guys reps and it's up to them to take advantage of the reps they get so the decision will be made easy for us come tomorrow or Friday."

Meanwhile, McCoy said he doesn't harbor any ill will toward Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. It was his fourth quarter sack that injured McCoy. On the play, the ball was snapped early and Quinn had a free rush to McCoy. Quinn pulled up a little, but clubbed McCoy in his neck area.

"At that point of the game, we're all frustrated. There was confusion on the snap, and he didn't stop but everybody else did," McCoy said. "It's a bang-bang play. I don't blame him. He's doing what he's asked to do: that's to rush the quarterback."
LANDOVER, Md. -- The gamble didn’t seem so difficult when you flipped on the film. For the Redskins’ coaches, it was obvious that Robert Griffin III needed more work and wasn’t ready to lead this offense. Their conclusion: He might never get there, either.

Still, the Washington Redskins invested heavily in Griffin. He was supposed to be their face of the franchise for a long time. And if you bench him, trying to convince the owner that he’s not the guy -- and might never be -- then you’d better win with the alternative.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyRobert Griffin III came off the bench and completed 3 of 4 passes in a 24-0 loss to St. Louis.
Instead, the Redskins keep losing. Sunday, it was 24-0 to the St. Louis Rams as the temperature on coach Jay Gruden’s chair keeps increasing. The Washington Post reported Saturday there’s a chance Gruden could be one-and-done if owner Dan Snyder determines he wants to hang on to Griffin rather than the first-time head coach. The problem is, that probably wouldn’t have the support of the locker room. One player hung his head and said “Wow” when told this was even a possibility. Another player said it would be a “major mistake” to get rid of Gruden.

For now, it’s just a scenario and not necessarily the most likely one. Not yet. But the fact that it’s even mentioned shows how far the Redskins, once more, have dropped.

Gruden inherited a bad situation, but it’s one that hasn’t improved. The Redskins were 3-13 last year and are 3-10. Last season ended with major questions at quarterback. This season will end the same. Last season ended with a coaching change. This one?

“As a coach, you are judged on wins and losses,” Gruden said, “and you know that going in. All you can do is … try to figure out a way to get victories in the NFL. If you don’t, obviously, you are always subject to the owners making a change. That’s their right. I’m just going to keep coaching the way I know how and not worry about it and do the best I can.”

It hasn’t helped that the Redskins are 0-2 since Griffin was benched and Colt McCoy threw two picks Sunday. It’s not all McCoy’s fault; then again, Griffin has played four full games this year, so that 3-10 mark is not just about him, either.

The Redskins would be unwise to make such a move with Gruden. He still has a lot to prove as a head coach and this season certainly opened his eyes to more of what he needed on the roster and in the locker room. But a quarterback is high on the list. The confidence level in Griffin is low and that’s not about to change. It’s not just about his play; it’s about the circus. Sometimes Griffin creates it, other times he does not. Regardless, it’s a constant. And it’s one that has exhausted the coaches and some of the players.

But Snyder will have to determine if he wants to force Gruden to continue working with Griffin or if he wants to move on from a player with whom he has a strong relationship and who helped deliver an NFC East title just two years ago. While the coaches aren’t sold on Griffin and the level he can reach, it’s clear that Snyder isn’t at that point -- but he was on board with the initial benching because, as one person in the organization said, “the play spoke for itself.”

But if you fire Gruden and keep Griffin, who would leap to coach here? That would be two coaches in two years who had an issue with the quarterback and lost their job. The records are bad, too, and that can’t be overlooked.

And if you get rid of Gruden, do you stop there? General manager Bruce Allen should be on the same hot seat. He hired Gruden, brokered the Griffin trade and built the roster.

The problem is, it’s not just the circus. They can live with that if Griffin is making plays. But in the eyes of the coaches, his game changed after his 2012 injury, costing him explosiveness that hasn’t returned. It heightened the need for him to become a pocket passer.

As long as Griffin remains in Washington, he’s a focal point. If he’s not starting, his progress will be an issue unless there’s a solid starter and they’re winning. A few weeks ago, Gruden made it clear he does not want the focus on one player, but on 53. Of course, Gruden then proceeded to crush that one player.

This isn’t the best situation to be in as a coach, especially a rookie one. A month ago, the Redskins won at Dallas and appeared ready for, if nothing else, a competitive second half to their season. But Griffin returned to a coaching staff that wasn’t sold on what he could do. So Gruden pulled the plug on Griffin and went with a quarterback with his third team in three years.

Maybe the move was the right one. But it’s put Gruden in a tough spot. If they keep losing, it could put him in an even worse one.
LANDOVER, Md., -- Observed and heard in the Redskins’ locker room following their 24-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

Painful ending: Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy was unable to take his turn at the podium -- quarterbacks always speak to the media after games -- because of the sprained neck he suffered on the last sack. McCoy was in pain and was in a hurry to get to a hospital for further evaluation. It was a rough day for McCoy, who was sacked six times and threw two interceptions. McCoy left with two minutes remaining because of the injury, replaced by Robert Griffin III.

Quarterback carousel: Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he wasn’t sure who his starting quarterback would be, but that mostly has to do with McCoy’s health. But Gruden also said he would review the tape of McCoy’s game to see if a change is warranted. “We’re trying to find out who can lead us to victories and who can get this offense on a roll," Gruden said. "That obviously is to be determined." It’s hard to imagine a change being made if McCoy is healthy.

More drama: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett usually isn’t made available after games, but he was on Sunday to respond to former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher’s pregame comments on CBS. In short, Fletcher ripped his former boss and then got into a short Twitter exchange with Haslett’s son, Chase. Haslett, who coached Fletcher for four years, said, “I’m disappointed in his reaction. Obviously he has an opinion and that’s his opinion, but I’m disappointed he would say something like that.” Haslett was asked if they'd ever had an issue: "London and I never had an issue."

Redskins vs. Rams preview

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4

They're connected by one of the biggest draft trades in history. They’re also going in opposite directions, in some ways as an indirect result of the 2012 trade in which the Washington Redskins sent three No. 1 picks and a No. 2 in exchange for the St. Louis Rams’ second overall pick.

When the teams last met in Week 2 of the 2012 season, it looked like that trade would pay dividends for the Redskins. Quarterback Robert Griffin III, then a rookie, was clearly a standout. Now? The Rams haven’t exactly reaped major rewards from their haul, but the Redskins again have questions at quarterback and Griffin is no longer playing. Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Redskins reporter John Keim look ahead to Sunday’s game:

Keim: Have you been able to figure out this team yet? They have some impressive wins and lopsided losses. Why are they on such a roller coaster?

Wagoner: Well, in some sense figuring them out is a function of understanding that there isn't a real rhyme or reason to what happens from week to week. The strange thing about this team is that it was built to win with defense and a strong running game. But it took them about eight weeks to start doing that. Early in the season, they were trying to win by outscoring teams and throwing it all over the yard. Clearly, it didn't work. But it's also instructive to note that they've played an incredibly difficult schedule. Before last Sunday's game against Oakland, they had played nine straight games against teams with winning records. So some of those losses have been a product of that and the impressive wins are as well. And really, aside from the Kansas City game, most of those games were close, even if the final score didn't indicate it. It's cliché, but the Rams epitomize the importance of winning the turnover battle. When they are on the plus side, they win; when they aren't, they lose. When they're even, it's a toss-up.

Let's stay big picture. Obviously, this season hasn't been what the Redskins hoped. Are they as far away from being a contender as they appear? If so, what are the most pressing areas that need to be addressed?

Keim: Well, quarterback must be put on the list, given what’s transpired here the past two seasons. It’s a surprising turn of events, but Griffin has a ways to go if he wants to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL. The same is true of Kirk Cousins, and I’m not sold that Colt McCoy is anything but a good backup capable of being an excellent tutor for younger quarterbacks. Also, the secondary needs fixing at multiple spots. They need to solve a couple issues on the offensive line and they could use more young players on the defensive front. If they don’t think rookie Trent Murphy will develop into a quality pass-rusher (and they let Brian Orakpo bolt via free agency), then you can add this to the list as well. They’ll also have to address whether or not they want to make changes to the defensive staff. It always sounds more daunting when you’re in the midst of a bad season, and in the NFL, hope is always right around the corner. But the Redskins have to prove they know how to solve their issues.

Where the heck did that offensive output come from last week? And what’s the deal with running back Tre Mason -- what’s stood out about him?

Wagoner: There were a few factors at play. First, it was against the Raiders. While they have been decent defensively this year, they clearly aren't all that good. The other thing is Oakland turns the ball over at a rate that other teams simply don't. The Rams had some pretty favorable situations because of that, and the general ineptitude of the Raiders offense also set the Rams up in nice position multiple times. Nonetheless, the Rams were able to move the ball well, even when they had a lot of field to work with. Shaun Hill did a good job getting them into better plays at the line of scrimmage and he didn't turn the ball over. He also was solid against the blitz, getting the ball out quickly and to the right spots. As for Mason, I have to admit I was wrong on that draft choice. I didn't dislike the choice of Mason himself, but I wondered why the Rams used a third-round pick on a running back after Zac Stacy's success last year. It's become obvious why they did it in recent weeks. Mason gives them an explosive element that Stacy simply doesn't offer and that was exceedingly evident on his 89-yard touchdown run last week. He still has some work to do, both in making more consistent reads and in pass protection, but he's a pretty solid young talent with a lot of upside. If nothing else, I think the Rams can move forward confidently knowing he's the back of the present and the future.

I'm sure you're probably tired of the subject at this point, but fans here are curious about what's gone wrong with Griffin? From the outside, it would seem that without his ability to run and a scheme designed around his abilities that we might have seen the best he has to offer in his rookie year. Do you believe there's still room for growth there, and if so, how do they get it out of him?

Keim: Well, there’s a lot of room for growth, but the question is can he get there -- and how long will it take? Griffin has not shown the explosiveness that he did as a rookie, but he’s still a fast quarterback. He has a good arm, too. But I’m not sure the current coaching staff has the patience to try and develop him, knowing how long they think it might take. Griffin wasn’t playing with the confidence he showed as a rookie, some of which stems from him needing to develop more as a passer. That’s not just in the pocket, either. Even as a rookie he left a lot of plays on the field by opting to run too soon or putting his eyes down too early or not being confident in what he saw. He has to dedicate himself to becoming a pocket passer, learning how to slide and maneuver, for example. Griffin has talent, but what’s coming out now is what was whispered about before (and occasionally mentioned): He needs to focus a lot more on developing as a passer than working in the weight room. Griffin is not lazy and he is a smart kid. But his pace of development was slow. I don’t know if the coaches asked him to do things he wasn’t capable of yet or if he just will never get it. Maybe Griffin needs to see how far he has fallen before he really gets his mind to how far he has to climb.

The sacks have been down for the defense, though it looks like they’re getting more pressure lately. Why is that? Also, what’s your take on Aaron Donald and what he’s meant to the defense?

Wagoner: It's crazy to think that not too long ago the Rams had just one sack and set a league record for futility in that area. Not only because they have too much talent up front for that, but also because they now sit in a tie for 14th in the league with 28 sacks. Some of the early struggles were a major function of their early inability to stop the run. Teams simply didn't throw against them much because they were having so much success on the ground. When they did pass, the ball was coming out fast. They also missed end Chris Long, who just returned from ankle surgery last week. Adding to the complications, the Rams seemed uncomfortable adjusting to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme and all that they were asked to do within its confines. Now he seems to have a good idea of how his guys are best used, and they seem to know what to do from down to down, as well as what they're seeing from the offense.

As for Donald, his addition to the starting lineup coincided with the Rams' pass rush improvement. That's not a coincidence. His snaps went from about 25-28 a game to now in the 50-55 range. He's their best interior pass-rusher and one of the most mature and polished rookies I've seen come through St. Louis in my 11 years covering the team. Donald and Robert Quinn are two outstanding building blocks on that defensive line. Long still has plenty of gas in the tank and Michael Brockers has been a bit disappointing, but is still young with upside. They have the pieces in place to be stout up front for a long time.

While we're on the topic of defense, Jim Haslett spent some time in St. Louis as defensive coordinator and is now handling those duties in Washington. It was a bit of a surprise here when he was retained by the new staff, but he's still hanging on. What can you say about the job he has done and his level of job security after this season?

Keim: Oh, I think there has to be concern about his security. Fans blame Haslett for anything that goes wrong defensively. This is not just going to be fixed by changing coordinators, unless you find an elite one. Before last week, when you looked at some numbers and saw what the defense has lost this season, then you could say the defensive staff overall had done better than anticipated. They were far from a dominant unit, but entering last week they were 10th in yards and 20th in points despite losing DeAngelo Hall and Orakpo and Barry Cofield (until recently). With their talent healthy, I never viewed them as anything other than a medicore unit. This defense has not been put together well and that’s an organizational failure, so if you get rid of Haslett, there’s more work that needs to be done. That said, five years is a long time if you’re not getting results. In that stretch, the Redskins are a cumulative 27th in yards per game, 29th in yards per play and 30th in points per game. Whoever’s fault it is, it hasn’t been working. The results aren’t there.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The solution to the Washington Redskins' defensive breakdowns does not center on simplifying the schemes. And that is part of the problem. Several of Washington’s defensive breakdowns the other day resulted from easy schemes.

“That’s the sad part,” Redskins safety Ryan Clark said.

So the solution to playing younger guys in the secondary is not for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to simplify them even more. One of Indianapolis’ long touchdowns last Sunday resulted from a botched Cover-3 assignment from second-year David Amerson. All he needed to do was stay in his area and he failed. The same was true of Phillip Thomas, who has barely played in the NFL, when it came to holding his ground in a Cover-2 look. He didn’t. Sometimes the Redskins get exotic with their coverages. The plays in which they surrendered big plays were not exotic.

“If he simplifies it anymore, they’re going to let my son play, and he’s 13,” Clark said.

Coach Jay Gruden echoed that sentiment.

“The schemes we messed up in were the simplest ones we’ve got,” he said. “That was the problem. There wasn’t a lot of combo in-and-out coverages and all that. It was simple-type coverages we messed up, so that’s the part that is disturbing. They’re all pretty young back there with the exception of Ryan, who is ancient. But we’ve got to keep coaching them and not lose faith. We have talent back there; we just have to get it out of them.”

Thomas will start Sunday if safety Brandon Meriweather can’t play because of a sprained toe. Meriweather did not practice Wednesday (neither did starting defensive end Jason Hatcher because of his knee, nor receiver DeSean Jackson with an injured fibula).

Clark said the reason mistakes are made stem from a simple fact: They’re human. It’s like any job, he said, where even after a long time, basic concepts are botched – a word is misspelled by a writer, for example.

“If the people making the mistakes were incapable of handling things mentally, it would be more cause for concern. The people involved in those plays can fix it mentally,” Clark said. “They already have the athletic ability. You’ll see it this week: Do you go out and make the same mistakes? If all those simple coverages bust again, then if they are, you have a bigger issue; then you have to get new people. That’s what you figure out these last four weeks.”

Will Pierre Garcon be with the Redskins next season?

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3

ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim talks about Pierre Garcon’s lack of production and whether the team will keep him for 2015.
After re-watching the game, here's what I liked about Colt McCoy's outing for the Washington Redskins vs. the Indianapolis Colts Sunday:
  • McCoy
    For the most part, McCoy gave his targets a chance to run after the catch -- tight end Jordan Reed in particular. Reed finished with 66 yards after the catch, and it’s in large part because of where McCoy would put the ball. He hit him in stride on a nice throw down the left seam, for example, right behind the linebacker. Reed caught it in stride for a 30-yard gain, with 16 coming after the catch. There were a couple times McCoy missed high on some throws -- one time I wondered if it had to do with throwing over the top of the linemen -- but even on those instances they were out front of the receiver.
  • His poise in the pocket. Again, for the most part. In general, though, McCoy stays calm when things start to break down and does a good job keeping his eyes upfield. His footwork is usually pretty solid, with his feet taking him where the ball needs to go.
  • His 16-yard touchdown pass to Logan Paulsen resulted off a highlight scramble. He could not get rid of the ball initially after a spin move because two more defenders immediately were on him. So McCoy was able to step up and, just as he was about to be hit from behind, throw to Paulsen.
  • McCoy usually did a good job recognizing when he needed to take a shot, and when not to, downfield. If DeSean Jackson has a one-on-one, you must go to him. The result: A 42-yard touchdown catch, plus a 28-yard pass interference penalty. To a degree that’s true with Pierre Garcon, but he was not winning downfield Sunday.
  • McCoy made a good decision not to throw a deep ball to Garcon in the first quarter, but it resulted in a sack. McCoy almost seemed like he expected Garcon to break outside, but it also appeared to be four verticals. McCoy didn’t exactly maneuver the safety with his eyes, allowing him to get a start to that side, and that made any throw to Garcon difficult.
  • Loved the throw on the bootleg to the left. That can be a tough throw, but McCoy did a nice job getting his hips around and was able to hit Santana Moss in stride for a 13-yard gain.
  • McCoy found a good rhythm in the second half. Like in his previous start, he was able to shake off a rugged first half and help the Redskins’ offense. If that fourth-and-inches play is blocked correctly, he did have Jackson one-on-one with no safety able to help. McCoy has been good in that scenario with Jackson, either completing long plays or drawing penalties.
The Washington Redskins exited another game bemoaning their performance on third downs. Usually, it goes back to their success on first and second down as well. Sunday against Indianapolis, Washington faced 15 third downs, with seven for 10 yards or more.

Six of those third-and-10-plus instances occurred in the first half, when the Redskins were just 1-of-7 on third downs. They were 4-of-8 in the second half, when they faced third-and-5-or-less five times. It makes a difference.

Here’s how the Redskins break down on third downs for the season (courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information):


Washington has faced 151 third-down situations, 25th in the NFL. But the Redskins haven’t done a whole lot on this down, ranking last with only two touchdowns. The league average is eight. They’ve allowed 17 sacks, with only Jacksonville surrendering more (19). The Redskins are 29th with 59 first downs (league average: 73). And their eight turnovers on this down are tied for 28th in the NFL.


The Redskins have been in this situation 48 times, which is 12th in the league. But they’ve been in this spot 31.8 percent of the time, which is ninth. The Redskins have converted just four of those instances into first downs (last in the NFL). The average number of first downs picked up is 12. The bad numbers don’t end there: They’ve been sacked seven times in these situations -- second most in the NFL -- and average an NFL-worst 3.71 yards per pass attempt.

By comparison, last season they had 64 third-and-10-plus situations -- but they converted 25 percent into first downs, a far greater percentage than this season. Also, they were in this situation only 27.2 percent of the time.


Another trouble spot, which speaks to the issues at both quarterback and protection. The Redskins have faced this scenario only 33 times, least in the NFL. They’ve converted 11 into first downs, which is 31st. But they’ve allowed eight sacks here, which is tied for the worst in the NFL. They’ve scored one touchdown.


The Redskins are 15th in the NFL with 70 plays run in this down and distance -- that’s 46.3 percent of their third downs. They’ve managed 44 first downs when facing this scenario, 13th best in the NFL. But, again, only one touchdown. They’ve gained a first down on 13 of the 21 times they’ve run the ball and have allowed only two sacks.


This is a popular down and distance for Washington, with 46 plays (tied for ninth). But the Redskins haven’t been as successful when facing a shorter distance, converting 26 into first downs (tied for 21st). And this speaks, perhaps, to not having a run game made for short distances, as the Redskins average 2.11 yards per carry -- ranking them 25th -- on 19 runs in this situation.

Second thoughts: Redskins-Colts

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1

Here are a few second thoughts following the Washington Redskins' 49-27 loss at Indianapolis:
  • There's a tendency to overreact to losses and wins. And some of what happened Sunday was the result of players who don't factor into the future -- linebacker Everette Brown, for example. He was in coverage against Coby Fleener. But the Redskins used a second-round pick on David Amerson last year and it's hard to trust him in coverage all the time. Yes, he's still young but the issue with his eyes being in the wrong spot was one in college, too.
  • For those wondering, many requests have been made to talk to general manager Bruce Allen about what's transpired this season. They've been denied. Word is he'll talk after the season. Yes, I still believe they need to hire a strong football man and let Allen just serve as team president.
  • This isn't just about wins right now, it's about establishing who you want to be; I just don't see what's been established in that regard -- as a team, as a franchise. Do you feel better or worse about their future than at this time last season?
  • Clark
    Ran out of room in the story on the secondary breakdowns, but here's more of what safety Ryan Clark had to say, "I want to try my best to communicate to everyone and then we need to play it. Some calls we understood what we were supposed to be doing and then we didn't execute it. Every play was not, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' I don't want to put it on those guys like they can't learn because they can. Some of those things as they began to unfold we did not play them correctly."
  • I'll be curious to see more of Colt McCoy's outing when re-watching the game. I know players like him, his poise and how he conducts himself. Man, I can't believe I'm writing this because of all that it implies, but he'd be a good quarterback to pair with a young one they want to groom. That is, if they decide to move on from the current two young quarterbacks. McCoy would be like having an extra coach. Of course, what the Redskins need is someone who can play quarterback a long time, not just one who can tutor players.
  • There's a dramatic difference between the Redskins and the Colts and much of it comes down to one position. Andrew Luck is fantastic and makes everyone around him better. They don't have a great offensive line. They don't have a good run game (not with Trent Richardson especially). They don't have a top defense. Yet they win. As one Redskins player said, Luck is fearless in the pocket.
  • Sometimes time of possession matters, often it does not. Sunday, the Redskins held the ball for 36 minutes, five seconds to the Colts' 23:55.
  • Morris
    The Redskins have been using the toss to Alfred Morris a lot more in recent weeks and it's one reason the run game has started to work better. But the reason they were reluctant for so long to pitch to him is what happened on one inside toss: he mishandled the ball. Morris runs more decisively after tosses, perhaps in part because he can see the holes better and doesn't get off his path.
  • DeSean Jackson made another nice adjustment on a deep ball for a 42-yard score. It's not that he was wide open, it's just that he finds the ball better than most. He said something after the game that, if taken out of context, would look bad. Here it is, "I feel the pride level. It's just, guys fool around. As a team we're not putting it together. That's the frustrating thing about it. Hopefully as a unit we can pull together and find a way."
  • When he said guys fool around, he was not meaning literally. He meant just messing up on the field.