ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins now have to replace yet another starting defensive player. Already this season they've had to replace corner DeAngelo Hall (for the season), nose tackle Barry Cofield (for half a season) and now linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Here's a look at important names in this scenario:
Trent Murphy: The rookie second-round pick hasn't had a big statistical impact. He's played mostly in their fast nickel alignment, while also subbing for Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan at times in the base package. He doesn't have a sack and has nine tackles.
"Trent has got to step up, he has got to play better, he has got to play more physical at the point of attack," coach Jay Gruden said. "We're playing against the No. 1 rushing offense, so he is going to have to be very good at the point of attack. He's going to have his work cut out for him. He's going to have to grow up very fast."
Jackson Jeffcoat: He won't be promoted to the starting lineup, but he will get more snaps in games. Jeffcoat played one snap from scrimmage in their fast nickel alignment, ahead of Murphy for that particular play. Jeffcoat was signed to the Redskins' practice squad on Sept. 2.
Gabe Miller: He's currently on the Redskins' practice squad, after initially making the roster out of training camp. He's raw, having moved from a tight end in college. The Redskins will consider promoting him to take Orakpo's roster spot.
Rob Jackson: The Redskins are going to consider Miller and then other street free agents. If those don't work out, a team source said they will consider their former linebacker. Jackson played for Washington from 2008-13 until being cut this summer. Though he made plays for them in 2012, there was concern he'd be able to sustain such play, in part because he's not a fast linebacker.
Ryan Kerrigan: OK, he's already in the starting lineup and has a team-best 6.5 sacks. But his versatility means he could end up seeing more action on the right side if that's what the Redskins need. Gruden said they will switch Kerrigan and Murphy at times, though they did the same with him and Orakpo. Oftentimes it depends on the matchup.
Gruden said of Kerrigan, "He's good against the run, he has had some great pass rush moves. He can do it all. He has dropped in coverage and covered tight ends. We feel strongly about where Ryan is as a player. He is productive and he's going to have to be more productive. Everybody on that defense without D-Hall, without Orakpo, they are all going to have to step up and play better than they thought they ever could."
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he's not going to rule out a return this week by quarterback Robert Griffin III. But Gruden also made it clear that Griffin still must show a lot in practice before the team declares him ready to start.
If he doesn't start, then Gruden said Colt McCoy would do so against Dallas for the teams' Oct. 27 matchup. Griffin has not played since dislocating his left ankle in Week 2.
As of now, Gruden sounded as if McCoy starting would be the likely scenario, considering that Griffin has yet to fully practice.
"He still has a long ways to go to show that he can play," Gruden said, "to show that his ankle is 100 percent. He has to be 100 percent ready to go. We don't want to put him out there at 85 percent, have it be weak and have him do something else to it. We want to make sure he's ready to go when he's out there."
It's the second time Griffin has returned from a serious leg injury in his three seasons. His slogan after his 2012 knee injury and subsequent surgery was "All in For Week One" and he ended up starting the season opener.
Griffin's return led to friction and miscommunication between him and former coach Mike Shanahan. There's no catchy slogan this time, nor has Griffin talked about his recovery.
For Gruden, he just wants to make sure Griffin can do what Washington needs him to, physically and mentally.
"Robert has to be honest with himself in how he's feeling," Gruden said. "He has to get out there and run around. We'll give him more this week and see where he's at. But can he cut without pain? Can he run without pain? Is he full speed? Is it sturdy enough? Does he play good with the brace on? There's a lot of issues that still go into making him the starter or seeing if he's ready or not."
Gruden said Griffin still must be cleared for a full return to practice. He said the trainers and doctors must feel comfortable with Griffin playing. And then the quarterback has to feel as if he's ready.
"If he says yes, then I have to feel comfortable putting Robert out there in the game," Gruden said.
If he doesn't start Monday, then it appears Griffin's return would come the following week at Minnesota. That would give him eight weeks to show the Redskins his progression as a quarterback. Washington must make a decision on him in the spring regarding a fifth-year option.
McCoy's ascension was a result of Kirk Cousins
Rushing the passer is about more than sacks, and Orakpo influences the pass rush. But when you're being paid $11.45 million for one season and when you want to be paid even more, then you have to do more than set up others. You have to make game-changing plays. In the end, that's what Orakpo has failed to do in Washington, which is why the Redskins will face another decision this offseason. Do they bring him back (at a reduced rate because of the injury) or do they cut ties and find more help?
To have a strong 3-4 defense, you must have pass-rushing outside linebackers. That's why ultimately the Redskins brought back Orakpo. They could have invested at other defensive positions, but were reluctant to spend a lot on a safety (they needed two).
The league's highest-paid safety, Jairus Byrd, made no impact with New Orleans and was then lost for the season with an injury. Signing Byrd would have pacified many, but the Saints would have way overpaid. If you're going to overpay, it should be at a premium position. And pass-rushers help you win on defense, and the Redskins hoped the extra help would transform Orakpo from a guy with a career-best 11 sacks in one season to someone who could record several more.
Injuries didn't help his game this season, from a sprained middle finger to sprains in his wrist and ankle. But those can't be used to explain everything. This is a playmakers' league, and Orakpo didn't make enough plays. He played the run well and didn't have any coverage mishaps, though he dropped an easy interception versus Arizona. He drew his fair share of holding penalties over the years.
In his first five seasons, Orakpo intercepted one pass and forced six fumbles (while recording 39.5 sacks). Some linebackers being paid the kind of money Orakpo seeks have forced the same number of turnovers in one season. And it was clear in the spring from coach Jay Gruden that these sort of plays were expected. Once Gruden mentioned that at the owners meetings, the desire was clear.
The Redskins have some options: They can turn to rookie Trent Murphy, whom they just wanted to have in a pass-rushing role this season. They could draft another dynamic outside linebacker in the spring. They could sign a free agent. It would be hard to rely on a guy who now has suffered three torn pectorals (two on the left, one on the right).
Orakpo is a passionate player who works hard and cares about the game and winning. But ultimately, he'll be remembered as another player who fell short of expectations in Washington. He was a good player. The Redskins needed him to be great.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins feared the worst for Brian Orakpo -- and that's what they received. The linebacker suffered a torn right pectoral muscle and will require season-ending surgery, coach Jay Gruden said Monday.
It's the third time Orakpo has torn a pectoral muscle in his career. He missed all but two games in 2012 with a torn left pectoral, which he had also torn in the '11 season finale.
"It's a major blow," Gruden said.
Orakpo suffered the injury in the second half of the Redskins' 19-17 win over Tennessee, leaving the game for good in the fourth quarter. It's the third time he's torn a pectoral muscle, though the first two were on the left side, with one of those tears costing him the final 14 regular season games in 2012.
This injury could end his time with the Redskins. They placed the franchise tag on him in the offseason, not wanting to commit long-term to the sort of contract Orakpo desired. Gruden said after that decision that he wanted to see more production, especially game-changing plays.
Orakpo has played through various injuries this season -- a sprained middle finger on his left hand and sprains of his wrist and an ankle. Still, he and the Redskins hoped for more production. Through seven games, he only had half a sack and no game-changing plays. In his previous four full seasons, Orakpo, the 13th overall pick in the 2009 draft, always recorded between 8.5 and 11 sacks, including 10 a year ago.
"His production may not be where people think it should be," Gruden said. "But he's still been playing very good against the run and been disruptive in the passing game and that will be a big loss."
The Redskins were not unanimous in their decision to franchise Orakpo so it'll be interesting to see if they'd bring him back at a lower salary or simply move on. They drafted outside linebacker Trent Murphy
- For those who say Kirk Cousins' struggles show he wasn't a "good fit" in this Washington Redskins' offense, that's just not the case. His mistakes aren't about whether he's a fit, they're about decision-making and handling adversity. He made bad decisions and he did not handle bad plays well, sometimes because he'd try too hard to compensate for a mistake (which could be why the Redskins called three straight run plays on the series after his fumble).
- The coaches like a lot about Cousins' game. But until he gets past these sort of issues, which are major, then it'll be hard to trust him the way they must. And when you're a former fourth-round pick, with a former No. 2 overall pick on the roster, you don't get the luxury of time to develop. I'm anxious to see where Robert Griffin III is at; the rest of the season becomes about him of course. He'll have to look extraordinary in practice for him to start at Dallas. That not only means physically but in his handling of the offense, too.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Mark E. TenallyKirk Cousins throws for 139 yards and one INT in Sunday's Week 7 win against the Titans.
- Earlier in the season Ryan Clark talked about safety Bacarri Rambo's missed tackles, saying one thing he told him was that there are sometimes you go for the big hit and sometimes you just need to get the guy on the ground. In the past two weeks, Clark has failed to make those necessary tackles, leading to touchdowns. Safety remains a problem.
- Teams rarely let long-time starters leave unless they feel they're done. Clark had value to offer Washington with leadership, etc. But it's not as if the Redskins have young safeties learning those lessons who you can assume will become starters next season.
- Did not see enough progress in the run game as Alfred Morris managed just 54 yards on 18 carries. He's averaging 3.8 yards per carry and to think it's just because of Griffin's absence would just be wrong. I wrote about this topic Friday, but too often there are missed blocks -- Shawn Lauvao has not delivered as a free-agent signing -- and Morris is not always finding the holes, when they exist or not breaking as many tackles. More so, he's not snapping off runs of 10-plus yards and his long this year is 23 yards. One or two long runs will boost his average, but they haven't yet come.
- Griffin can hold the backside pursuit on stretch plays, creating good cutback lanes. That's a bonus in this offense. But it's not as if defenses were worried about Griffin running a year ago and Morris still ran well. When I was on ESPN980 the other day, Brian Mitchell suggested Morris isn't breaking as many tackles because he's worried about fumbling. That's a former running back talking so it's worth paying attention to the theory.
- I did like the play design on Darrel Young's 14-yard run on a third-and-1 in the third quarter. Roy Helu took the outside linebacker out of the play by running wide left at the snap. Tight end Niles Paul pulled from the right side and took care of the defensive back on this play, sealing a lane for Young. Paul has issues blocking at the line, but on the move and against defensive backs he's golden.
- Will Compton has proven to be a steady player. I don't know if he's a long-term solution yet or not. I know there were questions about him in coverage. But with this defense the fewer guys you have on the field who make the same mistakes over and over the better off you'll become. In this case, they have to answer this question rather honestly: Will Perry Riley ever become the pass defender they need him to be?
- Punter Tress Way's worst punt of the day resulted in a huge play. His 28-yard punt from the 50 caused returner Dexter McCluster to run up fast so he could catch it, which then resulted in a fumble and recovery by Paul. Way's other two punts were excellent, a 44-yarder to the 13 and a 52-yarder to the 33. But the bad one gave Washington a lift. Way is still learning how he needs to punt in the NFL, but he's been a good find and a guy well worth developing.
Sunday was yet another multiple-turnover day for Cousins, who lost a fumble and threw an interception in the first half of Sunday’s 19-17 win against Tennessee. He was benched after halftime, and now his longest stint as a starter might be over.
Cousins handled himself well after the game, which is what you would expect. All three of the Washington Redskins' quarterbacks do a good job of handling these sort of situations.
For Cousins, it just comes down to turnovers. He has thrown nine interceptions this season, and 19 in his 14 games. He has also lost four fumbles.
"If I had the perfect answer I probably wouldn’t have thrown them," Cousins said. "I don’t know if some of it is I’m so conscious of not throwing an interception that it causes you to throw one. I really don’t know. I just need to get better and cut down those turnovers. I do believe I can do some good things and we can move the ball when I’m in there."
Cousins’ first turnover led to a Titans field goal. His second resulted in a touchdown.
On his interception, he tried to finesse the ball over the top of a linebacker. He failed.
"Poor throw by me," Cousins said. "I think [Jay Gruden's] decision was based on the turnover. You can’t win with turnovers. I know that and he knows that. So he felt like 'you got to come out if you’re going to turn the ball over' ... It’s a decision that worked."
The Redskins have lost seven of Cousin’s nine starts. Of course, in eight of those starts it’s not as if he inherited a team on a roll. They were a team playing poorly overall and he failed to elevate their play, in part because of turnovers. But he’s mindful that he is still only a third-year player.
"It’s a long road," he said. "It’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. ... Now it’s just about going back to work and continuing to improve and grind."
The Redskins have not abandoned their belief that Cousins can be a quality NFL quarterback.
"He’s got a good arm, a good head on his shoulders," Gruden said. "He’s got to do a better job seeing some of his throws and not forcing some interceptions. That will come with time. It takes some time for a quarterback to see all the looks he’s going to see, handle the pass rush. Some quarterbacks get it quicker than others. You don’t see a lot of quarterbacks in the history of this league get it as quickly as their eighth or ninth or 10th start in the NFL."
The blitzes weren’t the same. The first one that resulted in the sack had two linebackers shooting through the gap between the center and right guard -- with a safety trailing behind. The next one featured seven rushers, but all across the line. McCoy threw the ball quickly, which was good because left guard Shawn Lauvao and tight end Jordan Reed, on the right side, missed on their blocks. Any hesitation would have resulted in a negative play -- and possibly no field goal attempt.
But the point is: McCoy paid attention to what happened and was ready the next time around.
"What was a negative play in the drive before I felt like was good for me to see, because we adjusted," McCoy said.
Having an experienced backup like McCoy gave the Redskins a strong option after Kirk Cousins turned the ball over two times in the first half, continuing a negative trend. McCoy is a smart player who thinks like a coach, which he someday could be if he so chooses (his grandfather was a college basketball and track coach).
That doesn’t mean he will be successful if he has to start Monday in Dallas, but it does mean he can be counted on in a game in which the starter is struggling and having issues with his confidence.
"You throw a pick, that always messes with your mind," McCoy said. "How are you going to respond? It’s tough. A lot of guys handle it different ways."
But McCoy understands because he’s been there. He was a third-round pick forced into action with Cleveland, starting 21 games in his first two seasons. He threw at least one interception in 14 of those games. The Browns then drafted Brandon Weeden, another interception machine, and a year later, McCoy was with San Francisco, and now Washington.
"This league is very unforgiving," McCoy said. "I’m [thankful] I had the opportunity to still play. It didn’t work out in Cleveland. I learned a lot of football last year in San Francisco."
This was not the ideal situation considering the Redskins already had two young quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III and Cousins. But McCoy saw Jay Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati and knows Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. So when the Redskins called, McCoy felt it would be a good offense for him.
And now he might end up starting, even if it’s just one game before Griffin returns from a dislocated ankle.
"I’d like to say it’ll be a little bit different," McCoy said. "But I always put in the time as if I was the starter every week. I know Jay mentioned Robert might be back, ready to play, and if he is, I’m sure they’ll go with him. But who knows? For me, my approach is just to get ready for the Cowboys and whatever happens, happens."
McCoy’s approach can best be summed up by what he said he told teammates in the huddle on the last drive: "I’m going to do my job, you do yours and we’re going to win this game."
McCoy did his job, all right. Part of his job was knowing how to handle various situations and how to adjust. And his teammates helped him out. It’s why the Redskins finally celebrated their second win.
- One win doesn’t solve everything for Washington, but it certainly helped to repair the damaged confidence in the locker room. Last week one player talked about how hard it was to not think something was going to go wrong when they reached critical junctures in a game. Some players at least started to expect bad things to happen. Washington did not play a great game Sunday, but it at least did things right down the stretch. The defense forced a three-and-out; the offense drove 76 yards for the game-winning points. “It only takes one win,” tight end Niles Paul said. “Hopefully we can keep carrying on and rack up a couple of them like we did in 2012."
- Washington still only converted 3-of-11 third downs. The Redskins struggled in the red zone, with Kai Forbath kicking four field goals of 31, 31, 27 and 22 yards. “We left a lot of points out there,” Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said. “The game should never have been that close. ... We made it harder on ourselves.” Sometimes games where you struggle and still win can trigger something greater.
- Consider that they pulled their starting quarterback because he turned the ball over two more times and lost another defensive starter in Brian Orakpo to an injury. Yet they still found a way to win. That’s good. Or it could just be a sign that you played a team worse than you.
- We won’t know until later Monday what the prognosis is for Orakpo, but there was a definite look of concern on the faces of those who talked about his injury. Orakpo tore his left pectoral muscle twice, but this time he injured his right one. If he did tear the muscle, then this might have been his last game in Washington. It also would cost him quite a bit of money and, potentially, leave him in a one-year, prove-it type situation.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Mark E. TenallyColt McCoy's composure was an asset to a Washington offense that could no longer afford mistakes.
- Orakpo would be a loss, but how big of one? He just hasn’t made plays. And he hasn’t shown that he should be a player who commands north of $10 million per year. I wouldn't say Washington can’t win without him; it did so two years ago. I’ve never thought he was elite, but was always good. This year, as a pass-rusher, he’s looked like a guy who was once a power hitter who now has warning track power. He’s just not getting home -- his track record suggests he's capable of more. But his track record did not suggest he was a 15-sack guy. If Trent Murphy has to play more, it’ll help his development. There’s a lot to like about his game but it’s not as if he’s been flashing a ton in the first seven games.
- One thing I liked about Colt McCoy Sunday: Composure. His 36-yard pass to DeSean Jackson was nullified by a penalty, which could have destroyed this drive. Heck, it goes back to what I wrote in the first item. But, instead, McCoy completed a 10-yard quick out to Andre Roberts followed by another quick out to Jordan Reed and suddenly the Redskins were back in field goal range. A bad result did not lead to more bad plays.
- Those turnovers by Kirk Cousins certainly seemed to alter how Jay Gruden called plays. After Cousins’ fumble in the pocket, the result of being too loose with the ball as he stepped up, Gruden called three straight runs before the Redskins punted. On the next drive, when they faced a third-and-13, Gruden called for a shovel pass in the red zone. He wanted to make sure he protected the points, a wise decision. It was also smart of Gruden to bench Cousins. Turnovers kill the psyche of a team.
- Sometimes the growth of a player isn’t always noticeable. That was the case with Bashaud Breeland, who for the most part played a solid game. At times he was hoping Charlie Whitehurst would throw his way because of how he had played the comeback route. But because he had played it well, Whitehurst went elsewhere. Even against the run the rookie played well, learning a lesson from when he lost his gap against Arizona. “I was patient in my gap,” he said. “I just wanted to be more patient [overall]. That’s what was getting me in a lot of games on the deep balls, jamming too fast or on the comebacks getting out too fast. I wanted to slow the game down for myself and just play ball.” That’s what happened. And, on his interception, Breeland was where he needed to be when Whitehurst sailed his pass.
- So many good things happen when the Redskins take shots downfield to Jackson that I’m surprised they don’t do it a little more. Just look at Sunday: the Redskins threw the ball to him downfield three times and he gained 37 yards, drew a pass-interference penalty for 22 and caught another for 36 that was wiped out by a penalty. He separates and tracks the ball well.
- It’s funny because I think people forgot how fast Garcon was, but if you put on film from two years ago you wouldn’t have forgotten. But so much of his game has been shorter routes the past two years. I think Titans safety Michael Griffin underestimated Garcon on his 70-yard catch-and-run by taking a bad angle.
LANDOVER, Md. -- What the Washington Redskins needed to happen is for Kirk Cousins to play well, show that he deserved consideration for a permanent job. That way, even if they went back to Robert Griffin III, the Redskins would be in good shape at this position.
They would have a solid backup plan if Griffin fails to develop.
But that isn’t what happened. And now that Griffin is about to return -- it’ll be this week at Dallas or the following week at Minnesota -- so, too, are the questions about the future at this position. It’s a two-decades-plus question the Redskins felt they had solved in 2012 when they drafted both Griffin and Cousins.
Instead, Cousins hasn’t proved he’s anything more than a guy capable of making a terrific throw (see the lofted pass to tight end Niles Paul in the first quarter) and a terrible one (see the interception thrown right to linebacker Wesley Woodyard). Which one will he ultimately be -- how much can he really change? And Griffin still needs to show that he’s not only the quarterback for the foreseeable future, but also a guy who can be the sort of big-time player they need at the position.
The Redskins coaches have not abandoned their belief that Cousins could be a quality quarterback. The problem they’ve had is that he can’t shake his mistakes, which leads to other issues. It’s about youth, yes. But is it only youth? When he threw his interception Sunday, he hung his head, a sign of damaged confidence and that led coach Jay Gruden to having little choice but to bench him after halftime.
“Sometimes he takes poor plays a little too hard,” Gruden said.
“When he’s playing well,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said, “he’s a great player but when his confidence is shaky, he’s not quite the same.”
The Redskins needed Cousins to at least show he could be a legitimate alternative. Of course, it’s really about Griffin anyway, but the Redskins still aren’t sure the direction he will take -- or when.
For now, Colt McCoy could be the best option until Griffin is ready. McCoy provided exactly what Washington needed in Sunday’s 19-17 win, capped by a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal. For a guy who had not taken a first-team rep in practice, and who threw one pass last year and 17 the year before, McCoy was fantastic. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
But, beyond the numbers, he played with a poise that a guy like Cousins should emulate. Or even Griffin. McCoy threw long only twice -- both times to receiver DeSean Jackson. One of which was completed, then overturned by a penalty. The second one resulted in a 22-yard pass interference penalty that set up Forbath’s field goal.
McCoy did his job and nothing more. More than anything, McCoy avoided turnovers -- the No. 1 plague on this offense the past two seasons. He didn’t try to do too much; McCoy is a coach-in-waiting and provided a lesson to Cousins and Griffin. To stay sharp, McCoy routinely stayed after practice to work with practice squad receivers, getting in work on his throws. He has a good grasp on the offense. It’s a luxury to have a guy like him as a No. 3 quarterback and it saved the Redskins Sunday.
But McCoy is not the solution as a starter and nobody is pretending otherwise. He’s not a guy who routinely threatens defenses. He plays with moxie, but lacks a big-time arm. However, if teams want to play tight on Washington’s receivers, the Redskins do have players like Jackson who can win in that situation.
They needed a win and McCoy led them to one. What they really needed, though, was for Cousins to play well in a win. They needed to see Cousins recover from a bad play to string together a number of good ones. If he had done so, it would have given Washington a soft landing spot should Griffin fail. Instead, the Redskins are back to where they were a while ago, wondering what the future holds at this position.