Judgment day: If this were earlier in the year the Redskins might be able to look at a game like this and feel they had made progress. They probably still can, at least in some areas. But for now they just need a win. One big problem: the pass offense. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 11 of 19 passes for 106 yards and no touchdowns. He didn't turn it over, but he was sacked five times. Griffin took a long time getting dressed after the game and provided basic answers in his presser. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, "He made strides, but there are other things that go into a passing game." As in: protection. Overall few parts of the passing game worked.
Benched: Gruden said he made corner David Amerson inactive because he violated an unspecified team rule. His absence certainly hurt, especially on a day when two other corners left with injuries and a third was in and out. Gruden declined to say what rule Amerson violated, but said, "He'll play for us for a very long time in the future."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Some thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins 17-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:
What it means: Considering what the Redskins lost before the game and then during the game because of injuries, it's hard to be too critical of their performance. They were considered longshots to win the game beforehand, let alone after losing multiple players to injuries during the loss. Given the sort of season they had, the Redskins did a good job managing adversity and adjusting on the fly, the defense in particular. Offensively, the pass game is still not where it needs to be -- this time there were some issues in protection. The Redskins could have helped themselves more by converting turnovers into points. They forced three and only managed a field goal. Robert Griffin III was better than last week, but not enough plays were made in the pass game. He was sacked five times, but unlike last week it's tough to pin most on him. When you've lost so much it's tough to be encouraged by a defeat, but they were much better Sunday and showed some toughness and resiliency.
Injury woes: The Redskins already were minus four starters, three because of injuries (Trent Williams, Jordan Reed and Chris Baker). David Amerson was scratched for violating a team policy. Then they lost corner Tracy Porter to a shoulder injury and corner E.J. Biggers to a concussion and linebacker Adam Hayward to a knee injury. It took a toll from scrimmage and on special teams. At times the Redskins used four safeties and one corner in various packages.
Stock report: Up -- The defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett gets ripped quite a bit, but his group somehow managed to keep the Redskins in the game despite losing multiple players to injury. They caused quarterback Colin Kaepernick to hesitate, leading to two sacks and multiple pressures. They also forced three turnovers. Up -- Tress Way. The Redskins' punter averaged 46 yards on eight punts and continues to be an outstanding pickup.
Game balls: Running back Alfred Morris continues to have a good second half to the season. He's breaking tackles again at the second level -- or making defenders miss. Morris rushed 21 times for 125 yards. The third-year back has run very well the past three games. It's not about Griffin's return, either. Morris is just running well -- and did so especially to the right side Sunday.
What's next: A matchup between the first two quarterbacks chosen in the 2012 draft, with Griffin and Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. The Redskins play at the Colts.
Left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, corner David Amerson and nose tackle Chris Baker all were declared inactive. Amerson was the unexpected one; he was not on the injury report during the week.
With Williams out, rookie Morgan Moses will make his first start after playing the final three quarters last week against Tampa Bay. Here's a story on Moses from earlier in the week regarding his performance. He'll face elite pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith on Sunday, which is a tougher task, but the Redskins probably won't leave him one-on-one too often.
Niles Paul will take over the role as pass-catching tight end; the Redskins felt the Niners were vulnerable in coverage against tight ends. Stephen Bowen will be active with Baker sidelined. The Redskins could end up with Barry Cofield at nose and Bowen and Jason Hatcher at end. Bowen was inactive last week. Tracy Porter will start for Amerson.
The other inactives: quarterback Kirk Cousins, receiver Aldrick Robinson and receiver Leonard Hankerson.
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.
If Jay Gruden's stinging words this week about quarterback Robert Griffin III have not resonated, team sources tell ESPN that the Washington Redskins coach is prepared to speak louder if the third-year quarterback does not perform more consistently Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
That means Griffin could be yanked Sunday in favor of Colt McCoy, who is 2-0 as Griffin's sub, or an evaluation will be made to make a move next week.
Gruden's criticism has cited a breakdown in fundamentals, Griffin's inability to overcome adversity and even that he has been "coddled."
What isn't known is how owner Daniel Snyder will react to the harsh treatment of his handpicked franchise quarterback, especially if Griffin is benched Sunday in San Francisco.
Through four games, Griffin has thrown for 763 yards, with 2 total touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a QBR of 34.2. The Redskins are 0-2 since he returned from a dislocated left ankle.
- One sense from what I gathered at Redskins Park this week is that perhaps the latest round of criticism has humbled Robert Griffin III when it comes to his game. And that perhaps it will lead him to sharpen up areas that must be addressed in his game, starting with matching his fundamentals to the plays, some of which were considered basics. But this is something that must be fixed in the offseason as much as anything. They did not feel it was that bad against Minnesota, but it was dreadful vs. Tampa Bay. They need to see improvement in this area Sunday.
- More than anything, they need Griffin to be more decisive on his throws. By not doing so last week, he left countless plays on the field -- and it led to issues in the pocket, where he’d take a sack on a quick drop, for example. The line gets blamed in some of those cases, but the coaches didn’t put it on them. Four of the six sacks last week were because of quarterback mistakes. On one play, in which receiver DeSean Jackson put his hand up off the line, the drop wasn’t deep enough and the safety wasn’t then properly maneuvered, so another good opportunity was missed.Griffin
- It will be interesting to see what happens if Griffin gets off to a bad start Sunday. It also was interesting to see that coach Jay Gruden told Albert Breer of the NFL Network that Griffin was "very raw. Very raw."
- That wasn’t the only good stuff from his interview, but it was part of what stood out to me (in addition to the coddling, though that was Gruden saying as much that Griffin hadn’t faced much adversity in his career). When Gruden used the second "very raw" that suggests a point of emphasis, which means there is a ways to go in Griffin’s development. That was written during the summer, too -- and not just by me. But now it's evident how far Griffin must go. It's going to take a while for him to become a consistent passer and the Redskins and Gruden must decide how patient they can be. It's not an easy question for them to answer.
- Breer also talked about how there was fatigue over the whole Griffin saga. That has been true for more than a year. Players were tired of it last season -- and it’s especially true now, even if it’s not always brought on by him. Again, Gruden ushered in the latest round of coverage with his comments. Some players were not fond of the fact that those were said publicly. It’s great to be honest, as Gruden is, but he also needs to be mindful of keeping a trust with his players.
- Washington Redskins line coach Chris Foerster said right tackle Tom Compton has improved, but that while "every week is better, there’s still a glaring play that shows up." One such play happened to pop up against Tampa Bay and led to a sack when Compton was taken upfield and then beaten to the inside. "He was so conscious where the quarterback was going to be on his drop that he got beat badly," Foerster said. "He came out of a horrible set and panicked a little bit."
- Foerster said left guard Shawn Lauvao, who has come under criticism, has improved of late. In re-watching the Bucs’ game, Lauvao was having one of his better games run blocking before suffering a concussion. "Shawn’s been good. One reason Shawn’s here is we felt it would add stability or be solid in protection, and that’s proven out over nine, 10 games," Foerster said. "When I look at the grades and how many pressure[s] guys have given up, Shawn is better and it’s helped us. Now he’s better in our run game. Every week he gets better. From Day 1 to today it’s light years different. He’s still working to improve on that. He’s had so many years where they haven’t run this style. So it’s still coming."
- Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett on San Francisco’s offensive line: "They want to beat people up. I like the makeup. They’re big guys. They’re massive and have a mean streak to them. The left side is just mean. They built their team around that line." It shows. The left side is excellent.
- With the situation in Buffalo this week, that conjured up a similar memory for Haslett, who played for the Bills from 1979-86. "We played Denver one year and it was the same deal. We probably had 13, 14 feet of snow and we couldn’t get to the stadium so we didn’t practice Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and on Saturday we went to Denver and we beat Denver 9-6. So we were all chanting, 'No more practice!'" I couldn’t find anything about snow totals, but there was a snowstorm in late October of 1981 that dumped two feet of snow in Buffalo. The Bills indeed did win at Denver that week, 9-7.
When it comes to quarterback Robert Griffin III, while he's focused on the San Francisco 49ers, the Redskins are focusing on his development. They also want to win and the two desires don't always mesh. Regardless, they need to see better play from Griffin when it comes to executing his drops and the basics of their pass plays.
"He makes progress in practice," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He doesn't make every read perfect and sometimes you've got to rep something again to make sure everything is right, but it's just part of playing the position."
So, too, is adjusting. And sometimes, Gruden said, they'll run a play in practice against a particular look by the defense only to get something different in the game.
"Every time you go into the game as a quarterback you are prepared for what you think you are going to see but you also have to react to some other things that could come up," Gruden said. "Somebody might miss a block or a blitz that you haven't seen or something. Some of it is a leap of faith where, hey, you've just got to adjust and know where to go with the ball versus certain things and the more he plays the better he will get at that."
Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said Griffin handled the distractions of this week well, blocking out the noise. Of course, that noise stemmed from Gruden's harsh criticism of him Monday.
McVay wants Griffin to only worry about his on-field performance.
"The things you always talk about are being able to worry about what you can control," McVay said, "and what he can control is distributing the ball where these concepts dictate based on coverages they're playing and within the timing [of a play] and then letting his teammates help him. As long as he does that we've seen what he's capable of doing."
McVay said Tampa Bay did a good job of disguising coverages, causing Griffin at times to not trust his reads or become indecisive. He missed a handful of throws for this reason. Griffin needs to reach the point where he knows which teams try to read his eyes (Tampa did) and which ones play more of a match-up zone where that becomes less of an issue.
McVay also said, in essence, that Griffin's early success has led to heightened expectations.
"He came into the league and did an outstanding job helping us reach the playoffs. Anytime you're in the NFL with all the coverage and scrutiny this league brings because it's so popular, you're under a close microscope, especially in this media market. We do feel good about his week of practice."
John Keim: Only if they earn the playing time. Injuries could force their way into the lineup, but I can tell you they're not going to put them in just to "see what they can do." I wrote about this the other day, but they see what these players can do in practice and if they're making mistakes then, why would they think those mistakes would lessen in a game? If I'm Robert Griffin III and fighting for my future at quarterback, I want the absolute best offensive line possible. If you just put a bunch of young players in "just to see" then you could perhaps have many more problems offensively. No matter when a guy starts playing for the first time he'll face a steep learning curve but you want them to prove their readiness in practice. This is not about some guys being "gamers" because the way it works here is you prove it in practice first.
Keim: Not a whole lot. The Redskins have an average time of possession of 30 minutes, 53 seconds -- same as it was a year ago. In 2012, they controlled the ball for 31 minutes, 11 seconds. Washington's defense has faced 609 total plays. The Redskins face an average of 60.9 plays per game compared to 62.1 per game a year ago and 64.4 in 2012. Guessing this answer surprises you.
Keim: Because I don't think it is. I know the coaches like Cousins and feel he can develop into a quality quarterback. There were throws he made when he started that they really liked. But those interceptions and the inability to overcome adversity in games certainly troubled the coaches. But the sense is that if he can mature in that area, then he could still help them. So I don't think his story in Washington is over.
Keim: They need a legitimate solution at safety and there's no way I'd be comfortable with that solution. Hall has been a good player, but he just turned 31 and is coming off a torn Achilles and has never played the position. There's a ton to learn so even if he wants to make the switch, it would be a difficult one. I'm not saying he can't do it, but that it would be very tough. And Duke Ihenacho was a backup in Denver who was cut. Not sure why this tandem would make anyone feel like the problem is solved.
Keim: Yeah, that was a phrase we heard a lot leading into the season. But, as was explained at the time (by some), that didn't just mean blitzing. It meant allowing the linebackers to rush without worrying about contain as much as they perhaps did in the past. But that certainly didn't help them. Sometimes it was ineffectiveness, sometimes game situations. Part of the problem is they don't have any elite players in their front seven. If you're wondering about blitzing: The Redskins have sent an extra rusher on 153 dropbacks this season, eighth most in the NFL. They blitzed 60 percent of the time against Dallas, but typically have done so on an average of 41.6 percent of the dropbacks. A botched blitz led to a touchdown last week. But, in general, some players just have not produced.
Keim: I haven't heard anything like that -- when Marty Schottenheimer was fired after one season, rumors had long circulated by this point because of internal power struggles. Heck, I remember one reporter privately telling him after Week 2 that he was in trouble and Schottenheimer dismissed it. Gruden is not someone seeking, or desiring, more power. Not yet anyway. There would have to some bigger development that occurs before he was in trouble.
Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden delivered some of his most pointed comments yet about Robert Griffin III, telling NFL.com earlier this week that it's time for the third-year quarterback to elevate his play.
"He's auditioned long enough," Gruden told NFL.com. "Clock's ticking. He's gotta play.
"We'll see. ... We want Robert to excel, we really do. But the last two games, it hasn't been very good, anywhere. We gotta play better around him. And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he's comfortable with. That takes time. But we don't have a lot of time."
Gruden suggested that Griffin's adversity is in part driven by negative publicity -- and a history of star treatment.
"His biggest thing, he's been coddled for so long," Gruden told the website. "It's not a negative; he's just been so good, he just hasn't had a lot of negative publicity. Everybody's loved him. Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it's not in a negative way."
It's been a tumultuous week for the Redskins, who fell to 3-7 with a loss last Sunday to the Buccaneers.
Afterward, Griffin spoke about how poorly he played but also issued some comments that were interpreted by some as casting blame on his teammates. The next day, Gruden chastised the QB for worrying too much about others and not enough about his fundamentals.
The two downplayed the back-and-forth later in the week, but it's clear Griffin has struggled.
John Keim: I'm sure there is, but I would not do that at a position such as safety -- unless both players are at the top of their boards. They have other strong needs as well, so to think it's about one position would be incorrect. I'd still look hard at outside linebacker, even though they drafted Trent Murphy (and this depends how he develops, of course). Give me someone with elite skills/explosion. The other issue at a spot like safety is the learning curve. It's very tough when you have one rookie safety who starts let alone two. You need a veteran deep who can help with the nuances of the position, something a rookie would not grasp. It's not easy and if you have two rookies starting, you're asking for trouble. Even Sean Taylor needed a guy like that alongside him as a rookie. My guess is they'll look hard at safety in free agency. Peyton Manning enter the NFL more developed in this area because they've never been able to win with their legs. Therefore the learning in this area occurs before they reach the NFL. Quarterbacks like Griffin have to learn how to be pocket passers while developing in the NFL. It's not easy and not all get it, but, yes, you can improve. I've spoken with mobile quarterbacks such as Mark Brunell and Steve Young about their process of going from scrambling types to pocket passers. It can be done; it takes a few offseasons of hard work in this area and a strong understanding of how to read defenses and coverages and focus.
Any precedent for teams to take players at same position in first few picks of draft? Thinking it might be good for WAS at safety #jkmailbag— Levi Novey (@Armadingo) November 21, 2014
Keim: Yes, it is a bit early. I think the key really is where Jay Gruden honestly feels Griffin is at in his development when the season ends. How much did they feel he improved? How far does he have to go? They definitely have concerns. If they feel he's still operating at such a basic level then sure it could be time to go in another direction. The frustration from Gruden on Monday was evident; that stuff comes out only after it has been building a while. But it could well be that they give him another offseason with Gruden. You don't change a quarterback, or develop him, in one offseason.
#jkmailbag Isn't it a little early to give up on a 24 yo former ROY QB who has only started 3 games with this coach? Is it really unfixable?— Barath Chari (@barathchari) November 20, 2014
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."