I’m not sure the Redskins “win” versus the Detroit Lions could’ve gone any worse.
The fact that such a terrible game can be called a “win” is a crime in and of itself. The Redskins starting offense completely imploded in the face of the first solid defense it will see. Robert Griffin III had his peaks and valleys, but when he was given time, looked over-matched and overwhelmed. In the course of a half, everything wrong with the Redskins seemed to explode all at once, as if some deity on high decided “tonight is the night ALL the things will go wrong for the Redskins.”
Okay, maybe not ALL of the things. Oft maligned third-round pick Matt Jones showcased why it was foolish to completely write him off. The defense has looked mostly stout through the first two weeks, provided they can get the missed tackles cleaned up. Also lost in the rest of the mess was Adam Heyward, another special teams ace, being lost for the season.
But hey, Houston Bates is showing up well in his game action and might be fighting his way onto the roster. Kyshoen Jarrett continues to play well, and Quinton Dunbar, though a HUGE longshot to make the team, has made some great plays after converting corner back. Trey Williams is making his case, Chris Thompson is pass protecting well, Alfred Morris looks ready for the season. How about Ryan Grant and “Rocket” Rashad Ross and some of the young receivers making good plays? There are good, positive things happening on the Redskins roster. How about Arie Koundandjio showing up, and second round pick Preston Smith being considered so value he didn’t play with the back-ups?
The problem is the clusterfrak at the top. The head coach and the starting quarterback and the back-up quarterback with a radio show and the obliviousness of the Redskins social media team, and the general kind of stuff that most decent teams avoid during the season.
If you look closely, you can see the foundation Scot McCloughan is starting to build. But the foundation means nothing because the top is completely unstable, and last night, it all but completely tumbled over.
Robert Griffin III took six quarterback hits, three sacks, had two fumbles, and left the game with a shoulder injury and a concussion, all on eight dropbacks. Now we can argue all day about who’s fault it was and who’s fault it wasn’t, or we can break it down to it’s individual pieces.
1.) An overmatched offensive line.
Trent Williams’ agent just added all of the zeroes to his offer. And the Redskins would be dumb as hell not to take that offer and run with it.
Revolving door Offensive tackle Willie Smith was beaten repeatedly. First round pick Brandon Scherff got bullied on a couple plays. The Redskins played a lot young players, and they responded…poorly, to say the absolute least.
The o-line will always be worse without Trent in it, but given how many great things we’ve heard about Bill Callahan, last night’s performance was inexcusable. No one rose up to the challenge and snagged a spot. Especially veteran players like Willie Smith and Shawn Lauvao, who, if not for a lack of better options, would be better off getting pink slips than trusted roles on any football team, much less this team.
2.) Robert Griffin III
This is the part that gets me in trouble. On the one hand, I feel I often come off like an RGIII Stan; like I can’t acknowledge that the kid doesn’t help himself in certain situations and that he hasn’t played well.
On the other hand, I struggle to find too much fault towards Griffin in this game. Of the six hits RGIII took, Mark Bullock of the Washington Post (who tends to look at things with a more objective eye than I can) had one hit on Brandon Scherff, one that was ambigiuous, two on Willie Smith, and two on RGIII.
I tend to agree with him; Scherff was straight bullied on one dropback. Two others were clear mistakes by Willie Smith. On one, Griffin seemed to have Pierre Garcon on a crosser across the field; it’s the kind of play that makes one think it’s a hot route, but Griffin passed it up for a longer developing route down field. I’d tend to agree with Mark that’s probably a play RGIII could’ve made, if he saw the blitz coming. (In fact, what makes it doubly-frustrating is that it’s the kind of play he made as a rookie for his first ever touchdown. Regression is not fun.)
The hit he got injured on is the one where we differ, though the more I think about it, the more I get where Mark is coming from. On third and sixteen, the Redskins run a corner flat concept with Chris Thompson as the checkdown.
For reasons I’ll get into in a minute, I’m not a huge fan of this particularly play call. Third and sixteen is a tough play for even the elite quarterbacks to make; even Peyton Manning looks at this, takes the L and calls a screen or draw.
But the call is what is what it is.
Here’s my thinking on what happened; based on the earlier hit he took trying to work a deep throw down the field when Pierre coming open, and a play where-in Griffin missed an open receiver by settling for a checkdown to quickly, I think here, he’s trying to stay in the pocket and deliver the play as called. I think he waits on the deep route to develop and stands tall in the pocket, and only starts to scramble once Willie Smith gets beaten late. He does a bad job of protecting the ball, loses his grip, and ends up with a fumble.
Mark’s opinion is that once RG3 sees the corner playing outside leverage, he should know that the route isn’t going to be there, and move to his second read accordingly. And it’s hard to argue with his logic here; if Griffin showed proper command of this offense, he’d know where the ball should go in the case.
Brian Lowery (@coachlowery) had a good point on Twitter on this as well.
Bottom line; RGIII didn’t play well. He didn’t have a ton of help, but he made a couple of mistakes that opened him up to receive more punishment than he already did. Come the regular season, he’s going to have to iron out the kinks, or he’ll keep getting hurt.
3.) Jay Gruden
In the Redskins preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, the Redskins faced 2nd and 6 in the redzone. Alfred Morris had gained 40 yards and 8 carries. RGIII had played okay; his statline would’ve looked far better had Pierre Garcon not dropped a sure fire touchdown. But he was playing okay.
Jay Gruden proceeded to call back-to-back fade routes to 6’1″ receiver Pierre Garcon. Griffin and Garcon had struggled all camp to connect on that route. The first one, Griffin overthrew by a mile, that Garcon didn’t have much of a chance either way. The second one, Griffin got it off just as he was getting smacked in the mouth by a defender.
It’s 2nd and 6. The running back is averaging 5 yards a carry. Yes, it’s preseason. Yes, there’s no gameplan. But how does one come to the conclusion to throw the two worst passes in their playbook, on back to back plays?
That decision bothered me greatly. Many people commented that preseason was the time when you “work on things”. And that could be true, on some level. But it seemed largely divorced from the plays that had proceeded it. It was a weird, weird as hell call to make considering the feel of the game.
It grew even more pecuilar when, once the Redskins got into the redzone with Kirk Cousins and the back-ups in, Jay Gruden called a read-option play for a touchdown.
Now you could say “No one was going to expect Kirk Cousins running read-option”, but again, it stuck out like a sore thumb that in a similiar situation, in a similar part of the field, Gruden had decided to do something Griffin was decidedly uncomfortable with and hadn’t been successful on. Why wouldn’t he then give Kirk a play he was uncomfortable with, if the the preseason is all about “working on things”? Does Kirk secretly fail at read-option plays all the time?
But okay. Maybe I was noticing something where there was nothing. Maybe it was just a huge coincidence.
In this game, nothing the Redskins did seemed to work. The Redskins tended to run on first down, leaving Griffin in 2nd-and-3rd and long situations.
With the pocket basically disintegrating around him, Gruden did not choose to call a screen pass. He didn’t attempt to move the pocket with a bootleg, or perhaps spread the field and run a token read-option play. Again, yes, it’s preseason. But it still is odd that, in the face of his quarterback getting ravaged behind his offensive line, that he did not at least try something different.
Griffin is, on some level, partially to blame for the 3rd and 16 call that saw him leave the game with a concussion. But a bigger, more obvious question, is “why the hell was he in there to begin with?”.
Griffin had gotten beaten to hell, and it was pretty clear that there were no quality reps to be had, no plays to be worked on that could be done in a manner in which usable game film was possible. Sending Griffin out there for a fourth series was irresponsible given the punishment he took.
The drive started with another stuff run, that left the Redskins in 2nd and 12, at which Griffin took another diabolical hit.
Rather than take the “L” and get his QB out of the game safely by running a draw or throwing a screen and hoping for a break, Gruden called a low percentage play, in a low percentage situation. A long developing route with a shoddy offensive line and a quarterback was struggling.
On the next drive, Colt McCoy’s first pass attempt was a play-action bootleg.
I understand those who say that Griffin could’ve better protected himself by getting the ball out quicker on a couple plays, or moving to a different progression.
I do not get anyone who says Jay Gruden isn’t accountable for what occurred in this mess. I do not get the rabid need to pin all the blame on RGIII, while blantantly and blissfully ignoring that RGIII was getting decimated on nearly every throw.
It has been painfully obvious for a long while that Robert Griffin III is not Jay Gruden’s guy. As early as the start of training camp last year, there were rumors of Gruden wanting Kirk Cousins to start the regular season. The move back to RGIII only occured because injury forced his hands.
Even in Griffin’s return game, there was the weird, dubious hiccup in the playcalling. In the first half, the Redskins and RGIII had great success on bootleg plays that got Griffin out of the pocket and throwing on the run. After Gruden called one or two early in the third, those plays all but disappeared from the playbook, and Griffin struggled down the stretch.
When questioned about where those went in the second half, Gruden said this;
“It’s a challenge, because eventually they’re going to stop all those moving plays and they did. The first drive, I think we tried to run a bootleg and we had third down and eight and had to punt. And then the next drive, I think we tried to run another bootleg, third down and five, and had to punt. Eventually, we’re going to have to drop back and throw. We have to do a much better job of converting those third-down dropbacks. Unless we try to bootleg on third and six. I don’t know if that will work. We have to figure it out.”
The weirder thing is the decision on WHEN he called those plays. He laments bootleg plays not being successful on 3rd downs and medium distance. But it’s only natural that a bootleg will be less successful in an obvious passing down, when the defense is less likely to fall for a run fake and will being playing the pass first.
This is the struggle with Gruden. It’s hard for me to see people say that Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins simply move this offense better. Those two quarterbacks have a lot of NFL game action under their belts. They should beat up on scrubs in a preseason game. There is no celebrating people who have started games in the National Football League being highly successful against people who may not be employed in four weeks time.
It’s harder still when Gruden’s rigidity clashes with Griffin’s skillset, and even harder than that when Gruden seems to intentionally put him in tough situations with low chances of success. Not intentionally as in “I want to see the kid get hurt”; Gruden is not some evil mastermind concocting a Machiavellian scheme to start his guys.
But in his play calling and in his words, you can see he favors the two other guys over RGIII. And you know what? That’s fine. He can favor those guys all he wants. RGIII has a bunch of issues and the NFL is a “win-now” league, and if he doesn’t win he’ll get fired. It’s as cut and dry and it’s as simple as that.
The problem is that Robert Griffin III is the starter. That decision came from high up in the organization, and while I’d love for Dan Snyder to go away and dance awkwardly in bowling allies, once that decision was made, Gruden should’ve gone about trying to make it work.
Robert Griffin III took nothing away from this preseason game, there’s nothing he can learn. Literally; until he passes the concussion protocol, he can’t practice, and I’d imagine film study with a headache is a bitch.
In fact, given the fact that this is Griffin’s second concussion, putting him against the Baltimore Ravens next week should be out of the question. Screw it. Keep him healthy. If ever there was a chance for Kirk Cousins to prove he can start, in a preseason game, it’s against a good defense in the closest thing to a regular season game he’ll get.
But if Jay really wants to keep his job, he’s going to have to find a way to make RGIII appear successful. He’s going to have to go outside of his comfort zone and tweak that playbook and try to build his confidence, both in his playing ability and the playcaller. And if RGIII still fails after that, he can wash his hands and go “welp, I tried” and it really won’t be his fault.
Because if not, he wont have a job. And he certainly won’t have sympathy from a league who already regarded him pretty lowly as not ready to coach. There’s no gold at the other side of the rainbow for Gruden, so he’d better make this work.
Of course, I don’t think he will, so most of this is pointless. It’s preseason week 2 and I already feel hopelessly morose over the Redskins odd. The best part has been seeing the young bucks play well. Unfortunately for that delicious sundae, there’s a moldy cherry sitting on the top that’s threatening to ruin all that dessert.