— There’s a thought among fans that teams are stacking the box against the run and daring Kirk Cousins to beat them with his arm. While it’s one way to look at the Redskins woes and at least part of the reason the run game has struggled, there are other, simpler explanations. A big topic of conversation last week was the Redskins not allowing Alfred Morris to get into the rhythm of the game and wear down defenses to help the run game succeed late. With Matt Jones inactive with a toe injury, one would think that Morris would get more run. But nope. He didn’t.
— Morris has 11 carries for 21 yards, in one of those “his average yards per carry doesn’t tell the whole story of the game” type of games. Morris wasn’t explosive, but he was steady, which has always been his M.O. That’s the nature of running outside zone; you get an ugly 2, and ugly 3, an ugly 1. And then you pop those big 20 yard runs. Running the ZBS requires an offensive coordinator to be patient enough to stick with the run even when it appears to be unproductive.
Instead, Alfred Morris got two carries in the entire second half, including a play on the goal line where neither Morris or Darrel Young was on the field.
I’d like to say I understand the fascination with getting Chris Thompson more touches in the run game, but I don’t. He’s no more productive than any of the other backs, and yet you’ll regularly see him shuffling in and out of the game. When the Redskins needed points the most, the choice was made to give the scat back touches on the goal line.
—- And again, a team that’s struggling desperately to get anything going in the run game just refuses to put Darrel Young in the game for anything more than a few token plays. Darrel Young made a great finger tip catch, and generally sticks out as a positive anytime he hits the field. But he saw only 4 snaps the entire game. Four. I understand that fullbacks aren’t in vogue in the league, but Darrel Young is NOT just an ordinary fullback. Instead of putting him on the field, however, the Redskins have chosen to stick with more two tight end sets…despite not having a blocking TE on the roster, and essentially having two inexperienced back-ups. This goes back to what I was saying about decision making and talent utilization. Jay Gruden is very regimented in his offensive thinking, and that lack of outside the box thinking means leaving talented players on the bench to do things a certain way — a way that isn’t working.
— I commend the Redskins for actually trying some different ways of running the ball yesterday, working in some pistol and toss concepts. But it still highlights just how disjointed the run game and the passing games are when the running backs are constantly shuffled depending on packages and when the play action concepts don’t seem to build off plays that worked before.
Ultimately, Jay Gruden is the decision maker here. He decides whether to run or pass. OL coach Bill Callahan chooses which run plays to call, but still, Gruden is the ultimate decided. Gruden has tried to pass the buck here on running back coach Randy Jordan as to why which running back plays when, but again; he’s the playcaller. If every assistant on offense has hand in who plays when and what play is called, then it’s really no wonder why the offense seems like such a mess; you need one voice and one vision of what the offense should be.
Maybe Kyle Shanahan spoiled Redskins fans with his “run a play to set up another play 10 plays down the road”, but all too often it feels like the Redskins offense operates on the Madden NFL 16 principle of “Eh, screw it, I’ll run this and see if it works”. There doesn’t seem to be a method to the madness; plays that work aren’t gone back to in key situations, plays that don’t work are called in crucial moments, and then there’s wacky plays like the flea flicker with Jamison Crowder to one of the least reliable receivers on the team, in the red zone, off a turnover no less. Stuff like that drives fans nuts, and the excuses are starting to run thin.
— Much was made of the Redskins defensive line this offseason, but after these last two games, wherein they’ve gotten bullied and beaten up in the run game while manufacturing zero pressure, you have to wonder what exactly the point of spending all that money to revamp it really means. Terrance Knighton has been a disappointment, and is regularly outplayed by Ricky Jean-Francois and Chris Baker. He flashes, but he’s anything but consistent. One can’t remember a play that Stephen Paea has made all season.
— Preston Smith had 17 snaps in Sunday’s game. 17 snaps on a team that struggles to get pressure but rarely blitzes. I understand him not starting, but I don’t understand how he hasn’t worked himself into a 3-down pass rush specialist kind of role.
— Bashaud Breeland had himself a day. He recovered a fumble, stripped Brandon Marshall, and produced an INT in the first half, all of which led to points. (Not touchdowns, mind you, but points). Breeland is becoming a cornerstone of this defense, and it makes you wonder why he was ever supposed to just be the third guy on the field. I love D-Hall as much as anyone else, but the fact that Breeland’s only starting because he got injured is kind of baffling. (There goes that “talent utilization” thing again…)
— And now, for the big long part about Kirk Cousins.
1.) I think the biggest turning point of Kirk Cousins’ season as a starter came last week versus the Falcons, when Jay Gruden showed that he had zero faith in Cousins’ ability to lead the team to victory, only a week after Cousins had done just that. I think Cousins played some of his best football of the season in the second half of that game, and deserved a chance to silence critics like me by leading a second potential game-winning-drive to win.
Instead, Jay Gruden called two runs and a terrible screen (note: can we just take all these terrible screen plays Jay has out of his playbook?), the Redskins settled for two field goals, and Kirk threw a pick six to end the game. I think that was effectively the death of Swaggy Kirk, and Fearful Kirk was back again on Sunday.
2.) People will harp and bang on about the interceptions, but the biggest, most persistent problem from Cousins has been his inaccuracy. Cousins has always had a trouble with squirrelly accuracy. But it tends to get worse and worse as the season wears on, and worse as his confidence drops. It’s just bad.
3.) Cousins missed several routine throws. He threw too high on an easy pass to Garcon; he underthrew Chris Thompson on a wheel route — Thompson tried adjusting and nearly injured his back. He put a screen to far out in front of Crowder, then overthrew him up the seam. The second INT was an underthrow where he couldn’t step into it, highlighting his lack of arm strength. The Jets gave up the Redskins crossers all game, but Cousins inability to lead a receiver meant the team couldn’t capitalize. Garcon gains separation from Revis and Kirk throws short into the dirt by 5 yards. Cousins footwork is bad. The first INT was an absolutely horrible throw. Despite it not resulting it sacks (which, according to Redskins fans, are worse than interceptions), Cousins is holding the ball too long. When he does throw, it’s inaccurate and he passes lack zip. You can count on one hand the amount of NFL level throws Cousins made Sunday. He’s not even making the wide open throws.
3.) And you know what? Missing DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed and a third of his offensive line isn’t the problem. The o-line only gave up one sack all game. The run game is inconsistent, but that’s just as much a function of the bad passing game and the poor playcalling as it is anything. Having his full complement of receivers won’t help, because you don’t magically fix accuracy issues by having better plays on the field. Hard catches aren’t supposed to be routine. If you cant throw to a wide open guy on a crossing route or a slant and allow your guy to get YAC, what does it matter if you have the best offense ever out there?
What does having DeSean Jackson back really mean, if Cousins struggles to hit wide open guys deep? What good is having Jordan Reed in the line-up if he can’t take advantage of YAC because of inaccuracy? This isn’t an issue of talent anymore; it’s a matter of execution, and Kirk just can’t execute.
4.) It’s been six games now, and I don’t see why Kirk Cousins deserves to start. That’s not me advocating that RGIII starts; that’s me wondering why Colt McCoy won’t get a look. Cousins has a handful of good plays in every game, but mostly it’s just bad, bad, bad. He’s not making progress. He progressively gets worse as games and weeks and seasons wear on. The issues he had as a rookie are still issues now.
He’s thrown more INTs in less pass attempts than both the other quarterbacks on the roster, and legendary quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert and JaMarcus Russell. His INT% is worse than Rex Grossman’s. His accuracy is terrible, and the biggest part is that his fragile confidence — the thing Jay Gruden so desperately tries to protect by refusing to lob anything looking kind of like criticism at him — looks completely shattered.
That last drive versus the Falcons was the death of Swaggy Kirk. The Kirk we have now is just going to get worse from here.