All things considered, the offensive performance for the Redskins in this game was better than before the bye. I thought Donovan McNabb raised his level of play a reasonable amount from his past two starts. In this game, the offensive mistakes in the passing game were forced by breakdown's elsewhere, and were largely not the fault of Donovan McNabb. That doesn't excuse a number of missed throws that ended Redskin drive where McNabb had open receivers with little pressure and just flat missed, and it isn't intended to relieve McNabb of all blame for all three interceptions. Two of the three were McNabb's fault directly, however, they were forced mistakes by problems elsewhere on the field.
What didn't change was that McNabb's not getting a lot of help in the passing game. He did receive help from an unlikely source based on past history: Kyle Shanahan. The first touchdown was set up by, and the second touchdown was scored on, a pair of well-anticipated calls by the junior Shanahan. I thought the first TD pass to Darryl Young was also a nice play because it used misdirection to take advantage of a nosy Asante Samuel and a wet field to get the fullback wide open in the flat against a corner. Screens were a useful part of the gameplan against a blitz-happy Philadelphia defense, and a big reason the Redskins put up four TDs on the defense.
Aside from Shanahan, McNabb got the normal contributions from Fred Davis and Anthony Armstrong, and then essentially had to do the rest on his own. Joey Galloway was responsible for a third down interception and a third down drop in this game, and he's now featuring a catch rate under 30%, which makes him the Derek Anderson of NFL receivers. Roydell Williams was a little bit better than that, but isn't McNabb's idea of a weapon by any stretch. Santana Moss was once again a non-factor against the Philadelphia Eagles. Chris Cooley was also a non-factor in this game. He could win that match-up with Stewart Bradley the Eagles gave him one on one but often, Cooley was an important piece of the pass protection scheme. When the Redskins left both Cooley and Keiland Williams in the backfield, that's when they protected McNabb the best and were able to get opportunities down the field (such as Anthony Armstrong's 76 yarder). When Cooley wasn't used in protection and the Eagles went with zone coverage and A-gap pressure from Bradley (who is an excellent blitzer), Cooley was blanketed and McNabb forced some balls to him. His forgettable season continues.
A couple of unexpected sources of productivity emerged in this game from the offensive backfield: there was Darryl Young at fullback, and Keiland Williams at tailback. Williams struggled with his pass blocking in the six man protections in this game, which might be the biggest difference between him and Torain. At least the biggest difference in favor of Torain. Keiland Williams is a much stronger offensive weapon, because they use him as a receiver, and he's really one heck of a runner especially compared to Torain. One criticism about Williams is that he's really not a one-cut back, but I think he runs well in the zone attack anyway, and with him running the plays, we saw the return of a couple of man blocking trap concepts. I really, really like Keiland Williams. I do think he needs to improve his blocking. Sometimes, he's going to be asked to do more than just help out, he's actually going to be assigned someone in the protection scheme. He just misses those assignments too often right now. I like Darryl Young as a runner as well, in limited action.
That covers everyone I think.
Offensive Line Performance
These guys were an issue in this game, but had a good day run blocking at least. The seams for Keiland Williams to run in were pretty spacey. The Eagles are not a good run defense, but the Redskins OL still deserves some credit for improvement on the ground. Through the air, however, was another story.
Both guards had two very costly blown blocks. For Artis Hicks, his first blown block led directly to a Casey Rabach holding penalty, proving that the Redskins can actually turn a double team into two different mistakes (at the point which Hicks fell down, the hold was probably the right decision -- it only cost six yards -- though McNabb could easily have been picked on the play). His second block led to a long sack where he just never realized a stunt, hanging out Stephon Heyer with two guys to block. Kory Lichtenstieger also blew two blocks, one of which led directly to the McNabb pick six, the other on a stunt. For Kory though, that was about it for his mistakes. I thought he did very well in the running game, best I've seen from him in weeks. For Artis Hicks, those blown blocks were only the most egregious of his troubles, as he allowed enough pressure to get benched for performance in the fourth quarter. It's probably time to move forward with Will Montgomery at RG. I'm not much a believer in Will Montgomery, but Hicks is a major liability in pass protection.
Casey Rabach also didn't play very well, getting driven back, missing blocks altogether. The nicest thing to say here is that nothing Rabach did led directly to a critical error by the offensive unit. He was just sort of bad independent of the outcome of the game. Trent Williams did a good job neutralizing Trent Cole for most of the game, but he was beaten three times by my count. Only one of those was a straight up bull rush. The book on Trent Williams right now is that stunts to his side work, as well as bull rushes (he allowed three pressures via bull-rush in this game). This was a good run blocking game for Williams, who was able to out-leverage Cole and move him where he wanted him to go to open up lanes. On one incompletion, Trent allowed a hit on McNabb by making an embarrassingly poor cut block attempt on Cole that did nothing but give him a free run on McNabb. Stephon Heyer allowed a hit on the quarterback in this one, but I think he remains our most consistent lineman this year. In instances where the pocket is particularly clean, it's usually because Heyer is handling a one on one assignment to textbook execution.
I look at the way that Trent Williams can handle top pass rushers in this league and at the way that Heyer does his job at RT and think that adding a strong center to the middle of this line can really solidify this group. I think a second year Lichtenstieger playing between Williams and a strong Center would make an excellent base of a line. Then the Redskins will have to track down a RG and a RT somewhere, but will have a pretty good start in the process of rebuilding this group.
Third downs, revisited
The Redskins converted a fourth and four in this game when McNabb had a free rusher on him from the snap, backpeddled to buy time, and then threw off his back foot (as he did most of the day, out of necessity, not usually jitters). It probably would have fallen incomplete had McNabb found anyone but Anthony Armstrong, who made a really fantastic catch on the ball for a seven yard gain.
This is significant only because it was the best play the Redskins made on a third or fourth down in this game. The only other nominees would be Keiland Williams' 12 yard run on 3rd and 13, leading to a Redskins punt (but better field position!) in a 59-28 game or a 9 yard catch by Williams on 3rd and 10 in a 42-14 game, again leading to a punt.
Let's examine the third down woes from this game, excluding those two largely successful plays that could have resulted in 4th down conversion attempts.
Redskins on Third Down
- - 3rd and 3 Williams runs off the right side, makes a cutback to daylight, but tried to dance around former Redskin Dimitri Patterson instead of lowering his shoulder and running through that hole for a first down. Patterson stuffed him for no gain.
- - 3rd and 4 Keiland comes up into the left A gap to hit Ernie Sims and whiffs, getting a piece of Bradley in the process. McNabb eludes Sims and goes to his left, but throws off balance wide of Moss and the pass is intercepted.
- - 3rd and 4 The Eagles drop seven, and McNabb's pocket is clean. Cooley is wide open underneath and McNabb is errant on the high side.
- - 3rd and 8 McNabb has this read from the start, protection holds against a four man rush, Galloway is well covered on an out (because he can't run good routes against fourth corners), but McNabb hits him in the hands anyway from a clean pocket. Naturally, he drops the ball.
- - 3rd and 12 Because Galloway's route wasn't bad enough last time, he completely telegraphs his in cut and Patterson runs it for him, picking McNabb off.
- - 3rd and 4 Heyer and Trent Williams are driven into McNabb's face, which allows him to escape to his left, but Darryl Tapp shows in his face and bats the pass back into the ground.
- - 3rd and 7 Lichtensteiger is beaten to his outside shoulder by an Eagles blitz and McNabb throws off his back foot again, this time with Patterson undercutting Armstrong and returning the pass for a touchdown.
- - 3rd and 10 Parker stunts to the inside where Heyer passes him off. Hicks has his eyes inside so he never sees it, and Parker goes right past him for the sack on McNabb.
First big point: the relative shortness of those downs and distances are attributable to the differences between Torain, who loses yards as a runner, and Williams, who does not. Perhaps you didn't realize this, but the Redskins have just 17 offensive TDs this year. 5 of those were scored by Keiland Williams, who leads the team. Torain has 4. Cooley, Moss, and Portis have just 2 each. Armstrong and Darryl Young round out the season's scoring.
Bad quarterback play, bad receiver play, and bad offensive line play are all equal parts responsible for the failures of this team on third downs. What's remarkable is that even the good plays were desperation attempts: Armstrong makes a good catch, or Williams makes a hard run. Those are your best plays in third down. McNabb's worst down this year is third, but that doesn't mean he's making no play opportunities. It just means execution is a multi-part animal, and this team cannot string three units together to create a single simple play. Success appears to require the extraordinary performance of a single player.
It's hard to see this offense getting better in the short term. They can replace Artis Hicks, and they can replace Joey Galloway, which would fix some issues on this offense, but the replacements would be Will Montgomery and Roydell Williams. At some point, you're just not talented enough to be great. Luckily, for one more week at least, the emergence of Keiland Williams keeps the flame of optimism flickering. For all the faults here, particularly on third down, the Redskins just enjoyed one of their more efficient days of the season against a quality defense.