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Did the no-huddle save the Redskins' season?

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Did the no-huddle save the Redskins' season?

With an 0-4 record staring them in the Washington Redskins in the face, Kyle Shanahan decided it was time to try something different.

The 0-3 Redskins trailed the Raiders 14-0 late in the first quarter. At that point the offense had mustered just one first down in three possessions. Washington had the ball at its own 20.

Shanahan figured it was time to pull out something they have had in their arsenal since training camp. After talking to head coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III, Kyle called for the offense to go in no-huddle mode.

“It's something that we talked each week that there's a possibility we could go with it,” Kyle Shanahan said yesterday. “We knew that we wanted to, we were struggling a little bit at the beginning, not converting those third downs and staying on the field and we thought it would be a good time to try it.”

Things started out with Griffin making a play-action fake to Alfred Morris and zipping a 15-yard pass down the middle to Leonard Hankerson. They immediately lined up, snapped the ball 19 seconds after Hankerson was tackled, and Griffin handed to Morris, who picked up eight off right tackle. Twenty seconds later Morris picked up the first down by going up the middle for three.

The quick pace continued:

  • 16 seconds later, play action-bootleg right pass to Hankerson for 15 yards.
  • 19 seconds, Morris off the left side for nine yards
  • 22 seconds, Morris to the right for eight yards
  • 17 seconds, play action-bootleg left pass to Niles Paul for 16 yards
  • 38 seconds, pass to Pierre Garçon for two yards to set up second and goal at the four.

On that last play, they went no huddle but it appeared that Griffin was changing the play at the line, not an easy thing to do in the “Black Hole” end of the Raiders’ stadium.

That play ended the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Griffin was called for intentional grounding, a penalty that cost 14 yards and the Redskins ended up settling for a field goal.

In the six no-huddle plays starting with the second play of the drive and ending with the pass to Paul, they averaged just shy of 19 seconds in between snaps. They gained 59 yards. There were no third-down conversions because they didn’t face a third down until after the grounding penalty.

They ran the hurry-up here and there after that, including a stretch during their 2-minute drill near the end of the first half. They cranked it up again for a few plays in the third quarter and it appeared to jump-start their game-winning drive.

Starting at their own 42 with 6:51 left in the third, Paul made a diving catch of a four-yard pass in the flat. The Redskins made some substitutions, taking Paul out and putting in another receiver but still got off the next snap in 20 seconds. Morris picked up a couple of yards but the Redskins accepted an offside penalty, negating the play. Even with the time needed to enforce and announce the penalty, they still got off the snap 32 seconds after the previous play had ended.

Morris spun out of some trouble at the line and made his way up the sideline for 13 yards. They lined up quickly, Griffin again appeared to call and audible, and the ball was snapped after 33 seconds. The Raiders’ Mike Jenkins was shaken up on the play so the Redskins could not hurry back up to the line. Then Griffin threw back across the field deep to Davis and play again was stopped as the officials briefly huddled to decide to pick up a pass interference flag because the ball was uncatchable.

They went back to the huddle after that. Four plays later, Griffin threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon to give the Redskins their first second-half lead of the season.

“They weren't ready for it, something we hadn't done before so I'm sure they didn't have a big plan against it,” said Shanahan. “I'm not exactly sure, I think we had about 19 hurry up plays and it really got our run game going I thought.”

The part about getting the running game going seems to be accurate, particularly when talking about Morris. Before leaving with a rib injury late in the third quarter Morris carried 16 times for 71 yards. During just the two hurry-up sequences outlined here he carried five times for 41 yards. Doing the math, that’s 8.2 yards a carry in the no huddle and 2.7 yards per carry the rest of the game.

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How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

The Redskins ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in a number of defensive categories in 2016, and the first and second round selections in the 2017 Draft should help to address that.

A huge part of the Washington defensive problems stemmed from an inability to get off the field on third downs, and Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson should immediately provide a pass rush boost. In 2016, the duo combined for 18.5 sacks, 8.5 coming from Anderson and another 10 from Allen, two huge pieces for the excellent Alabama defense.

On the pro level, Anderson may actually be in position for more sacks as he's likely to play outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 scheme. Allen will be more of an interior presence, a natural fit for the 'Skins defensive end spot in the 3-4.

That doesn't mean the two won't compete to hit quarterbacks. 

RELATED: Gruden squashes notion that Alabama defenders do not succeed in NFL

Asked Saturday if there would be a bet between the two college teammates about who gets more sacks their rookie season, Anderson quickly responded, "definitely."

Though he was surprised by the bet, Allen wasn't going to back down from the challenge. (Full video above)

"I guess there is now, I didn't know about it 'til now," Allen said. 

As for the stakes of the bet, Allen said the pair of rookies will figure that out behind closed doors. 

"His bank account is a little longer than mine so we will have to figure something else out," Anderson said.

What's clear from hanging out with both players is their familiarity with one another will help both players transition to the NFL. Allen and Anderson said they had an emotional response when they learned they would continue to play together in Washington. 

"There's very few players that have better film or resume than this guy right here," Allen said of Anderson. 

Anderson, as the Redskins press group has quickly learned, has a certain way with words. Honest and funny, but to the point.

"I'm excited to have one of my dogs with me here," he said of Allen. 

The Redskins ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks in 2016, but will lose Trent Murphy for four games to start the year. Sacks are just one metric to measure defensive success, though an easily quantifiable and fun metric for fans.

Where Washington has to improve is on 3rd downs. In 2016, they allowed a confounding 97 third down conversions, good for 31st in the league. There's only 32 teams. What's worse? The 'Skins gave nine fourth down conversions too.

Regardless of sack totals, Allen and Anderson were brought to Washington to help this defense get off the field. Coming from the Crimson Tide, the two rookies seem up for the challenge. 

MORE REDSKINS: Grading the Redskins 2017 draft

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Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we must dig in a little more to come up with a grade for the draft headed up by Bruce Allen. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—B

There really isn’t enough to love or to hate here. They didn’t do much wheeling and dealing while on the clock, making only a minor deal with the Vikings to move up two spots in the sixth round in exchange for moving down 10 slots in the seventh.

For the record, the trade (picks 201 and 220 from Washington to Minnesota in exchange for picks 199 and 230) was just about a wash on the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, with the Redskins giving up a statistically insignificant one point of value.

Whether center Chase Roullier, the player they traded up to draft, makes the team and has an impact or not is not going to make or break the draft but it should be noted that they gave up something of value to get him so it was a player they wanted to make sure they got as his name was still on the board.

The deals that got them up to 10 picks had already been made by Scot McCloughan on draft day last year as he added picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds with various trades.

Perhaps they deserve the most credit for a potential deal they did not make. As their first-round pick got closer and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen remained on the board it had to be tempting for them to spend a mid-round pick to jump up and grab him before anyone else could. But Gruden said that they had a number of players to choose from as the pick approached and they decided to stay put. The gamble paid off as Allen fell into their laps at pick No. 17.

RELATED: Redskins roll the dice in the 7th round

Talent/fit/needs—A-

The Redskins needed to bolster their defense and they certainly gave it a go. Their first three picks were on defense as were four of their first five and six of 10 overall.

But the raw number of the picks doesn’t really tell the story; it’s the value of the picks that really matters. According to that Jimmy Johnson pick value chart, they spend 1,596 points on defense and 126 points on offense.

They hit on their biggest needs with their first two picks. They had not drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since 1997 and the neglect of the position was evident. In Allen they got a player with Pro Bowl potential in their biggest area of need.

Allen will help the pass rush from the inside and then in the second round they acquired some edge rushing ability with Ryan Anderson. It seems that this pick was strongly influenced by Scot McCloughan’s draft board. His height, weight, and combine numbers were not what a lot of teams are looking for in an edge rusher but his tough mentality and obvious love for the game are attributes that McCloughan valued.

Although Gruden expressed his confidence in Rob Kelley to be his running back it appeared to most outside observers that an upgrade was needed and they got that in Samaje Perine. You can’t have too many good corners and Bashaud Breeland is set to be a 2018 free agent so they took Fabian Moreau in the third round. They had no backup center Roullier could develop into that spot. Gruden said earlier this offseason that they needed a blocking tight end and that is what Jeremy Sprinkle is.

They didn’t hit on all their needs. With the top three inside linebackers set to be free agents next year many thought they would spend a top pick there. And although there were a few possible nose tackles on the board in the later rounds they bypassed that position. You can’t solve everything in one draft but the Redskins have now had eight drafts since converting to the 3-4 defense and they still haven’t found a solution at nose tackle.

As far as value goes, it doesn’t get much better than Allen, who was a consensus top-five talent who lasted until the 17th pick. Moreau may have been a first-round pick before tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights during his pro day.

On the other end of the value scale, the fourth round seemed to be way too early to take safety Montae Nicholson. There is something to be said for taking a guy with good measurables who didn’t have good game tape and taking a shot at developing him. But the fourth round is too soon for taking such a chance.

READ MORE: Breaking down the Redskins late round picks

Overall—B+

After their first two picks, they didn’t shy away from red flags. Moreau and Nicholson both have injuries that will keep them out of action until sometime in training camp. Sprinkle had a highly-publicized shoplifting citation that got him suspended from Arkansas’ bowl game. Seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons failed multiple drug tests during college.

They did stay away from players with histories of high-profile violent incidents like Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Caleb Brantley.

How those red-flag players turn out will be the key to this draft. It’s fine to take some chances, especially when you go into the draft with 10 picks. But you have better win more than you lose.

There were enough players taken who seem to be sure bets to be productive, if there is such a thing in the draft, to make it unlikely that the draft will be a total bust. Allen, Anderson, and Perine are clean prospects who have very high floors. Allen and Anderson may have Pro Bowl ceilings.

Given that, they seem to be assured of having a least a productive draft (again, with the caveat that nothing in the draft is certain). If Sprinkle develops into a good third tight end who can block and be a threat to catch a pass, that’s a plus. If Moreau can develop into a starter, this could be a pretty good draft. If sixth-round WR Robert Davis can contribute on special teams and be a productive fourth or fifth wide receiver, that would be another plus.

In short, the Redskins did some good work towards giving this draft a chance to be a success. Now it’s up to the coaches, to luck, and seeing how players who are projected to play well at age 22 actually perform on the field when they get older and suddenly have a six-figure salary. 

MORE REDSKINS: Clear winner from Redskins 2017 Draft?