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The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough

The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough


In 2002, Steve Spurrier took his Redskins into Jacksonville to face the NFL’s worst rushing defense. Washington was on a two-game winning streak that was accomplished largely on the strength of a solid rushing game. So, Spurrier went out and called 51 pass plays and just 16 runs and the Redskins lost 26-7.

"I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said. "We ran a little bit here and there. We had a little success there early, and I got away from it too much. The second quarter, I kept thinking at midfield, we could throw the ball from there. But we didn't do it very well. So, looking back, I called a lousy game."

Al Saunders offered no such rambling explanation for his game plan last Sunday. Against Tennessee, the league’s worst rushing defense, Clinton Portis ran the ball just 14 times. Certainly, Saunders has much more NFL credibility than the Ballcoach did and he deserves a bit more slack and benefit of the doubt. But I’ve listened to two Gibbs pressers and some assorted other comments and I’ve heard absolutely nothing that would explain that number 14.

Certainly the game situation didn’t dictate that the Skins get away from the rushing game. The Redskins never faced more than a one-score deficit throughout the game and their prime back, the guy they have a $50 million contract to, the player who was clearly the missing piece to the offense during the team’s 0-2 start, the man who got them going when they needed a kick start in Houston, the one who controlled the game against Jacksonville’s supposedly impenetrable tackle tandem, the back who got 76 yards against the Giants despite the fact that the Redskins’ offense was otherwise completely dysfunctional, carried the ball just two and a half times per quarter.

Let’s take a look at a few series here. After the Redskins took a 14-3 lead, the Titans came back with a drive that resulted in a field goal to make it 14-6 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Certainly, this would have been a good time for the Redskins to grind out a drive against the league’s worst rushing defense, cool off the Titans’ offense, and reestablish control of the game.

Nope. The ensuing drive featured one Portis carry and covered 10 yards and six plays. The Titans got the ball back and took it into the end zone. It was 14-13, Tennessee’s confidence grew and the Redskins knew that they were in for an all-day battle.

At halftime Portis had all of seven carries for 44 yards, an average of 6.3 yards a pop. Mark Brunell was posting decent numbers, but he was averaging just 7.3 yards on each of his 14 passes. Why pass so much when the running game can get you almost as far?

After taking the second-half kickoff Washington had good field position at its own 39. Portis got his hands on the ball once, it was a four and out and Tennessee took the lead on the next drive.

In the fourth quarter with the score tied at 22, the Redskins get the ball back on a punt with 9:21 to play. Portis got one carry on the three and out, Washington held the ball for just 1:05 and the Titans got the game-winning field goal after the punt.

Again, the Titans had the league’s worst rushing defense coming into the game, giving up an average of 172 yards a game. Given that, it seems that the only person who could have stopped Portis on Sunday was Saunders and he did a great job of it.

Instead of the pound-it-out style of game that we should have seen, we saw a steady diet of slip screens, end arounds, reverses, and other such French pastry. Saunders seemed to be intent on tricking the Titans rather than letting the players beat them physically. The fact that you have a 700-page playbook doesn’t mean that you have to use it all in one game when just a handful of power running plays is what is needed to get the job done.

All that being said, for all of the woes of the offense, 22 points should have been enough to beat the Titans, a team that had not scored more than 16 points all year long. When you give up 177 yards rushing to Travis Henry, a back who has gained just 205 in the previous five games, when you let a rookie quarterback stand back and coolly complete a 23-yard pass on fourth and two, your offensive game plan probably isn’t going to matter much because it’s likely that the opposition will be able to do whatever it takes to outscore you.

And don’t forget the key role that special teams played in this defeat. The safety on the blocked punt didn’t play a huge role in the game, but what did was the exchange of punts after the Redskins tied the score. For one of the few times all day the defense bottled up Henry and Young. The Titans punted from their own 34. After Washington’s three and out and subsequent punt, Tennessee got the ball back at the Washington 43. That’s a net gain of 23 yards and two Henry runs later the Titans were in field goal range.

Still, the single worst aspect of the game was the offensive game plan. Again Saunders has earned much more NFL cred than Steve Spurrier ever had. But Spurrier stumbled in to some real wisdom when after that Jacksonville game he said, “You're only as good as your last game. I'm not very good right now.”

The same can be said of Al Saunders.

Learning from mistakes?

It’s one thing to screw up. It’s exponentially worse to make the same mistake twice, especially two weeks in a row. They are going into a game where the plan again should be to pound Portis left, right, and up the middle. During their bye week the Indianapolis Colts supplanted the Titans as the NFL’s worse rushing defense. They are giving up 166 yards a game on the ground.

Barring an absolute fluke, there is exactly one way that the Redskins can win the game on Sunday and save their season. If they can rush for that 166 that the Colts are giving up, keep Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and the rest of the Colts’ weapons off the field for 35 or so minutes, they have a shot. Not much of one, mind you. Even if they do that and play generally error-free ball in all other aspects of the game they have no better than a one in ten shot of pulling off the upset.

But if Portis gets a single-digit number of carries in the first half and only one more than a baker’s dozen all day, it will get ugly early and unwatchable before the third quarter ends.

We will see if Saunders will learn from his mistake.

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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. 

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. 

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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.

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.

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?