December 10, 2019

OPINION: Redskins flat second half on the coaching staff

The Washington Redskins had this one in the bag. A 24-14 halftime lead became a 27-14 mid-third quarter lead. They dominated the line of scrimmage on offense, punishing the Minnesota Vikings defensive line all evening. Alfred Morris looked like the second coming of John Riggins… well, maybe Gerald Riggs. Anyway, Morris was running roughshod through the Vikings undersized and overmatched D-line.

So how did they allow 20 unanswered second half points to fall to ignominious defeat to a team that had won just once all season?

Easy. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan decided to get “cute”. Instead of sticking with what was working all too well, Shanahan felt that with the luxury of a 13-point lead, he could throw caution to the wind and start flinging the ball all over the field. It’s the complete opposite thinking that was required here. With a big lead, you pound the ball at every occasion. Even if you go three-and-out, you’re guaranteed to run 1:30 off the clock in an effort to get the game over a quickly as possible.

But that’s not good enough for Kyle. He wants to show folks just how smart and creative a coach he is. His offense is particularly adept at getting receivers open and in position for big gains. We saw it continuously in the first half. Building off Morris’ punishing runs, Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson and Jordan Reed were wide open, making catches in space and running after the catch for even more yardage. It was a well-oiled offense running at just about maximum efficiency.

The first possession of the third quarter was the same. The Skins marched down the field, going 59 yards in 12 plays, chewing up 5:38 in the process, inching closer to what should have been an inevitable win. Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III lugged the ball on the ground, while Hankerson and Garcon made catches in space because of the success of the run game.

After the Vikings went 74 yards in nine plays for a touchdown, the Skins got the ball back at their own 28 yard line. A five-yard Morris carry set up second-and-five. Run the ball! Chew up the clock!

Nope. Kyle called for a short pass (two-yard gain) to Garcon, then an incomplete pass. On the ensuing punt effort, the Skins called for a fake, which would have worked to perfection save for two things: Jerome Murphy did not set on the offensive line, for a false start penalty, and gunner Niles Paul didn’t hear the fake call anyway, and Sav Rocca’s pass fell harmlessly to the ground since Paul never turned to look for it.

The Redskins were never the same.

A roughness penalty on the punt return (Darrel Young) gave the Vikings terrific field position, and the comeback was on. It took Minnesota just four plays to reach the end zone.

When the Skins got the ball back, Kyle acted as if they were down by two touchdowns. Griffin ran a keeper on a zone-read, but it was brought back for holding. They then ran five straight snaps from the shotgun, and the Vikings pinned their ears back and came after Griffin, sacking him the last two plays of the possession.

The Vikes needed just seven plays and 30 yards to set up Blair Walsh’s 39-yard field goal.

Three-and-out, including another sack of Griffin, ensued, and the Skins gave the ball right back to Minnesota, who walked right down the field for another field goal.

In the NFL, if something is working, especially against a team that is already out of the playoff picture, you stick with it. The Redskins failure to stick with what was working Thursday night now has them squarely out of the playoff picture, with only a series of improbable circumstances now able to rectify that situation.

When you dominate in yardage and time of possession like the Redskins did Thursday night, against a one-win team, you have to win. Plain and simple. The Redskins coaches took the Skins out, not the Vikings.

Of course, it would have helped if the defense did their job. But that’s another rant entirely.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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