November 26, 2014

Washington Redskins Week 8 Preview: Dallas Cowboys

The Washington Redskins needed a win in the worst way in week 7 against the Tennessee Titans, and they delivered, albeit in unconventional fashion.  The newest star for the team finally imploded and from the ashes, a new one was born.  Quarterback Colt McCoy will start his first NFL game in almost three years on Monday Night Football against the hated foe Dallas Cowboys.  This also marks a return to Texas for McCoy, where he enjoyed a successful collegiate career with the Longhorns.  While it remains to be seen when Robert Griffin III will return, Colt McCoy seems to be the starter moving forward until that time.

The 6-1 Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a unique position heading into November: not much is going wrong for them. Demarco Murray broke the NFL’s record for most consecutive 100 yard rushing games.  Tony Romo looks like he can do no wrong.  The defense, after much speculation about a complete debacle, has played well enough to not allow Romo to make his now infamous late game mistakes while trying to bring his team back from a deficit.

But let’s pump the brakes on “America’s Team” for a second (which, by the way, they no longer are.)  Of the six wins Dallas currently owns, here are the current records of those teams: 2-5, 2-4, 2-4, 3-4, 3-3, 3-4.  This equals up to a combined winning percentage of 66%.  The Cowboys have yet to post a victory against a team that is currently above .500.  While this may or may not indicate the direction their franchise will go for the remainder of the year, it does indicate that this team is not the juggernaut that most pundits anoint them as.

The problem here is, the Washington Redskins may not pose much of a threat either to Dallas.  The Redskins are in roster turmoil, starting a quarterback who hasn’t started a game since 2012.  In addition, their “franchise” player is now shelved for the season while the injuries continue to pile up for this already thin roster.  It’s going to take limited mistakes and a lot of heart for the Redskins to steal a victory on Monday night.

 Keys to the game

Stop beating yourselves

It is going to take close to zero mistakes for this Washington team to pull out a victory against a superiorly talented Cowboys squad.  So far this season, the Redskins have been hampered by mental errors in all three phases of the game.  The offense has committed costly penalties, often leading to huge third down distances, which the Redskins are among the worst in the league converting.  On the defensive side of the ball, wrong reads and often players being out of position have resulted in untimely huge plays for the opposition.  And special teams, while at times have looked to improve, are only marginally better than last year’s debacle.

The Cowboys of the past are no more.  This team appears to be a cohesive unit that limits errors.  If the Redskins want to have a chance on Monday night in the house the Jerry built, they will have to play focused.

Stop Murray

Pretty simple.  Murray has been among the best, if not the best, running back in the NFL this season.  He is as locked in as it gets. If the Redskins want to have any hope of containing Dallas’ dynamic receivers and tight ends, it will start with making them one dimensional.  If Demarco Murray can be contained, possibly to 80 yards or less, the Redskins should still be in the game.

Get to Romo

Tony Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he is under duress.  Most want to proclaim Romo as a “choker”, which may be true at times, but this isn’t because the pass rush is getting to him.  Time and time again, Romo proves that he can extend plays by keeping his eyes down the field.  He rarely gives up on a play.  Meanwhile, defenders will do just that, and someone ends up being wide open downfield.  It’s maddening.  It’s inexplicable at times.  But he does it.

The key here is to produce actual pass rush that will finish the play.  Defensive end Jason Hatcher, in his return to Dallas, needs to feed off of the adrenaline that he will undoubtedly have playing his former team in AT&T Stadium.  Yes, Brian Orakpo is gone, but rookie OLB Trent Murphy is quietly coming along and Ryan Kerrigan is on pace to accumulating career-high sack totals.  He will need to add to them in this matchup.  Additionally, the Redskins secondary needs to be ready and in position in case Romo is forced into one of those mistakes.  They won’t come often.

Our Predictions 

Joe Ziegengeist

While Redskins fans would like to think (and hope) that these matchups are always close, this one will unfortunately be pretty ugly.  Colt McCoy will struggle mightily here, and fans will be calling for Griffin to start before the bye week.  The defense also struggles as the Redskins will fall to 2-6.  There is good news though!  I think the Redskins get it done against a dreadful Minnesota team.  That’s 3-6 headed into the bye.  Anyone else up for an RG3 return and to party like it’s 2012?   Cowboys 35, Redskins 13

Dave Nichols

The Cowboys might have the best offensive line in football and have their running game firing on all cylinders right now. I think despite his success in the second half against Tennessee, Colt McCoy will have trouble moving the offense on Monday night.  Cowboys 31, Redskins 17

Eric Hobeck

Redskins play well but can’t keep up with Cowboys on either side of the ball.  Cowboys 27, Redskins 17

Joe Miller

This prediction is under the assumption that Colt McCoy is the starting quarterback Monday night. The Cowboys’ offense powered by their record-breaking run game has been excellent this season and almost certainly will put up a good amount of points (they’re 5th in points/game). That’s a serious problem for the Redskins as the Washington offense will most likely look to run the ball and be conservative with a third-string quarterback under center. That style of offense is poorly suited for a ‘shootout’ where they’ll be relied upon to keep up with Dallas’ scoring.  Cowboys 31, Redskins 17

Neil Dalal

The Cowboys are clicking on pretty much every cylinder right now, offensively for sure. I personally do not want RG3 to play as this season is more or less lost and there is no reason to risk a player who NEEDS to be ready for many years to come. Only way the Redskins win this game are in a shootout against a team that lacks a pass rush and if the defense is able to slyly cause a few turnovers. Unfortunately, a lot of things would have to bounce the Redskins way to even stay close.  Cowboys 31, Redskins 17

Five takeaways from Washington Redskins Game 7 win against the Tennessee Titans

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 19-17 win to the Tennessee Titans:

1. Kirk Cousins struggles to inconceivable levels.

 Kirk Cousins has taken a lot of heat this week leading up the game and many thought he would have a chance at redemption against a weak Tennessee Titans team. After an amazing lofted pass with air underneath to Niles Paul for a big 50 yard gain, things took a turn for the worse. The drive stalled in the red zone and the offense had to settle for a field goal.

On the next drive, Cousins held the ball way to long and the pressure stripped him of the ball giving Tennessee great field position. Again Cousins was able to move the ball down the field and again fall short in the red zone by settling for another field goal. The last straw was after the defense came up with an interception where Cousins returned the favor right back by throwing the ball right at Wesley Woodyard in the middle of the field.

2. Colt McCoy takes over at the half, provides an immediate spark.

The move was needed and somewhat obvious. On McCoy’s first pass attempt to start the second half he hit Pierre Garcon on a seven yard curl route. Garcon did the rest by making the initial defensive back miss and speeding away from the safety for a 70 yard house call.

On the next drive McCoy was again able to march the team down the field on an eight minute drive, but again the drive stalled for the team in the red zone. After a three and out, McCoy came back and orchestrated a nearly flawless game winning drive. He was quick and strong on his decisions against heavy blitzing pressure from the Titans, he took what he was given and moved the team down the field for the eventual game winning field goal.

3. Defense and special teams play better than we are accustomed to, but still make mistakes.

There were mistakes made by the defense and special teams by extending the Titans drives but there was only one major lapse in coverage and not many missed tackles that lead to yards after contact. The one blown coverage can be credited to by E.J. Biggers who let Derek Hagan get behind him and Charlie Whitehurst did make him pay by delivering a strike for a touchdown. On the only other touchdown given up by the defense, they were clearly fatigued. They had forced a punt and gotten an interception but after a penalty by special teams and interception by Cousins, the Titans were able to eventually score on their third try.

As a whole the defensive unit played quite well by making solid tackles and breaking up some passes at the same time; however even though they created some pressure they need to start completing the play with a sack. Special teams played well today by turning a poor Tress Way punt into a recovered muff to set up the Redskins’ player of the game Kai Forbath. Forbath was perfect on four field goal attempts including the game winner, he was also better on kickoffs.

4. Penalties galore.

The Redskins had seven penalties for 50 yards, many of which came at key moments of the game to extend drives for the Titans. Trent Murphy offside on punt to give the Titans a first down. Ryan Kerrigan’s sack negated by illegal contact on Baushad Breeland. Jason Hatcher sack’s negated by illegal contact on Will Compton. Tom Compton illegal hands to the face negates Desean Jackson’s potential second amazing catch of the game.

However, in playing an equal bad franchise in the Titans they did their part by returning the favor in bad penalties. Tennessee racked up 96 penalty yards on 11 infractions. The most key foul was a pass interference call against Jason McCourty who grabbed a hold of Desean Jackson’s arm on a deep ball that set up Kai Forbath’s eventual game winning chip shot.

5. We now turn the page onto Dallas week.

The only major injury going into next Monday is to Brian Orakpo who has a possible torn right pectoral muscle, not the same side as in 2011 and 2012. He will receive a MRI tomorrow to figure out the true injury.

Gruden and the coaching staff will now turn their attention to the ever hot Dallas Cowboys. The defense will have to try and contain Demarco Murray who is having a career year thus far. The quarterback situation seems to shape up as if Griffin looks sharp during practice on Wednesday he could get the start; otherwise McCoy has the edge over Cousins.

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins Week Five loss to the Seattle Seahawks

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

1. That great mobile quarterback, just not ours.
Russell Wilson is the epitome of what all Redskins fans hope Robert Griffin III will become again. He burned the Redskins defense early when contain was not maintained, gashing them for big play runs on the first drive that ended in a touchdown. The read option always had the defense questioning their positioning. Wilson ran for 122 yards, a Monday Night Football record, where many yards were after contact and missed tackles. The Redskins at time did a great job with their base defense but having to account for a quarterback that can extend plays was too tough. [Read more…]

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins Week Two victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Here are five big takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 24-17 home opener win over the Jacksonville Jaguars: [Read more…]

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VIII: Outside Linebackers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.
In Part VII, Joe Miller previewed the inside linebackers.

Here is our preview of the outside linebackers.


Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

In this day and age, NFL teams must employ an elite pass rush.  The reasons are numerous, but the most important one is that it is becoming more and more difficult for a secondary to defend in this league.  Rules designed to protect receivers and running backs, the essential cash cows of the NFL, are limiting defensive backfields from being physical with receivers and throwing off their timing with the quarterback.  This is where the pass rush comes in, and Jim Haslett’ 3-4 attacking defense could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Washington Redskins defensive theme this offseason was to un-cuff and unleash the pass rush.  This will mostly begin and end with Washington’s Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.  The sixth year Texas product is playing under the franchise tag this season and will be looking to put up impressive numbers to secure a huge contract that he thinks he deserves.  Last year, Orakpo amassed 10 sacks and combined for 60 tackles, and even added an interception return for a touchdown to his resume.

However, these numbers do not put him into the upper echelon of elite pass rushers in the game and Orakpo needs to improve upon his sack total in 2014 if he wants Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen to invest in a new contract for him.  He has expressed sincere interest to remain a Redskin for life and did not seem to perturbed when the franchise tag was placed on him.  The feeling should be mutual between Orakpo and the front office if he posts another Pro Bowl-type season.

On the other side, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will be focusing on one thing: being a consistent really, really good pass rusher.  Kerrigan has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his brief career, but he is now a veteran in the league and will also be looking to improve upon his 8.5 sacks a year ago.  Kerrigan does a great job of instinctively knowing what the quarterback is going to do; you will see him get his hands in the air to either tip, spike, or intercept a pass that a quarterback usually tries to throw a quick screen with.  Kerrigan can make him pay and has often done so.

Many Redskins fans scratched their heads when the team traded back in the second round and then selected a player who occupied what was once perceived a position of strength.  However, through mini camps, OTA’s, and training camp and the preseason, fans began to see just what Bruce Allen saw in young Trent Murphy out of Stanford.  He is an opposing presence at 6’6″ and looks explosive, two traits you love to have at a pass rushing position.

The All-American led all of college football with 15 sacks in 2013 and was first team All-Pac 12 two years in a row (’12 and ’13).  Though he is listed as a backup on the depth chart, Murphy will almost certainly get mixed in for different blitz packages throughout the regular season.

The final outside linebacker for Jim Haslett’s defense is third year LB Gabe Miller of Oregon State.  Miller unseated 2012 NFC East division title hero Rob Jackson for the final OLB spot after an impressive performance in the final two preseason games.  Also, and probably most importantly for this coaching staff, he seemed to impress special teams coach Ben Kotwica enough to warrant a roster spot.  Miller doesn’t figure to see much defensive playing time but he is a solid option if Orakpo or Kerrigan go down.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VI: Defensive Line

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neil Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.

Here is our preview of the defensive line. [Read more…]

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Here are five big takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 23-17 preseason road loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night:

[Read more…]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Analysis: Takeaways for the Defense

The Washington Redskins were able to defeat the Cleveland Browns Monday night in a sloppy game that ultimately resulted in a 24-23 victory for Washington. Here are some key takeaways for the Redskins defense:

AREAS OF CONCERN

Penalties: The yellow flags were a problem for the team all night as they accrued 11 penalties for 100 yards as a whole. The defense was responsible for five of them. The worst of which occurred in the second quarter with the Browns facing 3rd-and-18. Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel could not complete a short pass (which was highly unlikely to get a first down even if completed) but Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers was flagged on the play for defensive holding. Only a five-yard infraction, but one that also results in an automatic first down.

As the official announced the call, the Redskins sideline voiced their frustration. There’s no telling what was said but the uproar produced another flag, unsportsmanlike conduct charged to the Redskins bench, immediately following the initial announcement.

While the second penalty can’t be blamed on the defense, the first one absolutely cannot happen especially in a third-and-long situation. Granted, calls like this one have been in vogue this preseason and it’s possible they’ll tone down the frequency of such calls once the regular season arrives, but it prolonged a drive that should’ve been over and in the regular season, the team can’t afford to give opposing teams those kinds of extra opportunities.

[Read more…]

Brian Orakpo feels like he has nothing to prove to Washington Redskins

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals has come and gone and Brian Orakpo’s future with the Washington Redskins remains uncertain. The franchise tag will keep him in D.C. for this season, but beyond that there is plenty of reason to wonder if Orakpo will remain here in the future.

Orakpo was a first-round draft pick in 2009 when he was selected by the Washington Redskins and is a three-time Pro Bowler. The problem, however, is money. [Read more…]

What drafting Trent Murphy does and does not tell us about the Redskins

As a 3-13 team, the Washington Redskins entered the 2014 NFL Draft with a laundry list of needs. Their first pick, however, was for a player who plays the same position as Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

What gives?

Offensive line, nose tackle, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of need, but instead the Redskins went for Trent Murphy, an outside linebacker out of Stanford.

Drafting one of the few positions in which the team did not have a pressing need has caused wild speculation over the motive for the pick. Let’s look at what drafting Murphy actually tells us and what it doesn’t:

What it does tell us:

The Redskins are serious about improving their pass rush.

After the Shanahans were booted, the defensive staff paraded around the media much like in The Wizard of Oz singing the “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”

Evidently Mike Shanahan “handcuffed” the defense and all the talk has been on how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will be able to improve the pass rush this year.

Murphy led the nation in sacks in his senior season with 15. Pass rush is definitely his strength.  Even though he will backup Orakpo and Kerrigan, there are packages that call for three outside linebackers and it is likely Murphy will see some playing time this season.

By drafting a pass rushing specialist, it shows all the talk about improving the pass rush were not just idle words.

The Redskins do not expect to keep both Orakpo and Kerrigan

The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Orakpo that is good for only one year. Kerrigan’s current deal will expire at the end of the 2015 season. Both are very good players and both will want significant long-term deals when their current one’s expire.

Keeping them both may just be too expensive.

Murphy is not going to be ready to start by opening day, but the long-term plan is for him to be ready to start by next season. Think David Amerson.

Amerson was the team’s second round pick last season, one year before Josh Wilson’s deal expired. Amerson was not expected to start, but was expected to play and develop into a starter by year two. This is exactly what they are hoping for Murphy.

The second round is too high to draft someone who’s ceiling is as a depth player. A team is not going to draft a player that high if they do not believe he can develop into a starter. A 3-13 team with as many needs as the Redskins is not going to draft a player if they do not believe they will have any use for him in the near future.

The Redskins expect Murphy to start for them and they expect it to be in place of either Orakpo or Kerrigan.

What it does not tell us:

The Redskins are switching back to a 4-3 defense 

When Haslett was first brought in as defensive coordinator, it was to build the 3-4 defense in Washington. The Redskins could have sent Haslett packing with the rest of Shanahan’s staff at the end of the 2013 season, but he was retained.

Haslett isn’t coming back just to blow up the defense he spent the last four years building. If the team wanted to do something that drastic they would have hired someone else to do it.

With all due respect to Murphy, if you believe one second round pick is enough to suddenly morph this defense into a 4-3, you’re grossly overvaluing him.

There’s a difference between being a team’s first pick and a first round pick. Yes, Murphy was the Redskins’ first pick this season, but he’s still a second round pick and his inclusion on the roster doesn’t instantly make the defense 4-3 ready.

Fans are massively inflating his value because he was the team’s first pick, but really it is where he was taken overall that is more indicative of the type of player he is projected to be.

Three outside linebackers were taken in the first round and two more in the second before Murphy; if teams thought Murphy would be ready to start opening day in 2014, he would have been drafted much higher.

Could he dazzle at training camp and show the team he is ready to start? Sure, but even if he does the team won’t decide to change their entire base defense mid-training camp. Unless he out performs Orakpo or Kerrigan, he will still be below them in the depth chart.

These sorts of draft surprises are the exception, not the norm. The Redskins would not bet their entire defensive playbook in the hopes they had found one of those hidden gems.

If the Houston Texans aren’t going to switch to the 4-3 for Jadeveon Clowney, the Redskins aren’t for Murphy.

Murphy will switch to inside linebacker

Inside linebacker is a bigger need for the Redskins and outside linebacker has the word ‘linebacker’ in it. It’s right there in the back. So switching from outside linebacker to inside linebacker can’t possibly be that hard. That has to be the plan for Murphy, right? Move him to the inside?

Switching from outside to inside is possible, but it’s not as simple as one might think. The pass rushing and coverage responsibilities of the two positions are very different.

Murphy also never played inside in college, he’s always been on the outside. A position switch from college to the NFL is not unheard of, but it doesn’t really make sense in this case given Murphy’s strengths as a player.

The main difference between the two positions is that the outside linebacker’s primary function is as a pass rusher, while the inside linebacker is a run stuffer. This is a ridiculously simplistic description, but if you boiled down the positions to a single function, those would be it.

As I said before, Murphy’s strength is as pass rusher. Drafting someone who fits so well on the outside with the plan of switching him to the inside would be a massive gamble.

The next inside linebacker taken in the draft after Murphy came in the third round, 26 picks later. There were no inside linebackers good enough to take at that point in the draft. If there had been, I think the Redskins likely would have taken one.

Yes, there are questions as to whether Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are the long-term answers on the inside, but Murphy is not in Washington to answer those questions.

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