Washington Redskins Analysis: Film Review of the Offense vs. Cincinnati Benals – Week 3
The Washington Redskins offense continued to operate at a high level for the third week in a row. The offense produced another 24-point performance (31 points with the defensive touchdown) against the Cincinnati Bengals and came back from a 24-7 deficit, something that this offense has not done in years. All of the praise is being given to Robert Griffin III (and deservedly so), but the man that has flown under the radar for this resurgence is Kyle Shanahan. He is not getting nearly enough credit for the job that he has done in resurrecting this offense.
Alfred Morris started the day off well with two runs that resulted in two first downs and 22 total yards. Then LT Trent Williams got hurt. The impact that this injury had on the offense cannot be understated. Below is an overview of the offensive production in reference to Trent Williams:
- As stated above, Alfred Morris started the game with 2 rushes for 22 yards with Williams in the game. Robert Griffin III did not attempt a pass before Williams got injured.
- After Williams left the game with the injury, Morris’ next 3 rushes totaled 2 yards, for 0.67 yards per carry. Griffin was also sacked on 3 of his next 7 drop-backs. Those sacks occurred on a quick screen drop (though that was not the OL’s fault as Alfred Morris appeared to knock the ball out of Griffin’s hand), a playaction from under center, and a shotgun short drop. The Redskins punted 4 times with Williams out.
- When Williams got fed up seeing his quarterback being bludgeoned, he attempted to tough out the injury and returned to the game in the second quarter. After his return, Alfred Morris and Evan Royster totaled 15 yards on their next two carries (7.5 yards per carry). Griffin was able to drop back 5 times without taking a sack upon Williams’ return. The Redskins offense had their first scoring drive of the game. The team did not punt with Williams on the field (although Griffin did turn the ball over on a fumble).
It was painfully obvious that this was not the same offense without Trent Williams in the game. The running game imploded without Williams in the first half, and the passing game had no shot at becoming effective with Jordan Black being abused by Michael Johnson. Outside of Robert Griffin III, Trent Williams is the most indispensible player on the roster.
Williams tried to come back out and play in the third quarter, but he was limping significantly and took himself out of the game after the second snap. This was when Kyle Shanahan shined. Knowing that Jordan Black was not allowing any traditional plays to properly develop, Shanahan implemented an option-heavy second half to slow down the weak-side pass rush and take two defensive players out of the box on running plays. On the option, the weakside contain was forced to decide whether to crash on the RB or to stay with Griffin (defender #1) and a weakside DB is forced to respect Brandon Banks or risk a big gain to the outside (defender #2). Theoretically, it should open up the middle of the defense for the running backs to work.
It worked to perfection. Cincinnati had no answer to it. A mixture of Morris and Royster runs up the middle, Griffin keepers to the outside, and pitches to Banks on the outside provided consistent gains as the Redskins marched up the field. As the running game started to take shape, it (slightly) opened up the passing game and at least allowed the opportunity for plays to be made through the air. An offense that was literally able to generate nothing without Trent Williams had all of a sudden become unstoppable against this Cincinnati defense. This is a tremendous credit to the halftime adjustments that Kyle (and Mike) Shanahan made.
Now I understand the concerns behind these adjustments. I fully realize that the option opens up Robert Griffin III to hits from the defense, and I fully realize that at least one of those hits was vicious. But here’s the thing; this is the reason the Redskins paid so much for a single player. This is the reason why the Redskins are currently #1 in the NFL in points scored (#6 in the NFL in offensive points). You cannot defend every aspect of Robert Griffin III’s game, and the moment a coordinator purposefully limits what Griffin can do, he significantly plays into the defense’s hands. He is too versatile and too dangerous on the ground to not have packages that take advantage of his entire skillset. Without the option, the Redskins had zero chance at coming back against Cincinnati. It’s as simple as that.
Having said that, the Redskins should not have to rely on the option consistently. It should just be something the Redskins can turn to in case they need to mix up the playcalls. It shouldn’t be a necessity. The injury to Trent Williams coupled with the utter incompetence of the defense forced Shanahan’s hand. The offense was desperate to get on track in a hurry as they played catch-up, and the option was the only thing capable of getting this offense back in the game without Williams. If the defense is ever able to hold a lead, then running option is not a necessity. Against New Orleans, Griffin only took one direct hit on the option. In a perfect world, that’s what we would see; a game controlled with the traditional stretch zone and playaction heavy West Coast offense. In an imperfect world, such as where the anchor of your offensive line is out with an injury and your defense allows 48-yard TD passes like they were regular 3rd down conversions, the Redskins can and should use everything at their disposal to help them win games. That includes the as yet unstoppable option game we’ve seen thus far.
WR Leonard Hankerson had another strong game after being inserted into the starting lineup. Hankerson led all wide receivers with 4 receptions for 56 yards and got open a few other times on plays that were unfortunately cut short by defensive pressure on Griffin. Hankerson was equally as strong with his run-blocking. On Alfred Morris’ 12-yard run in the beginning of the first quarter, Hankerson worked Pacman Jones 13-yards downfield even as Morris was being dragged down from the backside. On Brandon Banks’ 21-yard run, Hankerson had pancaked Jones 25-yards downfield. He consistently made strong blocks that provided running room to the outside; the more he does this, the more Shanahan will be inclined to keep him on the field for every down. The zone-blocking scheme requires wide receievers with the ability to block downfield, and with the addition of the option, it becomes even more important to keep Griffin clean whenever he keeps the ball on the outside. Hankerson was a real bright spot on the day.
One thing that Jordan Black does well is get out on the move. It was reported that Black was only 270 lbs. when he got the call from the Redskins in the preseason and was attempting to add 30 lbs after joining the team. If looks are any indication, it still appears that he’s under 300 lbs. His quickness on the stretch runs to the right is evident; he’s able to get to his man and attempt cut blocks on the backside pursuit very well (whether he actually finishes the cut is another story). He’s also able to get out in front quickly on runs to the left; on one 6-yard Morris run around left end, Black did very well to seal the edge and clear space for Morris to work with. The praises for Black’s ability stop there. Despite his quickness in the running game, he does not move his feet well in pass-protection. On Michael Johnson’s third sack, Griffin was in the shotgun formation on a designed quick drop and release. Michael Johnson exploded off the snap, took two steps upfield, and dipped his shoulder on Black as he turned the corner. It looked like Black’s feet were in sand on this play. Rarely have I ever seen a tackle beaten so easily. Johnson wasn’t run upfield, he didn’t require a counter move, and he didn’t need to pursue Griffin; he took a straight beeline to RGIII and laid him out without the least bit of resistance. This pass-blocking attempt was ugly.
Sometimes when Black does move his feet, he will overcompensate and become vulnerable to the spin move and the bull rush. This was evident on more than one occassion. Because of his lack of size, he’s also extremely susceptible to allowing push and being controlled on the ground. Too many times Black was seen 3-4 yards in the backfield on running plays to his side. To his credit, Black settled down and played much better in the second half as the option slowed down the defense’s aggressiveness, but ultimately, there were just way too many ways for a defensive end to beat Black for Kyle Shanahan to scheme a competent performance out of his backup tackle. It is a huge plus that Trent Williams is only day to day with that knee injury.
Tyler Polumbus didn’t have a quality day either (though in comparison to Black’s, his day looked great). Carlos Dunlap consistently got into Polumbus’ pads and collapsed the pocket on Griffin. He did have some excellent blocks on some Morris stretch runs to the right, but at other times, Polumbus got pushed back significantly. The pressure he gave up was negligible in comparison to the pressure Black gave up, though; you can live with what Tyler Polumbus gives you. You can be successful with Polumbus, particularly with the versatility this scheme provides. I don’t believe I can say the same about Jordan Black.
Fred Davis was finally a prominent feature in this offense against Cincinnati. It was known that the Bengals’ defense had trouble defending backs and tight ends with their issues at linebacker and safety, and Kyle Shanahan tried to work Davis all game long. Davis has been taking some heat for having a “slow start” to the season, particularly in comparison to what we saw out of him last year. My take on it: Davis is not having a poor season; he’s the victim of a new and diverse offense that is loaded with options not available (or ready to contribute) in previous seasons. Last year, he was the primary target on am offense that lacked any explosive or dynamic threats. This season, there are too many players to spread the ball around to; Davis is simply being used as a general member of this rotation of skilled players. Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson were featured prominently in week 1; Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan were featured in week 2; Fred Davis, Hankerson, and Brandon Banks were featured in week 3. Every week it can and likely will be somebody different stepping up; the matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals dictated that it was Davis’ turn. I don’t think we should expect Davis to put up 7 receptions for 90 yards every game from this point on, and I don’t think that it should be an issue worth fretting over.
At the end of the day, this offense did enough to win this game. They should not have been placed in the position they were in. It’s good to know that we have an offense capable of coming back from a 17-point deficit, but ultimately, the success of the Washington Redskins will be determined by whether or not the defense can get itself under control.