Had to work late tonight so wasn't able to go over the complete game, but wanted to at least get in the first half. Below I've jotted down many of the plays that were in some way in some way notable or said something about the Redskins performance. Note that this is not every play - you will find numerous gaps so don't consider it a full narrative or try to figure out why the yardlines don't always match up from play to play. I did, however, include every red zone play as they have been the source of most of the drama and consternation this week. A few "wrap-up" observations are at the end of the post.
A quick note on the shorthand I used - read 1-10-W40 as first and ten on the Washington 40 yardline. S40 would indicate St. Louis 40 yard line (I started out noting them as R40 for Redskins and R40 for Rams and somehow got about 10 plays in before it dawned on me that this was a rather unhelpful notation system).
Opening Kickoff – The banning of the wedge is one of the most phony rule changes of all time. In the first preseason game two pairs of lead blockers were careful to stay many yards apart. Throughout the preseason they inched closer and closer together, presumably to see what could be gotten away with. On this kick return the Redskins had four blockers who made a very deliberate effort to converge at a point and form a wall moving forward. If that’s not a wedge I don’t know what is.
Redskins First Possession
1-10-W25 – Skins go deep first play. Kelly initially has a step on the DB but ball is thrown just a little short. Kelly has to slow up and DB is able to defense it.
2-10-W25 – Thomas and Dockery both pull to the right but Thomas is unable to seal the corner so Portis gets stuffed after 1 yard. I feel like this is a play Thomas would have made a couple years ago.
3-9-W26 – An odd play for 3rd and 9. Kelly caught the ball only one yard past the line of scrimmage on a slow-developing drag route. Initially I assumed that was because the downfield reads weren’t getting open, but watching the replay it’s clear that Jason was locked onto Kelly from the beginning. There were absolutely no defenders near Kelly when he caught it, so maybe the other routes (not visible on the telecast) were designed to get Kelly the running room necessary to gain the first down. This is one of the many occasions on which I curse the 1950s TV executive who decided to broadcast football from an angle that only lets you see the quarterback.
Hunter’s punt goes 44 yards, but it’s a line drive with only 3.72 hangtime, so not prototypical Hunter the Punter material. [On a side note, I am as appalled as you are that I spend my free time watching 3 day old football games and timing the punts. I really need a hobby.]
Rams First Possession
1-10-S40 – Rams try a run up the middle. Daniels gains leverage on the RT and basically slides under him, meanwhile Haynesworth pushes the LG-LT double team straight into the backfield. They converge on Steven Jackson for a 1 yard loss. Haynesworth was worth every penny.
3-8-S42 – Redskins bring the house – two LBs blitzing up the middle – but Orakpo, who is initially line up at RDE, drops into pass coverage. Zone blitzes are nice and all, but pass rushing is something we know Orakpo can do; in coverage he is very raw. Incomplete anyway, but I often get the feeling Greg Blache doesn’t use his players in such a way to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
On the ensuing punt Randle-El took a fair catch at the 14 with at least 6-8 yards of field position open ahead of him.
Redskins Second Possession
1-10-W28 – Play action incomplete to Moss downfield – a borderline throw away after nobody got open. One of the Redskins’ most noticeable characteristics when they offense was clicking in the first half of 2008 was how hard they sold play action. Not only did Campbell give the ball full extension, but the line blocked hard to one side or the other and Portis barreled into the line. I just haven’t seen quite the same commitment lately. They still sell it harder than most other teams, but I wonder what has led to this visible regression.
1-10-W43 – Portis off right tackle for 12 behind a classic Sellers lead block. The kind of power running attack I was hoping would dominate the Rams.
2-8-S43 – Cooley motions behind the line of scrimmage and then runs into the flat, which has been emptied by the WRs complementary routes. It’s clear that the offense was running through Cooley in the first quarter – Zorn was finding ways to get him the ball.
1-10-S32 – Another play fake. The line seems to go straight into pass pro, unlike the hard crashes into the line of the past, and apparently it fools no one as Campbell can’t find a receiver downfield. Fortunately Campbell’s most consistent skill is knowing when to run and exactly where he needs to get to, so he scrambles for a first down.
1-G-S8 – Portis runs straight into the teeth of an 8 man blitz. He was hit 4 yards in the backfield; not many backs other than Portis would have fought as tenaciously to manage a 1 yard gain.
2-G-S7 – Shovel pass to Portis, who mystifyingly runs into Rabach’s back when there were holes available.
3-G-S3 – Campbell steps up under pressure and fires a bullet to Devin Thomas at the goal line and it goes straight through his hands. The play call worked – Thomas just didn’t execute.
Rams Second Possession
1-10-S15 – Steven Jackson stuffed for no gain. Griffin got the penetration and deserves credit for a nice play, but it wouldn’t have happened without another double team hanging onto Haynesworth for dear life.
2-10-S15 – Orakpo rushes from RDE and uses his speed to blow past the tackle. He is part of the overall pressure (Carter and Golston were in there too while Haynesworth was doubled again) that forces Bulger to throw a 2 yard dumpoff to the TE – who is immediately hit by Rocky McIntosh knocking ball lose. Redskins recover. But wait… Orakpo slung Bulger to the ground after the ball was out and Rams maintain possession and get a first down. There’s a lot of chickenshit roughing the passer calls these days, but this one looked legit. Rookies…
2-4-S36 – Pressure – Orakpo from SLB (but on the line), Daniels from RE, and Griffin from DT all get into the backfield and force a low incomplete pass right before Daniels plants Bulger into the dirt.
2-11-S40 – More pressure. Nothing fancy, just all four linemen winning their individual matchups. Only a borderline miraculous escape allows Bulger to scramble for 6 yards.
2-10-W46 – Bulger sacked for 6 yards. Griffin played like a monster on Sunday. He simply crashed through the RG, who couldn’t slow him down even while getting flagged for holding.
3-16-S48 – Carter races past the RT, Rocky comes in from the other side untouched. The meet at Bulger, who is able to get out a backwards, underhand flip to Jackson at the line of scrimmage, then Horton shoots in like a missile and takes him out in classic Horton fashion.
Redskins Third Possession
1-10-W49 – Campbell is forced to throw it into the dirt at Sellers’ feet. One of the few times the Rams got pressure was due to some sort of missed assignment. Samuels blocked in on the tackle before spinning around in a panic as the RDE ran past him untouched – there was no TE or any other help on that side. Did Rabach and/or Campbell fail do adjust the blocking against the Rams defensive alignment?
3-10-S29 – Three man rush gives Campbell plenty of time. Campbell pump fakes, then gets the ball to Santana, who totally sold his DB on a go route before slamming on the breaks and running a hook. 21 yard gain.
1-G-S8 – Portis hit in the backfield for a loss due solely to the fact that Chris Cooley is an appallingly bad run blocker and lets Leonard Little blow past him into the backfield.
2-G-S10 – Easy touchdown bounces off Sellers’ hands. A perfect throw.
3-G-S10 – Rabach is pushed 8 yards into the backfield by the DT, which flushed Campbell out of the backfield and forces him to throw it away.
Rams Third Possession
2-10-S16 – The 58 yard Steven Jackson run, and pretty much the one blemish in a very impressive defensive performance. Horton fills the gap at the line of scrimmage and simply misses the tackle; after that break Jackson uses his speed to rack up a big gain.
1-G-W5 – OK, the defense looked very good as a whole but got lucky on this one. Bulger had a very quick release so pressure wasn’t a factor, and he rifled it into McMichael who had found a very small hole between four Redskins defenders. Dropped. Tryon dove at the ball a few yards in front of McMichael and may have broken his concentration.
3-G-W2 – Rams touchdown on a perfectly executed endzone fade to Laurent Robinson, who easily gets over DeAngelo Hall.
Redskins Fourth Possession
2-7-W43 – Like on many other occasions, Campbell at first has trouble finding an open receiver despite very nice protection. Is this because the receivers can’t get open or because Campbell hesitates to pull the trigger? Thanks to the absurd default camera angle of football broadcasts, we’ll never know. It ends happily though – thanks to the inordinate amount of time Jason has in the pocket he is eventually able to find Randle-El curling back for a first down after what seems like about 8 ½ minutes.
1-10-S48 – Something went wrong here. Jason is in shotgun and appears to not be anticipating the snap as it bounces off his chest. Fortunately he catches it, but given the way that most of the O-line weren’t even out of theirs stances before the defenders blew past them, I think the snapcount screw up was on Rabach. Jason runs for his life and then while on the run tries to force it to Randle-El in the flat, but the defender jumps it and knocks it down.
A couple quick wrap-up thoughts on the first half:
- On the whole Jason Campbell looked comfortable and confident. However, it looked like a lot of plays were designed to get him easy completions, as if Zorn though Jason needed a confidence-builder after the offense performed so poorly against the Giants.
- It is generally an overused football cliche that you have to establish the run, but the power running game was working and we got from it to go with repeated short passes. This is what we should have done against the Giants, but here I would have been happy to continue watching Sellers and Portis run over Rams all day.
- Of the six first half red zone plays, there were five failures of execution by the players: Portis running into Rabach's back on the shovel pass, the Devin Thomas drop, the Mike Sellers drop, Chris Cooley's inability to hold a block on Leonard Little for the half a second that would have allowed Portis to get to the line of scrimmage, and Rabach being driven into the backfield to wreck a run. In none of these cases did Zorn put them into a position to fail - the basic duties of a football player were not executed. Why is everyone convinced that Zorn's playcalling was the entire problem?
UPDATE - On the above point, I want to clarify that Portis ran into Rabach's back as soon as he spun around, and while it was rotten luck it wasn't really a failure on Portis' part. The point is that there were holes available so the play call was not the problem.
Hope to get the second half up tomorrow night - we'll see if that changes any of my perceptions.