NFC East: Washington Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- What Jay Gruden saw before the game concerned him. Kai Forbath looked shaky.

That’s not how he looked during the game, however, when he made two field goals, including the 40-yard game-winning kick in overtime to beat Dallas 20-17.

“He’s one of those guys that in practice you say he should probably look at another kicker,” Gruden said. “But game day, he rises to the occasion all the time. I don’t think in pregame warmup he made a kick. [But] he’s been a gamer.”

That is why Forbath was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. A week earlier, Forbath made four field goals, including a game-winning 22-yard kick. For the season, Forbath has made nine straight and 13 of 14.

This from a guy who was nearly cut at the end of training camp. But a strong showing in the preseason finale boosted him ahead of Zach Hocker.

“Yeah, it feels good to show them they made the right choice,” Forbath said.

It’s not just his field goals, as Forbath has improved on his kickoffs as well, with nine of his last 19 resulting in touchbacks. Three of his five kickoffs Sunday were touchbacks.

“It’s a huge honor,” Forbath said of being named player of the week. “But we’re still just trying to win games. I went in and did what I’m supposed to do.”
ASHBURN, Va., -- Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III took another step toward returning to the starting lineup, which could happen as soon as Sunday.

For the first time since dislocating his left ankle, Griffin was a full participant in practice and again took snaps with the first-team offense. While coach Jay Gruden called it a glorified walk-through, it still represented another part of the process for Griffin.

Gruden has made it clear that Griffin will start when he’s ready. The fact that he’s taking more reps, splitting them with Colt McCoy, suggests it could be sooner rather than later.

“It all depends on how he does in practice [Thursday] and Friday,” Gruden said. “From a physical standpoint he looks good. Now it’s a matter of mental and getting back the football part of it. If it looks good in that regard, there’s a chance he can play. If he needs another week, he’ll take another week.”

Griffin dislocated his left ankle in Week 2 and during the past two weeks has gradually increased his on-field activity. The biggest task for Griffin is to show that he can execute the offense the way Gruden and the coaches want, or to the level he was doing it before the injury.

Gruden said Monday that Griffin was “very, very, very close” and is handling this differently than a week ago, another sign as to what might happen. Last week, Gruden said McCoy would start, but left open the slim possibility that Griffin might be able to play – though it was clear it would have taken an awful lot. Gruden said he wanted to know by last Thursday who his starter would be.

“This is a unique circumstance,” Gruden said. “I won’t know for sure until I see Robert go through the process with our guys. I want to make sure I evaluate where he is. From a physical standpoint he might have been able to play last week. I don’t know. But we’re trying to make sure he goes through these drills on the turf field and there’s no injury after and make sure it’s stable. … We want to make sure he retained everything [from the offense]. So far it looks pretty good.”

Five questions facing the Redskins

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Here are five questions facing the Washington Redskins entering Week 9.
  1. McCoy
    Who will start at quarterback? Do you ride the so-called hot hand or do you automatically return to Robert Griffin III if he's ready? Redskins coach Jay Gruden has stated he will do so and if that's the case, then he'll have to follow through. Otherwise, you risk being taken at your word as a coach. Now, the coaches can always claim Griffin needs another week and that clearly wouldn't be a bad thing, allowing him to get more practice reps to re-acclimate himself. Minnesota has a good defense (eighth in total yards; 12th in points per game) and it's on the road -- a difficult combination. Colt McCoy played well Monday -- shaky early and much better in the second half. But while he was the big story, it was the defense that led the win.
  2. Can they make it three straight? They did not look like a team ready to go on a roll after beating Tennessee. But sometimes slumps are broken with ugly wins, and Monday's victory proved they could take it another step. Now they just need to sustain that level of energy in subsequent games, which is difficult. Taking care of the ball is crucial: Washington has a minus-45 point differential in points off turnovers -- second worst in the NFL. Any sustained stretch of success stems from doing well in this area (I discussed this in my video earlier Wednesday, with some rather telling numbers over the past few seasons).
  3. Will they now blitz everyone like they did Monday? That's a hard way to live defensively, especially with young corners. The Redskins entered the game having sent an extra rusher on 39.6 percent of dropbacks compared to 60 percent Monday night. It worked because of the matchup -- facing a young line that perhaps had not seen some of these rushes. They also liked the matchups with their receivers. Finally, it was not the plan to blitz as much -- they saw it worked and stuck with this strategy. But keep in mind: Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a 78.3 passer rating against the blitz -- the league average is 96.3. He's 28-of-48 with one touchdown, one interception and six sacks vs. extra pressure.
  4. Jackson
    Can DeSean Jackson keep up this pace? The free-agent signee has been incredible the past four weeks, averaging 26.88 yards per catch. He also had a 36-yarder called back because of a penalty and has drawn three penalties downfield. Minnesota ranks third in the NFL, allowing only 10.52 yards per catch and the Vikings are 10th in number of pass plays for 20 yards or more (with 22). If this becomes a game where underneath throws are bigger, then perhaps Pierre Garcon will be involved to his liking and ease some of his frustration.
  5. Will Alfred Morris' carries decrease? Gruden had planned to give Silas Redd a couple carries vs. Dallas, but there'd be no desire to do so if Morris and the ground game were producing. Gruden mentioned Redd losing the ball at the end of his run (he was down, but it clearly still shakes a coach). The Redskins are trying to marry their outside zone system with what Gruden wants to do. You combine that ... with Morris missing holes at times ... and the blocking being subpar at times ... and you have a struggling ground game. To run the outside zone, you must excel at blocking on the edges and the Redskins do not. Add it to the list of issues. Here's something to consider: Roy Helu has a combined 10 carries the past two games; he had a combined 20 in the first six.

The Film Don't Lie: Redskins

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
A weekly look at what the Washington Redskins must fix:

The Redskins fixed their confidence Monday night in a 20-17 overtime win, but the run game remains a work in progress. At least in Dallas there were signs of life and the old running game; but there was also a continuation of what's ailed the run game all season.

The positive for Washington is that Alfred Morris finally snapped off some longer runs, with two runs of more than 10 yards, including a 29-yarder. The 29-yard run was what we've been accustomed to from this run game, with Morris running a zone to the left. Darrel Young helped seal the end with right tackle Tom Compton and with Dallas in man coverage, receiver DeSean Jackson took the corner wide on an outside route. That left a big hole for Morris and he beat the linebacker coming over for the long gain.

But of his 18 carries, seven were for 2 yards or less. He gained 49 yards on four carries and 34 on the other 14. Coach Jay Gruden continues to search for answers -- it's not always on the blocking; sometimes it's just Morris not finding the hole or making defenders miss as often. Gruden tried rookie Silas Redd, who gained 5 yards and had the ball stripped. It was correctly ruled that he was down, but it had to give Gruden pause.

Roy Helu carried five times for 29 yards, but is he the answer? Helu shows good burst at times but is too impatient at other times. Still, nothing is working and if the Redskins want to sustain any level of success, they'll need more help in this area.

And Morris must produce more: 62 of his 133 carries this season (46.6 percent) have been for 2 yards or less, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the past two years combined, 40.9 percent of his runs resulted in gains of 2 or less. Another big change has come in the 10-plus gains: 8 percent of his runs this season have gained that many; 13.7 percent in the past two years.

It's never been all on Morris. The Redskins have strong run tendencies, as some players have admitted. It's not as if teams are always stacking the line to stop him; that's not the case (according to ESPN Stats & Information, he ran once vs. an eight-man box Monday night). Morris ran with more confidence in the second half and Gruden stayed committed to the run, another key factor.

Meanwhile, Sunday's opponent, Minnesota, ranks 20th in yards per carry allowed at 4.23, so it's yet another game in which the Redskins have a chance for success on the ground. But the Vikings did hold Tampa Bay to 2.87 yards per carry in an overtime win Sunday (the Bucs are averaging 4.12 per carry for the season).

The Redskins need to keep pounding.

Redskins need strong red zone showing

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
DALLAS -- The formula for an upset includes all the particulars: Cause turnovers, run the ball well, don't give up the big plays. If the Washington Redskins want to beat the favored Dallas Cowboys, they will have to follow this blueprint.

They also need to do something they failed to do a week ago: Convert in the red zone. It's an inconsistent area for them this season. Whether that will change with quarterback Colt McCoy in charge is uncertain.

But if the Redskins want to beat Dallas, and help their defense against one of the NFL's best offenses, then it must do well in the red zone. Controlling the ball is great, but it won't matter as much if they're forced to settle for field goals. After a zero-for-four game vs. Tennessee (one of which was on the final drive and featured a game-winning field goal), the Redskins are 20th in the NFL in red zone success (52.4 percent).

Experience matters in the red zone and that's something the Redskins' quarterbacks don't have a lot of, with none of their three having attempted more than 95 passes in this area. There are other issues, too, like a sputtering ground game and missing Robert Griffin III's ability to extend plays.

Several plays illustrate how experience matters in the red zone -- and not just at quarterback. Against Arizona, for example, Kirk Cousins knew a blitz was coming. Rather than audible to maximum protection, he took the snap and hurriedly threw to tight end Jordan Reed, trying to lead him to an opening in the corner of the end zone. But Reed couldn't get close to the ball. A potential touchdown became an incompletion.

Against Tennessee, Cousins went through his progressions on a third-and-8. With no one open, he safely dumped the ball to receiver DeSean Jackson for three yards. But the Titans only rushed three defenders. That should trigger one thought for a quarterback: Extend the play.

"I made a good decision, but as [coach] Jay [Gruden] said if you see a three-man rush, think about extending the play," Cousins said. "I can learn from that."

This is where Griffin's return can help, whenever that occurs. Griffin's ability to run in the red zone changed how defenses played Washington his rookie season. His ability to run forced defenses to abandon certain zone packages to play more man. He ran 13 draws in the first nine games and only three in the final seven because of the change. But in his final seven games as a rookie, Griffin completed nine-of-15 passes for 57 yards and eight touchdowns. Man coverage against this group would be welcomed.

In 2012, the Redskins ranked fourth in the red zone, converting 60.4 percent of their trips here into touchdowns. They were 20th last season, when Griffin's legs were less of a factor.

Also, Griffin has a career 90.8 passer rating in the red zone, completing 51-of-95 passes with 22 touchdowns and two interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. McCoy has completed 33-of-62 passes for 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Cousins has a good passer rating here at 107.4, but that's only out of 22 pass attempts (with six touchdowns).

Meanwhile, players such as Reed can help by learning. Last week against Tennessee, McCoy threw a back-shoulder pass to Reed in the end zone that corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson deflected. The pass could have been a lot better. But, also, Reed needed to create more separation by attacking the corner better, opening more room for McCoy to place the ball to the outside. And Reed can sell the throw with his eyes -- conning the defender by looking up to think fade, then getting to the outside for the back shoulder.

But that can be a difficult route for an inexperienced tight end to run against a corner. A fade route likely would be better, allowing former basketball player Reed to use his athleticism and size to, in essence, win a jump ball.

With a more experienced quarterback, the Redskins might not have called a shovel pass on third and 13 vs. Tennessee.

"With a more experienced guy, you might have more faith and take a shot," Gruden said.

More seasoned quarterbacks can check out of plays faster or break off primary reads quicker. Defenses use different looks down here at times, too. In the red zone, life moves faster and a quarterback must adjust. As the Redskins' passers play more, they likely would be equipped with two plays and can change accordingly.

On a pass, they must be sharp.

"If you're not on time and precise, those windows close quickly," Gruden said.

This also is where running the ball poorly has hurt Washington. From 2012-13, the Redskins averaged 3.35 yards per carry inside the 20-yard line. Now? They average 2.10 yards. They're a little predictable as of the 18 times they've used a two-back set they've run 13 times for an average of 1.31 yards per carry -- of course, they often use that at the goal line, too. Eventually, they should have more success off play-action here.

It's not as if the Redskins have been terrible all season in the red zone and there have been a number of good plays. But to win tonight, and to turn the season around, they have to get there more often and then convert.

DALLAS -- The draft has helped the Dallas Cowboys emerge from the ruins of the 2012 salary cap penalty. The draft has not done the same for the Washington Redskins -- not yet at least. Perhaps Dallas can't sustain its early-season success because of a flawed defense that hasn't been fully exposed, thanks to a dominating offense. And perhaps the Redskins' growth will become more evident in 2015. For now, though, they're at different points, thanks in part to the draft.

Let's take a look:
  • Smith
    Dallas and Washington have built their respective offensive lines in different ways. The Cowboys did an excellent job building through the draft, with three first-round picks -- at left tackle (Tyron Smith), center Travis Frederick and right guard (Zack Martin). Each of the five starters began their careers with the Cowboys. (Jeremy Parnell, who will start at right tackle Monday night, is a fill in for Doug Free. Parnell began his career as an undrafted free agent with New Orleans; Dallas drafted Free in the fourth round.) Left guard Ronald Leary was an undrafted free agent -- he has a degenerative knee condition that hurt his draft stock.
  • The Redskins have drafted a total of three offensive linemen in the first round since 1982 -- Andre Johnson, a massive bust, in 1996; Chris Samuels in 2000; and Trent Williams in 2010. They obviously hit on the latter two. In the franchise’s history, they’ve selected one guard in the first round (Mark May in 1981) and no centers. Also, of Monday’s starting five, only two were drafted by Washington: Williams and right tackle Tom Compton. But it’s not as if the others weren’t higher picks -- right guard Chris Chester (second round), left guard Shawn Lauvao (third round) and center Kory Lichtensteiger (fourth round) all were picked in good spots by their former teams (who also let them leave).
  • Britt
    The Redskins have drafted nine offensive linemen since 2010, and only Williams is a regular starter. Compton gets the start Monday, of course, but he’s not yet a regular. Eventually, though, the job will belong permanently to him or last spring’s third-rounder, Morgan Moses. Here's the point, however: They haven’t done a good job in this area. Dallas’ offense was explosive before the line became this good, but the line has transformed their offense and, by effect, saved a defense (for now at least) that has many issues.
  • During that same period, from 2010-14, Dallas drafted six offensive linemen and three are high-level starters (the first-round picks). It definitely helped that the Cowboys had talent elsewhere on offense, starting at quarterback, and could focus on the line in the first round; that’s a key point and a luxury not many teams have. But they needed a ton of help on defense this past spring yet chose Martin (then went defense with seven of the next eight picks). Martin is fantastic. I’m typically not a big fan of drafting guards or centers in the top half of the first round (Frederick was picked No. 31, a good spot for such a player). But Dallas did so with Martin and has been rewarded.
  • There's also this: 10 of the 11 regular starters for Dallas’ offense have only played for the Cowboys. And nine of them were draft choices (with quarterback Tony Romo an undrafted free agent). Only fullback Tyler Clutts has played elsewhere. The other key is that these players aren’t just starting, they’re contributing to a powerful offense.
  • The Redskins do have seven former draft picks starting on defense, with the lone exceptions being safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher. Offensively, they have four former draft choices starting Monday: Williams, Compton, tight end Jordan Reed and running back Alfred Morris (there's also fullback Darrel Young and tight end Logan Paulsen, both of whom start depending on the package and both of whom were undrafted free agents by the Redskins). Next week a fifth could be added with quarterback Robert Griffin III.
  • By next season, if Griffin develops, the Redskins could have seven former draft picks starting -- if Moses and guard Spencer Long develop. And, again, if Griffin blossoms and those linemen become legitimate starters, it could be a powerful and well-built attack for the foreseeable future. A lot depends on the quarterback play, of course. Had Griffin stayed healthy, things might look different. But he hasn't and that's also why there is concern at this position. Still, if the Redskins end this season feeling good about the development of these young players, it would allow them to focus more on defense in the offseason. That’s why, even if the Redskins fail to get back in the playoff race, the second half of the season bears watching closely.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Quarterback isn't the only position that's somewhat in limbo for the Washington Redskins. In all honesty, quarterback really isn't a question, as it's quite simple: Colt McCoy will start, barring some major (and unforeseen) turnaround from Robert Griffin III.

But other positions have some questions:

Inside linebacker: Perry Riley was a full participant in practice Thursday, but he’s still not quite fully recovered from his sprained MCL. Gruden said Riley and Will Compton could alternate Monday night. Compton did a solid job the past two weeks filling in for Riley. But, Gruden said, “When Perry does come back at 100 percent, it’s his job.”

Right tackle: Gruden still isn’t sure who will start from among Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton or even Morgan Moses. Gruden said it’s a close decision and said part of Polumbus’ problems this season stem from soreness in his knee. He also said Compton deserved a chance last week, which is why they alternated him with Polumbus. A rotation remains an option Monday.

Left guard: There really wasn’t any decision to make because it’s not as if Gruden had said anything about a change. But it’s also not as if Shawn Lauvao has been solid all season. So Gruden was asked if Josh LeRibeus would be getting more reps. “We’re not anticipating moving Shawn out of the spot at left guard,” Gruden said. “We feel good about him. We feel good about Trent [Williams]. Kory [Lichtensteiger] is doing a good job, Chris Chester’s doing a good job.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Hatcher knew the end was coming in Dallas. So when he left, he did so minus any bitterness or regret. It allowed him to shelve certain emotions while making a move to a division rival.

“It was an easy transition,” Hatcher said.

The Washington Redskins have been pleased with Hatcher, who signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract in the offseason. He’s added a physical presence inside, as well as pass-rush help with three sacks -- and he's drawing numerous double-teams.

Dallas, meanwhile, has gone from a potentially bad defense to one that ranks 15th overall in yards and 10th in points allowed. It’s not as if the Cowboys necessarily miss him, though they only have seven sacks this season -- Hatcher had a career-best 11 for them a year ago.

Still, Hatcher maintains a just-another-game mentality as the Redskins prepare to play the Cowboys Monday night.

“You’ve just got to be locked into what is at stake for this team, and I am,” he said. “What’s at stake is another win. So that is what I’m focusing on. I’m not going out there trying to be no hero or anything like that. I’m just going to continue to be the player I am. I am not going to go do nothing special.”

Hatcher does stay in contact with players from his former team. He also said he could sense a culture change in Dallas, which is now 6-1.

“It took a while, with me being an a-hole sometimes, you know the culture kind of changed,” he said. “You could see it happening. I’m excited for those guys. I wish the best for them.”

Hatcher is trying to become more of a leader in Washington. Though Hatcher said his new teammates accepted him as if he’s been here his whole career, he’s trying to exert more influence on changing the culture in Washington. Typically, wins do the trick. Until then, Hatcher is trying to do his part.

“It’s slowly but surely coming in,” Hatcher said. “I’m just being the guy that I have always been, the leader that they expect me to be. Some things you’re not going to like that I say, but I am here to be that leader and that voice. The team is going in the right direction.”

And, yes, he’s anxious to sack his former teammate, Tony Romo -- something Hatcher wasn’t allowed to do in practice for the Cowboys.

“It’s exciting for every quarterback, man,” he said. “I enjoy rushing the passer, man. That is what I do. I love it, so it just happens to be my old teammate. It’s going to be great. I don’t like quarterbacks, so every quarterback, all quarterbacks, are going to get rushed the same by me.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- A few nuggets from Redskins Park on Wednesday:
  • Robinson
    Linebacker Keenan Robinson was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his 14-tackle performance against Tennessee. Robinson and players such as cornerback Bashaud Breeland give Gruden hope for the future. “As a young player, you go through some rough patches, but when you play through it, you can see the progression of these guys. Breeland had a good game the other day against Tennessee also. So these young players are getting meaningful reps – that ones that continue to get better and better are the ones that are going to be special-type players and I hope that for Keenan. He had a great game.”
  • Receiver Leonard Hankerson said he feels “100 percent” and that his surgically-repaired knee has had no swelling since his return. It’s uncertain when he’ll be activated to the 53-man roster, but Hankerson said he’s ready. “I have teammates coming up to me and telling me how good I look,” Hankerson said. “I feel good. Like I said, I’ve been out moving around, working every day catching passes before practice, after practice. Timing-wise, there’s nothing holding me back.”
  • Linebacker Trent Murphy called it a huge leap that he’ll be making this week, going from backup to full-time starter for the injured Brian Orakpo. But he said the benefit is, “I know what to prepare for, whereas before I wasn’t quite sure when I’d be in for sure. I’d always have to be ready. Now I know so it’s no surprise and I can prepare accordingly.”
  • Murphy also said he’s still adjusting to the NFL. “A lot of things,” he said. “But no hesitation and playing fast and disruptive. I knew how fast the game would be and that’s where my improvement needs to be, always playing fast with no hesitation.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III showed a little more Wednesday, participating in more of the practice, showing a little more to his game. However, there’s still a lot more he’d need to show to warrant starting Monday night’s game at Dallas.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden has made it clear that Griffin would have to show an awful lot for him to start him against the Cowboys. But Gruden also left open the possibility of being wowed by Griffin. Barring that, it’ll still be Colt McCoy’s job. Griffin hasn’t played since Week 2 because of a dislocated left ankle.

“I’ve already made the decision it’s going to be Colt,” Gruden said. “I said that Robert would be the wild card possibly, if he is ready to go, and that still hasn’t been decided yet.”

Gruden said Griffin didn’t show him a whole lot more than last week – or, at least, there wasn’t a big jump. Gruden also said his chance for playing Monday hasn’t changed from what he said earlier in the week.

“He’s progressing along,” Gruden said. “It’s not so much watching him run; I think he feels OK running right now. It’s just a matter of how he feels [Thursday]. There’s certain movements, rolling out to the right, rolling out to the left and cutting back – we’ve just got to see how he handles that. But the big thing is getting him back comfortable into the pocket and throwing the ball to the receivers, getting his timing down.

“There’s a lot of that that has to take place also, so he’s coming along at a good clip, like we thought he would.”

Gruden made it clear Monday that he’ll abide first by what the trainers and doctors tell him. But he also said it’s not just about Griffin’s health. Griffin threw to receivers and tight ends during practice Wednesday, with some on target and others high and wide or short. The quarterbacks alternated reps with each of the three groups.

But it goes deeper.

“It’s not so much how his leg feels,” Gruden said. “It is, but it’s about taking plays with the pass rush coming at him and the live reps that he hasn’t had since Houston or since Jacksonville, which is a long time ago, it seems like. So the big part of it is, ‘How do we progress him along and get him the reps in practice.’ There’s only so many you can have. That’s the biggest issue – that and getting the timing with the receivers and just playing the game.

“There are a lot of variances to whether or not we think he will be ready for Monday night. Health-wise, No. 1, then obviously is he ready physically getting back in the flow with the wide receivers with the timing, the accuracy and all that.”

Gruden said Griffin likely would either be the starter or inactive Monday: all-in or nothing. He also said Griffin’s past injuries won’t be an issue in this decision.

“I take this injury itself into its own entity,” Gruden said. “If the doctors say that he has no risk of that thing getting re-injured. If it’s stable, they feel he can go through a game and get tackled and one little turn is not going to do a lot of damage, if they feel it’s stable, then we will go from there.”

Five questions facing the Redskins

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
Here are five questions facing the Washington Redskins entering Week 8 at Dallas:
  1. Who will play quarterback? It still appears as if Colt McCoy will be the guy, barring Robert Griffin III looking more ready than anticipated. So we're going to assume it's McCoy. Now the question becomes, what does that mean for the offense? A lot of short passes: 71.2 percent of his career throws have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But if Dallas crowds the line too much, then McCoy showed last week he can throw accurate downfield to DeSean Jackson.
  2. How will the defense fare minus Brian Orakpo? We all know he wasn't having a Pro Bowl season rushing the passer, but he was still a solid player in other areas and he still applied some pressure; he just didn't get home, which is what he needed to do. So replacing him is more than just from a pass-rush standpoint. Rookie Trent Murphy has a ways to go before he can be considered a solid all-around linebacker; most of his job has been rushing the passer in a nickel set. I do wonder, though, how he'll fare in this area when he has a chance to play a lot. Murphy is not going to wow anyone with explosion. This will provide him that opportunity. But Murphy also has to prove he can play the run and do well in coverage. Dallas will test him.
  3. Can they build on last week's win? The problem is, it's not as if the Redskins played well. They made mistakes that, against a better team, would have cost them the game -- offside on fourth and 5; turnovers, etc. Sunday looked like two struggling teams playing a game someone had to win. But a win certainly eases tension for a week and sometimes, to use a baseball analogy, you just need a bloop single to emerge from a slump. But they appeared like a team that still had a ways to go.
  4. Can the run game get going this week? To think the run game is the fault of Griffin's absence is just wrong. It's going to take more than a running threat at quarterback to change this area -- and it's not like he was a threat when they were in I-formation in the past, yet they ran well. Griffin's return will at times hold the backside end from pursuit, but the blocking has to improve. His return won't change interior pressure in the run game. At times I wonder if the run game is more predictable; if that happens, then you better have dominant blockers. Washington does not. I'm surprised, and disappointed, by what has transpired in this area. It's on many, including the running back. Also, the Redskins have faced three teams ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry (Seattle, Arizona and Jacksonville). In the next nine games, Washington plays six games against teams that currently rank 23rd or worse in yards per carry -- and none in the top 10.
  5. Can they slow the Dallas offense? The Cowboys have scored 30 or more points in four of the past five games. They have a top-10 quarterback (Tony Romo), the NFL's leading rusher (DeMarco Murray) -- by nearly 300 yards -- and one of the best receivers (Dez Bryant). And they're playing behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines; it's not a group that succeeds by scheme, it's a group that makes a scheme look good. There's a difference. Finally, in the past four games Dallas has averaged 6.39 yards per play (No. 4 in the NFL during that time, one spot ahead of Washington) and 431.2 yards (also fourth, 14 spots ahead of Washington). The Redskins' defense has actually played better than given credit for, though it gets obscured by big plays allowed thanks to breakdowns and no game-changing plays. The hard part will be a secondary with weak safety play and young corners will be tested quite often. Also, the Redskins' offense must do better: This is where the talent supposedly is, yet the Redskins have failed to score more than 20 points in five of their seven games. Again, it's not just about Griffin's absence.

Redskins sign LB Everette Brown

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
The Washington Redskins liked him enough that he nearly made the 53-man roster out of training camp. But it did lead to an eventual roster spot for Everette Brown.

Tuesday, the Redskins signed Brown to the active roster, taking the spot created when Brian Orakpo was placed on injured reserve. They had talked about signing Gabe Miller off the practice squad. Miller had beaten out Brown for the final outside linebacker spot out of training camp. But they eventually cut Miller and placed him on the practice squad, calling him a developmental player. Brown is more ready.

Brown will have a chance to play against one of his former teams on Monday night when the Redskins play at Dallas. Brown played seven games with Dallas last season, recording a sack. Carolina drafted him in the second round of the 2009 draft, but he never fulfilled expectations. Brown has started three games in his career while appearing in 38, with stops in Carolina and San Diego in addition to Dallas. He also spent time with Detroit and Philadelphia, but never appeared in a game with either team. Brown played for current Redskins outside linebackers coach Brian Baker in Carolina.

The Redskins signed him on July 28, four days after training camp had opened. They cut him on Aug. 30.

Brown will be the fourth outside linebacker, with rookie Trent Murphy taking over for Orakpo in the starting lineup. They also have Jackson Jeffcoat.

Redskins' depth tested on defense

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins' defense has been hurt by injuries, both to starters and players they anticipated to be key backups. They're still seventh overall in total yards per game (but 24th in points per game).

The majority of the injuries have occurred to backups; some have a greater impact than others. Here's a look at the players who have gotten hurt this season:

LB Brian Orakpo

What happened: Tore his right pectoral muscle this past Sunday and is out for the season.

Impact: Orakpo has quite his share of critics and it's hard to contend he's anything other than a good linebacker. But he was still good and he'll be replaced by a rookie, Trent Murphy, who has yet to show a whole lot -- and now has to be more than just an occasional pass-rusher. Yes, Orakpo needed to record more sacks and make plays. But the Redskins now have two inexperienced players on that side in Murphy and Jackson Jeffcoat.

CB DeAngelo Hall

What happened: Tore his Achilles' tendon in Week 3 and is out for the season.

Impact: The Redskins lost a good corner, and their most comfortable defensive back in press coverage. Bashaud Breeland might be a quality starter in the future, but for now he's a rookie enduring growing pains. Hall had given up some plays in his first three games, but his savvy is missed.

NT Barry Cofield

What happened: Suffered a high ankle sprain in the season opener and can return after the bye week.

Impact: Chris Baker slid from end to nose tackle. He does what the coaches want, but the Redskins were better off with the combination of Baker at end and Cofield at tackle than the current setup.

LB Perry Riley

What happened: Suffered a sprained MCL and has missed the past two games.

Impact: Will Compton has filled in capably. Though he's not a playmaker, he executes his assignments. Riley has been a liability in zone coverage in particular; the organization was not unanimous in his return this past offseason. But there are things he does well -- he's fast and is a solid blitzer. However, he still has to prove he's part of their future plans.

LB Darryl Sharpton

What happened: Suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. He was eventually released with an injury settlement.

Impact: He would have been a backup inside linebacker and possible replacement for the injured Riley. However, it's not as if Compton has struggled in this role. Sharpton also was supposed to help special teams. They needed him there more than anywhere.

LB Akeem Jordan

What happened: Injured his knee in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve Saturday after appearing in just two games.

Impact: Mostly on special teams. Had Sharpton been healthy, Jordan was in danger of being cut before the season.

CB Tracy Porter

What happened: He was just working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery when he injured his hamstring in camp. He played in half a game, hurt it again and remains sidelined.

Impact: He would have served as the No. 3 corner -- he covered well in the slot for Oakland last season. Of course, that was the first time in his career he'd played in all 16 games. Without him, they had to move Breeland into the starting lineup after Hall was hurt and now E.J. Biggers is serving as their nickel corner. Biggers should not be a No. 3 covering in the slot. Porter hasn't been a Pro Bowler and durability has always been an issue -- so the fact he's hurt shouldn't be surprising -- but they're not better off with Biggers as the No.3.

NT Chris Neild

What happened: Tore his ACL in camp and is out for the season.

Impact: When Cofield went down, the Redskins had to shift Baker to nose tackle. It's a natural position for Baker, but, again, they like him even more at end. Neild is probably best playing around 10 snaps a game, but he's a legit nose tackle and even if they had shifted Baker over, they still needed a backup. They don't have a true backup nose right now.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins now have to replace yet another starting defensive player. Already this season they've had to replace corner DeAngelo Hall (for the season), nose tackle Barry Cofield (for half a season) and now linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Here's a look at important names in this scenario:

Trent Murphy: The rookie second-round pick hasn't had a big statistical impact. He's played mostly in their fast nickel alignment, while also subbing for Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan at times in the base package. He doesn't have a sack and has nine tackles.

"Trent has got to step up, he has got to play better, he has got to play more physical at the point of attack," coach Jay Gruden said. "We're playing against the No. 1 rushing offense, so he is going to have to be very good at the point of attack. He's going to have his work cut out for him. He's going to have to grow up very fast."

Jackson Jeffcoat: He won't be promoted to the starting lineup, but he will get more snaps in games. Jeffcoat played one snap from scrimmage in their fast nickel alignment, ahead of Murphy for that particular play. Jeffcoat was signed to the Redskins' practice squad on Sept. 2.

Gabe Miller: He's currently on the Redskins' practice squad, after initially making the roster out of training camp. He's raw, having moved from a tight end in college. The Redskins will consider promoting him to take Orakpo's roster spot.

Rob Jackson: The Redskins are going to consider Miller and then other street free agents. If those don't work out, a team source said they will consider their former linebacker. Jackson played for Washington from 2008-13 until being cut this summer. Though he made plays for them in 2012, there was concern he'd be able to sustain such play, in part because he's not a fast linebacker.

Ryan Kerrigan: OK, he's already in the starting lineup and has a team-best 6.5 sacks. But his versatility means he could end up seeing more action on the right side if that's what the Redskins need. Gruden said they will switch Kerrigan and Murphy at times, though they did the same with him and Orakpo. Oftentimes it depends on the matchup.

Gruden said of Kerrigan, "He's good against the run, he has had some great pass rush moves. He can do it all. He has dropped in coverage and covered tight ends. We feel strongly about where Ryan is as a player. He is productive and he's going to have to be more productive. Everybody on that defense without D-Hall, without Orakpo, they are all going to have to step up and play better than they thought they ever could."
The Washington Redskins debated the move and figured they had to bring him back. They used the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo, hoping a series of moves would transform him into the player they wanted him to become. For whatever reason, it didn't happen. Now, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, he's lost for the season with a torn right pectoral muscle.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo, Joe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassIn seven games this season, Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo has recorded just a half a sack.
Washington signed an interior pass-rusher in Jason Hatcher. They hired an outside linebackers coach whose specialty was the pass rush. But after seven games, Orakpo did not have the sort of production either he or the team would like, with only half a sack.

Rushing the passer is about more than sacks, and Orakpo influences the pass rush. But when you're being paid $11.45 million for one season and when you want to be paid even more, then you have to do more than set up others. You have to make game-changing plays. In the end, that's what Orakpo has failed to do in Washington, which is why the Redskins will face another decision this offseason. Do they bring him back (at a reduced rate because of the injury) or do they cut ties and find more help?

To have a strong 3-4 defense, you must have pass-rushing outside linebackers. That's why ultimately the Redskins brought back Orakpo. They could have invested at other defensive positions, but were reluctant to spend a lot on a safety (they needed two).

The league's highest-paid safety, Jairus Byrd, made no impact with New Orleans and was then lost for the season with an injury. Signing Byrd would have pacified many, but the Saints would have way overpaid. If you're going to overpay, it should be at a premium position. And pass-rushers help you win on defense, and the Redskins hoped the extra help would transform Orakpo from a guy with a career-best 11 sacks in one season to someone who could record several more.

Injuries didn't help his game this season, from a sprained middle finger to sprains in his wrist and ankle. But those can't be used to explain everything. This is a playmakers' league, and Orakpo didn't make enough plays. He played the run well and didn't have any coverage mishaps, though he dropped an easy interception versus Arizona. He drew his fair share of holding penalties over the years.

In his first five seasons, Orakpo intercepted one pass and forced six fumbles (while recording 39.5 sacks). Some linebackers being paid the kind of money Orakpo seeks have forced the same number of turnovers in one season. And it was clear in the spring from coach Jay Gruden that these sort of plays were expected. Once Gruden mentioned that at the owners meetings, the desire was clear.

The Redskins have some options: They can turn to rookie Trent Murphy, whom they just wanted to have in a pass-rushing role this season. They could draft another dynamic outside linebacker in the spring. They could sign a free agent. It would be hard to rely on a guy who now has suffered three torn pectorals (two on the left, one on the right).

Orakpo is a passionate player who works hard and cares about the game and winning. But ultimately, he'll be remembered as another player who fell short of expectations in Washington. He was a good player. The Redskins needed him to be great.