Washington Redskins vs. Minnesota Vikings: Takeaways for Washington's 27-34 Loss
A lack of discipline and schematic failures on both sides of the ball saw the Redskins contrive to give the game away. The prime takeaway from the game has to be the mess at the team's coaching level.
Head coach Mike Shanahan and his coordinators should expect strict scrutiny following this collapse. The only positives were provided by a trio of offensive playmakers who continue to dominate.
Pierre Garcon Has to Be Taken Seriously as a No.1 Receiver
As one of his most consistent critics, it is time to eat humble pie and acknowledge that Pierre Garcon is living up to his billing as a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
That is what the team signed him to be last season, and Garcon has overcome injuries and questionable effort to develop into a consistent playmaker.
He hauled in seven passes against the Vikings for 119 yards and a touchdown. This comes just one week after tallying 172 yards against the San Diego Chargers.
He has had seven catches in each of his last three games. Whatever other problems this team has, Garcon's consistency is no longer one of them.
Jordan Reed Will Continue to Be a Major Threat
Jordan Reed's remarkable progress as a rookie starter shows no signs of slowing down. The dynamic "move" tight end caught six passes for 62 yards and a score in Minnesota.
In what have now become typical trends, Reed lined up in a variety of positions and was a vital outlet on third down. He was once again allowed to showcase his skills in the open field, particularly from screen passes.
Reed has already established himself as a core playmaker on offense. It is vital the coaches continue to devise ways to set him free.
Alfred Morris Is Still a Dominant Force
After enduring a slow start to his second pro season, 2012 rookie sensation Alfred Morris is proving that he is still a dominant force. He produced his second big game in a row, powering his way to 139 yards, one week removed from tallying 121 against the Chargers.
Morris was too much to handle for the Vikings, especially during a masterful first-half display of zone-running. He ran behind some competent blocking and made one decisive cut after another.
He also showed his trademark knack for making yards after first contact. When the Redskins went away from him in the second half, the offense began to falter.
If there is any hope left for this season, the coaching staff can't afford to neglect Morris again.
The Offensive Line Cannot Produce a Complete Game
Washington's front five just cannot put a complete game together. They were dominant in the first half but wilted after the break.
The group initially knocked open numerous inviting cutback lanes for Morris and kept Griffin clean in the pocket. Things were running smoothly, but once the wheels came off, the line was the main reason Washington's offense stuttered.
The unit could not cope with Minnesota's stable of pass-rushers, particularly veteran tackle Kevin Williams. He routinely crushed the interior of the pocket and was credited with 2.5 sacks.
Pressure through the middle has been a season-long problem, yet no adjustments appear to have been made to fix it. With a line this temperamental, it is no surprise Washington's scoring output is so inconsistent.
Robert Griffin III Is Taking Too Many Hits
Robert Griffin III is going to have a short career if the Redskins can't do a better job protecting him. He is simply absorbing too many hits.
It is not a case anymore of Griffin being hit as a runner. His ability to make plays with his feet is an invaluable part of his game.
In many ways, a lot of hits are the price Washington must pay for boasting a dual-threat quarterback and trying to make the most of his skills.
The real problem is that Griffin is taking more and more punishment in the pocket. Defenses have worked out that they can successfully blitz Griffin.
If the team can't do more to keep pass-rushers at bay, there is little point developing Griffin's mechanics as a dropback passer. It is better to keep him on the move and away from pressure.
The Shanahans Are Wasting a Lot of Talent on Offense
Mike and Kyle Shanahan are not making full use of all of their weapons on offense. They are ignoring valuable rotation players who would add variety to the attack.
The issue is most evident in the running game. Going away from Morris in the second half in Minnesota didn't make much sense.
But even if there was a valid reason, then why not unleash a heavy dose of Roy Helu Jr. to give the Vikings a different threat to contend with? Or perhaps even run Evan Royster between the tackles to help slow down that pass rush?
Instead, the Shanahans are wasting a versatile stable of runners and pinning everything on Morris. So when he is slowed, the only choice is to air it out more often and expose Griffin to greater pressure.
When he does have time, Griffin is aiming only for familiar targets. Given how well Reed has performed, it makes sense that Fred Davis would miss some time.
But by declaring him inactive every week, the Shanahans are denying themselves the chance to challenge defenses with another talented pass-catcher.
That might have made things different on the final drive in Minnesota, when the Vikings knew they could just lock up Reed and Garcon behind a blitzing front.
Had Davis been on the field, the Vikings may have been forced to commit more bodies to coverage. Or had Morris and Helu been placed in the backfield together, the Redskins might have been able to run it in on one of their first two goal-line plays.
The Shanahans need to expand their play-calling to make the most of all the weapons at their disposal.
This Defense Is Just Plain Bad
There are a number of factors that help explain Washington's woes on defense, but they all add up to one harsh reality. This unit is just bad, just plain bad.
When you surrender 34 points to the Vikings, despite holding Adrian Peterson to 75 yards and playing against a backup quarterback, you're a bad defense.
Coordinator Jim Haslett cannot get the formula right in his 3-4 schemes. His decision to give Minnesota's receivers room on the outside was a strange one considering the secondary has looked impressive in press coverage.
Firing the same blitz at the Vikings on third downs, even after they had proved they could pick it up, was another blunder. But as much as he is culpable, Haslett is also being let down by key players not showing up consistently.
How could outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan not dominate against a backup right tackle? Why could nobody cover reserve tight end John Carlson, who enjoyed a career-best night?
The Redskins opened the season with a broken quarterback and a historically bad defense.
Two months later the quarterback is running his offense at near peak efficiency, setting third-down conversion records for a Mike Shanahan-led team. The defense still has no backbone, however, standing second to last in the NFL in points allowed and third to last in yards allowed per game.
This defense has been the bane of the team ever since Shanahan made the switch to a 3-4 and installed Haslett in 2010. Major changes are needed to salvage the unit, and Shanahan needs to act fast.
Mike Shanahan Is Venturing into 'Borrowed Time' Territory
Mike Shanahan has to be running out of good will in Washington. He is facing up to a third losing season out of four, and the same problems that have plagued his teams since 2010 remain.
The play-calling is still suspect on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is still in a state of flux, while the defense remains downright abysmal, and the special teams may be even worse.
What is perhaps most troubling of all is the lack of discipline. That is something that was rife during the short-lived nightmare that was the Jim Zorn era.
It was also something that was supposed to be eradicated by hiring a two-time Super Bowl winner. But the Redskins continue to incur needless penalties.
The Washington Post's Mike Jones highlighted just how costly that bad habit was in Minnesota:
The Redskins committed three costly personal fouls to set up the Minnesota Vikings in more favorable positions on what wound up being scoring drives.
Minnesota scored touchdowns on each of those possessions and went on to win, 34-27.
“That’s unacceptable,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “You can’t do that. You have to keep your poise, and you make mistakes like that so often, it’ll cost you the game."
Teams that are ill-disciplined lose games they are talented enough to win, and that is just what happened in Minnesota. A coach as experienced as Shanahan should not be seeing his team collapse the way it did in the second half, a sentiment he echoed in comments reported by the Associated Press:
It's disappointing, coach Mike Shanahan said. You go back to work to make sure you get it done. There's a lot of good things that happened in that game, but we're going to reflect on the things that we did poorly because you've got to find a way to win those games. I was disappointed we couldn't pull that thing out.
His supporters will point to 2012's turnaround from 3-6 to 10-6. It will surely take another reversal like that to prevent Shanahan's position from becoming untenable.