Washington Redskins vs. Minnesota Vikings: Full Roster Grades for Washington
Washington's 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings is not any easier to bear after a few days to let the dust settle. That is because the Redskins produced a stunning first-half performance on offense that merits high grades for players on that side of the ball.
Unfortunately, they were let down by a woeful defensive performance that explains the mediocre grades across that unit. While individual skill players merit top marks, key playmakers on defense contributed to the lowest grade possible.
Here is how Washington's units graded out after a nightmare collapse on Thursday Night Football.
Robert Griffin III showcased moments of brilliance as a dual-threat playmaker. He made some key runs and was also more decisive in the pocket than he had been in previous games.
That latter quality was the key to three first-half touchdown passes. Griffin's performance was encapsulated by his second-quarter scoring toss to rookie tight end Jordan Reed.
He evaded initial pressure and froze the coverage with a pump fake before timing a perfect strike to Reed. It was an assured, intelligent play from a young quarterback who still needs to hone his overall technique.
Sadly, all of Griffin's good work in the first half was undone by the way his offensive line collapsed after the break. Griffin was put under wave after wave of pressure as Minnesota's front four walked through feeble attempts at blocking.
Naturally, being under such duress hampered Griffin's game. His delivery became erratic, and he overthrew a number of passes he should have completed.
Being able to make plays when under pressure is a hallmark of the kind of elite quarterback the Redskins want and need Griffin to become.
He is getting closer to delivering his first complete performance of the season but is not there yet.
Alfred Morris is back to his 2012 best. He was in superb form against the Vikings, especially during a dominant first-half display.
Morris pounded Minnesota's defense on numerous tough runs that combined smart, instinctive cuts with brute force. Morris finished the game with 139 yards from 26 punishing carries.
The only drawback to Morris' performance was something that was beyond his control: Washington's primary workhorse was simply not used enough in the second half. Things unravelled, and the game quickly got away from the Redskins.
It might have helped Morris stay fresh if he had received more support from Roy Helu Jr. Instead, 2011's fourth-round pick was again denied the chance to use his speed to complement Morris' power.
Darrel Young was solid in his role on offense, but his overall performance was undermined by some poor decisions.
The most obvious was a personal foul penalty on special teams. That was just one example of the lack of discipline that pervaded most of the team.
Rookie Jordan Reed continued what is becoming a trend: terrorizing defenses with versatility as well as skill after the catch.
Reed caught six passes for 62 yards and added another touchdown to his growing resume. He has become the type of roving "joker" tight end who poses matchup problems every week.
If there was one negative to Reed's night, it was that he faded somewhat in the second half. That was due to a more physical approach from the Vikings defense, according to ESPN's John Keim:
Another adjustment for Minnesota centered on tight end Jordan Reed. They let him get too many free releases in the first half, but not in the second. Many times when he was on the line, they would line up over him and play him more physical. "They put a guy over top of me and would grab onto me, a lot of holding going on but I have to overcome that and still get open,” Reed said.
Reed is certainly right about the need to find ways around press coverage. It is something many teams are likely to try against the 225-pounder. He cannot make it too easy to eliminate him from a game.
Reed's performances have naturally reduced the pass-catching workload for blocker Logan Paulsen. But he still chipped in with a short-range scoring reception.
Only three wide receivers caught passes for the Redskins in Week 10. They combined for 14 receptions, and seven of those were by the suddenly dominant Pierre Garcon.
The dynamic flanker was a consistent menace against the Vikings. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan lined him up all over the field, and Minnesota had no answer.
Garcon's ability to power through would-be tacklers and fight for extra yards revealed a tenacity sadly not shared by all of his teammates.
On this form, though, Garcon is fast becoming a legitimate game-winner primed for his best season as a pro.
He received able support from another wideout who is also showing signs of real progress. Leonard Hankerson was again quietly productive.
He tallied five catches for 61 yards and, not for the first time this season, made some clutch grabs on third down.
Veteran Santana Moss completed a good night for this position group by making a catch that gave him over 700 for his career.
It was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Washington's O-line. In the first half, they keyed an exceptional rushing performance with some effective and precision zone blocking.
Whenever Morris ran the stretch play, linemen like right guard Chris Chester created inviting cutback lanes. Both sides of the line worked well blocking for the run.
Unfortunately, the group fell apart in the face of a strong pass rush in the second half. The Vikings were able to collapse the pocket from both the inside and the edges.
With protection completely broken down, Washington's offense, which had looked capable of 50 points based on the first half, stalled as Griffin was regularly sent fleeing.
Members of the D-line rotation led a solid effort corralling Vikings star runner Adrian Peterson, but the group failed to to generate any pressure on Minnesota's quarterbacks.
The likes of Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins set the edge versus the run but could not collapse the pocket. Nose tackle Barry Cofield was anonymous in nickel situations.
This performance was symptomatic of how the line has played all season. The defensive front simply has not made enough impact plays.
Just like the defensive line, Washington's linebackers did not do enough to impact the game. The group got off to a fast start when outside 'backer Brian Orakpo registered an early sack.
But that was as good as things got for the supposed playmakers on the Redskins defense. Orakpo's fellow outside pass-rusher, Ryan Kerrigan, was anonymous for most of the game.
It was surprising Kerrigan didn't show up more, considering he was up against a backup right tackle.
On the inside, London Fletcher and Perry Riley Jr. were routinely picked on in coverage. Neither managed to answer the challenge.
In particular, they had serious issues staying with reserve tight end John Carlson. He caught seven passes for 98 yards and often beat linebacker coverage.
Some of the problems were individual mistakes, and some were the result of errors at the scheme level. ESPN's John Keim highlighted one key example of the latter problem:
One big play: the 25-yard pass to receiver Jerome Simpson on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter against linebacker Perry Riley. How does he end up on him? In that situation Riley's job was to play the No. 2 receiver to the weakside and that was Simpson. Riley said it was supposed to be zone coverage, but with man principles and when Simpson took off downfield he had to stay with him. Simpson got a free release to the outside making it even tougher to defend. Riley had no chance.
A linebacker on a wide receiver is an obvious mismatch, but it can happen on occasion. The real issue is a linebacker being left in single coverage on a wideout.
That shows there is no built-in adjustment to double up and give Riley some help in the slot. The result is a defense that is making it too easy for offenses to find the holes in coverage.
When you hold Peterson to 75 yards but still allow the Vikings to score 34 points, the secondary has to bear the brunt of the blame.
Washington's woeful defensive backfield let uninspiring quarterbacks Jake Ponder and Matt Cassel combine for 221 yards through the air.
Passes were completed too easily, particularly in clutch situations. No cornerback could handle Jerome Simpson on the outside, while neither safety was a match for Carlson.
Brandon Meriweather's early interception was the lone highlight for a group that has too often undermined the team this season.
Speaking of units that usually undermine the team, the special teams actually showed signs of mild improvement in Minnesota.
Smart strategy in the kicking game prevented the unit from being overwhelmed by dangerous return duo Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels.
Kicker Kai Forbath committed to avoiding Patterson, and the plan worked. There were even small signs of life from the return game, as backup tight end Niles Paul produced some solid efforts.
Indeed, The Washington Post's Mike Jones noted how Paul managed to catch the attention of coaches: "On Paul’s three returns, the Redskins started possessions at the 22-, 23- and 28-yard lines. Redskins coaches came away from the game encouraged by his production. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan described himself as 'very satisfied' with Paul’s play."
A dependable returner has been missing from the special teams all season. If Paul can make the role his own, he can help improve field position and provide a major boost to embattled coordinator Keith Burns.
Of course, as has often been the case this season, the special teams still found a way to be a liability. The unit committed costly penalties, including one that cancelled a fake punt.
That particular error was compounded by a pitifully short kick from Sav Rocca, giving the Vikings excellent field position.
This group took a baby step in the right direction, but there is still plenty to do before it can be considered solid.
The collective coaching approach starts with the man at the top, and head coach Mike Shanahan looks like a man without a plan. To be more accurate, he resembles a man lacking a contingency plan.
When things begin to go wrong for the Redskins, there is no sense of calm emanating from the sideline. The play-calling becomes unnecessarily hectic and risky, particularly on offense.
This team seems to need little encouragement to abandon what is working. It can happen from week to week, as it did on defense.
Coordinator Jim Haslett ditched a press-based coverage scheme for one that gave wideouts like Simpson a healthy cushion on the outside.
It can also happen during games, as it did in Minnesota. The younger Shanahan went away from the run too early, even though Washington was still firmly in control.
This lack of composure in both play-calling and on-field discipline is an indictment of the Shanahan era. The result is a 3-6 team that has the talent to be better.
Last season, Shanahan had the answers to turn that around. But as The Washington Times' Zac Boyer points out, there may be too many questions for him to find answers for this time: "This year, the questions are numerous, broad, and affect all three phases. Why can’t the offense sustain drives – and how come the defense does? Why are there so many miscues on special teams, especially on punt coverage?"
Shanahan needs a definite plan for recovery, and he needs it fast.