The Washington Redskins lost their season opener to the Dolphins by a score of 17-10. In my opinion, there were three very clear and all too familiar reasons for the loss: turnovers, special teams and penalties.
Washington only lost the turnover battle by one; but if the Redskins had taken advantage of their opportunities and not made some mistakes of their own, then the outcome may have been different. Chris Culliver dropped what was likely a pick six early in the game, Trenton Robinson dropped a pick on a Miami scoring drive and the team failed to recover a forced fumble on special teams. The Redskins' second to last drive ended in a Brice McCain interception. In 2014, the Redskins failed to return an interception or a fumble for a touchdown and picked off just seven passes (tied for fourth fewest).
Kai Forbath missed a 46-yard field goal that would ultimately cost him his job and the punt coverage team allowed a 69-yard return touchdown to Jarvis Landry. If those two plays go another way then you have a ten point swing in favor of a Redskins team that lost by seven points. Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus have ranked the Redskins special teams in the bottom five in each of the last two seasons. The Redskins currently rank in the bottom of five of PFF's special teams grades for 2015.
As Bryan Frantz pointed out earlier today, the team committed 14 total and 11 accepted penalties against the Dolphins. Many of these penalties either stalled Redskins' drives or facilitated Dolphins scoring drives. Last year Washington committed 120 penalties (3rd worst in franchise history) for 1,130 penalty yards (worst in franchise history).
It appears that some things never change for the Washington Redskins; but luckily for them, some things do. The most notable and positive change was seen in the number of times that they ran the ball. Washington rushed 37 times on Sunday. That is over 12 rushes more than last year's average of just below 25 per game. That is the second most rushes since Jay Gruden arrived in 2014 and the tenth most in the Bruce Allen era (December 2009 to present).
The high attempt number isn't just a product of a high number of plays either, as the team's rushing percentage on Sunday of 54.4 percent is the third highest such rate since 2013. Even run-game aficionado Mike Shanahan's Redskins teams only had a higher rushing percentage in 13 of his 64 games as the team's head coach. The Redskins have only had a higher rushing percentage in a loss three times since Shanahan and Allen arrived six years ago. Just imagine how often they will play to their strengths by running the ball this year if they get some positive game scripts to work with.
If the Redskins continue to follow Bill Callahan's lead by running the ball and using play action (31% of Cousins dropbacks against Miami), then this team will continue to be competitive throughout the season. However, if they keep shooting themselves in the foot with special teams gaffes, missed turnover opportunities and never-ending streams of penalties then all the rushing attempts in the world won't be able to save them.
Offensive Snaps and Takeaways:
- Kirk Cousins and the entire offensive line, with the exception of Morgan Moses, played on every offensive snap and led the game with 79 snaps. That is tied for the fifth most offensive snaps taken by a Redskins' team since 2012.
- Cousins threw two or more interceptions for the seventh time in 15 career games and for the fifth time in ten career starts. He is right at home ranking second in the league in interception percentage (6.45%) behind only Matthew Stafford (6.67%).
- However, it is nice to have a quarterback that will actually throw the ball down the field. After Week 1, Cousins ranks fifth in average depth of target (9.7 yards) and air yards percentage (68.4%). Robert Griffin was historically bad in this area last year. Griffin finished second to last in aDOT (7.0) and last in air yards percentage last year (34.4%). Griffin's tentativeness also caused him to finish second to last in pressure and sack percentage in 2014. I'd much rather have a QB that will take at least some risks, even if those risks often end up resulting in turnovers. You can't lose what you don't put in the middle, but you can't win much either.
- Alfred Morris had a fantastic game on Sunday and an outing like this was long past due for him. He rushed for over 100 yards for the first time that somebody other than Robert Griffin has started at quarterback. It was also only his second 100-yard rushing game since November of 2013. Morris currently ranks fourth in rushing yards (121), fifth in yards after contact (56) and second in rushing attempts (25).
- Pierre Garcon put up 74 yards on 8 targets. Garcon has been targeted eight or more times in 24 of his 43 games as a Redskin. He has 56 or more receiving yards in 83 percent of those games. In the 19 games in Washington where seven or fewer balls were thrown his way, he has posted a receiving yardage total of fewer than 47 yards 68 percent of the time. Obviously, and in general, a receiver is going to do more with higher target totals; but this stat shows that Garcon is particularly reliant on high target volumes. Don't forget that he was targeted a league-high 181 times in his best season.
- Ryan Grant didn't produce despite getting yet another opportunity to do so. He caught one ball for 15 yards on two targets and 22 routes run. I really want to be wrong about this guy, but I just can't believe that it will happen until I see it. I'll trust the results on the field over the praise that he's received from Jay Gruden and Chris Cooley.
- Jordan Reed currently leads all tight ends with 11 targets per PFF. That doesn't nearly tell the complete story of just how often the Redskins have targeted Reed though. Reed was targeted on 11 of Kirk Cousins 31 pass attempts against the Dolphins, which is good for a whopping 35.5 percent target market share. No other tight end got more than a 30 percent share in Week 1. Tyler Eifert (29.4%), Heath Miller (26.3%) and Rob Gronkowski (25%) were the only other tight ends in the opening week of the season that had a target market share above 25 percent.
- I'm not done with Jordan Reed. He is the cover boy and I was one of the founding members of his fan club after all. Reed also leads all tight ends in targets per route run percentage. He was targeted by Cousins on 11 of his 25 routes. Jordan Reed's 44 percent target rate is nearly 14 percent higher than the second ranked tight end in this category, Tyler Eifert (30.3%). Reed actually finished second in targets per route run percentage in 2013 (26.3%) and 2014 (26.4%). He was only bested by Rob Gronkowski in each of those seasons (29.8% and 27.9%). Only Gronkowski has been targeted on a higher percentage of his routes (28.4%) than Jordan Reed has (27.3%) since Reed entered the league in 2013. Only Reed and Gronkowski have finished each of the past two seasons with yards per route averages of over 1.8. For the love of God, please stay healthy for once, Jordan!
- The new right side of the offensive line fared quite well on Sunday considering that this was the first NFL start for both Brandon Scherff (RG) and Morgan Moses (RT) at their respective positions and that they were going up against the fearsome duo of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Scherff and Moses did not allow a sack in the game and only gave up one QB hurry each. Suh only tallied two tackles (one solo and one assisted) and three hurries in the game. Wake was nearly held off of the stat sheet altogether, as PFF only credited him with one hurry. Suh may have just been a warm up for Scherff though. Suh may be the league's highest paid defensive tackle, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's the best at the position. Beware of Aaron Donald.
- Andre Roberts is still your resident slot machine. Roberts led the team with 15 routes inside (62.5%). Ryan "does not play in the slot" Grant was second on the team with seven slot routes. Half of Jamison Crowder's four routes were taken from the slot.
- After Week 1, here is how the Redskins rank in each of the major offensive categories: 14th in total yards (349), 21st in passing yards (188), 3rd in rushing yards (161), 29th in points (10) and 15th in third-down percentage (42.9%). That third-down percentage and ranking certainly isn't anything special, but if they hold it would be a major improvement over last year's 31.5 percent conversion rate and 30th place finish.
Defensive Snaps and Takeaways:
- Jackson Jeffcoat was the only defensive player to be declared inactive for the game. Meanwhile, six offensive players on the team did not dress. The reasoning for this appears to be special teams related. The majority of the inactive offensive players were offensive linemen and there were four active defensive players that only saw action on special teams.
- Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, Keenan Robinson and Dashon Goldson played on all 57 defensive snaps. Kerrigan has not missed a single game in his five year career. He has played on every snap in 40 of his 65 career games (61.5%). He's also been in on 90 percent or more of the Redskins' snaps in 60 of his 65 games (92.3% of his games).
- Preston Smith rushed the passer 10 times in his 13 snaps against the Dolphins and recorded a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on one of those plays. Trent Murphy got the opportunity to rush the quarterback 24 times on Sunday (12 most by all 3-4 OLBs in Week 1) and failed to record a single QB pressure of any kind. Murphy has only recorded three sacks on 297 career pass rush snaps. Preston Smith needs to get more opportunities to pass rush, and he should probably get them at Murphy's expense.
- However, Preston Smith was playing in his first game, so it's not surprising to see the team slowly easing him in; Stephen Paea on the other hand is entering his fifth year in the league. Paea's low snap count of just 14 is the Redskins' most surprising snap total of Week 1. It was the lowest snap count of his entire career. Paea did not start and ceded work to Chris Baker (25 snaps). Paea recorded 1 QB hurry and a positive PFF pass rush grade; but was bested by Baker, who tallied a sack, a QB hit, two tackles and a stop. This trend may continue if Baker maintains this level of play.
- Jason Hatcher was dominant as a pass rusher on Sunday. Hatcher sacked Ryan Tannehill, hurried him three times and batted one of his passes. Hatcher's four total pressures are tied for the second most among 3-4 defensive ends behind only J.J. Watt's seven (freak). Hatcher also received the third highest PFF pass rush grade at his position for his efforts against Miami.
- You might be noticing a theme here, and that is that the Redskins pass rush looked very good on Sunday. Washington ranks ninth in sack percentage (8.1%), 8th in sacks (3) and fourth in PFF pass rushing (7.1). It looks like Scot McCloughan's additions to the front seven and the teachings of grandmaster Joe Kim might be paying off.
- Redskins players missed ten tackles in Week 1. Keenan Robinson was credited with four and both Jason Hatcher and Trenton Robinson missed two tackles. Washington's ten whiffs are tied for the ninth most in the league. I feel like that ranking should be worse, but it appears that there were just a lot of teams that had issues with tackling this week. Except those numbers to drop league wide as players shake off the rust in the coming weeks. Let's just hope that rust is the Redskins problem, because it hasn't been in the past with this area.
- Keenan Robinson allowed a team-high 69 receiving yards. It was just like old times for David Amerson who allowed Miami's only offensive touchdown of the game. Amerson allowed a league-worst ten receiving touchdowns in 2014.
- Chris Culliver, on the other hand, lived up to his billing as the team's top corner. Culliver played on nearly every snap and only allowed two receptions for a total of three receiving yards on 37 coverage snaps and three targets. He currently ranks second in the league among cornerbacks that have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.08).
- After Week 1, here is how the Redskins rank in each of the major defensive categories: fifth in total yards (256), ninth in passing yards (182), ninth in rushing yards (82), ninth in points (17) and 13th in third-down percentage (41.7%). A top ten performance against an improving Miami Dolphins' offense is impressive even from a weekly or a one game perspective.
Special Teams Snaps and Takeaways:
- Jeron Johnson and Kedric Golston led the way with 15 special teams snaps. It was surprising that Johnson's only action came on special teams on a day in which starting strong safety Duke Ihenacho was lost for the season due to injury.
- With that in mind, it's a good thing that Johnson was at least able to make an impact on special teams. He recorded one solo and one assisted tackle in return coverage. Matrell Spaight, Kyshoen Jarrett and Preston Smith were also credited with special teams tackles by the NFL gamebook. Preston Smith was also responsible for yet another forced fumble. If Smith keeps performing at this level when his playing time increases, then we might have a rookie of the year candidate on our hands here.
- The recently released Kai Forbath was the Redskins' most accurate kicker in franchise history by quite a wide margin. Forbath hit on 87 percent of his field goals while in Washington. The next closest player in terms of accuracy was Shaun Suisham who converted 80.2 percent of his opportunities. That's a difference of just fewer than seven percent. Fortbath, Suisham, John Hall and Brett Conway are the only kickers in team history to make over 75 percent of their attempts. The league average was 84 percent last season.
- As the Washington Post's Scott Allen pointed out, nobody goes through kickers like the Redskins do. The team has had 20 different players attempt a field goal since 1994, the most in the NFL. Two of them, Graham Gano and Shaun Suisham are current starters on different teams. Redskins 2014 draft pick Zach Hocker is also a starter for the New Orleans Saints. He beat out Washington's new kicker Dustin Hopkins for that job.
- Nobody was shocked when Jarvis Landry returned a punt for a touchdown against the Redskins. Washington has allowed an NFL-worst five punt return and two kick return touchdowns since 2013.
- Things won't get any easier for Washington's weak special teams this week either when they face off against the Rams and Tavon Austin. Austin ranks 13th in yards per punt return (10.7), second in punt return yards (752) and first in punt return touchdowns (3) since he entered the league in 2013. Austin may have been a bust relative to where he was picked in the draft (number eight overall) because he never lived up to expectations as a wide receiver, but that has not been the case in the return game.
*All statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, ESPN and NFL Game Books.*