After falling to the Eagles for the second time in 2017, this time on a Monday Night stage, it is evident the Redskins have two major issues on offense: they cannot run the ball short, and they will not throw the ball long.
These troubling trends after six games were magnified in last night’s loss with an overall inability to move the chains in short yardage situations but also in testing opposing defensive secondaries.
Three times against the Eagles, the Redskins faced a 3rd and 1 situation and opted to throw the football. First in the second quarter with a seven-point lead, a completion to Jordan Reed short was of the marker. While tied at ten in the second quarter, Cousins was unable to connect with Jamison Crowder on a short pass. Then on what would be their final drive of the contest, Cousins dropped from midfield and was sacked for a loss of eight.
This continued a tendency that has come to light over the course of the year, that on third down situations where the Redskins need to pick up two yards or fewer, they are twice as likely to pass as they are to run.
Over their two contests against the Eagles, Washington is also just 7/23 on third down conversions.
Their hesitancy to rush the football in short-yardage situations could seemingly stem from a variety of causes. From a personnel standpoint, the Redskins have a mish-moshed running back by committee, with no clear power runner who can put their head down and push the pile forward. Chris Thompson is their most successful back this year, but is clearly most useful as a scatback receiver out of the backfield, and as a surprisingly stout pass blocker. With only 3.0 yards per carry, Samaje Perine failed to impress when given the opportunity to fill in for the injured Rob Kelley, who began the season as the team’s feature runner. In limited duty, Kelley’s longest rush from scrimmage is just 21 yards. As the fourth tailback, Mack Brown has been largely relegated to special teams assignments this year, but from a style and skill perspective, he offers very little different than any of the players above him on the depth chart.
When considering last night’s opponent, the contrast was even more pronounced. The variety of different-style rushers fielded by the Eagles from the smaller, quicker Wendell Smallwood to the bigger, bruising style of LeGarrette Blount gave them the right back to send out in any given situation.
The issues for Washington don’t end though on short yardage. The Redskins have also demonstrated an extreme inability, or unwillingness, to attempt long passes. Last night, they had just five passing plays of 20 yards or more, four of which were to tight ends: a game-high 32-yarder to Niles Paul, two 31-yard catch-and-runs by Vernon Davis, and a 20-yard completion to Jordan Reed.
According to ESPN: Washington tight ends and running backs have seven receptions of at least 30 yards this season, the most in the NFL, while the team's wide receivers have four such plays, tied for 20th in the league.
Over the Redskins’ 40 passing downs on Monday Night, they averaged just 6.75 yards per play.
Per the NFL’s GSIS (Game Statistics & Information System), Kirk Cousins’ average pass length of 7.38 yards per attempt is 25th in the NFL, while his average pass length on completed catches of 5.24 yards ranks him 28th among eligible quarterbacks.
In the offseason, Washington overhauled their receiving corps which in 2016 had two, and very nearly three, 1,000 yard receivers with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jamison Crowder.
With the departure of the former two receivers in free agency, in a pass-heavy offense there are plenty of potential yards to go around. But the lack of a deep threat (or two) who can extend opposing secondaries, means defenses can, and have, played more aggressively in passing downs.
Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson have split time on the perimeter, but have struggled to cement their roles in the passing game. Meanwhile, their key offseason acquisition, Terrelle Pryor was benched in the first half, and played 30 total plays, 47% of the Redskins’ offensive snaps. Over the last two weeks, the speedster and heir apparent to Jackson, has just 37 receiving yards.
After the game, Pryor was dismayed and seemed unsure of his role in the offense.
“First quarter? First half? I didn’t play at all. You know, that’s coach’s call.”
In the 4th quarter last night with the opportunity of a comeback still within reach, Washington was unable to stretch the field, instead settling for mid-yardage attempts, which were not enough to move them into scoring distance with haste.
Now 2.5 games back of first in a tie with the Cowboys, whom they face for the first time next week, Washington is going to need to go back to the drawing board strategically. If they want to find a way to return to postseason play, they must work with what they have in order to maintain hopes at a successful season.
Which Redskins’ offensive issue concerns you more?
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Struggles to run in short-yardage situations
Difficulty in throwing long to stretch the field