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The 5 O'Clock Club: The three special teams plays that kept Dallas in the game

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

An injured Redskins team could have won on Sunday

With 54 seconds left in the game on Sunday afternoon, the Washington offense had the ball down by 7 points. That’s almost the definition of a close game. Gambling while trying to make a play with 30 seconds left, getting a pick-6 and losing by 14 doesn’t do justice to how close this game was.

Dallas drove down the field and scored easily on the opening drive of the game. After that, the Redskin defense contained them, giving up one touchdown on a 2 yard drive, and forcing 4 field goals on 5 attempts.

The fact is, after the Cowboys opening drive, their offense was largely stymied, pushing the ball, mostly on the ground, between the 20s, but unable to turn drives into touchdowns.

The Redskin defense did enough to win.

But the Special Teams unit made three crucial mistakes in the game that repeatedly gave Dallas favorable field position, allowing the Cowboys to play the game they wanted to play and get out of a rain-soaked afternoon in Washington with a win. This was a win that should have gone to the Redskins, and likely would have if the Special Teams hadn’t made so many crucial mistakes... again.

Crucial Mistake #1

03:19 on the clock in the second quarter.

Approaching halftime, the Redskins were up by 6 points, having out-played Dallas for the entire half. The score was 13-7 Redskins, and they were ready to add to the lead.

It was 4th and 10 on the Dallas 18 yard line. Kirk had been conservative and careful on 3rd down, taking a 4 yard sack to preserve field goal range. He probably should have thrown the ball away on his short scramble outside the pocket, but all in all, the offense had done the job to get Nick Rose set up for a 36-yard field goal attempt.

TV replays later showed that Tress Way had to handle his second bad snap of the day from Nick Sundberg. Things had worked out okay the first time, with Nick Rose punching through a 42-yard kick, but this time it didn’t happen.

The kick was blocked by Crawford, and Scandrick picked the ball up and made a long return, nearly the length of the field. When it was all over, the Cowboys had the ball, First & Goal from the 2 yard line. It took Zeke Elliott two tries to punch the ball over for the go-ahead touchdown.

This was a 10-point turnaround caused by the Special Teams crucial mistake. instead of going up 16-7, the Redskins fell behind 14-13.

Crucial mistake #2

08:29 in the third quarter.

Following a strip-sack on Kirk Cousins to end the Redskins opening drive of the second half, the Cowboys had used 9 plays to go 27 yards, and had settled for a field goal.

The score was 17-13, and there was good reason for the Redskins to feel confident. The defense had just made a short-field stop, and — despite the 10-point turnaround from the blocked field goal plus the 3 points from the Cousins fumble — Washington could re-take the lead if they could get a good drive here.

Chris Thompson fielded the kickoff at the 6 yard line, and returned it as far as the 24, where a Dallas helmet hits the ball and it squirts out of Thompson’s hand to be recovered by Benwickere at the 26.

Dallas came on and snapped the ball 4 times, losing 4 yards of field position.

Nugent kicked a 48-yard field goal, and the Special Teams had gifted the Dallas offense field position and 3 points.

Crucial mistake #3

05:04 in the third quarter.

Following Nugent’s 48-yard field goal, the Washington drive stalled. Tress Way came on and hit a booming punt that got a favorable bounce and rolled to a stop at the Dallas 13 yard line. A 63-yard punt, and a huge field position advantage in a tight game on a wet field!

At this point, all the coverage team needs to do is stand around and look at the ball. There are 4 or 5 Redskins players surrounding the ball with no Dallas player anywhere near. The play is over.

Joshua Holsey reaches down and touches the ball.

It wasn’t instantaneous, but the refs throw a yellow flag for illegal touching. Holsey had gone out of bounds; therefore, he couldn’t be the first player to touch the ball.

The Cowboys accept the 5 yard penalty and force the punt team to re-kick. Tress Way’s second punt is a decent one, not great — 46 yards — which Switzer returned 8 yards to the Dallas 43.

The illegal touching penalty gave the Dallas offense a 30-yard field position improvement, from their own 13-yard line out to the 43!

Dallas ended up kicking a 27-yard field goal at the end of the drive. They may have scored points even if they’d taken over at the 13, but they’d have had to drive an extra 30 yards to do it.

In summary

The Special Teams unit made three crucial mistakes that gifted huge chunks of field position, and a 13-point scoreboard impact, to the Dallas Cowboys. Without those mistakes, Washington likely would have taken a lead into halftime, and Jay Gruden would have called a different game in the second half.

These aren’t the only mistakes the Special Teams made in the game. Nick Rose also missed an extra point, which might’ve been crucial had the ST unit avoided the other mistakes leading to a closer score.

A defense that lost Jon Allen and Mason Foster, was missing Baushaud Breeland, and suffered a key injury to Matt Iaonnidis (broken hand), and several other ‘typical’ game injuries, played well enough (after giving up a big opening drive TD) to limit the Cowboys to five field goal attempts (two coming on short fields following turnovers by offense and special teams) and one touchdown drive of 2 yards.

An offense that was without Trent Williams, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff, Ty Nsekhe, and which lost Shawn Lauvao, Niles Paul and Jordan Reed during the game, played well enough to remain competitive into the final minute of the game.

Without three crucial Special Teams mistakes, this would have been a game that the Redskins controlled at halftime. The field position that Dallas enjoyed in the second half would have been much less favorable, and the Cowboys would have had to work a lot harder to score.

NFL football is a team game, and the game is won or lost as a group of 46 players + coaches, but each unit (offense, defense, special teams) needs to perform well each game, and avoid putting the other units in bad situations.

The defense played well enough to win on Sunday afternoon; the offense played well enough not to lose the game; the Special Teams unit made too many mistakes, and the Redskins lost a home game to a division rival.

Not the first time this season

The Special Teams unit has not been sharp this season, and had put the defense in bad spots in other games earlier this season.

Most significantly, twice this season, Crowder muffed punts to give the opponents short fields. The punt return unit gave up a first down to the Rams on a Johnny Hekker fake punt. Tress Way shanked at least one punt in a critical situation early in the season. Nick Rose’s desperation onside kick last week reminded me of one more thing that Dustin Hopkins was pretty good at (that Rose apparently is not). And this week’s bad snaps on field goals were not the first of the season for Nick Sundberg.

The Special Teams unit is suffering far too many breakdowns, and the Redskins are losing games because of those breakdowns. The Redskins would likely have 2 or 3 more wins/fewer losses if the Special Teams unit was performing at a high level, and that would mean a dramatically different season.

If the Redksins are thinking about making changes this off-season, I’d suggest that a good place to look might be Ben Kotwica, the special teams coordinator. In his first three years here, the ST units went from horrible, to bad, to average, seeming to be on an upward trend, but this season they seem to be slipping back down to the bottom of the league, without anyone noticing.

Poll

Grade the Redskins special teams play for the Dallas game.

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    C
    (3 votes)
  • 25%
    D
    (46 votes)
  • 71%
    F
    (130 votes)
182 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Grade the Redskins special teams play for the 2017 season so far.

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (1 vote)
  • 20%
    C
    (32 votes)
  • 61%
    D
    (94 votes)
  • 14%
    F
    (23 votes)
154 votes total Vote Now