SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 17-13 loss to San Francisco:
The feeling before Sunday among the Redskins’ coaches was that they should be 5-5; I wonder what they think after the latest loss in San Francisco. The Redskins did so many things well, things that should have resulted in an upset. Win the turnover battle? Check. Have a 100-yard rusher? Check. Keep the other team’s offense under control? Check. And, yet, they couldn’t pull it off in large part because the offense managed only 213 total yards, with 136 coming on the ground.
And a lot of that was the passing game. The more we see of Robert Griffin III this season, the more it’s clear that Jay Gruden has serious questions about the future. At some point, Gruden has to worry about his own future, and that of the other 52 players. If they feel quarterback is holding them back -- and that it will for the rest of the season -- then Gruden has a choice to make. But he also has to know once he goes down that road, it’s hard to go back. Griffin will face an easier defense at Indianapolis and a lot was stacked against him Sunday. It needs to get better.
It’s telling that after the game, when Pierre Garcon was asked if he’d been looking forward to his deep ball (which revealed a strong but inaccurate arm), he said, “Not at all. I was like, this is where we've come?" In other words: The offense has sunk to the point where it needs to use gimmickry. Now, they’re not exactly the only team that will run a gadget play, but it’s a passing game that’s struggling and, yes, this is what they’ve come to right now.
Rookie Morgan Moses' flaws were more pronounced against the 49ers than they were against Tampa Bay. His feet just weren’t quick enough to stay with Aldon Smith, or Justin Smith for that matter. And once Moses got off stride, he’d bend at the waist, preventing him from being able to recover. His length was an asset against Tampa Bay, but it did not bail him out as much Sunday. He faced a tough assignment, though, and needed help on those third-and-longs.
The play-action should have been a bigger part of the game considering how well Alfred Morris ran the ball. But the only times it really hurt San Francisco were on Griffin’s two longest pass plays of the day: a 24-yarder to Garcon and a 32-yarder to DeSean Jackson. In both cases, the linebackers were sucked up and the middle was wide open. Garcon was especially helped because the linebacker tried to get back to that spot. With Jackson, he created space by drawing safety help to the outside, then running a post. Beyond that, there really wasn’t anything else worth writing about in the pass game.
I’ll have more on the defense in a later post, but they deserve plenty of credit for how they handled losing so many players in the secondary. At times, they used four safeties and a corner in coverage, with Bashaud Breeland the only healthy corner available. Yet they held San Francisco to 312 total yards. They did give up a game-winning touchdown drive late, but given the losses they endured during the game, it’s surprising it came down to a final series.
They were helped in this case having Ryan Clark at safety. His knowledge helped the safeties-turned-corners to adapt during the game. Not only would he tell them the call, as he usually would, he would then instruct them what to do on a play, as he would never have done. He would tell them whom to cover and whom he was going to cover. It helped. Brandon Meriweather played corner in college, so it was nothing new for him. He did get beat by Anquan Boldin for a 30-yard touchdown. Boldin doesn’t create much space and usually uses his size to win battles. But this time he stemmed hard to the inside and cut back outside. “I should have stayed outside,” Meriweather said, “and played him outside-in… He ran a great route.”
Still not sure what David Amerson did other than violate a team rule, but that’s a massive disappointment for a guy who is expected to be a key player here for a while. He let his teammates down in a big way. Teammates got on Amerson after last season to mature as a pro. This was not a good development for Amerson. He’s been inconsistent this season.
Rookie linebacker Trent Murphy did a nice job, especially in the run game it seems. Not only did he cause a fumble by stripping Frank Gore (he carried the ball with his inside arm; with Murphy on the inside it enabled him to stick his hand in for the turnover), but he also set a strong edge, too. Brandon Meriweather forced a fumble, but that stemmed in part from the ball carrier having to cut early because Murphy had set such a hard edge.
I’ll have more on this Monday, but Alfred Morris ran like the Morris of old. You want a positive over the past three games? It’s Morris. He made defenders miss, something he had not been doing enough of for much of the season. It didn’t happen on every run, but he definitely made Chris Borland miss a couple of times with a little juke here or there. Morris is creating yards for himself again.