ATLANTA -- Five observations on the Washington Redskins' offense after the 25-19 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons:
1. The single biggest problem with the offense remains the running game. The Redskins talked about being powered by the run game all summer, then opened the season with two excellent games on the ground. But, Sunday, was a third straight day where they did not run the ball well. Linemen are losing individual battles, which doesn’t help, and cutback lanes aren’t always available. And the issue is more pronounced on first down. Sunday, their longest gain on first down was 5 yards, which they managed twice. On 14 first-down runs, the Redskins managed a combined 30 yards. For a team trying to reduce the burden on the quarterback, those stats do not help. Neither of their main ballcarriers has produced lately (in nine of Alfred Morris’ last 10 games, he has averaged less than 4 yards a carry).
2. The Redskins threw the ball on first down 12 times, but six of those occurred on the final drive of regulation and overtime when there was more urgency and less time for the ground game. Kirk Cousins completed nine of those throws for 130 yards – another one resulted in a 42-yard pass interference penalty. The Redskins are built to be a power run offense and want that as their identity. For a team with no established quarterback, it’s the smart way to go. But that does not mean you need to run every time on first down. Saying a team must be run-based does not mean they should only run on first down.
3. The Redskins certainly could have used tight end Jordan Reed, but there were a couple times in particular where they missed him. The Falcons’ linebackers typically played zone coverage so his ability to create for himself was lessened. However, he’s a red zone threat for them and Reed most definitely would have been an option on the one drive that hurt the most: When they took over at the Atlanta 21 and failed to score a touchdown. Even if it's zone coverage, teams are acutely aware of Reed and he sometimes causes other defenders to cheat toward him – and that opens up better throwing lanes to others. That’s not to blame Derek Carrier one bit, but just to say Reed’s absence was noticeable, some plays more than others. Carrier, though, showed what he does well: Find the soft spots in a zone. On his touchdown catch, he slid left to get away from a linebacker in front of him – and that enabled Cousins to find him for a touchdown.
4. Ryan Grant is a nice player and route runner, but in two games as the No. 2 receiver he has six receptions for 49 yards, including one for 4 yards on Sunday. He slipped and fell on the last pass, but that can happen to anyone. Besides, that ball looked wide and I’m not convinced he would have made the catch (what I don’t know yet was if he ran the correct route). His lack of speed allows corners to sit on certain routes (but that’s when he can throw a double move on them, which is dangerous if the quarterback has time to throw) and limits him after the catch (3.25 yards on average). Grant’s route-running is excellent and will help him develop into a quality backup. Nothing wrong with that and he can help in that role. The Redskins need DeSean Jackson back, which really doesn’t need to said but I felt like saying it anyway, though I also wonder if after this season I’ll repeat that line. At least Grant provides effort as a blocker. For those wondering: Rashad Ross does not play this position; he knows the routes only from the X, which Pierre Garcon plays. Garcon can sometimes play the Z with Ross going to the X, but they like Garcon in this role.
5. It’s unfortunate how the game ended for the offense and Cousins in particular. I’ve written enough about the final play, but on a day where he was inconsistent for the first three quarters, he came through in the fourth – and in overtime until the final pass. Tough to blame him for that pick, but I also need to know if it was as simple as the receiver falling or if there was another issue (wrong route; throw too wide; why the line slid to the right instead of picking up the blitzer, which then forced Cousins to make a more hurried throw rather than take a sack. But after the game multiple coaches said the same thing: He just slipped). Before that point, in the fourth quarter and overtime, Cousins had completed 10 consecutive passes for 114 yards, with a pass interference for 42 more. And before those throws? Cousins had completed 11-of-21 passes for 105 yards. Blame him for the picks if you like, but he also did what a competitor must do: Rally on a day where you’re not at your best. Yes, it ended badly but that resolve matters, too, in the long run. (Speaking of resolve, do yourself a favor and watch Trent Williams block safety Ricardo Allen on a 26-yard screen pass to Crowder early in the fourth quarter. Drove Allen into the Falcons’ bench. Received a strong notation in my notebook because it’s what you want to see).