October 8, 2009

Redskins First Quarter Review

We have made it through the first quarter of the NFL regular season and There's quite a bit to analyze when it comes to the Washington Redskins. Little of what we've seen has been positive, much has been disappointing.

Some of the stats are misleading. The 'Skins are fourth against the pass, but they haven't been nearly that good. And the have yet to play a good QB after Eli Manning dissected them in week one.

The offense is ranked 15th in total offense with 325.2 yards per game, and yet when it comes to scoring points they rank 27th with just 14 points per game.

The defense only gives up 16.8 first downs per game (only eight teams are better). However, they have surrendered first downs on 43% of all third down conversions (eighth worst in the NFL).

The 'Skins are also losing the time of possession battle. They allow opposing offenses to control the ball for an average of 32:17 per game.

The time of possession battle is a big one for the Redskins. Their offense needs the ball a ton in order to generate scoring. Without establishing a rhythm, most offenses sputter. This one is non-existent.

Two things kill momentum and rhythm more than anything else. Turnovers and not possessing the ball. The 'Skins have struggled in both areas. They have turned the ball over seven times through four games, and Jason Campbell has fumbled the ball a total of seven times (two lost).

So to improve their fortunes, the 'Skins have to make the following adjustments:

1. Get The Defense Off The Field

The defense isn't playing up to par. They aren't aggressive enough and they don't play with much swagger. They show a lack of discipline in zone coverage and haven't controlled the line of scrimmage consistently.

Look no further than their 22nd ranked run defense. They have given up 512 yards at 4.3 yards per clip well above last year's average YPC. For those of you keeping score at home that's 128 rushing yards per game.

That kind of run defense isn't going to allow you to control the football. The front seven has some work to do.

2. Protect The Ball And QB

Jason Campbell is in a shaky state right now. The coaching staff has little confidence in him, and every mistake just makes the playcalling that much more conservative.

Campbell hasn't been great with the ball in his hand this season. His seven fumbles are an NFL high and in 2007 he had the same problem (eight fumbles lost).

Even if the 'Skins can recover the fumbles, the play is still wasted; yards are still lost. That's unacceptable considering the offense has enough moving the chains from ten yards away.

Part of that is due the offensive line. The line is beat up and several players are new to the starting lineup. This leads to some issue in protection as the line has given up eight sacks on Campbell.

Still the line isn't as bad as last year, and I see this line as a group of overachievers thus far. So the emphasis is really on Campbell to protect the ball.

If the 'Skins continue to turn the ball over you can say goodbye to any shot at winning the time of possession battle let alone getting into a rhythm. Things are just too uneven, and that leaves little margin for error.

3. Create Sacks And Turnovers

Coming into the year, many thought our offense was bad, but no one criticized the defense. Little did we know the 'Skins defense wasn't going to live up the hype.

Fortunately, defensive coordinator Greg Blache has 12 more games to pull it together. He has a lot of work.

For starters the defense is ranked 12th (and that's only due to the inflated pass defense ranking). That might seem ok, but the defense made upgrades after finishing fourth last year. So it isn't so good.

Now I'd settle for a top 15 defense if it meant we were flying around, creating turnovers, and generating a consistent pass rush. We aren't.

This little stat says it all. Just 7.38% of opposing team's pass plays end in a sack or INT. That's 20th best in the league. That's not what Dan Snyder was hoping for when he inked Deangelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth.

So that's what the 'Skins need to improve. Trust me there's more (like scoring in the red zone, establishing the run, fixing up playcalling, and scoring in general), but we've been over it quite a bit.

What about the positives you ask? Well there's a young nucleus forming on defense.

Bookends at DE. Brian Orakpo and Jeremy Jarmon both have been great the past few weeks. Orakpo has a pair of sacks while Jarmon has one and a forced fumble. If Haynesworth sticks around a full four years, that defensive line might shape up.

Also, the 'Skins have seen solid play from Chris Horton at SS. I know he has been inconsistent in pass coverage, but it's just his second year. And he's a great tackler.

Rocky McIntosh, Hall, Carlos Rogers, and Laron Landry might all turn out to be core players as well, but I really think a more aggressive approach would suit them. Landry has big play capability, but Blache's schemes limit that. I know I hate on Hall, but he gets INTs which is something the rest of the Redskins secondary doesn't do.

Justin Tryon and Kevin Barnes are two other young CBs with potential. Tryon finally had a big game last week, notching a sack at nickel corner while Barnes is a rookie who will be a physical CB in a few years.

With the defense showing some promise, the pressure is on the offense. What is there to salvage as a positive?

Antwaan Randle El has been solid from the slot with 13 catches for 158 yards. Most his production was from the first two weeks (ARE was held without a grab last week), but he has still shown an ability to get open and gain some yardage after the catch.

However, the lack of a true number two is plaguing Campbell. Santana Moss has stepped it up, but we all know he is an inconsistent receiver at the number one spot. Malcolm Kelly has been a big disappointment and Devin Thomas doesn't fit either.

So what about Marko Mitchell? The guy was the best player in the preseason and he has size, speed, and toughness. With the lack of production we are seeing from Kelly, I don't see how Jim Zorn has anything to lose by playing Mitchell.

But getting back to the positives (hard to find them on this offense), Chris Cooley is yet again the only solid threat week in and week out. And still, the coaching staff fails to pick up on this and use him often in the red zone.

Cooley, in the seam, from 15 yards out. We saw in New York and we saw it last week. It works.

Another thing I like is the 'Skins trying to establish the short to intermediate passing game to set up the run. They did it in Detroit and it worked well save for the fact they couldn't finish in the red zone and didn't run it enough in the second half when the box was opening up. But that's a start.

If the 'Skins can control the clock in the first half through the air and keep it close, the running game will be there in the second half. That is when the box opens up and defenses wear down.

Through the first quarter of the season, the football hasn't been pretty, but somehow Washington sits at 2-2. They have a few more soft opponents and then embark on a rough journey through the NFC East and NFC South.

I'm not expecting much from the 'Skins. They haven't played well yet and both wins were against the dregs of the league by the skin of their teeth.

Despite this gloomy outlook, I desperately want see some intensity. The team is going through the motions right now, and that reflects on the entire franchise. The coaching staff needs to find a way to be more motivational so these guys will play with some pride.

If that happens, we could end up pleasantly surprised come January.

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