ASHBURN – So far this week, we have discussed the first two of five keys to a winning formula for The Washington Redskins this season: Reintroducing the 1000-yard rusher and scoring touchdowns via the long-bomb & YAC. In researching today’s topic, I once again discovered another disappointing statistic regarding yesterday’s discussion and decided to throw it in here before the jump…
[Rex Grossman completed just three touchdown passes of 20-plus yards in 2011: 20, 50, 47.
As you can see, just two of those scores were more than 20 yards and only one (50-yarder to Armstrong in Seattle) occurred in less than eight plays (4-play drive).
Basically, The ‘Skins failed to strike quickly and/or catch defenses napping.]
OK, back to business. The first two keys can and will help Mike Shanahan’s new-look Redskin team succeed in 2012. But we still have a few more topics to cover, so let us transition into an area that on its own can decide close football games…
PART III: Capitalize on Turnovers: Make certain we ‘hear the tree fall in the woods’
We have all heard the old philosophical conundrum, “If a tree falls in the woods, but nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Well, we may also apply this to the Redskins turnover ratio, with a little substitution in phrasing: ‘If Washington’s defense creates a turnover, but the offense fails to capitalize… did the takeaway really happen in the first place?’ All right, so it’s not the most eloquent literary parallel ever written… but you get the point. The Redskins defense served the offense ample scoring opportunity on a silver platter, creating 21 turnovers last year – many of which occurred near midfield or inside the opposition’s territory. Unfortunately, neither Rex Grossman nor John Beck could lead the ‘Skins into the end zone.
The failure to score touchdowns off of turnovers has plagued the Redskins for more than a decade and unless this problem is remedied ASAP, Washington will remain shackled and chained in the NFC East basement for another 10 years. In 2011, The Redskin offense scored just nine times after taking possession off of those 21 takeaways. And only four of those nine resulted in touchdowns. Actually, the offense scored just three TDs, as linebacker Ryan Kerrigan found the end zone on the first turnover of the season, on a nine-yard ‘pick-six’ in game-one against the Giants. But let us go back a bit – The Redskin offense scored just three touchdowns on 20 opportunities from takeaways. Mathematically, that equates to a 15% success-rate in converting turnovers into touchdowns. Regardless of the statistic, a 15% success-rate is absolutely horrific.
Yes, I realize sometimes you must settle for three points instead of seven. But Washington only converted five of those 17 remaining turnovers (taking the 4 total TDs into account) into field goals in 2011. That calculation equates to a 29% success-rate. While better than 14%, this percentage would look nicer if the ‘Skins had converted more touchdowns. However, Graham Gano still had five field goal attempts blocked and duck-hooked several ‘gimees’ throughout the year. And whether it was the fault of the linemen or Gano, the problem must be fixed. Too many multi-play drives ended up producing jack-squat… and this must change. Fortunately personnel changes have been made. Neil Rackers was brought in to challenge Gano. Fresh talent at O-line was added via the draft. And two proven young wide-outs in Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan joined the Redskins through free agency. How else can Shanahan and company fix this? Let us begin with the basics. Three things must happen:
1) Certain personell changes must be made – Check!
2) The defense needs to score more often on the turnover – NA
3) The offense must play more aggressively when taking over possession of the ball – NA
Are these actions possible? Absolutely. In fact, we just discussed the first item on the list in the previous paragraph. Every Sunday night last season I sat in agony watching one highlight after another of NFL teams running back 50-yard ‘pick-sixes,’ or jumping on fumbles in the end zone. Unfortunately, the ‘Skins rarely appeared. But I refuse to hear the argument that other teams have better players that specialize in turnovers.’ Nope. You cannot tell me that Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall do not have the physical and mental tools necessary to do the same thing the 31 other defenses are doing. Yes, returning an interception or fumble recovery for a touchdown is difficult, but The Redskin defense only accomplished this once in 2011. Kerrigan was a rookie in his first NFL game when he batted Eli Manning’s pass, caught the ball, and hoofed it back for six points, in week-one no less. Redskins Nation, rightfully so, believed it to be a sign of more to come. Instead, we were teased and left alone at the front door without so much as a ‘goodnight kiss.’
Shanny, his staff and the players must perform with much more aggression and conviction inside the red zone. How many times have fans witnessed a seven-yard pass inside the 20? How about three straight runs up the middle in goal-line situations? Or, the offense starts a short-field drive from the opponent’s 40, only to punt after a three-and-out because of holding penalties and false starts. Redskins Nation heard both coaches and players respond after losses last season with phrases such as “we had a good game plan, but we just couldn’t execute.” That does not cut it. This is the NFL. Poor execution is the result of either a lack of understanding the system, bad coaching, or a weak work ethic and attitude. I do not believe poor head coaching to be the issue because Mike Shanahan has swept his house of the riff-raff and restocked it with young, fundamentally sound, motivated athletes. It might boil down to a combination of the remaining two problems – lack of knowledge and laziness.
However, hiring Raheem Morris to coach the secondary was an excellent move by the Redskins’ brass. Morris likes to have fun but gets aggressive in his scheme and prefers his corners to play risky and jump routes. He should get more results out of several players mentioned above. Changes made on the offensive side of the ball, as we discussed yesterday, should also drastically increase short-field touchdowns resulting from takeaways. It may take a while to get all the cylinders firing, but Shanahan’s changes will pay off in the long run. Hail Skins.
Read Part IV tomorrow – ‘Solidify a consistent Offensive line to protect your investment’
-Todd C. Smith
Follow Todd on Twitter @tcsmitty