Week 8: Redskins fall to 3-5 with a 27-12 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 28, 2012).
1. We’ve reached the midpoints of the Skins’ season and head coach Mike Shanahan’s five-year contract.
The Skins have lost three of their last four games and now are 14-26 in regular-season games under Shanahan, who signed a reported five-year contract worth approximately $7 million a year in January 2010 to serve as executive vice president and head coach.
Good personnel moves of the Shanahan Era given where things stand right now include: • The drafting of quarterback Robert Grffin III and running back Alfred Morris in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Morris pick came in the sixth round and thanks to the Donovan McNabb trade.
• Trading down and then selecting linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in the 2011 NFL Draft
• The drafting of left tackle Trent Williams with the fourth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft
• The signings of defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen in July 2011
• The trade for defensive lineman Adam Carriker in April 2010
• The signings of receiver/returner Brandon Banks and tight end Logan Paulsen as undrafted free agents in 2010
Bad personnel moves of the Shanahan Era given where things stand right now include: • The trade for quarterback Donovan McNabb in April 2010
• The trade for right tackle Jamal Brown in June 2010 and then re-signing him in August 2011
• The signing of safety Oshiomogho Atogwe in March 2011
• Going with just Rex Grossman and John Beck at quarterback in 2011
Evaluating Shanahan just on his record is foolish but not meaningless. This organization is valuing the draft and not overspending on players unlike during the previous administration, and there has been enough good to want to see the Shanahan Era through. But the results have not been an overwhelming success, at least so far.
2. The Skins’ pass defense struggled again.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 24 of 33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 14 of his first 18 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Roethlisberger went 7-of-8 on the opening drive of the game, a 12-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a first-quarter one-yard touchdown reception by tight end Leonard Pope. • Corner DeAngelo Hall and safety Reed Doughty bit on a Roethlisberger pump fake on a 25-yard reception by tight end Heath Miller.
• Hall got beat by receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a third-and-seven 15-yard reception
Roethlisberger had completions of 14, 14, 18 and 10 yards on a 10-play, 74-yard, second-quarter drive that culminated with a third-and-goal seven-yard touchdown pass to Miller, who beat linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
Hall also got beat by Sanders on a 27-yard reception on a second-quarter drive that resulted in ex-Skins kicker Shaun Suisham’s (SWEE-zuhm’s) 27-yard field goal.
The Skins are last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (314).
The Skins totaled just one sack and just one quarterback hit and are 20th in the NFL with 14 sacks over eight games.
Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was credited with a sack of Sanders on a first-quarter gadget play on which he was positioning to throw. Kerrigan also had an impressive tackle of receiver Mike Wallace on a first-quarter three-yard reception. Kerrigan had the Skins’ lone sack, lone quarterback hit and lone pass defended. The Steelers had eight passes defended.
An irony is that the Steelers, who entered the game an NFL-best 53.8 percent on third downs, went just 4-of-11 on third downs. The Skins are 26th in the league in opponents’ third-down efficiency (43.6 percent; 44-for-101).
Another irony is that the Skins continued to do a good job of avoiding "big plays" (plays of 20 yards or more). The Skins allowed just three "big plays" and, off allowing 19 "big plays" over the first three games, now have allowed 17 "big plays" over the last five games.
3. The Skins’ run defense had its worst game of the season.
The Skins entered the game seventh in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (85.3) and tied for ninth in the league in fewest yards allowed per carry (3.9).
Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer had 17 carries for 107 yards. • First-quarter 34-yard run on a drive that resulted in a Suisham 48-yard field goal…Doughty and linebacker London Fletcher failed in attempted tackles.
• Second-quarter 13-yard run on the drive that resulted in Suisham’s 27-yard field goal.
• Runs of 12 and 10 yards on a third-quarter drive that resulted in fullback Will Johnson’s one-yard touchdown reception…Fletcher failed in an attempted tackle on the 12-yard run…safety Madieu (muh-DEE-oo) Williams failed in an attempted tackle on the 10-yard run.
Steelers rookie running back Chris Rainey had four carries for 26 yards, including third-quarter third-and-three 19-yard run on the drive that resulted in the Johnson third-quarter one-yard touchdown reception and a second-quarter third-and-two three-yard run on the drive that resulted in the Miller seven-yard touchdown reception.
The Steelers enjoyed this success in the running game despite being without running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Fletcher, who was questionable with hamstring and balance issues but extended his NFL-best regular-season consecutive-games streak to 232, also missed in attempting to tackle Dwyer on a fourth-quarter eight-yard reception. Fletcher did have a terrific tackle of Rainey for a five-yard loss on a third-quarter third-and-eight reception. But according to Pro Football Focus, “He graded at minus-3.5...dropping to minus-11.7 for the season. Most alarming were his three missed tackles, which allowed him to not only match last year’s total of 14, but also to take the dubious distinction of the current leader in that category at his position.”
The Skins are 10th in the league fewest rushing yards allowed per game (92.1) and tied for 15th in the league in fewest yards allowed per carry (4.1).
4. The Skins were guilty of a number of drops.
It was a rainy day at Heinz Field, but that doesn’t excuse the terrible job that Skins pass catchers did in catching balls. Not all drops are created equal, but those that stood out included the following: • Receiver Leonard Hankerson had a terrible drop of a first-quarter pass that would have resulted in a touchdown. The drive did end with RGIII throwing a second-quarter two-yard touchdown pass to receiver Santana Moss. Hankerson finished with one reception on four targets, including a fourth-quarter first-and-10 incompletion on which it appeared he wasn’t looking at or expecting the ball.
• Receiver Dezmon Briscoe had a drop on the first play of the second quarter on the drive that resulted in the Moss touchdown reception. To be fair to Briscoe, corner Keenan Lewis appeared to get a hand on the ball.
• The Skins had three consecutive drops on a second-quarter three-and-out: running back Evan Royster, receiver Joshua Morgan (though to be fair, Lewis appeared to get a hand on the ball) and Moss.
• Moss had another drop on a third-quarter first-and-15.
• Morgan had another drop on a fourth-quarter second-and-11. He finished with five receptions on eight targets and also a nine-yard run on the Skins’ first offensive play.
• Fullback Darrel (duh-REHL) Young had a terrible drop on a fourth-quarter first-and-10.
• Moss had yet another drop two plays after Young’s on a fourth-quarter third-and-four thanks to a big hit by safety Will Allen. Moss finished with four receptions on nine targets.
The Skins went 3-for-12 on third downs off having gone 12-for-25 on third downs over the previous two games. The Skins are 29th out of 32 NFL teams in third-down efficiency (29.9 percent; 29-for-97).
5. RGIII played well but statistically had his worst game of the season.
RGIII, who entered the game with an NFL-best completion percentage of 70.4, completed just 16 of 34 passes, thanks in large part to the drops. He threw for 177 yards, the touchdown and no picks.
RGIII had six carries for just eight yards. We did not see as much in the way of designed runs or option plays as we have in previous games this season. Another play-calling note: RGIII was used as a receiver on a second-quarter gadget play that resulted in an incompletion off him being called for pass interference for pushing corner Ike Taylor. The Steelers declined the penalty. RGII took a wicked shot from safety Ryan Clark on the incompletion.
RGIII had a fumble that he recovered, as the ball slipped out of his hands as he was play-faking in the third quarter.
Positive plays from RGIII included: • Very good throw on a third-quarter 37-yard reception by tight end Niles Paul
• Great throw on a first-quarter 31-yard reception by tight end Logan Paulsen
• Fourth-quarter fourth-and-four five-yard pass to Moss
• Second-quarter two-yard touchdown pass to Moss
• First-quarter third-and-five eight-yard pass to Moss
• Second-quarter third-and-four five-yard pass to Morgan
RGIII was off on a deep incompletion that was intended for a wide-open Paulsen in the second quarter and threw too high on a third-quarter third-and-nine incompletion that was intended for Paulsen.
RGIII now is: • Tied for fifth in the NFL with a 66.8 completion percentage.
• Fourth in the league yards per pass attempt at 7.97.
• Seventh in the league with a 97.3 passer rating.
6. Hall got ejected late in the fourth quarter, continuing several disturbing trends.
Hall took of his helmet and ripped into head linesman Dana McKenzie with what appeared an obscenity-laden outburst after wrestling with Sanders with the game’s outcome already decided. Hall was given two 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and was tossed. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and corner Josh Wilson eventually got to Hall and got him away from McKenzie, but Hall’s teammates took too long in getting over toward him.
This was not the first time that we’ve seen a veteran player or coach commit a foolish and hot-headed penalty under Shanahan. • Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was fined $25,000 by the NFL for his 20-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and then chasing down officials in the FedEx Field after the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati.
• The Week 2 loss at Saint Louis saw Morgan commit a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for throwing the ball at corner Cortland Finnegan, who had just shoved Morgan after a seven-yard reception on a third-and-eight with less than 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Skins went from having a fourth-and-1 to a fourth-and-16, which resulted in kicker Billy Cundiff badly missing a 62-yard field goal.
• The season-ending loss at Philadelphia last season saw Moss commit a second-quarter 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty due to taking off his helmet while complaining to an official over defensive pass interference not being called.
• The Week 14 loss to New England last season saw Hall get called for a five-yard holding penalty and then pick up the flag and throw it. The result of that immature act was an additional 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
The Skins had seven more accepted penalties and now are last in the NFL in fewest accepted penalties with 62.
Paulsen had five-yard false-start penalties in the second and fourth quarters. He did have the first-quarter 31-yard reception on which he dragged Allen for yards after the catch.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had a third-quarter five-yard false-start penalty.
Corner Cedric Griffin had a second-quarter five-yard encroachment penalty.
7. Morris had an underwhelming game for the second time in three weeks.
Morris had 13 carries for 59 yards. He had runs of 12, 11, 11 and six yards but also runs for minus-three yards, minus-two yards, minus-one yard and no gain.
Left tackle Trent Williams struggled in blocking on the first-quarter minus-three-yard run and the third-quarter minus-two-yard run. Center Will Montgomery got pushed back big time by nose tackle Casey Hampton on the first-quarter minus-three-yard run.
Morris had 16 carries for just 47 yards and a touchdown in the Week 6 win over Minnesota but then 22 carries for 120 yards in the Week 7 loss at the Giants.
Young had a first-quarter 10-yard run.
The Skins totaled 86 yards on 21 carries and now are second in the NFL in rushing yards per game (166.3) and tied for second in the league in yards per carry (5.3).
8. It was a mixed game for Skins special teams.
Kicker Kai Forbath (KY FOHR-bath) had an extra-point attempt blocked after Moss’ second-quarter two-yard touchdown reception. The kick appeared to be too low. The Skins had five field-goal attempts blocked and an extra-point attempt blocked last season and had a punt blocked in each of the first two games this season. Also, just one of Forbath’s three kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Forbath did go 2-for-2 on field goals of 48 yards in the third quarter and 45 yards in the fourth quarter. He now is 6-for-6 on field goals of 50, 20, 43, 45, 48 and 45 yards over three games with the Skins.
Punter Sav Rocca, who was probable with his right knee injury (that Shanahan revealed on Monday is a torn meniscus), had a second-quarter 12-yard punt. He did have a first-quarter 52-yard punt, a second-quarter 41-yard punt and a third-quarter 46-yard punt. Rocca is tied for 25th in the NFL in yards per punt (43.5) and is 23rd in the league in net yards per punt (38.7).
Receiver/returner Brandon Banks had a third-quarter 27-yard punt return (made possible by very good blocks from Wilson and rookie linebacker Keenan Robinson) and a second-quarter 30-yard kickoff return. He’s tied for 17th in the NFL in yards per punt return (7.3) and tied for 18th in the league in yards per kickoff return (25.8).
Corner David Jones had a second-quarter five-yard player-out-of-bounds-on-punt penalty.
9. Did we see another game-management error from Shanahan?
I talked a lot about the Skins’ “administrative issues” last season, highlighted by the end of the first half of the season-ending loss at Philadelphia. The Skins in this game had a 12-play, 60-yard drive while trailing, 27-12, in the fourth quarter. The drive resulted in a turnover on downs and saw the Skins not hurry enough to the liking of some.
Shanahan slammed the criticism in a conference call with reporters on Monday, highlighting 1) the importance of play-action for the Skins’ offensive success, and how if you’re in a two-minute drill, play-action essentially goes out the window and 2) that the Skins still had three timeouts left to use on the ensuing Steelers’ drive, so if the Steelers go three-and-out and the Skins use the three timeouts, not much time has been lost.
This is a gray-area issue for me. You don’t ever want to sacrifice success (i.e., scoring) for time, but there’s nothing wrong with moving quickly, especially in a game in which you’ve struggled defensively (and so the notion of a three-and-out by the opposition seems far fetched).
10. Miscellaneous notes:
The game featured no turnovers. The Skins are tied for fourth in the NFC with a turnover differential of plus-seven (16 takeaways versus nine giveaways) this season.
Linebacker Perry Riley suffered a hamstring injury.
Royster, in addition to his second-quarter drop, failed miserably in pass protection on the lone sack allowed by the Skins, as linebacker Larry Foote blew through Royster and took down RGIII for an eight-yard loss in the fourth quarter. The Skins are tied for 18th in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed with 17.
Inactives for the Skins were rookie corner Richard Crawford, receiver Pierre Garcon (toe), quarterback Rex Grossman, safety Brandon Meriweather (left knee), rookie guard Adam Gettis, rookie guard Josh LeRibeus (luh-REE-biss) and defensive end Doug Worthington (calf). LeRibeus, a 2012 third-round pick, has been active just once this season (Week 4 win at Tampa Bay).
The Skins remained without: • Tight end Fred Davis (torn left Achilles suffered in the Week 7 loss at the Giants)
• Linebacker Brian Orakpo (torn left pectoral muscle suffered in the Week 2 loss at Saint Louis)
• Defensive lineman Adam Carriker (right quadriceps tendon tear suffered in the Week 2 loss at Saint Louis)
• Running back Roy Helu Jr. (placed on injured reserve on Sept. 26 due to turf toe; he also had dealt with tendonitis in both Achilles)
• Right tackle Jamal Brown (hip; is on the physically-unable-to-perform list)
• Safety Tanard Jackson (indefinite suspension due to a third violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy)