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Steelers-Redskins Offensive GT Review

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Old 11-07-2008, 04:50 PM   #1
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Steelers-Redskins Offensive GT Review

Something to chew on when you've tired on discussing the Hall signing. I don't have the defensive one just yet, but it should be done in an hour or so.


I'm not exactly breaking news when I tell you that the offensive performance by the Redskins in this game was sloppy, slow, and ultimately futile. The Steelers' front seven really is every bit as good as advertised. Front eight, really since Polamalu is really a glorified cover LB. What's surprising is just how similar their defensive philosophy is to ours, despite the obvious preference for fewer defensive lineman.

There were a bunch of goats in this game for the Redskins. The first and most critical was injury. If the Reskins are playing with a healthy Shawn Springs, a healthy Chris Samuels, and a healthy Santana Moss, the dynamic of this game is entirely different. Obviously the pass protection totally stunk. Jason Campbell did not play very well, although for a different reason in both halves.

The Redskins have a very boom or bust running game. Not bust, in the way that if a play doesn't go well, the Redskins will fumble or run backwards and lose yards, but in the way that the Redskins have a guy who can average 5.0 yards per carry, but they don't block well enough for him to simply run all day. Additionally, when Ladell Betts is out (or, debateably, even when he's in), the Redskins don't have a competant second runner. So if you look at the statistics and see that Portis has 200 carries for 995 yards this season, you may think that the Redskins don't even need to put it in the air to win. As Monday's game showed, this is patently false. The Redskins' running game isn't as good as Portis' individual stats show.

The Redskins had three successful runs against the Steelers. Three...and all of them from Portis. This isn't unusual for a team facing the Steelers. And Portis rushed for 4 yards a carry in this game as well, which only Ravens RB LeRon McClain was able to do this year to date. The running game actually lived up to expectations, as Portis broke the longest run against the Steelers this year. Teams that beat the Steelers defense need to do it in the air. There are three types of plays that work against the Pittsburgh defense.

1) Screens. You have to rely on the instincts of the playcaller to know when the Steelers are going to bring pressure. The Redskins called two screens, and one was incredibly successful.

2) Short, three step drops. These plays nullify the pass rush, and allows the offense to take advantage of the fact that Pittsburgh's DBs play pretty loose coverage on those WRs.

3) Play action passes. These plays hold the rush at bay while giving those receivers a chance to get open downfield against a unit that clearly values pass rush over coverage.

Jim Zorn tried to attack the Steelers in every one of these ways at least once, and was moderately successful in doing so. The problem in this game actually happened when the Redskins tried to rely not on plays that were designed to attack the Steelers, but when they went to the tried and true plays that got them where they are today. Those plays like to rely on one on one matchups where the Redskins simply beat their opponent on the micro level, and then the macro level victory comes naturally. Problem was, the Steelers just dominated these one on one matchups. They beat us when we were doing what we like to do.

Basically, in short, Zorn's gameplan is in no way to blame for the offensive futility. The Redskins got their asses handed to them on the field. Honestly, the team was even more prepared for the Steelers' defensive schemes than I thought they would be. They just lost a fair fight.

Jim Zorn

Runs - 15 (13 by Portis, 1 by Alexander, 1 called back for holding)
Passes - 53 (24 completions, 17 incompletions, 2 interceptions, 2 QB scrambles, 7 sacks, 1 called back for holding)

At the time of Campbell's first interception, the playcalling was 35-14 in favor of the pass. That's still about 70% passing, which is much heavier in favor of the pass than Zorn has been this year, but then again, you can't beat the Steelers if you can't beat the Steelers through the air. Before Campbell was picked, the Redskins were still pretty much even odds to come back and win. After that, it became clear that a team trailing by ten points, even at home, that just saw its best drive of the night end on a first down interception was probably 2 to 1 or worse to come back and win, and thusly, Zorn abandoned the running game.

You also can't beat the Steelers of your Quarterback spends the whole game on his back, but I'm getting to that part.

Pass Offense

Jason Campbell's first interception was the defining play of the night, not only from a story-writing standpoint, and not only from the change in win probability, but because the play perfectly encapsulized everything that went wrong for the Redskins on that one play. On this play alone:

  • The Redskins came out in their standard package with James Thrash and Randle El at receiver with Cooley, Sellers, and Portis. They call a standard passing play for Campbell to read the field.
  • The Steelers came with only 4, but got a great jump on the snap. Kendall and Rabach step down on Hampton, but when Hampton goes to Kendall's outside, Rabach is left blocking absolutely no one. Kendall puts his man on the ground.
  • Randy Thomas, meanwhile, who could have really used Rabach's help, gets tossed to the side and beaten. By the time Campbell's back foot hits it's final spot, he's got pressure in his face.
  • Samuels was beaten on the outside and had to hold James Harrison. Only Jansen and Kendall actually made blocks on this play.
  • The pressure in Campbell's face causes him to throw 1) quickly, and 2) high. Many times this year, Campbell has been forced to hit an outlet receiver because the pocket broke down too quickly. There were 7 Steelers in coverage, but I have no idea if anyone was open downfield (an educated guess says that Cooley and Randle El probably were, and James Thrash probably wasn't).
  • Usually in this situation, Campbell throws a bit behind the receiver harmlessly, but this throw is one that Portis, just reacting to, got a finger on and tipped the ball in the air.
  • The tipped ball was intercepted, and promptly stripped, as Portis almost made two mutually exclusive heady plays.
  • Adding injury to insult, Campbell took a nice lick from the guy who manhandled Thomas, and he was clearly not the same after this play.
Vital Statistics:

Total Adj Yards = 154
Yards per Play = 2.9
Success Rate = 30% (16/53)

People are going to start to scrutinize Campbell about his "big game" ability, and the fact that he's basically disappeared in the two primetime games the Skins have played. People who get to see the Redskins in non-primetime slots know that this is ridiculous criticism based in ignorance -- the ignorance of other Redskins performances in which he's carried the team. Also, the Redskins' next game is in primetime and unlike the Giants and the Steelers, the Cowboys' secondary sucks.

It's important to remember how important Santana Moss is. The Redskins played him in about 1/3 of the snaps on Monday, but he was in and out throughout the game, actually playing some in garbage time at the end, so clearly Zorn isn't worried about Moss' hammy. When he's out though, Randle El is completely marginalized. Randle El is already not a deep threat in any way, his one weakness as a receiver is that he doesn't have the top end speed to beat safeties and even if he did, he doesn't adjust to the deep ball very well. The other big problems is that his routes underneath become closed very quickly if the corners can simply jump his first break. Route combinations with other receivers are the key to Randle El's success.

Cooley, on the other hand, is every bit as good with Moss out of the lineup as he is with Moss in it. The Steelers do allow a bunch of yards to Tight Ends, so with Moss limited, it surprises no one that Cooley led the team in receiving.

What was surprising was how much of a receiving threat Portis was in this game. Don't get me wrong, he was probably our best weapon in the passing game. But the Redskins gave up seven sacks in this game. A lot of times, when Portis was held in as a pass blocker, he was given a one on one assignment with Woodley, Foote, or Harrison. This, of course, is ridiculous. These guys are paid tens of millions of dollars to get after quarterbacks. Portis is a willing blocker, but he's not another offensive lineman. Additionally, when the Steelers brought 5 men, Portis often released into a route. I think the Redskins would have been better served to keep Portis in, block the rush, and let Campbell work against the Steelers secondary, but I guess hindsight is 20-20.

Pass Protection

In Madden 02, players had two mulligans that they could use to reverse bad plays. Imagine how many NFL games would have had a different outcome if a single play or two could have been reversed.

This would not have been one of those games. The Redskins OL would have been out of mulligans by halftime.

Look, I could break down in depth every play the Steelers made against us that shouldn't have been made. But even when the Redskins were winning, it's the same old story.

Chris Samuels -- Best lineman on the team, but when he's injured, teams can attack him and he's prone to get beat badly once or twice a game.

Pete Kendall -- Like Samuels, gets beat every once in awhile, but he's a guy who stresses the little things so even at age 35, it doesn't look like the end is imminent. He had the best game of anyone against the Steelers.

Randy Thomas -- Thomas does the little things just as well as Kendall does, but he's getting physically beat about twice as often as Kendall. Right now, he's a league average RG, and he's playing between two guys who shouldn't be starters in the NFL.

Jon Jansen -- Jansen still has his moments in the running game, and he does a good job seeing the field and reading blitz schemes. Totally useless in one on one pass protection against any player with more than one move. He's an average lineman, but against teams that are good at pass rushing (i.e. the whole NFC East), you need to get him help on at least half the plays, or take him out. His future is utility lineman.

Casey Rabach -- Does one thing well: attacks linebackers aggressively. Horrible at the first level. Is a coin flip to block the guy right in front of him against the pass. Does not read defenses well enough to be an NFL center. Almost always part of the problem when the play goes wrong.

Stephon Heyer at RT is an easy adjustment. After that, we've just got to live with the guys we have. I don't know if Justin Geisinger can handle one on one blocks with nose tackles, but I have to assume if he's still in the league he can probably read the field better than Rabach.

Hmm. If the Redskins went with Jon Jansen at Center and Stephon Heyer at RT, might they be a good offensive line against the pass? This idea literally just occurred to me, so take it with a grain of salt.

Rush Offense

Vital Statistics:
Total Adj Yards = 41
Yards per Play = 2.73
Success Rate = 20% (3/15)

The success rate looks brutal, but as I mentioned at the top, this was not unexpected. 2.73 yards a play is bad, but that's because of a holding penalty, otherwise, you have 4 yards a carry, which is a very good figure against the Steelers. We didn't lose this because our vaunted running game didn't produce: Zorn was correct not to stick with it because the Steelers always play with one more guy in the box than you can block. No other team in the NFL (besides us) tries to defend 3 WR sets with a base set. But they say "Okay, if you try to spread us out, we're not going to play your game. We're going to pull a safety down to cover the slot guy, and knock the snot out of your Quarterback." If this sounds familiar, it's because this is also the Greg Blache philosophy.

There's not a whole lot to say here. We ran the ball 15 times, and we did pretty well considering the opponent. Protect the QB better, maybe convert some third downs, and then we can run the ball more.

It's not like Portis didn't get the same amount of touches he normally does, he just got most through the air. Portis got targeted 24 times between the run and the pass, and got 123 yards. He was more than 50% of the offense on the night.

Overall Offense

Vital Statistics:
Total Adj Yards = 195
Yards per Play = 2.87
Success Rate = 28% (19/68)
according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
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Old 11-07-2008, 04:56 PM   #2
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Re: Steelers-Redskins Offensive GT Review

(Targeted, Receptions, Successful Receptions, Yards per Target)

Clinton Portis - 11, 7, 4, 6.6 (1 interception)
Chris Cooley - 10, 8, 6, 7.8
Antwaan Randle El - 5, 3, 3, 4.4
Santana Moss - 4, 2, 1, 3.5
James Thrash - 4, 1, 0, 1.25 (1 interception)
Devin Thomas - 3, 3, 2, 4.7
Todd Yoder - 1, 0, 0, 0

(Attempts, Successful Runs, Yards)

Clinton Portis - 13, 3, 51
Shaun Alexander - 1, 0, 4
according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
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Old 11-07-2008, 05:04 PM   #3
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Re: Steelers-Redskins Offensive GT Review

wow the un-balance is disturbing a bit, regardless of the catch up we attempted to play.

We're on to Alex Smith.
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Old 11-08-2008, 08:11 AM   #4
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Re: Steelers-Redskins Offensive GT Review

Jansen got his ass handed to him. His poor play directly contributed or led to 4 sacks by my count.
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