We swept the Giants this year, with a very solid game against the Giants yesterday, following up on a very good performance in a shootout against one of the best teams/offenses in the league in New England. That was following a decent performance through 50 minutes against the Jets with Rex having a very off day. And that’s following a very good win against a young Seahawks team who just seems to give everyone fits.
Rex Grossman’s play has been up and down, as expected, and he still makes way too many mistakes, and some of them crucial. But under Rex Grossman, this offense seems to take a little flight. It’s true that receivers like the ability to go deep and not have to get smacked around in the middle after a 5-yard slant. It’s also true it opens up those 5-yard slants to keep defenses honest to the threat. Rex Grossman gives us a chance to be a lethal offense… but that’s it… a chance.
To put it in perspective, we’re not a great team, we’re not even a very good team, but we’re good enough to hang with people so long as Rex Grossman’s mistakes aren’t costly… and 9 times out of 10 (man, we love Rolle-ing with odds around here recently, don’t we?) his mistakes are very costly. The key to what I’m saying though, is we’re a quarterback away from eliminating those mistakes. Rex clearly won’t evolve to be a guy who won’t throw it into triple coverage deep. He won’t be the guy who scans the field or gets rid of the ball quick enough when he has to. So we need a guy who will simply do that. Hold the ball when the deep threat is triple covered. Run with it when nothing is open (and have the ability to run), and find the open guy by going through your progressions when you do have time.
This offense has opened up the last 4 weeks (and even before that, honestly), and the bulk of that comes on the threat of Helu being a playmaker. The kid has it, and what I argued for so long about why Kyle’s offensive game plan sucked, turned out to be true… run the ball and keep defenses honest. The last few weeks, especially the games against New England and New York, have shown what this offense is capable of, because we’re running the football.
To put it in perspective, in games where we run the football 20 or more times with 1 back, we’re 2-2, and the two losses were decided in the last 10 minutes and both had mistakes (not Grossman’s, shockingly) which were costly in the effort. The two wins were very impressive, because they were actually games we went out and won… the way we wanted to come into this season and do.
Building off of that, the receiver situation may be more complicated than we thought, because we’ve got a bunch of guys who can contribute. Santana Moss is a franchise receiver, no matter how you slice it. Even having bad games, Moss draws double coverage, even when he’s in the slot, and it opens the other receivers up to 1-on-1’s and mismatches (Helu against a safety 10 yards away from him). Gaffney has proven to be a reliable threat, and has really settled against zone defenses (it’s odd we’re seeing less man late in the year when zone clearly isn’t stopping us short-to-mid range) and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Donte Stallworth has been our most reliable 3rd-down receiver, and I bring this up for good reason. When he was cut, it was done so with the impression we needed to add elsewhere and Stallworth wasn’t being used on 1st and 2nd-downs. When Hankerson (who we’ll get to in a moment) was injured, we had to bring someone back for depth purposes, and Stallworth was familiar… but it turns out he was more than familiar, he was comfortable.
Comfort is a key to this offense being successful… comfort buys time, boosts confidence, and allows plays to be made without trying to make a play. We’ve been solid on 3rd-down since the return of Grossman and this “hot” run of offensive production, and it stems from Moss drawing coverage and Gaffney’s comfort in the zone, and Stallworth being reliable in his routes and catching. People argue that guys like Armstrong, Paul, and Austin need to be the ones getting those snaps, but if they weren’t performing, they simply weren’t performing. I would love to see the youth, but I like the threat of them growing outside of the game first (much the same as we forced Hankerson to do) and coming back next year when it matters to really threaten defenses.
Leonard Hankerson, will return next year, and he won’t have missed a beat. The game experience he got was valuable, and he will carry on with the comfort he found in just letting the game come to him. His play against man was excellent, and his play against zone was stellar, and he was running some of the best routes I’ve seen here in Washington in 20 years, including Santana Moss. The kid will be polished, he’ll be reliable, and he’ll be comfortable, because the other receivers have found comfort levels.
It all starts up front on offense though, and I believe we’ve established depth here in Washington, which was completely the opposite idea at the start of the season. Injuries and suspensions have forced Mike Shanahan to move the line around a lot, and it has paid dividends as the line has continued to play well outside of when Eric Cook was in the lineup. Trent is a beast, Will Montgomery has been solid minus his task with Wilfork and getting used to playing alongside so many different combos, and Chris Chester is a lock-in. Brown still worries me with injury, and he struggles against the premier ends when they jump to his side, which defenses do more and more nowadays, but I like Brown’s pros a lot more than I dislike his cons. I like Hurt at Guard for depth, Smith at tackle for depth, and Polumbus could challenge Brown for his spot. I want a backup center and a backup guard, because I’m not confident in Cook whatsoever, and you never know what could happen to Chester.
Defensively, I’ll just jump to the perspective. New key pieces learning how to play alongside what we had here in place to keep from last year. Cofield new to the NT position. Kerrigan new to LB. Atogwe new to this scheme. Wilson new to this secondary. Landry up and down… youth all over. This defense is built to play with a lead and yesterday showed it could be very dangerous in that position. The offense hasn’t given them many opportunities to do that, and definitely not comfortable leads where guys could pin their ears back. When you bring in stability and no lockout to hinder people’s rehabilitation, and allow these guys like Jarvis Jenkins whose promise is through the roof to return, this defense is going to be scary, and will make life for a QB who doesn’t put them in short-field positions a lot easier.
And injuries are not few and far between, it’s many and close. Moss missed time this year and we went into a slump without him. Hankerson went down with injury. Niles Paul missed time. Hightower went down. Jammal Brown has been in and out. Lichtensteiger went down and the depth on the line has been challenged. Trent Williams missed some time due to injury. Chris Cooley was lost early with a broken hand and shut down for his knee. Jarvis Jenkins & Kedric Golston went down. Wilson has been up and down. Atogwe up and down. Landry hasn’t been healthy and got shut down. This is a team that, when getting healthy, will improve greatly. And we have a lot of youth on the team getting great experience making it easy for coaches to rotate talent and limit guys opportunities for getting injured.
This is a team that even at it’s worst, has hung in almost every game and has tested some of the better teams. Youth is all over this team, very few guys over 27. There are also only a few holdovers from the Cerrato era, and those guys are all unquestioned leaders on this team, and still perform well. Mike Shanahan has rebuilt this team, and Kyle’s confidence as a playcaller is growing. There are still flaws, but something I noticed is that someone is always open in this offense, and the right QB will find that guy and make plays and set us up to score. We’re well on our way to being competitive. We’re fewer pieces away than we thought, although upgrades can make us even more dangerous, but the only real piece I see absolutely needing is a QB right now.
I’ve got more faith in the Shanaplan now than I did 2 weeks ago even, and I’m confident this team is headed in the right direction. And I’m not worried about draft position, I’m positive we find our QB no matter what. I look no further than finding every other piece so far… it really is all there. HB, WR, OL, TE, FB, DE, NT, OLB, ILB, S… and I’m not as worried about corner as I was because I know these guys can make plays if we find our QB.
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Tags: Barry Cofield, Brian Orakpo, Chris Chester, chris cooley, DeAngelo Hall, Donte Stallworth, fred davis, Jabar Gaffney, Jammal Brown, Jarvis Jenkins, Kyle Shanahan, Leonard Hankerson, london fletcher, Mike Shanahan, O.J. Atogwe, Perry Riley, Rex Grossman, Roy Helu, Ryan Kerrigan, santana moss, Trent Williams