Sunday’s matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Arizona Cardinals may prove to be the ugliest win of the season for the Redskins. One should never speak too soon, however, as there are ten games left with plenty of potentially-tense finishes to go.
On to the Fifth Quarter rankings, which are based on a scale of 1 to 5 Quarters:
Nothing on offense has been going the Redskins' way in the past few games. Most notable has been the injuries that have swept through the offensive line like a wrecking ball. With the left side of the line manned by backups from center to tackle, the impact to offensive performance was inevitable. Although the Cardinals only recorded one sack, Jason Campbell was hurried and hit throughout the afternoon, and never seemed to be able to take a long drop-back and get a look at deep routes without feeling pressured.
Antwaan Randle El once again served as Campbell's primary target, grabbing three passes for 54 yards and two first downs. His work accounted for more than half of the 95 yards gained through the air. Santana Moss, who last week suffered a career low performance against Green Bay, was given a couple of screen passes, with which he scraped out nine yards. Chris Cooley dropped a sure first down catch and was only thrown to one other time.
Clinton Portis was the second ranking receiver in yardage, picking up fourteen yards on two completions. He also continued to provide solid protection for Campbell, on one occasion taking down a blitzing linebacker who had squirted through the line nearly untouched, allowing Campbell to get the ball off.
Near the end of the first half, one of Campbell's passes was batted at the line of scrimmage, intercepted by a lineman, and returned to setup a touchdown by the Cardinals. Aside from one pass play to Randle El that went for 26 yards, the Redskins had no other offensive play that gained more than 20 yards, which are used in official NFL statistics to denote a "big play." In other words, between the interception and the lack of a passing attack, the passing offense did very little to contribute to yesterday's win – and in some ways it contributed to making the outcome closer than it should have been.
Even though the rushing offense, and particularly Clinton Portis, continue to struggle through this season, there were enough moments of competence in rushing that the offense as a whole could move the ball and score on its own. Portis led the way with 43 yards on eighteen carries, netting a paltry 2.4 yard-per-carry average. His greatest contributions actually came at the goal line, where he was able to sneak around the corner for one touchdown and dive over the offensive line to record another. Also, he didn't fumble inside of the Redskins' 20-yard line – or at any other important point in the game – which is an improvement from the team’s previous losses to Green Bay and the New York Giants.
Betts only saw three carries yesterday, equal to his workload in last week's loss to Green Bay and his fewest carries in a game since week nine of 2006. Betts' one highlight was a crucial 10-yard scamper that ended on the Cardinals' one-yard line and set up a Clinton Portis score.
Running behind the tattered offensive line was obviously posing problems against a stout Arizona front seven. First contact against running backs rarely came beyond the line of scrimmage, and as a result few rushing attempts were more than pileups for one or two yard gains. Nevertheless, half of the Redskins' first down plays on offense and both of its touchdowns came on runs. Nothing inspirational, but just barely enough to keep the team ahead in the game.
Sunday was another admirable performance for a defensive unit that is increasingly bearing the burden from a struggling offense. Arizona had a ten-minute advantage over the Redskins in time of possession, but the Redskins managed to contain the dangerous passing attack of the Cardinals, featuring what is perhaps the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Unlike the single-faceted offenses of Detroit and Green Bay, Arizona has shown an ability to run the ball well in addition to having a potent passing attack. Arizona remained faithful to the ground game, handing the ball to Edgerrin James on 27 attempts. Despite strong blocking by the Cardinals' offensive line, James managed only 83 yards, with a long run of sixteen yards. London Fletcher was in great form, sniffing out runs and getting into the backfield to make plays. He ended the day with a team-high thirteen tackles. Rocky McIntosh continued his productive season with nine tackles, and the linebackers got great run support from Shawn Springs and LaRon Landry, who contributed seven and nine tackles, respectively. The defense held James to just over three yards per attempt, forcing the Cardinals’ to rely on their passing attack to move the chains.
The pass defense struggled at times, however, as Kurt Warner and his stud receivers picked their way across the field in the second half. Fitzgerald ended the day with 97 yards on six receptions, and J.J. Arrington had 47 yards on four receptions. The Cardinals made some plays when they needed it most, driving nearly 70 yards on eight plays late in the fourth quarter to come within two points of a tie.
Sean Taylor moved from being tied for first in the league with four interceptions to holding that spot on his own with five. London Fletcher recorded his second interception of the year, which he returned for a touchdown – the second Redskins defensive touchdown in three weeks.
In the end, the Redskins' defensive performance was all about containment rather than dominance, as the Cardinals had too many weapons at their disposal and too much time on the field to wear out the defense. The final play of the match, a 55-yard field goal attempt, symbolized this unit's play well: the Redskins kept Arizona about as far away from victory as they could, but in the end the Cardinals still had a chance to steal it.
Sunday's game was the special teams unit's worst performance of this season to date. Oddly enough, it was also peppered by the occasional outstanding play.
The punting game has not looked very good the further this season has progressed. An early punt was blocked after a half-hearted block on the outside allowed a defender to come in free. Frost later shanked a punt in the fourth quarter, giving Arizona good field position that, thankfully, was negated by a good defensive performance.
Shaun Suisham also appears to be going through a rough patch. His kickoffs were short, and he missed yet another makeable kick, this time from 41 yards out. Had he converted, it’s likely that the final minutes of this game wouldn't have been quite as tense. There is still plenty of time for Suisham to shake off his recent field goal problems, and thankfully it did not cost the Redskins the game on this occasion.
Rock Cartwright had the biggest gain of the day with an 80-yard kick return that might have gone all the way for a touchdown, had he not injured himself during the run.
Coverage on punt and kickoff returns remains as solid as ever. They also blocked a 2nd quarter extra point attempt that forced the Cardinals to gamble late in the game with a 2-point conversion. However, the unit then failed to cover up an onside kick, a mistake that nearly cost the team the game. Between the blocked punt, the shanked punt, and the poor coverage on the onside kick, the special teams put far more pressure on the defense than it should have.