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Redskins Offense Suffers Serious Regression

Steve Shoup

Last season the Redskins offense carried them to their first division title since 1999, and a home playoff berth. This season the offense has been a major liability and a big part of the reason why the Redskins sit at 2-5.

Last year the offense was 4th in the league in points and 5th in total yardage. This year based on those numbers it would seem like the Redskins aren’t too far behind as they are currently 15th in points and 8th in yardage, and have done so in 7 games as opposed to the 8 games that most of the leaders have played. Though the point total is fairly impressive, it is important to remember just how important the defense has been to that total. The defense now has 5 returns for touchdowns, two more than they had all of last season. The Redskins offense still has gotten quite a bit of it’s yardage and points in garbage time after the game is out of reach. The Redskins have managed just 4 offensive touchdowns in the first half of these seven games. For a comparison the Redskins had 4 first half offensive touchdowns in the first two weeks last year.Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys

The biggest difference between this year’s offense and last years is efficiency. Last year the Redskins completed 65.8% of their passes, this year that number has fallen to 58.8%. The Redskins committed just 14 turnovers all of last season including 8 interceptions and 6 fumbles. This year they have already committed 15 turnovers, including 10 interceptions and 5 fumbles lost. Those 15 turnovers are tied for the 6th highest in the league. Among the teams with 15 or more turnovers only the Vikings and Texans have played 7 games like the Redskins. The Redskins have fumbled the ball 13 times this year, which is tied for 4th worst in the league. Even though the Redskins have managed to recover the majority of those, that is far too many times to put it on the ground. Every one of those 13 plays result in a very negative play for the Redskins offense.

A big issue for the Redskins success last season was the effectiveness of the rushing attack. Last year the Redskins finished 3rd in the league in rushing attempts, 1st in yardage, 2nd in touchdowns and yards per carry. The running game this year is still strong ranking 10th in yardage 4th in touchdowns (both in 7 games) and tied for first in yards per carry. Unfortunately the running game has taken a backseat this year as the Redskins are just 17th in rushing attempts. Last year the Redskins rushing attack made  up 51.72% of their plays, this year that number is down to 39.88%.

As bad as that drop in percentage is, a more significant drop is the usage of Alfred Morris. Morris is leading all running backs with a 5.2 ypc average which is 0.4 yards per carry higher than it was last season. He’s 6th in total rushing yards, but four of the five backs ahead of him have played in 8 games. Morris is averaging 80.7 yards per game which is the 3rd highest total in the league. Despite that success Morris isn’t being used enough. His rushing attempts per game are down from 20.9 last season to 15.4 this year. He’s 16th in the league in terms of carries per game.

It just doesn’t make sense for this team to abandon the run so quickly given how it is the one area that is still strong this year. Yes the score has dictated some of the lack of running as the Redskins aren’t closing out games like they did a year ago, but that isn’t the only reason the rushing numbers are down. In many of these games the running game could have been utilized more early on, or when the game was still in reach but the Redskins chose not to.

That has meant that the passing attack now comprises over 60% of the Redskins offense, and it has cost this team dearly. As bad as the 7% drop in completion percentage is on paper, it is more significant on the field given the greater number of pass attempts. The increase in passing, combined with the dramatic decrease in effectiveness is a recipe for disaster and is the biggest reason why this offense is stalling out and not able to finish drives.

While there is plenty of blame to go around for this regression, including 2nd year quarterback Robert Griffin III, the biggest culprit in this failure is simply the play calling and how this team is structured. If you want to be a high passing team in the NFL (something Mike Shanahan has never found success doing), you need three central things: 1. an offensive line that can pass block and give you protection for 3-4 seconds on most plays, 2. a quarterback who has a strong pocket presence and can feel and respond to pressure and 3. a quality receiver/tight end unit that can get open and help the quarterback. The Redskins currently have none of those three things and it is killing them.

The Redskins offensive line got a lot of credit last season for the success of this offense, but some of that was undeserved. The Redskins still allowed 33 sacks last year, and did so despite Griffin’s escapability and the fact that so many of the Redskins passes were quick hitters or screens where the ball was out within 2 seconds. Now the Redskins are cutting back on that and it’s forcing the Redskins offensive line to block longer. This line is built as a zone blocking rushing unit, with undersized linemen who aren’t meant to be pass blocking 60% of the time. It’s no surprise they are starting to get more exposed this year.

Griffin is not without fault for the offensive woes of this team. He’s being asked to be more of a pocket passer this year, and that simply isn’t his game. Perhaps if he was healthy this offseason that would have made the difference, but many of the issues are things that he could have worked on in the film room, such as reading defenses and picking up on blitz tendencies. Griffin in general is more off target than he was a year ago, and that could be attributed to the injury/rust, but the not feeling the defensive pressure or forcing the ball into coverage is far less excusable. Now he is just in his second season, but the Redskins are now asking him to throw the ball far more and it’s hurting this club.

When Griffin does have the time and does make the right read, he’s being hindered by a below average group of receivers and tight ends. Though this group was even worse last season, the fact that they aren’t relying on so much mis-direction is forcing them to win 1-on-1 match-ups that they simply can’t do with any consistency. Like last season drops remain a serious problem, and they simply can’t afford that with the other issues in this offense.

The Redskins need to play to the strengths of their offense if they want this unit to start functioning effectively and get back to winning, but to do so would be making some fundamental changes to what they’ve been doing. The run needs to take a far bigger role in this offense in the last 9 games and they need to get back to the quicker passing and focus on protecting the football. It’s unclear why the coaching staff is trying to force this offense into something that it’s not, and away from it’s greatest strength, but it is clear that experiment should be over.

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