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Redskins vs Cowboys Offensive Review: Grossman’s Turnovers
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Rex Grossman  of the Washington Redskins during play against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Tony wrote that Rex Grossman passed his test as Redskins starting quarterback.  I completely agree with him.  I also think that Grossman is incredibly fortunate to be playing under circumstances where winning the game was not a primary objective of how well the quarterback performs.  Grossman made way too many plays that hurt his team’s chances of winning the game.  He was more responsible than any other player for a 20-point third quarter deficit.

From the perspective of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, that’s not really relevant.  What Grossman was able to prove was that any old player who knows and understands his offense can have a banner day.  By that measure, any player who has quarterbacked a team against the Cowboys since Week 5 must have known and understood their offenses: they’ve all had banner days.  Grossman’s performance against Dallas wasn’t notable in any way except that he threw 100% of the team’s touchdowns and two-point conversions (6 in total), and he committed three turnovers, two of the “horrible” variety.

Would the game have been won with Donovan McNabb at quarterback?  Honestly, it wouldn’t have.  The reason is because Grossman made some aggressive, but accurate red zone throws that led to points — throws that McNabb would have passed up.  The Redskins red zone performance has been suspect all year, and the playcalling on this end of the field was just as questionable as it had ever been before.  But some luck — such as a roughing the passer call that extended the drive — contributed to Grossman’s red zone skill.  Dallas also blew plenty of coverages to help him.  This is a defense that plays dreadful assignment football, a defensive issue far more fundamental than the one the Redskins have (a lack of supporting talent, plus some key injuries).

Grossman still played a pretty poor game.  None of the three turnovers needed to happen, or weren’t Grossman’s fault.  On the flip side, none of the turnovers were 100% the fault of the quarterback (not even the horrible first quarter INT), but three turnovers is a lot more than the Dallas offenses’ zero turnovers.  The biggest difference between the Tampa Bay game (which I argued the Redskins deserved to win) and the Dallas game (which they did not) was that the opposing offense took care of the football.  McNabb would have made up all the points he would have lost with questionable red-zone efficiency by committing one or fewer turnovers.  This game may have been a statement game for the Redskins offensive coaches, but all we learned about Grossman was that he’s not as polished a player as McNabb.

This was not a great pass protection game for the Redskins.  They were able to get the comeback started because they were able to keep Grossman clean in the pocket for much of the middle two quarters, but the only solution the Redskins had when the Cowboys dialed up the pressure on Grossman in the fourth quarter was for Grossman to hit open receivers under duress.  This was Grossman’s best quality in this game.  Following the lost fumble, Grossman under-threw but completed a deep ball to Anthony Armstrong, then on his next two passes, took advantage of Dallas’ three man rushes to identify coverage mismatches and, on this drive alone, Grossman looked like a quarterback who was drafted in the first round.  The touchdown pass on the slant to Moss against FS Alan Ball was a TD before the ball was even snapped.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the Redskins were still down 16 points, and Grossman would play the rest of the game with an immense level of pressure on him (Ryan Torain is not yet adept at executing protection assignments), and made a number of good throws, as well as a number of poor reads.  Make no mistake: the Cowboys gave away the lead with fundamentally stupid errors more than the Redskins took it away.  A good defense probably gives up the first two TDs to Grossman, and maybe another FG, but certainly would have held the Redskins under 20 points.  The roughing-the-passer call came on a dead in the water play: Grossman had nowhere to go with the football.  He then missed an open Fred Davis on a bootleg, and missed Moss again for a TD before finally executing the 3rd down throw to a wide open Santana Moss.

On the second to last drive, it was Ryan Torain who took the Redskins down the field, through some interesting screen concepts and other passing plays designed to get him on the edge in space.  Torain is a good runner in open field, but struggles with a lot of the more basic concepts of being a runner at this level.  He’s physically a good blocker (giving me hope for his development as one), but has remarkably poor vision, which prevents him from running to both open holes and reading assignments vs. the blitz.  Torain is not a dangerous runner when stretched towards the sideline, and you can’t always expect blockers to be able to seal the edge for him.  I’m convinced his biggest asset is his ability to 1) catch screens and not waste motion upfield like Williams does, and 2) have the trust of his offensive coordinator to convert precious run calls into yards.  Keiland Williams would easily be an 1,200 yard runner if he got the benefit of the gameplan the way Torain does.  Instead of “throwing the kitchen sink” at the defense in terms of a running game, we go into our 80-20 non-balanced playcalling game, running only simple stretches with Williams.  That’s not how you get a 150 yard game from your backup running back (although Williams executes stretches pretty well).

Keep this in mind if you believe Ryan Torain can be a no. 1 back in the NFL: I don’t think he has the ability (vision) to do it.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want packages that are designed to get an excellent north-south runner into space where he can chew up the yards and get downfield, but there’s a reason that Torain is so ineffective in the red zone compared to Williams.  Well, aside from Casey Rabach.  Torain is neither a liability nor an asset, per my evaluation, but he’s a bit overmatched as a featured runner.  He’s been the third most valuable running back on the team this year, and remember, he didn’t make the team out of camp.  I’d take him any day of the week over Larry Johnson though.

Grossman’s final two drives are probably the ones that say the most about Rex Grossman.  He comes off his own four yard line with a dangerous but deadly accurate flat pass to Cooley in the flat.  An excellent example of how decisiveness can beat a defense even when the read is wrong.  The next play was wasted to Roydell Williams: a good read by Grossman, but the pass was thrown well away from where Williams wanted it and Roydell hasn’t shown me that he’ll go get a ball all year.  Then a perfect pass to Cooley beat a cover two look for 17 yards.  Coming off that throw, Kyle Shanahan went for it all down the sideline to Moss, expecting the same coverage.  He got the coverage, Grossman beat the pressure with a good throw and Moss…dropped it.  The very next play, Grossman took a bad sack from the strong safety on a play where the blitz wasn’t even well timed.  That was an awful sack to take, as the play had already developed.  The drive ended on another sack, but this was a blown communication where Keiland Williams and Kory Lichtenstieger failed to block a LB in a zone blitz.  They’re both first year guys, so it’s not evident who screwed up, but based on the call, Williams probably had the assignment, then assumed he was free to release because the Cowboys only brought four.  My biggest criticism of Williams this year is that he gets into the patterns too fast, thinking that just because there’s four guys on the rush, he doesn’t have to chip because there are blockers behind him.

Losing 17 yards in two plays is the biggest reason the Redskins lost the game anyway, at least after being down by 20 points.  I’d take two more deflating Santana Moss drops over what actually happened.  Sam Palescu is not a solution at punter.  

My Soapbox

One criticism I have of some Redskins fans, in general, is that roughly half of the fanbase decided based on poor performance this week that Graham Gano, a 23 year old second year player who has given the Redskins one of the best kickoff units in memory, should be released for performance reasons against the Bucs (and the season, where his FG% is amongst the worst in the league).  After all, changing the losing culture of the Redskins requires one to make some sacrifices in talent to ensure the best performance for a team.  Well, that and Gano probably cost the Redskins a game.  Of course, one week later, Santana Moss drops a ball that hit him in the hands as the Redskins are closing in on a monumental victory and season sweep of the hated Dallas Cowboys.  

Santana Moss is a 30-year old receiver with an expiring contract who is only on the payroll for two more games.  It would be wrong to look at the Moss play and ignore the 400+ yards the defense gave up, and the poor performance of the kick coverage units, as reasons for losing this game.  It was also wrong to blame Gano for the Bucs loss without looking at DeAngelo Hall’s or Kyle Shanahan’s struggles in the same game.  But had Moss made that catch — and godforbid acutally beaten the overmatched safety and scored — the Redskins are going to win the game.

None of those familiar culture-changing rants have been used against Moss or DeAngelo Hall this week.  Which is to be expected.  It’s important to be accountable for inexcusable mistakes, unless of course, the mistakes are made by a player who has his replica manufactured and sold by the team.  Graham Gano is as much a part of the teams success (and failures) this year as Moss or Hall, but because it’s easy to find a new kicker, his underperformance isn’t tolerated by some (not all) fans.  I’m not saying that Moss or Hall should be immediately released before evaluation can take place, that would be ridiculously short-sighted.  I’m saying that if your action plan for improving the clubhouse atmosphere is to cut young, cheap talent who the team doesn’t have a great investment in when they screw up, but conversely talk about “being snakebit” when your stars make mistakes…well, that attitude might have something to do with why the Redskins won no division titles this decade.

Luckily, I think the Shanahan’s were smart to not make the same mistake that Vinny Cerrato did last year, when he cut Shaun Suisham (who had a great FG%) after an inexcusable miss that cost the Redskins the Saints game.  I don’t see too many other reasons to think the culture is any different around Redskins Park than it was last year, but there you go: that’s one piece of evidence that suggests it is.

End rant.

This will be the final offensive tape review of the season, due to holliday-related travel of your author.  It is my sincerest hope that all 15 offensive reviews have been enlightening for you, because I always learn a lot in order to put these together, and that makes it worth it for me.  If these are even moderately readable for the public, well, then so much the better.