Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Monday Night's matchup vs. the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField in Landover, Md.
Three months into the 2013 season and the Washington Redskins have yet to win consecutive games. Of course coming off of two straight losses on the road, the Redskins need to worry about their fourth win of the season before planning for the fifth.
The Redskins return to FedExField for the coldest game so far this season, hosting the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers with temperature around freezing.
The 49ers offer a similar offensive and defensive scheme, but are at different ends of the spectrum in terms of execution. The 49ers are also a run-first offense with an aggressive 3-4 defense, but have scored one more point on offense and allowed 133 fewer points this season.
Averaging nearly two touchdowns per game in differential, this is the obvious reason why the Redskins enter at 3-7 and the 49ers are 6-4. All of that will be put to the test in a critical first game of the home stand, which ultimately dictates the remainder of the season.
Unlike most games, there wasn't one moment with which the Redskins can definitively point to and mull defeat. This was a game in which they struggled to find any rhythm on offense or defense. If there was a revealing moment in the game, it was halftime. The Redskins went into halftime trailing by four with an opportunity to turn things around in the second half as they have so many times this season. Instead, the offense tallied 30 yards of total offense in the second half and scored zero points.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The best play of the game was a gang tackle of Vernon Davis near midfield that ended with DeAngelo Hall and Barry Cofield stripping the football for a fumble. Coming in from centerfield, Brandon Meriweather corralled the loose football, giving the Redskins offense a prime opportunity.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Usually the special teams only get high praise when the game boils down to a game-winning field goal. But tonight, Kai Forbath deserves credit because he is the only Redskins player that was able to get points on the board for the Redskins. His two field goals today in sub-freezing temperatures were enough to keep the Redskins from getting blanked at home.
Sav Rocca has not lived up to his own standards this season, but the birthday boy turned in a solid week this week, averaging 45 yards for each of his seven punts. He also held for the kicks on the team's only points of the season, including one with a running clock at the end of the first half. Nice work for the elder statesman on the Redskins.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The activation of Joshua Morgan as one of the team's receivers. For reasons unknown, the team's leading 2012 receiver has fallen out of favor this season, hauling in just 11 passes for 124 yards through the first 10 games of the year. He had not caught a pass since the Denver game, had not had a multi-reception game since Week 3 vs. Detroit, and spent last week inactive for the first time in Washington. Despite the time away, he was the game's leading receiver in the first half, hauling in five passes for 45 yards. He will play a big role with Leonard Hankerson done for the season and seems to be back in sync with Robert Griffin III quickly.
--Shifty and athletic, Colin Kaepernick is a difficult bull to corral, but the Redskins got to him twice in the early going. The first was an all effort sack by Brian Orakpo, who was there to flop on Kaepernick when he slipped cutting upfield. The second was an athletic move by defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who picked up his first full sack of the season by shedding his blocker and dragging Kaepernick down.
--Pierre Garçon has been the team's leading receiver this season and propelled himself to new heights tonight. In the first half, he secured his 71st reception of the year, breaking a personal mark (70) he set with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Garçon has been nothing short of sensation with a healthy season this year, and remains on target to set new highs in receiving yards as well. He now has 75 receptions for 919 yards.
--Running back Alfred Morris didn't get enough credit for last year's franchise record-setting season. Critics attributed his zero-to-hero story to the play of Robert Griffin III, and to a degree, they may have been right. But Morris is a special back, carrying the offense when the passing game falters. Picking up tough yards in the first half, he started out the game with 40 yards on 11 carries, setting the tone for a physical rushing attack.
--Special teams has been a much-maligned portion of the Redskins gameplan this season, as the Redskins have fallen short of expectations in kicking, punting, coverage and returns. But tonight was a good start back to the road of good. Veteran wide receiver Santana Moss took over punt return duties from Nick Williams, returning his second punt of the season for 13 yards, one of the longest of the season for the unit. In kick returns, the 49ers consistently booted kickoffs short of the goal line, giving Niles Paul a number of opportunities on kickoffs.
--Most importantly, when the team needed a score going into halftime and had no timeouts remaining, Sav Rocca, Kai Forbath and company hustled onto the field with the clock running and booted a 35-yard field goal, good. It was a strategy aimed at taking the sure points in the situation, but there was nothing assured about that outcome. Good execution by a unit that hasn't had many reasons to celebrate this season.
--Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall continues his redemption tour, tallying his third forced fumble tonight in a play where a gang of Redskins stood up Vernon Davis. It has been a year of threes for Hall, who now has three forced fumbles, three interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. Good things happen in threes.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--One of the most puzzling trends this season has been the slow starts on offense, particularly in the passing game. Last week, the Redskins could not score until the fourth quarter, and quarterback Robert Griffin III's struggles continued early tonight. In the first quarter, he was the game's leading rusher with 20 yards on three carries, picking up the team's first first down with his legs. Unfortunately, he finished the first quarter with one completion on six attempts, for -1 yards and an interception. The Redskins cannot afford to leave quarters of football on the field.
--Pass protection has gone from being a cause for concern to a five-alarm fire. The San Francisco 49ers are an elite pass rushing team, but tonight unraveled quickly for the Redskins pass protection. Griffin III was not sacked in the first half. He was sacked four times in the second half, taking some brutal shots inside of three seconds or right at that point. Receivers take some responsibility for not getting open and Griffin III deserves some for not getting free or throwing the ball away. But if the pass protection can't give the receivers three seconds to get open and Griffin III to get rid of the ball, then there is not much more that he can do.
--Obviously 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a matchup nightmare, but the Redskins struggled to find a strategy for stopping the DC-native and former Terp. One ill-fated matchup was Josh Wilson, a friend a former teammate of the gargantuan tight end, who gives up six inches and 60 pounds to Davis. That resulted in a 40-yd completion that set up the 49ers second score of the game. He added another 30 yards on three receptions for a touchdown in the second half.
--49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has already thrown more than twice as many interceptions (7) this year as last year (3). While he could hardly be called turnover-prone, he does make mistakes and it is incumbent upon opposing defenses to take advantage. The Redskins had one such opportunity in the first half, with inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. drifting in coverage and jumping a route intended for Mario Manningham. Had he caught the ball, he had the momentum and angle to potentially return it for a pick-six. He would have at least set the Redskins up with prime field position. He did neither, managing to knock the ball away incomplete, but no more. Judging from body language, he knew how much that opportunity would have meant.
--It's not very often that Trent Williams gets beaten on a play, with any of his sacks usually coming in coverage situations where the play unravels. But he got beaten by outside linebacker Aldon Smith, deep in Redskins territory, giving up a sack that effectively killed the drive. Worse yet, the Redskins were pushed back in the battle of field position and the 49ers offense took over at the Washington 40-yard line after the Sav Rocca punt. These plays may seem like isolated incidences at the time, but a busted protection like that set the Redskins defense up for failure on the ensuing stand. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
--Another week and a big deficit forces the Redskins to get away from the running game prematurely. This has been a difficult trend for Washington all season, as Alfred Morris has proven to be durable and productive, but the offense anemic on the scoreboard. Alfred Morris had 11 carries for 40 yards in the first half. He had just three carries in the third quarter and just 14 carries for 52 yards in the game.
--Needing a stop late in the game on the 49ers' second 4th-down attempt, the Redskins bit on the fake to the right, as Colin Kaepernick tucked the ball to run. Cornerback Josh Wilson was in position to make the sack, but Kaepernick got the angle and scooted past for a sliding first down. Not only did the Redskins fail to get the turnover on downs, but with precious time draining off the clock, the 49ers were able to burn another two minutes off the clock before adding three points on a 49-yard field goal.
--Anquan Boldin ran wild on the Redskins secondary tonight, hauling in five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. The Redskins secondary had no answers for the grizzled veteran, with Hall frequently shifting to cover Vernon Davis and David Amerson not playing much of a role in the outcome. Bacarri Rambo had an opportunity to stop Boldin short on his game-high 32-yard reception, but instead elected to go for the hit. Boldin let him bounce off before running an extra seven yards. Lots of quality film study lies ahead for this team.
According to ESPN Stats and Info Inc., Robert Griffin III has never played in a game—professional or college—in which the team did not score at least one touchdown (67 combined games). That streak ended tonight.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III explaining that his teammates have not given up on him or the season:
"I know they're going to keep fighting with me, and I'll fight with those guys any day."
The Redskins head into the middle game of a three-week homestand, enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday with the family before welcoming the New York Giants to town for the first meeting this year.
This is a Giants team on a roll after a slow start to the season, winning four-straight before barely falling to the Dallas Cowboys last week. Given the familiarity of a division opponent, analysts can throw out the stats book. Anything is possible. The lights will be bright on Sunday night, in a game between a 3-8 team and a 4-7 team that still, somehow, has playoff implications.
The Redskins have not had many demoralizing losses with Robert Griffin III at the helm, but tonight was a gut-check game for a squad with expectations of grandeur.
Losing their eighth game of the season, the Redskins are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they have much bigger questions from tonight's loss than worrying about the postseason.
The Redskins have a short, holiday-interrupted week of preparation before Sunday Night's game vs. the New York Giants. This is one of the best rivalries for the Redskins in recent seasons and should inspire the best play out of the burgundy and gold this season.
Despite the physical toll of tonight's loss, the Redskins still have a lot to play for as they seek to answer the questions that have plagued them this season. Sunday Night will be the next chapter.