When you only attempt 35 passes, that can be a crippling amount of drops.
Receivers are paid a lot of money to catch the ball in the NFL. Some may be willing to block, but the primary job is to get open and catch the ball.
When a receiver gets a target and the pass is accurate enough to catch, then he better finish the play. Dropped passes are tough to overcome, though they are not all created equally.
Having personally tracked drops for dozens of games over the years, I have never seen a double-digit total for one team, so we likely witnessed something unusually terrible from the Redskins in Week 8.
It is also very subjective as to what constitutes a dropped pass, and they are not official NFL statistics. They probably never will be, either.
STATS LLC determined the Redskins had five drops on Sunday. Pro Football Focus said seven. A video from NFL.com (featured below) suggests nine drops. The FOX broadcast said 10, and that did not include one where the receiver clearly had it, but was hit and...well, dropped the ball. For some reason, these kind tend to never get counted.
You can say the stat services have been dropping the ball on their “Drops” statistic for years now.
Should the cause of the drop really matter? Sure, we can create advanced splits to break the drops down even further, but a drop should be a drop no matter if the receiver was wide open or if someone hit him. We do not break receptions down by if a receiver is hit or not, so why are receivers allowed to get away with drops on such plays?
If you always hold onto the ball when you get two hands on it, then you do not have to worry about having a drop. It’s that simple.
Just ask coach Mike Shanahan, who said “I don’t care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long.”
Let’s review exactly what the Washington receivers did in the rainy, cool weather on Sunday in Pittsburgh (it was definitely a factor; the Steelers had at least four drops, too), and how much they hurt their team in the process.
For starters, here is a compilation video from the NFL featuring nine drops.
Drive Two: Drops No. 1 and No. 2
Washington kept things on the ground for their first drive, going three and out. On their second drive, Robert Griffin III started strong with two completions for 43 yards, but it was on his third pass attempt where we would see the first of many mistakes.
Drop No. 1: 2-5-PIT 22 (:24) R.Griffin pass incomplete deep right to L.Hankerson.
Off the play-action pass, Griffin had an easy throw to Leonard Hankerson for a walk-in touchdown, but Hankerson dropped it right off his hands at the 3-yard line.
Drop No. 2: 1-10-PIT 14 (15:00) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short middle to D.Briscoe (K.Lewis).
From the play-by-play, the defender’s name in parenthesis (Keenan Lewis) tells us there was a pass defense on this play, which is true. However, Dezmon Briscoe had the ball in his hands before any effort by Lewis to make him drop the ball, and this play was also in the end zone for another touchdown.
Ultimately, the Redskins cashed in for six after a tough grab in traffic by Santana Moss on fourth down. So while the Redskins had three touchdown passes on this drive, you can only score once, which they did.
The impact of these drops only statistically hurt Griffin, but not the Redskins’ chances to win the game. The Hankerson drop actually led to Griffin throwing five additional passes and rushing once when he should not have had to.
Drive Three: Drop No. 3
Now down 17-6, the Redskins needed another score quickly.
While we are mostly looking at how Griffin was hurt by his receivers, there were some positives, too. On a play action with designed rollout to the right, Griffin had TE Logan Paulsen wide open across the field, but he just overthrew him. The Houston Texans have had a lot of success with this play in recent years, but Griffin missed it.
Drop No. 3: 1-10-WAS 37 (5:16) R.Griffin pass incomplete short middle to C.Cooley (W. Allen).
Two plays later Griffin went to the returning Chris Cooley over the middle, but Will Allen was all over the play and Cooley could not hold on. It would have only gained three yards at best. It’s a blur as Allen was there immediately, and possibly even early.
The drive actually ended after Griffin went out for a deep pass, nearly caught it, but was destroyed by Ryan Clark and flagged for offensive pass interference, so it would not have mattered if he caught it anyway.
Drive Four: Drops No. 4, No.5 and No. 6
This drive was comical. Trailing 20-6 and needing some points on a two-minute drill with 1:50 left, the Redskins dropped the ball on all three plays.
Drop No. 4: 1-10-WAS 23 (1:50) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short left to E.Royster.
Running back Evan Royster attempted to catch a screen pass, but let it slip away as if he had never done this before.
Drop No. 5: 2-10-WAS 23 (1:45) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short right to J.Morgan (K.Lewis).
With the blitz coming, Griffin let it go quick and a bit high. Josh Morgan had it in his hands but was hit by Keenan Lewis, and he dropped the ball. It would have been a minimal gain.
Drop No. 6: 3-10-WAS 23 (1:41) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short right to S.Moss (W.Allen).
You can overcome drops on the early downs, but not on third down. Washington saved the worst for last. Moss had the first down and then some, but he was already bobbling the ball even before Allen came in and hit him.
The Redskins are just lucky the Steelers did not add on any more points in the half after this drive lasted 27 seconds.
Drive Eight: Drop No. 7 and a close call
Washington made it through the third quarter without a real drop, though there was a pass to Moss that appeared to be a one-hopper pass. FOX counted this in their total, though it just looked like a bad pass.
But trailing 27-9 in the fourth quarter and things looking dire, the Redskins could not afford any mistakes.
An interesting play that no one seems to be crediting as a drop came with 14:22 left in the fourth quarter and the ball at the Steelers 29. Griffin threw deep to the end zone for Aldrick Robinson, and he just let the ball go through his arms. The Steelers were initially credited with an interception, though the ball clearly hit the ground.
Check the positioning for Robinson. If that was Pierre Garcon in there like you would usually have when healthy, then it likely is a touchdown.
Drop No. 7: 2-11-PIT 19 (12:53) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short middle to J.Morgan.
Three plays later, Morgan had no one around him underneath and dropped the ball in pathetic fashion. It would have been a decent gain, but instead set up a 3rd-and-11, which Griffin was sacked on, forcing Washington to settle for a field goal.
Drive Nine: Drops No. 8, No. 9, No. 10
Trailing 27-12 with 9:41 left, this was touchdown or bust for the Redskins. Of course, the drive would feature a few more drops and a fitting ending for the day.
Drop No. 8: 1-10-WAS 37 (8:57) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short right to D.Young [L.Timmons].
Though LaMarr Woodley was coming, Griffin avoided him and was hit by Lawrence Timmons as he got the pass away. Darrel Young, the fullback, was the target and he too looked like he has never caught a football in his life on the play. He turned his head before securing the ball.
Drop No. 9: 3-4-WAS 43 (8:16) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short middle to S.Moss (W.Allen).
Two plays later, Moss had the first down at the 50, but Will Allen hit him and he dropped the ball. You have to make these plays on third down.
However, Moss came right back on the next play on 4th-and-4 and made the first-down catch for a 5-yard gain. Washington was able to overcome the first two drops on this drive.
On 3rd-and-17 at the PIT 24, Griffin threw another low pass to Hankerson. The defender for Pittsburgh is in the way, so you cannot tell if the ball hit the ground, but it likely did. Not a drop.
Drop No. 10: 4-17-PIT 24 (4:17) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete short left to S.Moss (C.Allen).
Finally, on 4th-and-17, Griffin threw a good pass to Moss, but he dropped it to end the day for Washington. Although, it did not seem likely Moss would have gained the first down anyway, as he caught the pass two yards short of the first down and two defenders were right there.
Frankly, I do not see much difference between why this is a drop and the Robinson play is not. They both went through the receivers’ hands without ever really having control of it.
But that comes right back to the subjectivity of dropped passes.
Whether they had 9-10 drops or 13 passes that should have been caught, it was clearly a poor effort by the Washington receivers.
In the end, the drops hurt Robert Griffin III’s impressive stat line this season more than they did the Redskins’ chances to win this game.
The plays that really hurt were the three drops on the drive before halftime (especially Moss on third down), and I still say Aldrick Robinson has to make that catch in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Washington either overcame the other drops or they just were not relevant plays.
Last week, the Redskins struggled with giveaways against the Giants after being strong in that area. This week it was dropped passes against Pittsburgh. Those are two losses against flagship teams, and it puts Washington at 3-5 in a crowded NFC.
When your defense is struggling like the Redskins, your offense cannot afford so many mistakes like this. Some fundamental ball security the last two weeks and the Redskins could be 5-3 and right in the thick of things.
Instead they just have to figure out how to avoid dropping another game.
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.