Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins: Full Roster Grades for Washington
There was only one real standout performance on the team. That is reflected in the grades, the majority of which are merely average.
Here are the full report card grades for the Redskins after another painful defeat.
Kirk Cousins couldn't replicate the big plays he manufactured against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15. He was often forced to check the ball down by the Cowboys' zone-based schemes.
Although he deserves credit for staying patient against this approach, the offense suffered without its big-strike capability. Cousins' longest pass netted 28 yards, and that was only thanks to Pierre Garcon's efforts after the catch.
The result was less than 200 yards passing for a quarterback who threw for 381 in Atlanta. While Cousins again showed he can work through reads and spread the ball around, this passing game works best when it attacks vertically.
Alfred Morris found it tough to get free at times against a Cowboys defense that had committed to shutting him down. Morris saw a lot of eight-man fronts and run blitzes.
That meant he was often held to minimal gains, particularly in the first half. It was only after a nice second-half adjustment to more power-based blocking that Morris started to wear down the Cowboys.
It didn't help that Morris was again expected the carry the load on his own. Roy Helu Jr. was given only two carries and produced negative yardage.
Not even the return of fullback Darrel Young could help this ground game dominate.
The B grade for the wide receivers belongs solely to Pierre Garcon. He terrorized the Dallas secondary with 11 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Along the way, Garcon established a new franchise record for receptions in a single season. He beat the mark previously set by Art Monk.
But just like with Morris, Garcon didn't get any support. Only two other wide receivers caught passes, with Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson combining for just three receptions.
If you wondered whether the Redskins actually had any tight ends suited up in Week 16, you probably weren't alone. The position group made only three catches.
Once again, a talented pass-catcher like Fred Davis was practically ignored in the offense. He caught just one pass for nine yards.
The plan seemed to be to use tight ends as supplemental blockers, although that hardly made an impact.
Week 16 was a rare solid outing for a usually dismal offensive line. The group didn't allow a sack and knocked open some inviting holes in the middle for Morris.
The front five's best player was right guard Chris Chester. He was especially effective pulling around to the left and nullifying interior defenders.
Morris made several good gains running behind these blocks.
Not for the first time this season, the Washington defensive line was handled too easily. The unit failed to gain enough penetration against either the run or the pass.
The Cowboys found it easy to move the Redskins front three wherever they wanted them to go. That meant quarterback Tony Romo often had all day to throw, while running back DeMarco Murray averaged 4.4 yards per rush.
Feeble play up front made life even harder for the linebackers. The quartet struggled to escape blockers at the second level and make plays.
Playing in his final home game, London Fletcher was mostly subdued. He was in on six combined tackles, but had just one solo stop.
Ryan Kerrigan's sack was the only tangible moment of production from the group this defense is built around.
Despite receiving no help up front in critical situations, the secondary did a decent job of frustrating Cowboys receivers. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall led the way, snaring his fourth interception of the season.
As well as coverage, tackling in the secondary was excellent. In particular, Josh Wilson made a number of thunderous stops.
When the secondary did give up some big plays, they were the result of blitzers failing to bring down Romo and the quarterback having too long to throw.
Things got off to another horrendous start for the special teams. Recently-signed Micheal Spurlock took the first punt return of the day and ran it back inside the Washington 5-yard line.
The Cowboys scored their first touchdown two plays later. Despite some adequate moments after that, the special teams still committed a critical penalty that gave the offense bad field position on the game's final drive.
The coaching staff ultimately undermined the Redskins with some dubious decisions in every phase of the game. There was some good individual scheming on both offense and defense, but a coherent overall direction was lacking.
For instance, Kyle Shanahan used some good power concepts to get the running game back on track. He also confused the Cowboys with some four-receiver bunch combinations.
But the younger Shanahan's refusal to use all of his weapons hindered the offense and made things easier for the Dallas defense.
Speaking of defense, the Redskins' own unit had some nice moments on the blitz. Coordinator Jim Haslett unleashed some fiendish pressure designs that made life uncomfortable for Romo.
Unfortunately, Haslett undid all his good work by going with a cautious four-man rush that let Romo drive nearly the length of the field to throw the clinching score.
Haslett's decision to go conservative in the final quarter rendered his defense impotent, as The Washington Post's Mark Maske notes:
But the Washington defense, after bottling up quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense for three quarters, was unable to apply the finishing touches. Romo led the Cowboys on two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter, culminating when he threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to tailback DeMarco Murray with just more than a minute left. Dallas escaped with a 24-23 triumph, and the Redskins were left with another disappointment in a season filled with them.
Of course, the lack of direction among coordinators stems from the man at the top. Mike Shanahan has offered conclusive proof this season that he is not the right man to lead the Redskins.
The Post's Thomas Boswell puts Shanahan's failings into the proper perspective:
When Coach Mike Shanahan arrived four years ago, the team was 4-12 under then coach Jim Zorn, general manager Vinny Cerrato and owner Daniel Snyder, widely considered one of the least impressive trios to run an NFL operation. Now, after being given almost complete control, Shanahan has the franchise in worse shape than when he showed up.
This season Washington has been outscored by 130 points, the widest margin by this franchise in 52 years. When the team isn’t blown out early, it finds a way to lose late and close, as it has the past two weeks, by one point both times. They lose to backup quarterbacks and decimated foes with losing records (the Vikings). They are on pace to allow the third-highest point total in the NFL in the 16-game era that goes back to 1978. The glorious special teams allowed a 62-yard Cowboys punt return on the fifth play.
Shanahan’s creation, and this is still a fairly healthy team by Week 16 standards, now has a 3-12 record, a lack of talent at many positions, and no No. 1 draft pick.
No amount of spin can defend a disaster on this scale.