For the second straight season the Washington Redskins traveled to New York in a divisional rivalry matchup. And for the second straight season they left the Big Apple (really New Jersey) with a disappointing loss.
Last Sunday’s 23-17 loss was especially disappointing, as Redskins coach Jim Zorn and his staff were a year wiser and confident they would be better prepared for New York.
Yet Redskins’ fans were treated to the same conservative game planning and strategy that led to a dismal performance in Zorn’s first professional game as an NFL head coach.
Although the players are responsible for the execution and performance of the plays called, the Redskins loss to the Giants ultimately came down to game planning and lack of adjustments by the Redskins’ coaching staff.
Heading into the game, the Redskins were well aware the Giants had just three healthy cornerbacks at their disposal.
Rather than spreading the field with 4- or 5- wide receiver packages, forcing the Giants to cover one of the many talented Redskins’ receivers with a safety or linebacker, Zorn opted to center the offense on Clinton Portis and a conservative passing attack.
Defensively, Greg Blache and his unit accomplished their goal in shutting down Giant running back Brandon Jacobs (46 yards on 16 rushes). However, the Giants coaching staff planned for the Redskins to take away Jacobs and planned accordingly.
To limit Jacobs’ effectiveness, Blache played his safeties close to the line limiting deep help on pass plays. To take away something, a defense has to be willing to sacrifice in other areas.
Soft cornerback coverage was the sacrifice Blache and the Redskins had to make to limit Jacobs, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his receiving corps made the Redskins pay.
The coverage adjustment was not as much of a problem for the Redskins as was the execution on the player’s part following a completed pass.
Poor open field tackling and bad pursuit angles—the Redskins,who do not tackle in practice for health reasons—allowed the Giants’ receivers to pick-up key first downs on third-and-long situations and on one play a touchdown reception by Giants’ receiver Mario Manningham. Three Redskins had a chance to knock Manningham out of bounds on his 30-yard reception, but all three players whiffed.
Zorn uses a script in calling the Redskins’ first 15 offensive plays. Half that script should have included multiple receivers packages, instead he utilized fullback Mike Sellers in front of Portis and two tight ends in an attempt to control the ball.
For Blache, it was evident the Giants were going after cornerback Fred Smoot in passing situations, and he was exposed without safety help. Mixing up defensive looks would have limited Smoot's problems.
Blache also decided to stop rushing linebacker Brian Orakpo on non-passing situations after the first quarter. Instead, Orakpo was asked to drop back in pass coverage and had little or no impact in the game.
The Redskins have a favorable schedule the next three weeks and should repeat what they accomplished last season, winning three consecutive games after an opening season loss to the Giants.
A Déjà vu opening game loss to the Giants is one thing. A repeat season of conservative game planning and in-game adjustments will not be accepted favorably by the Redskins’ faithful or their owner.