Biggest Takeaways from Washington Redskins' Week 11 Loss
Another chapter in the Washington Redskins' dismal streak on the road is in the books after head coach Jay Gruden's team was hammered by the Carolina Panthers. There are few positive takeaways from a 44-16 defeat.
Instead, Gruden and key members of his staff are left to sift through the wreckage ahead of Week 12's NFC East showdown with the New York Giants.
Fixing a diabolical running game tops the team's list of priorities. That will take commitment from Gruden's play-calling. Speaking of commitment, that's just what defensive coordinator Joe Barry needs to show regarding getting the basics right. Basics like sound and solid tackling.
Repairing the offense will depend on Bill Callahan's offensive line making some strides after a nightmare week of regression.
Find out Washington's biggest takeaways after the team was sent crashing back down to earth with a depressing thud.
Jay Gruden Has to Stick with the Running Game
Attempting 12 rushes is no way to win a game on the road. In Week 11, barely handing the ball off meant leaving quarterback Kirk Cousins at the mercy of an interception-happy, pressure-crazed defense.
Cousins has made strides in recent weeks, but he isn't ready for that kind of test. This is a quarterback who needs balance. It's a lesson Gruden seems to forget every few weeks or so. One game removed from calling 31 rushing attempts, Washington's head coach abandoned the ground game at the first sign of trouble against the Panthers.
Of course, it's tough to stick with something when it isn't working. This was the sixth game out of 10 the Burgundy and Gold rushed for 90 yards or less. But it's a catch-22. The rushing attack can hardly improve without the attempts to do it.
Left tackle Trent Williams called for more running plays, according to Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Few would disagree with the Pro Bowler's sentiment.
Reestablishing a commitment to the ground game is vital ahead of Week 12. The Giants have slipped to 19th against the run, an edge the Redskins can exploit. New York usually plays tough on the ground against Washington, but Gruden can use personnel and formations to create an advantage.
Employing some more overloaded lines would help. Yet, involving fullback Darrel Young will be key. He's a punishing lead-blocker, one who has to see the field more often next week.
Poor Fundamentals, Lack of Talent Showing Up on Defense
Washington's defense needs to spend more time practicing the fundamentals. It's pretty clear getting those right is not as important this season.
Once again, Barry's defense couldn't tackle anybody. The high-priced defensive line couldn't get in the backfield, while the linebackers and defensive backs need a reminder about setting and wrapping up.
Those issues are the root cause of a dreadful, 30th-ranked run defense. Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times detailed this season's horror show on the ground:
For the fifth time in six weeks, the Redskins have allowed an opposing rusher to gain more than 100 yards. Jonathan Stewart rushed for 102 on Sunday and the Panthers finished with 142 yards as a team. They’ve allowed 1,048 rushing yards in the last six games — a stunning average of 174.6 per game.
Too many times, would-be tacklers are guilty of over-pursuit. On the few occasions Barry's players do get their angles right, it's common to see hits delivered with the shoulder or forearm, instead of a form tackle.
The lack of adherence to the basics extends to coverage. Poor angles are taken deep, and inside leverage is surrendered too easily underneath.
Barry's scheme is a vanilla one that requires better talent to make it click. Regardless of personnel, though, any system based on a heavy diet of zone coverage demands sound tackling and good technique on the back end.
Without those things, a better-than-you-think Giants offense will make Week 12 another long day for these Redskins. Quarterback Eli Manning has a host of weapons who will punish poor tackling in space, including playmakers such as wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Shane Vereen.
Barry's defense can't let this pair run wild at FedEx Field.
Bill Callahan Has Plenty of Work to Do
Sure, the Panthers boast a stingy and talented defense. Head coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Sean McDermott's crew rank fifth in points and fourth in yards surrendered.
But neither of those numbers excuse the horror show produced by Bill Callahan's offensive line in Week 11. The rankings are impressive, but these Panthers no longer boast premium pass-rushers as talented as Charles Johnson (injured) and Greg Hardy (moved on). Yet, even without marquee names up front, Carolina still swarmed in for five sacks. They also decked Cousins on seven more occasions.
Aside from the relentless pass rush, the Panthers also suffocated any hope of establishing the run by routinely playing behind the line of scrimmage. In particular, defensive tackle Kawann Short regularly slanted between blockers to wreck running plays at their source.
Behind this line, Washington's primary ball-carriers were practically non-existent, as D.C. Hot Read's Chris Russell noted: "Alfred Morris and Matt Jones combined for no yards. Like zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Bagel-time."
There was just no symmetry or physical dominance to the blocking. These are the things that should be ingrained up front by this point on Callahan's watch. Granted, he's had to deal with injuries, notably losing two starters, center Kory Lichtensteiger and left guard Shawn Lauvao.
But factors like that can't hide the regression notable in Callahan's line during recent weeks. The group has surrendered eight sacks in its last two games after allowing only nine through the first eight.
Callahan has plenty to fix before next week. The Giants only have 12 sacks this season, but the defense is coming off a three-sack effort against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is still a master of designing fire-zone pressures to baffle protection. Unfortunately, that's Callahan's Achilles' heel. Cousins was only sacked once by the Giants in Week 3 but hit a further six times, according to ESPN.com.
This time, Callahan's men will have to contend with Jason Pierre-Paul.
Turnovers Continue to Kill Hopes for a Road Win
The turnover statistic is often overplayed in the NFL. Where it shows up is on the road. The Redskins were guilty of five takeaways in Week 11. There's just no way a rebuilding ball club can overcome those kind of mistakes against a contender.
Cousins accounted for three of those turnovers, an interception and a pair of fumbles. But while he can attribute the blame for those fumbles on failures along the offensive line, No. 8 remains erratic protecting the ball.
Yet, rookie running back Matt Jones is starting to make Cousins look efficient in comparison. This year's third-round pick put the ball on the floor again. ESPN.com's John Keim noted how ball security has become a chronic problem for the former Florida man:
He’s now fumbled four times, including twice when he’s hurdled a player. In both cases he left the ball too exposed and a defender poked it free. The Redskins like Jones’ skills, but it’s hard to put him in a starter’s role because of the ball-security issues.
Protecting the ball is all about technique and discipline. Gruden's team has been woefully short of both too often this season. A Giants defense with 14 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries to its credit this season, according to ESPN.com, is sure to ruthlessly exploit the weakness.
Just like the feeble tackling, shaking the turnover bug requires more attention to the fundamentals. Gruden has to stress greater accountability for mistakes and tolerate no mental or technical errors in practice.
Capitulation a Worrying Sign
There was a distinct lack of fight this week, something that shouldn't happen for a team still retaining bona fide playoff hopes in the wide-open NFC East.
Yet, after keeping things close with big plays early on, Washington collapsed amid a flurry of bad calls, weak defensive showings and turnovers. ESPN 980's Kevin Sheehan was far from impressed with the Burgundy and Gold's miserable and timid response:
Little resistance when it got bad. When Carolina started to put it to the Skins up 28-14 and worse, the Skins didn’t put up enough of a fight for me. Culliver had a chance to tackle Newton on his 3rd and long run before the half but let him get it without any contact. Instead of a punt, Carolina got in field goal range and converted for a 31-14 lead. The 2nd half lacked any noticeable urgency.
Being resigned to defeat so quickly is a clear sign of a lack of belief. The Redskins appeared to have turned a corner after they blew away the New Orleans Saints in Week 10. Just as important, they'd shown plenty of spirit on the road against the Patriots in a game far closer than the 27-10 scoreline suggested.
But they never looked as though they believed they could leave Bank of America Stadium with a win.
A determined effort needs to be repeated every week. It's paramount Gruden promotes unity in the run before meeting the Giants. Without it, Washington will slip to a potentially season-destroying defeat.
You'd never know it from the four-touchdown losing deficit and miserable performance, but the Redskins are still viable contenders in the NFC East. Beating New York at FedEx Field would instantly erase memories of the debacle in Charlotte.
But it won't happen unless lessons are learned from this beating. Lessons like the value of sticking with the run, playing sound and fundamental defense and protecting the football.
Statistics and player information via NFL.com, unless otherwise stated.