What follows is an answer to the chorus of complaints from the legions of fans tired of being distracted by “sensible” analysis, backed by “facts” and “knowledge.” If you seek shelter from the twin storms that are “reality” and “logic,” then this is your port of call.
1) Having been a proud member of the THN community for a few years now, we are all too familiar with the negativity borne of a loss like the one against the Eagles. However, we think that same negativity may cause some fans to reject any criticism as inherently invalid. We want to say this from the outset, and only once. What follows here is not an attempt to tarnish the legacy of Joe Gibbs, it was not written in anger, it is not motivated by anything other than an attempt to take a rational look at the loss to the Eagles. We ask that you read it in that spirit.
Much has been made of the play calling, penalties and execution (or lack thereof) in the wake of yet another blown lead by the Redskins. We feel each point is salient in its own way and will address them in this piece.
2) First, the penalties. We are not, at all, in any fashion whatsoever claiming the officiating influenced the outcome of the game. But, because we are cool, we have a hi-def DVR and the illegal contact call on Fred Smoot in the first quarter when Philly had a 3rd and 11 was simply not correct.
We actually felt like the officiating was pretty solid but that one kept a touchdown drive alive and, as such, was particularly egregious. There were certainly some stupid penalties, the false starts were particularly annoying but the Redskins were penalized 11 times for 64 yards. Three of those penalties came on the Eagles first drive and three came on Redskins scoring drives. All in all, save for a face mask on Sean Taylor and an illegal contact on Sean Springs (another questionable flag in our estimation), the penalties were not of the drive-changing variety.
3) So while the referees weren’t helpful, they weren’t really a serious factor either. What about the execution? First, we’re not really certain how to define that. It is a philosophy that lacks a crucial component. Fans say “well, the coaches call the play and the players should execute” and we understand that on a certain level. However, there are 11 players on the other team who are also trying to execute or, perhaps more accurately, are trying to disrupt their opponent’s execution. So to say “go run play X and if that fails, it comes down to a lack of execution” strikes us as only half of the story. Yes, the players should ideally execute the play as it was imagined but if that play fails, the fault for that is not solely the people running the play. Sometimes the opponent does exactly what it is supposed to do and sometimes the choice of play was bad from the outset.
4) And that last scenario was a reality on Sunday. We refer, specifically, to a drive that started with 8:03 remaining in the game and the Redskins clinging to a 22-20 lead. As Redskins fans know all too well, on that drive, the Redskins had EIGHT chances from within the Eagles 15-yard-line and came away with only three points. The offense started on Philly’s 24 thanks to a turnover and had a chance to put the game on ice. Two runs by Clinton Portis put the ball on the eight yard line. This is, in our estimation, where the bad play calling began. The next eight plays were: rush for 1 yard, rush for 1 yard, penalty on Eagles (ball on the 5), rush for 2 yards, rush for -1 yards, penalty on Cooley (ball back to the 7), rush for 3 yards, field goal. The LONE pass attempt came on the Eagles penalty.
5) Why is that bad play calling? At that point, Clinton Portis had rushed 21 times for 110 yards, pretty impressive numbers. However, they don’t tell the whole story. Of those attempts, 11 were in the red zone and they netted a grand total of 24 yards. Granted, five of them came on that series but the previous six red zone rushing plays had resulted in 18 yards. So we can say pretty conclusively that moving the ball on the ground in the red zone had not been a grand success.
Frankly, that should not have been surprising to anyone. The Eagles, despite their woes this season, have a very good rushing defense. To wit, they have played five games against top 10 rushing teams and have allowed just over 100 yards per game, good for 11th best in the NFL. The Eagles defense held the seemingly unstoppable Adrian Peterson to just 70 yards on 20 attempts. They have allowed only 66 first downs on the ground and allow a paltry 3.8 yards per carry. And, the most pertinent stat for this discussion: the Eagles have given up only FOUR rushing touchdowns on the season. The Eagles are good against the run, there is simply no question about that point.
What about the Eagles secondary? Glad you asked: the Eagles have allowed 103 passing first downs, 12 passing touchdowns, opposing QBs complete 61% of their passes, they give up 7.5 yards per pass play, 25th worst, they are tied for the second fewest passes defended and the third fewest interceptions. Nor are they particularly adept at pressuring the quarterback: the Eagles have managed 25 sacks but NINE of those came in one game against the Lions (seriously, how are they 6-3?). When that aberration is accounted for, the Eagles become what they are: a bottom third team in terms of sacks.
At that point in the game, Jason Campbell was 16-for-21 for 156 yards and, as we all know, three touchdowns. He had scrambled twice for 18 yards, had not been sacked and had completions to five different receivers. He was spreading the ball around and was seeing the field effectively. He was making the correct reads and each of his three TD passes was on the money. The running game wasn’t being stifled but it was the passing game that had accounted for all of the scoring save a field goal and, on that drive, passing accounted for just over half of the yards.
6) So with a chance to put the game on ice, with no timeouts left and a defense that had not been spectacular but had just put the offense in great position, Gibbs chose to run the ball FIVE times, including a draw on third and seven. That simply is not good play calling, no matter what his resume says. The Redskins had zero rushing touchdowns, as we’ve demonstrated, the Eagles are particularly good against the run, Mike Sellers was dinged up and the red zone rushing attack had borne no fruit, at all. Gibbs went against empirical evidence and opted to play to the strength of the Eagles defense. Execution is important but, as we said, it is not a given and it certainly becomes more difficult when you choose to match your (relative) weakness with your opponent’s demonstrated strength. If the Redskins had scored a touchdown there, the game was over. The Eagles would have had just over four minutes to score twice.
Campbell would most certainly not have been forced into such obvious passing downs (the subsequent sack and fumble were the DIRECT result of failing to score a touchdown) and the Redskins could have used enough clock to walk out of that game 6-3. Granted, it’s impossible to say with absolute certainty that throwing the ball would have resulted in a touchdown. But to not even (really) try, when it had worked, repeatedly and when the second option was clearly failing is, unequivocally, bad coaching.
Joe Gibbs let the game get away from him because he stopped trusting his quarterback. We hope he learns to give JC a shot going forward. We just don’t have much faith in that happening.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Stephen Zorio