Washington’s end-of-game collapse against the Saints was just ugly
Then in overtime, they were just inept
Multiple-choice question: What is the most important thing a team could do to ensure victory?
- Win the turnover battle
- Win time of possession
- Have a 100-yard rusher
- Complete 68 percent of its passes
- Throw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns
- Have 100 percent red zone efficiency
On Sunday in New Orleans, Washington accomplished all of the above, which is why with just minutes left in regulation the Redskins had a win probability of 99.7 percent. They were impressive … until they weren’t. Somehow, Washington managed to give the game away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.
But let’s start with the positive. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and Washington’s offense were excellent, scoring a season-high 31 points against a tough Saints defense. Using personnel and formations, they created advantages for their playmakers, who made the most of their opportunities. For example, Washington put two tight ends in the game and on the same side of the field, with one out wide like a receiver and the other, Vernon Davis, in the traditional tight end’s alignment. That personnel group and formation forced the Saints to cover the athletic Davis with a slower linebacker. Cousins saw the mismatch and connected with Davis for a big gain down the seam.
Washington made second-year receiver Josh Doctson a priority. He reached career highs for targets (seven), receptions (four) and yards (81). It appeared that Cousins and the offensive coaches were determined to give the 6-foot-2 receiver a chance to use his 41-inch vertical leap, as half of his targets were deep and high passes.
Washington ran the ball effectively for most of the game despite losing Chris Thompson, their best back, to injury after just four carries. The backup, Samaje Perine, stepped in and averaged more than 5 yards a rush, totaling 117 yards. But he came up 1 yard short on a critical first-down attempt that Washington needed to put the game away in the fourth quarter. With just 2:53 left, Washington had the ball. On first down, behind great blocks up front, Perine gained 6 yards. On second, he ran for 3. Now, he only needed 1 yard. He was tackled for a loss, and Washington had to punt the ball away. Then things began to fall apart.
For much of the game, Washington’s defense was just OK. It was good enough, considering how well the offense was playing. The Saints’ offensive line pushed Washington’s defensive front back and opened big holes for running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Washington’s pass coverage was tight. Saints quarterback Drew Brees struggled to pass the ball at times. Many of his positive passing plays came as a result of buying time by scrambling after the initial receivers were covered. But that wasn’t the case at the end of the fourth.
Brees’ first fourth-quarter touchdown went to a wide-open Josh Hill, who was left uncovered when Washington safety DeAngelo Hall left him to cover the running back. On the second play of the next drive, there was another blown coverage. Saints receiver Michael Thomas ran a shallow in route and the cornerback released him for the linebacker to pick up, but the backer dropped into a hook zone. Thomas caught the ball 5 yards downfield and ran for 12 more before being tackled. The Saints concluded that drive with a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
Washington’s offense got the ball back with 1:05 left in regulation and moved easily to the edge of field goal range, but the Saints ran a well-disguised blitz that resulted in a sack, sending the game to overtime. The Saints blitzed the nickelback, Vonn Bell, off of the edge. Often a quarterback can tell whether the nickel is blitzing because a safety or linebacker is aligned close to the blitzing player to cover the slot receiver who the nickel will be leaving. But in this case, the linebacker who was to pick up the coverage was lined up in the “A” gap as if he were blitzing. He got to his coverage late. It was risky, but Cousins had no indication the blitz was coming, and Bell sacked him and caused a fumble.
The Redskins got the ball first in overtime. Sadly, the explanation for their overtime performance doesn’t need a lot of sophisticated analysis. Simply put, they were bad. They dropped two easy passes, and Cousins was sacked. After they punted, there were two offensive plays by the Saints, Ingram for 20 yards and then for 31 yards, before Wil Lutz kicked the game-winning field goal.
It was an ugly and embarrassing way to lose a game. But it is just one game, and the Redskins are not out of the wild-card race. They are capable of winning all of their remaining games, but I wouldn’t bet on them considering what they’ve shown in recent weeks.