Film review: 4th down frustation

Breaking Burgundy's Film Analyst Paul Conner examines the Redskins' unsuccessful final fourth down play against the Dolphins.

Trailing 17-10 deep into the fourth quarter of their 2015 regular season opener, the Washington Redskins' offense was on the move. Needing a game-tying touchdown, quarterback Kirk Cousins led a promising drive. Promise turned to desperation after a few miscues had the Redskins facing fourth down.

Cousins' final pass went in the direction of tight end Jordan Reed. Actually, the pass went in one direction while Reed went another. Rather than hitting the tight end's hands, the toss found dirt and grass. Miami took possession. Washington never touched the ball again.

The apparent miscommunication on the play became an immediate talking point. Coach Jay Gruden was about the unsuccessful final play during his postgame press conference:

“I think he did a great job, Kirk. You know, it’s Cover 0 and they had one more rushing the block and that is cover zero. And Jordan has to cross face on that safety and the safety dropped inside him, Jordan took it up top and Kirk had to get rid of it and that’s something that as a receiver we can’t do. You know, he was supposed to cross face and we will get that coached up. It was a great play by their defense, great play by their safety. That’s the only choice Kirk had. We had another one, [wide receiver]Andre [Roberts] over there on the other side, but that was our rule. Cross face, Cover 0, it just didn’t work out. Great play by them.”

This blunt response from a coach known for direct commentary sparked controversy among fans (what doesn't). Was this an example of Gruden throwing a player "under the bus" or simple truth telling?

Today's film analysis takes a closer look at what happened on that play and explains why it stings twice.

Chris Thompson starts in the backfield and motions out wide. The coverage recognizes this and calls for the safety to come down. When the DB comes down, you can see man-to-man coverage all across the board. This is called Cover 0 because there are zero safeties back to defend. With Chris Thompson motioning out, that means there are only five blockers for six rushers. The ball is going to have to come out quick. In most offenses, Reed's route is an option route, that can be a seam or a post depending on the coverage. Jay Gruden said in his press conference that with Cover 0, the slot is coached to "cross-face" which basically means get to the inside where there is no help. With a free sixth rusher, Cousins already has the ball out. Despite popular belief, Jordan Reed DID try to "cross-face." He plants his foot outside and tries to cut inside. The DB is coached to not let anyone inside. The defender is flat-footed which is a cardinal sin for a defensive back. Jordan Reed's mistake was not NOT attempting to go inside; it was not continuing the effort. Because the defender was flat-footed when Reed makes his break inside, the defender just steps in front of Reed, grabs hold of him, and impedes his route/progress; something that is against the rules. This could have already been illegal contact and if Jordan Reed just kept churning his feet trying to cross-face, it would have become defensive pass interference. Either one would have resulted in a first down. Since the defender cut off the inside, Reed saw this opened the seam route back up and took it over the top. With six rushers and only five blockers, this had to be a quick throw and Cousins released the ball just as Reed was making his break inside. Hindsight.

While this wasn't a completed pass, it didn't have to be. If Jordan Reed just stayed on the same page as Kirk Cousins, this would have drawn a penalty that would have resulted in a first down. Watching back the tape, there were a bunch of missed opportunities for both clubs but this one could have changed the landscape of the game immediately.

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