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Film Review: That "awful" 3rd down screen and why the Washington Redskins called the play

Breaking Burgundy's Film Analyst Paul Conner examines the key fourth quarter play call that even Redskins coach Jay Gruden mocked Monday.

“No. No. That was awful."

Those are the words of Redskins coach Jay Gruden during his Monday press conference when asked about the call for a screen pass on a crucial third-and-goal play during the fourth quarter of Washington's 25-19 overtime loss.

Some 20-ish or so hours earlier, I came to the same conclusion. Note taking is part of my game day process for easy recall when it comes to deeper film review. In my 4th quarter notes, I had the word AWFUL next to that exact third down. Clearly, the coach agreed. 

Let's set the scene. With just under six minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Redskins leading 13-12, Bashaud Breeland picks off a poorly thrown ball by Matt Ryan and returns it to the Atlanta's 21-yard line. I know the Redskins are not used to being in this position but this was an opportunity to bury the Falcons. Instead, they kept the undefeated Falcons alive.

Washington did move the ball a tad and had first down at the 10-yard line. After runs of four and zero yards, the Redskins faced 3rd and Goal from Atlanta's 6-yard line. Then came the screen pass whch fooled no one. The Redskins settled for a field goal. Numerous twists and turns followed.

Plenty of questions follow each game, but in this case, why make that call? Gruden explained Monday.

“Yeah, probably too conservative. We thought we could flat out the area, four strong. We got it earlier in the game on the third down and 15, I think it was. Crowder broke it and almost scored. We thought we’d get the same look. Really their [linebacker] bossed over a little bit wider this time and our tight end couldn’t quite get out there and get him. He made a good play. But we had a lot of other good plays we could have gone to in that situation. It’s one of those things, if it worked we’re all high fiving on the sidelines, but it didn’t work and we’re all very upset at the call. You’d just like to have, instead of a one-man show, you’d like to give the quarterback a few more options. Didn’t work out.”

[SPIN ROOM -- Seeking positives from the Redskins' Week 5 loss]

As for why the one screen worked, but the later version didn't, it's film review time...

This is on a 3rd and 10 in the 2nd quarter. Jamison Crowder motions to trips side. The 3rd defender (LB) towards play side widens with Crowder motion making this an extremely difficuly block for TE Derek Carrier.

Before Crowder even gets the ball, you can see the LB has completely blown by Carrier's block. Just too wide for Carrier to get an angle on him.

The LB is right in Crowder's face but he's able to make a quick move to get away. Then, Crowder is able to cut back across the grain behind blocks from Pierre Garcon, Ryan Grant, and Brandon Scherff. 

Crowder makes something out of nothing and converts for the first down. Just because a play call is successful doesn't make it a good one. The general consensus when this was called in the 2nd quarter was Redskins were just trying not to turn the ball over. Because Crowder made a great move and avoided danger right in his face, this becomes your go-to play in crunch time when a TD puts real heat on the Falcons? Redskins were lucky to get the first down here, played with fire trying it again, got burned.

Now, the fourth quarter. Same exact play call. Crowder motions to the Trips side and the LB again flexes out with him again making it another hard block for Carrier.

The Redskins actually had the numbers game, but the block for Carrier is just too hard to reach. Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay should have learned that on the first one. Gruden said they were hoping for the same defensive look. It appears that's exactly what happened.

No hesitation from the LB because he's seen the play before and wraps up Crowder immediately for a loss on the play. The Redskins kick a FG, Falcons score a TD, Kirk leads tying drive, OT, yada yada, loss.

Like I said, this is not a position the Redskins are used to being in. For a team so hell-bent on changing their culture, and the difficulty that entails, stepping on the Falcons throat by scoring a TD would have made a statement. Not saying the Falcons wouldn't have still scored and converted the 2-point play but it may have forced them to press harder. The conservative play call had the result it deserved. Playing scared or safe in this situations screams "I'm just hoping we don't lose." Some kind of counter to the screen like a fake screen where all blocks fake then break on slants or something might have been much more fruitiful.

I didn't like the play call in real time and I don't like it now. The Redskins season will go down hill if they play 100% conservative and don't take chances. I'm not saying Washington should go Cover 0 Engage Eight and throw 4 Verts every down but taking calculated risks have their rewards. And none might have been bigger than if they had tried harder to score a touchdown from the 6-yard line leading to a win against the Falcons and fueling the rest of their season after a grind out win against the Eagles.

Paul Conner is the film analyst for Breaking Burgundy. You can follow Paul on Twitter @P_ConnerJr.

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