In general, they played too up and down and gave up too much field position and hurt the Redskins' offense. Yes, their offense. The defense could have benefited and it would have put them in a situation where they could make more big plays. Then one hand feeds the other. If you have a good kickoff coverage unit and a great defense, not only do you win the battle of field position, but if the defense forces them to go three and out and with a decent return, you're starting with the ball around your own 40-yard line. Now the offense has more confidence and a greater opportunity to put points on the board than had they started 10, 15 yards back. But instead the kick coverage often gave up big plays at the wrong time and that really hurt the Redskins from a field position standpoint and it hurt the offense because now they had to drive the whole field. They really have to shore that up this year.
How do you do that? That's a tough question. Joe Gibbs put so much emphasis on it this year that I don't know why they didn't have the best special teams in the NFL. I don't understand it. I know Danny Smith and he's a great coach. He knows what he's doing. So I don't understand why there were so many blown assignments. They gave up a lot of yardage not only in kick coverage but also in the punting game. They had guys struggling to get off blocks. Sometimes a guy can play so hard that he doesn't play smart. I don't question their effort or ability, but just their lane assignments and staying disciplined. It's tough to say that because we're talking about a coach Gibbs team. I'm still trying to understand why they weren't better. And I can't say that you have to put this one on the coaches. I can't do that. I would have to put it back on the players, knowing how important this was to the coaches.
From a depth standpoint, losing guys like Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall to the starting lineup was a crucial factor. Still, a lot of these guys played on special teams. And look at Sean Taylor. He stood out, but they took him out some later in the season because his responsibility was so heavy on defense. He was a force on kickoff coverage. I'd see that cat run down there leaving everyone in the dust and they were letting him
ball hawk and get down and create havoc.
Another thing they need more of is speed. They tried to make up for it with guys like Taylor Jacobs and James Thrash. James had a phenomenal year, a Pro Bowl type year. But overall the team speed, especially in the positions of the L4s and L5s and R4s and R3s, the guys near the kicker -- the meat and potato guys, the bigger, faster brute forces of special teams. You want those guys to wreak havoc and I don't think the guys at those positions really knew what they were doing. A lot of it comes back to guys like Mike Sellers and Brandon Barnes and Chris Clemons. Those guys are here for one reason and that's special teams. Rush end is not why Chris was here. Guys like that have to be the alpha males on special teams. Guys like James and AP and Lemar were doing double duty so you can't put the same ownership on them because that's tough. Sellers, Clemons, Barnes -- those guys have to make plays every Sunday on teams. But I never really saw them making plays. They have to step up more and say, 'I'm going to get four or five tackles; I'll cause a fumble.' That was another thing they lacked: they didn't create a lot of turnovers. They had a couple plays, but not enough and that hurt them. You've got to have that when you're trying to become good.
I also think they need three or four more people who are just hungry to play special teams. I see Chris Clemons being hungry on defense -- everyone wants to play defense. But I know that if I'm not a starter then I have to play special teams. So I have to be just as hungry in that phase as I am in rushing the passer.
I was looking for more out of Mike from a big-play standpoint and I was looking for more out of Chris. I know we can't put a lot on him because he was signed off a practice squad. But that doesn't matter. When you sign, you have to make plays. I knew I had to come out and get the respect of my
teammates. I can't tell you how excited the defense gets when you blow someone up and cause a fumble -- even if you don't recover it, the defense gets so jacked up. Or on offense when you return the ball 63 yards, that gets them juiced up and they get on the field like, 'Let's go score!' It makes a tremendous difference in the mindset of a team.
We lost the battle of hidden yardage this year, which put our offense's backs against the wall. They had to drive the length of the field and that hurt them. But I think they have a decent
nucleus with guys like Thrash and Jacobs. They definitely need John Hall healthy. He works hard, he's not a lazy guy and he lifts like crazy. He does the things he's asked to do, he just had a fluke year with injuries. Tupa did a great job punting, but there were a few games where he was down.
From the return game perspective, they weren't terrible on kickoff returns this year. They had some good plays. At first I didn't understand why they had Ladell returning kicks and not James, who was doing most of the blocking. I never understood that rationale. And to me it felt like their return scheme was too vanilla. They seemed to do the same basic return and they were doing it based on where the kick was placed. And with that they were doing a lot of man blocking. If you have a lot of young players who have limited experience, they don't know all the nuances of how to block without holding. I used to tell guys if they don't see it, they won't call it. It's not holding unless it gets called. You get your hands inside, hold them, do what you've got to do. You're already at a disadvantage because this guy is coming a million miles an hour downfield. You need to get your hands inside, redirect his feet and create a lane and they weren't able to do that enough. When they tried to do it they'd get caught out of position, which happens to young guys because they don't drop their hips and explode into the guy coming downfield. And that leads to holding penalties.
But this leads me to Antonio Brown. He was the best acquisition in a long time from a special teams standpoint. When they introduced this kid in punt return and kick return, it was instant yardage. He reminds me of Dante Hall. And I say that for this reason: he's very shifty and has the ability to stop and go, redirect his body and accelerate like I haven't seen anyone do around here in a long time. Against Minnesota on his long return, he was pinned in and hit another gear. For a guy his size, he can break tackles and he has the ability to shake people. He has great vision. This is a guy who could really help them next year. I'm really excited about him. We've needed a guy in the return game that others can get excited about. Guys who are blocking are looking for someone to give you that spark. They want to block for him because they never know what he might do, like when Brian was here or even Deion. They always knew he could break it at any moment.
To be honest, I forgot about Chad Morton, too. Out of sight, out of mind. And that tells you what I think they should do with him. He's a tremendous athlete, but let's be honest: has he really done anything? He's not the same guy he was in New York. I don't think he has the same potential that Brown has. Brown is a tremendous threat because of his shiftiness. Chad is more a straight-ahead runner with linear speed. Brown has more of the package, the change of direction and explosiveness. I would much rather go with him than wait to see if we'll get the money out of Chad that we invested. It could come down to a training camp battle, but if I'm the Redskins, I'm going with Brown.
X's and O's With: Eddie Mason
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