The Washington Redskins fell to the Dallas Cowboys, 18-16, in a sloppy game on Monday Night Football, and the Tony Romo love-fest was on. ESPN's Ron Jaworski called Romo's performance one of the best in his career, and the rest of his monologue was equally over the top. As a Redskins fan, it was a cringe-worthy feeling, though I'm sure the actual pain Romo was in was worse.
All of this could have been avoided. It all could have been avoided with some better play-calling down the stretch from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
I get it: we can second-guess anyone and anything. We could second-guess Sav Rocca's inability to hold the ball on a blocked field goal attempt by Graham Gano that proved to be decisive. We could second-guess the Redskins' ongoing issues in the red zone. We could second-guess DeAngelo Hall's coverage on Dez Bryant's reception on third and 21. We could second-guess injuries, since the Redskins struggled once Brian Orakpo got injured. If things change with all of those things, sure, the Redskins win.
But with the play-calling, there's a sense that things could have been fixed easily. With better play-calling from Kyle Shanahan and Haslett, the Redskins win this game.
Let's start with Kyle. The Redskins' touchdown drive to take a 16-9 lead late in the third quarter was the perfect balance of running and passing. Tim Hightower carried the ball five times and Grossman put it in the air four times, one of which was a short pass to Hightower for the one-yard touchdown. It was a huge drive that should have been the breakthrough the struggling Redskins running game needed to close the game out.
Instead, Shanahan called for 11 pass plays and just two run plays on the Redskins' next three drives. This is with a lead, mind you. Eleven pass plays and two run plays. I'm saying it again because it needs to be said again. The Cowboys were able to get the ball back three times because the Redskins simply couldn't sustain drives and chew up the clock.
After the game, Grossman defended his coordinator's play-calling by saying some of those pass plays are essentially runs anyway. Via CSN Washington.
"Our offense is based on some passing that, in the West Coast type of plays we were running -- long handoffs, those screens -- those are passes, but they're pretty much runs. So you're stats might be a little skewed from that standpoint. We had three-step drops -- those are easy completions. We got five-yard pass and move the chains."
That's being generous. Even with a short drop, bad things can happen. Running backs can drop screen passes. A linebacker or safety can step up in coverage and cut off the swing pass, which happened a couple of times. A player can get too far to the sidelines and go out of bounds. Interceptions can happen, especially with a quarterback as turnover-prone as Grossman. Why take all those chances when you could just pound away?
When push comes to shove, in an NFC East game like this where there isn't much scoring, you have to be able to trust your offensive lineman and your running back to get the job done on the ground in the running game. If you can't, then you have the wrong players. Don't trade for Hightower and make him your number one back, only to refuse to trust him with a lead because you are worried he will fumble.
Kyle, for his part, said the Redskins needed points more than chewing out the clock, but what message does that send to your running game? As Jammal Brown said after the game (via Rich Campbell).
"Don’t you want to run the ball when the game’s on the line when you’re up in the fourth quarter? Yeah, of course."
Yup, pretty much. Let's not complicate things. If the Redskins try running the ball, fail and still lose, at least they lost trying. I'd feel better about that, because it would mean they don't have the horses yet. But to lose by going away from the run is much more painful.
But even with Kyle's play-calling, the Redskins could have won if Haslett called a better game late. The Redskins' defense was, by and large, very good, but Haslett torpedoed a chance for it to close the deal with horrible blitz calls on Dallas' go-ahead drive. Haslett has been known to be too blitz-happy in the past, and that tendency hurt him late in this game.
The big mistake was calling a second straight all-out blitz on third and 21 at the Cowboys' 30-yard line. The Redskins got a break when the Cowboys botched another snap on first down. On second down, Haslett put nine guys in the box on a blitz and left his cornerbacks on an island. It worked well enough on that play to force an incompletion. Then, for some reason, Haslett went back to a very similar play on third down. The Cowboys picked it up, and Romo lofted a jump ball that Dez Bryant predictably won over DeAngelo Hall.
I'm assuming Haslett went back to the blitz as a means to force the ball out of Romo's hands short of a first down, but in the process, he provided Dallas with their only chance to beat the Redskins over the top. I get that dropping a lot of people into coverage and going with too soft a zone may have opened up easy throwing lanes, but surely there was a medium ground here. Why not blitz seven and keep your safeties back in a Cover 2 to protect against the very throw that took place? Why not go with a zone blitz? Why not drop six in coverage and blitz the two outside linebackers? Why not at least go with a blitz Cover 1 so there's even one safety back. All those would have made far more sense than an all-out blitz.
Perhaps there was an execution issue on the play. I'm sure there was. But I'm struggling to understand the theory behind leaving your cornerbacks on an island with Bryant on the field in a critical third and long situation where a stop probably wins you the game. The Cowboys came out in a maximum protection scheme knowing they could win the one-on-one battle on the outside. Why even open that possibility up if you are Haslett?
As Hall said (via Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan):
#Redskins using their 0 safety press look so much: "You don't have to be a f---ing rocket scientist to figure it out after a while."
The time, place and manner to air those grievances was wrong, but Hall is right. Haslett's blitzes simply became too predictable.
At the end of the day, a loss isn't the end of the world. The Redskins competed and played well in the first three quarters. It's only Week 3, and this is a rebuilding team. But this game still felt winnable, and wins are better than losses. This game was the Redskins' to win, and poor play-calling prevented it from happening.
For more on the Redskins vs. Cowboys Monday Night showdown, visit this StoryStream. Visit Hogs Haven for more on the Redskins, and visit Blogging the Boys and SB Nation Dallas for more on the Cowboys.