Everybody knows that the Redskins are getting outscored in the third quarter. The official numbers say opponents 46, Redskins 3.
“That’s something we’re going to talk about as a staff here as soon as I get done here,” said Jay Gruden on Monday when asked about the third-quarter woes. “We have a meeting at 4:00. We’ll talk about things moving forward, how we can change things and make it better, make our team better, make our staff better and be better prepared in the third quarter, but obviously whatever we’re doing has not been good enough.”
The official 43-point third-quarter deficit is atrocious but actually the problem is worse than that.
If you count scores from drives that started in the third quarter but ended in the fourth, the Redskins have been outscored by an astonishing 78-3.
What’s the problem? For one thing, turnovers. In six games the Redskins have turned the ball over a total of 11 times this season. Of those, five have come in the third quarter. Doing the math, that’s about 45 percent of the giveaways in about 25 percent of the playing time.
And the opponents are taking maximum advantage of the Redskins’ generosity. They have scored touchdowns after each of the five third-quarter takeaways.
All year the Redskins’ opponents have scored 48 points off of turnovers and 35 of those came after third-quarter takeaways. Yeah, that’s bad.
But that isn’t the full extent of the problem. The Washington offense has still had 10 possessions during which they did not turn the ball over. They have mustered a field goal on those possessions. The other nine ended with one missed field goal and eight punts.
In the first, second, and fourth quarters the Redskins average about 19 offensive plays run. In the third quarter they average 11 plays. The average 5.2 yards per play outside of the third quarter and 4.3 yards per play in the third. That drop in average per play is even more dramatic in the rushing game. In the “good” three quarters they average a respectable 4.2 yards per rush while in the “bad” quarter the average drops to a pathetic 2.4.
So is it halftime adjustments? Are the Redskins getting outcoached in the locker room? That is a popular theme among the fans and some in the media but any coach or player will tell you that halftime adjustments are a myth. The team has 12 minutes from the clock hitting 0:00 in the second quarter to the second half kickoff. That’s barely enough time to get to the locker room, use the facilities, make any needed equipment adjustments, and get back out of the field. There is a minute or two for position coaches to meet with their units but no grand strategies are discussed. There just isn’t time.
Adjustments are ongoing throughout the game, quarter to quarter, series to series, even play to play. The offense adjusts, the defense counters, the offense adjusts again. That cycle repeats for 60 minutes.
Perhaps it just so happens that the Redskins are running out of answers after 30 minutes and are able to get things settled down for the fourth. On drives starting in the fourth quarter the Redskins have only given up 14 points while scoring 41 points on five touchdowns and two field goals. They have just one turnover after the third quarter, the overtime pick six in Atlanta (not counted in the 14 given up in the third quarter.
Or maybe it’s just a statistical anomaly. We’re looking at 172 plays (both teams) out of 762. Perhaps the ugly third quarters are just a coincidence that will even itself out over the next 10 games.
Of course, Gruden and the rest of the coaches can’t just write it off to a coincidence. I’m sure at their meeting yesterday they didn’t say “small sample size” when the topic of the third quarter came up and move on.
It’s also clear that there is no magic wand to wave to fix the problems. Sure, they can say that they need to protect the football better and get the running game going. But they need to do that for four quarters, not just the third.