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The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough

The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough

In 2002, Steve Spurrier took his Redskins into Jacksonville to face the NFL’s worst rushing defense. Washington was on a two-game winning streak that was accomplished largely on the strength of a solid rushing game. So, Spurrier went out and called 51 pass plays and just 16 runs and the Redskins lost 26-7.

"I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said. "We ran a little bit here and there. We had a little success there early, and I got away from it too much. The second quarter, I kept thinking at midfield, we could throw the ball from there. But we didn't do it very well. So, looking back, I called a lousy game."

Al Saunders offered no such rambling explanation for his game plan last Sunday. Against Tennessee, the league’s worst rushing defense, Clinton Portis ran the ball just 14 times. Certainly, Saunders has much more NFL credibility than the Ballcoach did and he deserves a bit more slack and benefit of the doubt. But I’ve listened to two Gibbs pressers and some assorted other comments and I’ve heard absolutely nothing that would explain that number 14.

Certainly the game situation didn’t dictate that the Skins get away from the rushing game. The Redskins never faced more than a one-score deficit throughout the game and their prime back, the guy they have a $50 million contract to, the player who was clearly the missing piece to the offense during the team’s 0-2 start, the man who got them going when they needed a kick start in Houston, the one who controlled the game against Jacksonville’s supposedly impenetrable tackle tandem, the back who got 76 yards against the Giants despite the fact that the Redskins’ offense was otherwise completely dysfunctional, carried the ball just two and a half times per quarter.

Let’s take a look at a few series here. After the Redskins took a 14-3 lead, the Titans came back with a drive that resulted in a field goal to make it 14-6 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Certainly, this would have been a good time for the Redskins to grind out a drive against the league’s worst rushing defense, cool off the Titans’ offense, and reestablish control of the game.

Nope. The ensuing drive featured one Portis carry and covered 10 yards and six plays. The Titans got the ball back and took it into the end zone. It was 14-13, Tennessee’s confidence grew and the Redskins knew that they were in for an all-day battle.

At halftime Portis had all of seven carries for 44 yards, an average of 6.3 yards a pop. Mark Brunell was posting decent numbers, but he was averaging just 7.3 yards on each of his 14 passes. Why pass so much when the running game can get you almost as far?

After taking the second-half kickoff Washington had good field position at its own 39. Portis got his hands on the ball once, it was a four and out and Tennessee took the lead on the next drive.

In the fourth quarter with the score tied at 22, the Redskins get the ball back on a punt with 9:21 to play. Portis got one carry on the three and out, Washington held the ball for just 1:05 and the Titans got the game-winning field goal after the punt.

Again, the Titans had the league’s worst rushing defense coming into the game, giving up an average of 172 yards a game. Given that, it seems that the only person who could have stopped Portis on Sunday was Saunders and he did a great job of it.

Instead of the pound-it-out style of game that we should have seen, we saw a steady diet of slip screens, end arounds, reverses, and other such French pastry. Saunders seemed to be intent on tricking the Titans rather than letting the players beat them physically. The fact that you have a 700-page playbook doesn’t mean that you have to use it all in one game when just a handful of power running plays is what is needed to get the job done.

All that being said, for all of the woes of the offense, 22 points should have been enough to beat the Titans, a team that had not scored more than 16 points all year long. When you give up 177 yards rushing to Travis Henry, a back who has gained just 205 in the previous five games, when you let a rookie quarterback stand back and coolly complete a 23-yard pass on fourth and two, your offensive game plan probably isn’t going to matter much because it’s likely that the opposition will be able to do whatever it takes to outscore you.

And don’t forget the key role that special teams played in this defeat. The safety on the blocked punt didn’t play a huge role in the game, but what did was the exchange of punts after the Redskins tied the score. For one of the few times all day the defense bottled up Henry and Young. The Titans punted from their own 34. After Washington’s three and out and subsequent punt, Tennessee got the ball back at the Washington 43. That’s a net gain of 23 yards and two Henry runs later the Titans were in field goal range.

Still, the single worst aspect of the game was the offensive game plan. Again Saunders has earned much more NFL cred than Steve Spurrier ever had. But Spurrier stumbled in to some real wisdom when after that Jacksonville game he said, “You're only as good as your last game. I'm not very good right now.”

The same can be said of Al Saunders.

Learning from mistakes?

It’s one thing to screw up. It’s exponentially worse to make the same mistake twice, especially two weeks in a row. They are going into a game where the plan again should be to pound Portis left, right, and up the middle. During their bye week the Indianapolis Colts supplanted the Titans as the NFL’s worse rushing defense. They are giving up 166 yards a game on the ground.

Barring an absolute fluke, there is exactly one way that the Redskins can win the game on Sunday and save their season. If they can rush for that 166 that the Colts are giving up, keep Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and the rest of the Colts’ weapons off the field for 35 or so minutes, they have a shot. Not much of one, mind you. Even if they do that and play generally error-free ball in all other aspects of the game they have no better than a one in ten shot of pulling off the upset.

But if Portis gets a single-digit number of carries in the first half and only one more than a baker’s dozen all day, it will get ugly early and unwatchable before the third quarter ends.

We will see if Saunders will learn from his mistake.

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Where does Stefon Diggs' remarkable catch rank among some of the best NFL playoff walk-offs?

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Where does Stefon Diggs' remarkable catch rank among some of the best NFL playoff walk-offs?

There is nothing quite like January playoff football and Sunday night's Vikings vs. Saints game further proved this point.

In case you have been off the grid the past 12 hours, the Minnesota Vikings literally got a last second win against the New Orleans Saints.

With 10 seconds left in the fourth and facing a 3rd and 10, quarterback Case Keenum heaved the football near the sideline to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who dodged two defenders while managing to stay inbounds for a 61-yard touchdown as the clock expired. 

It was one of the most remarkable playoff walk-off wins, if not the most remarkable one, in football.

So, where does it stand among the others?

RELATED: FORMER TERP PLAYS HERO IN VIKINGS' MIRACLE PLAYOFF WIN

Broncos vs. Steelers 2011 AFC Wild Card game: Remember Tim Tebow's 80-yard overtime touchdown to Demaryius Thomas during the 2011 Broncos vs. Steelers AFC Wild Card game? It was the first and last snap of overtime and it was wild.

Mile High Miracle: On third and three with 43 seconds left in the game, Ravens' Joe Flacco launched one towards wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who got in front of the Broncos receiver and ran the ball in for a 70-yard game-tying touchdown. The Ravens would eventually go on to win the game in double overtime. Some could argue it was the defining moment in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. 

Cardinals vs. Steelers Super Bowl XLIII: Under the brightest lights of all, Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds in the fourth in the back of the end zone for a toe-dragging, Super Bowl-winning catch. 

RELATED: WHAT REDSKINS CAN LEARN FROM THIS WEEKEND'S PLAYOFF GAMES

Saints vs. 49ers 2012 NFC Divisional game: Sunday's loss wasn't the first time the Saints have experienced a fourth quarter letdown. Back in 2012, Alex Smith threw one to the endzone on 3rd-and-three with 14 seconds left that sealed a win.

While these are only a few, we can't wait to add more to the list in years to come.

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Redskins can't base Kirk Cousins decision on the makeup of the final four

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USA Today Sports Images

Redskins can't base Kirk Cousins decision on the makeup of the final four

For many fans who would like to see the Redskins move on from Kirk Cousins, the case was closed by the results of the divisional playoff round.

When the dust settled from the weekend, three of the four winning quarterbacks were Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum. In Foles and Keenum, two journeymen who were free agents last March, available to any team that had a million bucks or so of salary cap space. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 draft but he was widely viewed as a big-time bust.

MORE REDSKINS: WHAT CAN THE REDSKINS LEARN FROM THE PLAYOFFS?

So, to some the lesson was that you can roll any random quarterback out there and if you have some other pieces in place you can get to the final four.

Not so fast, my friend. Such thinking is based on a small sample size. This year is very much an outlier in terms of the quarterbacks who make the conference championship games. Let’s expand the sample size and look at the final four QBs standing in the previous six seasons.

2016: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger

2015: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Brady

2014: Russell Wilson, Rodgers, Brady, Andrew Luck

2013: Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, P. Manning, Brady

2012: Kaepernick, Ryan, Joe Flacco, Brady

2011: Brady, Flacco, Eli Manning, Alex Smith

There are 13 different quarterbacks here. Ten of those, Ryan, Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, Newton, Palmer, Wilson, the two Mannings, and Luck, are true franchise type quarterbacks. Of those, five were first overall picks in the draft, Ryan was the third pick, and Roethlisberger was the 11th, and Rodgers went later in the first round. Only Wilson and Brady were late-round finds.

Of the three others, Smith (1st overall) and Flacco (18th) were first-round picks. Kaepernick was a high second-rounder.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

At the time of their playoff games, all of the 13 quarterbacks were on the teams that drafted them. None of them were looking for work the previous March, or at any time, for that matter.

As the Redskins decide if they should make a desperation attempt to retain Cousins or let him walk and start over at the most important position on the field, which data point should they consider? The most recent season in front of them, or the six prior years (and many more before that)?

Let’s say you’re looking to sell your house and you want to figure out a fair price. One comparable house down the street recently had sold for $200,000. But the previous six houses that sold in the last couple of months all went for around $300,000, Are you going to price your house based on the most recent sale? Or are you going to factor that in but pay much more attention to the six previous sales?

You have to step back and look at the larger sample size before using a particular set of facts as even a partial basis for a major decision with far-reaching ramifications.

With all that said, there are other factors at play besides what other teams have been able to accomplish. There are plenty of valid reasons for moving on from Cousins and those may outweigh the case for keeping him. But pointing to three quarterbacks on four teams and saying, “case closed” is way too simplistic an approach.

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