The Washington Redskins tied the Cincinnati Bengals today, and it’s because a familiar problem reared its ugly head.
Coming into the game against the Bengals, the Redskins ranked 28th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, getting into the end zone on just 42.9 percent of their red zone trips. These struggles help explain why the Redskins are fourth in the NFL in total offense from a yardage perspective, yet rank 16th in the league in scoring. Washington simply has not been able to punch the ball in on crucial red zone trips, allowing their opponents to hold them to field goals and stay in games that the Redskins’ offense is completely dominating.
The red zone problems continued today for Washington, as early in the second quarter they drove all the way down to the Cincinnati 19 yard line, only to be stuffed on four consecutive downs. Jay Gruden chose to go for it on fourth down, hoping the momentum would help put the game away early for Washington but had running back Robert Kelley stuffed before he could reach the Bengals’ 18 for the first down. Thus, Washington came away with zero points from yet another drive in the red zone and allowed Cincinnati to stay in the game.
Even more concerning, on the following drive the Redskins managed to get first and goal from the Bengals’ 8-yard line, only to settle for a field goal after failing to gain eight measly yards on three plays. While Kelley was able to get three meaningful yards on first down, an incomplete pass and a short throw to Chris Thompson that failed to get into the end zone ultimately doomed Washington’s shot at a touchdown. Thus, instead of taking a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, the Redskins settled for 10-7, unable to punch in a touchdown in either of their first half red zone chances.
Realistically, these two drives are the only reason the game was close today. If the Redskins are able to get a touchdown and a field goal out of those two drives instead of just a field goal, they could have easily gone into the locker room leading 17-7, and in complete control of the game. Instead, they went into halftime up 10-7 and were forced to mount a comeback against Cincinnati in the second half that never should have happened.
If Washington wants to return to the playoffs this season, they’re going to need to remedy their dreadful red zone performances this season.
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings had the lowest red zone touchdown percentage of any playoff team, getting the ball in the end zone on 47.7 percent of their red zone trips. However, it’s worth noting that Minnesota had one of the best defenses in the entire NFL last season, which Washington most certainly does not. Also, it’s arguable that the reason the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs last season because of their inability to score touchdowns, putting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Blair Walsh. I’m sure Minnesota fans would be happy to tell their brethren in Washington just how painful the drama of late game kicking can be.
In fact, after Dustin Hopkins shanked a 34-yard chip shot in overtime against Cincinnati, Washington fans may be able to share some pain of their own.
With just three division games left, two of them on the road, Washington has an uphill battle towards retaining their division crown. The tie now puts them firmly below the Eagles and Cowboys, and in a virtual tie with the Giants at the bottom of the NFC East. If they cannot fix their red zone issues, Washington will be watching the NFL playoffs from their couch.