Case Keenum stepped to the line of scrimmage with Adrian Peterson behind him needing just two yards to give the Redskins their first lead in almost two weeks.
Moving the ball has not always come easy for the Redskins, but that wasn’t the case in the first half of Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings and their top-10 defense. Behind a mixture of runs from Peterson and passes from Keenum, the offense marched from its own 25-yard line and deep into Vikings’ territory. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin had just drawn a defensive pass interference penalty, moving the Redskins up to the Vikings’ 2-yard line and setting them up to score t their first touchdown in seven quarters.
But that was where the offense stalled; Peterson was taken down before getting back to the line of scrimmage, while Keenum couldn’t connect with McLaurin or Trey Quinn, prompting the Redskins to attempt a short field goal.
Getting points – no matter how many – is better than leaving the field with none, but the players understand the importance of getting into the end zone. It’s an area the offense wants to improve upon moving forward.
“It’s unfortunate, we had an opportunity to get it in and we just were inefficient at that point,” interim head coach Bill Callahan said after the game. “I thought we had a good plan, I thought the play selection was excellent, we just didn’t knock it in. We just got to go back to work and fix it.”
The Redskins started the year as one of the most efficient red zone offenses in the league. They ranked fifth in scoring efficiency prior to their Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears, according to teamrankings.com, and averaged 3.26 yards per play.
That production has dipped heavily in the past six games, though. After falling to the Bears, 31-15, the Redskins had just three red zone trips in four games against the Giants, Patriots, Dolphins and 49ers. The offense had two against the Vikings but settled for field goals on both trips.
“You feel disgusted about it,” said offensive tackle Morgan Moses. “You go down there on a long drive … and you expect to punch it in. Those are opportunities you can’t get back. We just have to do a better job.”
That’s not to say the offense has been ineffective. McLaurin had four catches for 100 yards against the Dolphins, while Adrian Peterson has rushed for at least 76 yards in each of the past three games. And most of the Redskins’ points have either come on long plays – such as the 65-yard touchdown run by Steven Sims against the Patriots – or just outside of the red zone, such as McLaurin’s two scores in Miami.
The players know that they have to take full advantage of red zone opportunities if they want to improve their record, though.
“It is frustrating,” McLaurin said after the Vikings game. “In this league, when you get into the red zone, you have to score points. Touchdowns, not just field goals. [Kicker Dustin] Hopkins did a great job keeping us in it but going forward, we are going to look back at how we can be more efficient in the red zone and scoring touchdowns.”
McLaurin said the Redskins work on red zone scenarios every Friday and that they just need to execute better. It's the minute details, such as spacing and timing, that sometimes make all the difference between touchdowns and field goals. Moses echoed a similar sentiment.
"We drove the ball up and down the field [Thursday night]. We drove the ball up and down the field against the 49ers," Moses said. "We just have to capitalize. When you get down in that red zone, you have to expect points, whether it’s three or seven.”
The offense will have another tough test against the Buffalo Bills, who currently have the third-best defense in the league. The unit, which ranks first in forcing punts and three-and-outs, according to Football Outsiders, also has a weakness in the red zone. Opposing teams score red zone touchdowns 64% of the time against the Bills’ defense, which ranks 24th in the league.
Performing against one of the league’s top defenses would go a long way towards improving the offense’s efficiency.
Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their regular season Week 8 game against the Minnesota Vikings.