At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like the Redskins had finally lucked into one of those undrafted free agents who could potentially grow as time went on.
At the end of the 2011 season, Anthony Armstrong was a complete question mark yet again, a total unknown, and as we approach training camp, Armstrong’s place on the roster looks more and more precarious.
Just what in the blue hell happened? A season earlier, Armstrong had hauled in 44 catches for 871 yards and 3 touchdowns. In 2011, he had just 7 catches for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. What happened that bit Armstrong in the butt?
Part of it was Armstrong’s inability to create separation in press and bump-and-run coverage. Armstrong greatest asset was getting deep, and he’s actually underrated as a route runner when he gets off-man or zone coverage; he does a good job setting up defensive backs on deep throws and getting separation. That is, he’s good at that unless receivers get their hands on him.
Armstrong was at his most dangerous when he got a free release, but when defensive backs got their hands on him, he was pretty well done.
Here, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan explains how he teaches wide receivers to beat bump-and-run and press coverage. (Kyle served as the Texans wide receiver coach before he moved to quarterback coach in 2007).
And here we see some tape of the Redskins newest weapon Pierre Garcon demostrating what Kyle Shanahan wants out of his wide receivers perfectly, against one of the league’s top man corners, Antonio Cromartie.
At 0:32, we see exactly what Kyle’s looking for. When the ball is snapped, Garcon gets his feet parallel; that leaves Cromartie guessing as to where Garcon’s taking off on the two-way go. It forces Cromartie to widen his hips, which gives the advantage to the receiver. That way, Garcon can see which direction the corner is trying to press, and react; when Garcon’s feet get parallel, you can see Cromartie open his hips to Garcon’s left; that gives Garcon the ability to work to the outside. (The play wasn’t designed for Garcon and was a quick through to #17 Austin Collie, but Garcon has the defensive back in his back pocket.) Garcon leans into Cromartie and doesn’t allow Cromartie to gets his hands into his chest.
At 3:13, we see a route where Cromartie actually wins. Garcon comes off the line and gets parallel, but this time, Cromartie doesn’t get fooled. He stick to Garcon like glue; he gets a hand square on Garcon’s chest, which forces Garcon to have to try to fight his way open.
Now, let’s look at an Anthony Armstrong play;
It’s no doubt that Armstrong makes a great catch. But what makes this play great is really the throw; Grossman leads Armstrong just a touch. The way that play is designed, if Armstrong actually gets open on that play, it’s an easy touchdown without the need to lay out for the catch.
Armstrong gets owned coming off the line; Antrel Rolle (who’s a safety playing the nickel corner role) gets right in his chest. Armstrong does a poor job setting up his route in a press situation. Instead of getting his feet parallel, he almost tries to juke Rolle. It doesn’t work; Rolle gets his hands on Armstrong. Armstrong is able to get some position on Rolle, but that’s only after their feet get tangled up.
Armstrong’s role on offense decreased more and more as the season went on. He was the clear number 3 receiver in the Week 1 match-up versus the Giants. In the Cardinals came, he saw some action, but split snaps with Donte Stallworth. Stallworth took more and more of Armstrong’s snaps; once Stallworth was released, Hankerson was activated, and Hankerson ate into Armstrong’s snaps. When Hankerson suffered an injury versus the Miami Dolphins, the Redskins re-signed Stallworth, who again saw more snaps than Armstrong. Even when the Redskins signed David Anderson off the street, Anderson began eating into Armstrong’s snaps as well.
But that’s just press coverage? What about when DB’s play off, or played zone? When, that’s a different story. Sort of. Armstrong still displayed the ability to get open deep. Sometimes he dropped the ball, and sometimes he did this;
Armstrong’s greatest asset is getting deep. He so happened to have a quarterback that isn’t great at throwing deep.
Donovan McNabb wasn’t good for a whole lot, but the one thing he had left in the tank was the deep ball. It wasn’t always the most accurate deep ball (Armstrong could’ve had at least two more touchdowns on a couple of underthrown balls from McNabb, but that’s all water under the bridge), but McNabb could still throw it deep, even while getting hit, avoiding pressure, the whole nine.
McNabb gets pressure right in his face, but still manages to fire it deep for Armstrong. It’s underthrown, but it still got there. Mostly. Should’ve been a touchdown, though. But I’ll shut about it.
Now, take a look at this play from the Redskins last game of the season. Armstrong wins on his route and beats Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Grossman gets hit, but he gets hit after he makes the throw; the ball is so severely underthrown that it gives Armstrong no chance to make a play. The Redskins left a lot of plays on the field because of Rex either overthrowing or underthrowing his receivers.
It robbed Armstrong of his best asset (blowing the top off of coverage), and highlighted his worse. In order for Armstrong to get on the field to play, he had to play a game that wasn’t his best. The short to intermediate passing game, particularly over the middle where Grossman made his best throws.
In general all the Redskins receivers took a giant step backwards last season. Even veterans like Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney struggled getting off press. The Redskins hope that firing Keenan McCardell and replacing him with new receivers coach Ike Hillard can help to alleviate some of that.
For a guy like Armstrong, I believe he’ll still find his way onto the Redskins roster. He plays special teams, can return kicks and punts in a pinch, and he’s produced enough that if there’s an injury at receiver, he can play. I think Robert Griffin III will be a huge help if Armstrong gets in the game with his deep ball accuracy. But if he ever wants a regular role as a starter—and more importantly, if he wants to stay on the team after he becomes a free agent following this season—he’s got to work on getting his off press, and holding onto the football when he does get open.
There’s a place for Armstrong on the team if he can work on some of these issues.