The Washington Redskins pulled off an impressive fourth-quarter comeback against the Arizona Cardinals thanks to a complete team effort. The offense responded to Arizona’s bomb to Larry Fitzgerald and scored a touchdown of their own, the defense continued to hold, Graham Gano drilled a go-ahead field goal, and the defense forced a game-clinching turnover to improve Washington’s record to 2-0.
The players keep saying this is a different Redskins team, and yes, it’s just two weeks into the season, but it certainly looks like things have started to change in Mike Shanahan’s second year.
Here are five observations from Sunday’s 22-21 Redskins victory.
1. Fred Davis is taking over: For a second straight game, Davis led the team in receiving with six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, and was Washington’s go-to tight end rather than Chris Cooley, who was targeted just twice and didn’t have a catch. Rex Grossman went to the sure-handed Davis (who was targeted seven times) on two third downs, and both times the USC product gave his team a first down. Grossman went to him again in the back of the end zone for Washington’s first touchdown. There were fewer two-tight end sets this week, and Cooley didn’t speak to reporters after the game, so we have to find out how healthy he is. But if Davis continues to play like this, it’ll hard to go away from him.
2. Offensive line improves: The Cardinals didn’t blitz as much as they did in their opener, but Washington’s offensive front did better in pass protection. Trent Williams appeared to be much more solid on the left edge. Grossman was sacked only once, but he did get some heat up the middle and was hit eight times. (The quarterback helped his team by getting the ball out more quickly this week to help lower that sack total as well.) Run-blocking was another area of improvement. After a measly 2.8 yard per carry average against the Giants, Washington averaged 4.9 yards versus Arizona.
3. More clutch turnovers: During the preseason, Jim Haslett preached the importance of his unit producing more turnovers, and for a second straight week, Washington’s defense came up with more key takeaways. With the Cardinals moving downfield, London Fletcher came up with an interception. And of course, the game might not have ended the same way had Byron Westbrook not forced the fumble that Reed Doughty recovered as Arizona tried to move into field goal range.
4. Two nice tandems developing: On offense, the Redskins appear to have a nice one-two punch in running backs Tim Hightower and Roy Helu. Hightower boasts a powerful downhill running style and Helu came in and used his speed and elusiveness to give Washington a great change of pace. The two combined for 170 yards on 30 carries, and both can catch the ball. Hightower had a 10-yard reception and Helu had three catches for 38 yards (a long of 33). Like Hightower, the rookie did a decent job in pass protection as well. On defense, the Redskins have a nightmare duo developing at outside linebacker. Brian Orakpo looks much more comfortable in his second season in this defense, and Ryan Kerrigan is making fast improvements as a rookie. Both had sacks against Arizona, and while Kerrigan produced a turnover in Week 1, Orakpo forced his turnover this week.
5. Effective passing attack: It’s still amazing how often Kyle Shanahan can get his go-to receivers open in this offense. It doesn’t matter who it is — Santana Moss, Davis, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong . . . the list goes on — but there are always targets running free, giving Grossman multiple options. On fourth-and-3, Grossman had three options, Gaffney and Helu in the flat or Moss in the end zone. All three were wide open, and Grossman went for the touchdown rather than the first down. Moss said he loves this offense; Davis says the same. Eight players caught balls Sunday. The Redskins have good depth at receiver and tight end, but the way plays are being drawn up helps as well.
Bonus: Field position is an area the Redskins did well in Sunday as well. They started their drives on average at the 34-yard line. Some of this was thanks to the defense keeping Arizona in check and forcing the Cardinals to punt from deep in their own territory and a lot of it was because of Brandon Banks, who averaged 26.3 yards a kick return and 18.3 yards a punt return. The offense has shown it can move the ball on long drives, but not having to do so certainly helps improve Washington’s efforts.