The Washington Redskins certainly started off their season with a bang Sunday, defeating the New Orleans Saints, 40-32, as the Robert Griffin III era officially got underway.
The 40 points scored were the most the Redskins have scored under Mike Shanahan, and the most Washington has tallied since a 52-point outing against San Francisco in 2005.
Here are five observations from Sunday’s victory.
1. Griffin on the big stage: As we’ve seen throughout the whole pre-draft and post-draft process, through OTAs, training camp and preseason games, no moment seems too big for Robert Griffin III. Faced with the task of leading his team against the Saints, who went 8-0 at the Superdome lasts season, Griffin was in control and unflappable. That poise is something that Redskins coaches have praised since Day 1. He played like he had been running Washington’s offenses and facing NFL defenses for some time now, and didn’t ever make any “yep, he’s a rookie,” moments Sunday. The difference between quarterbacks with great athleticism and quarterbacks destined for greatness is that ‘it factor’ that the true superstars have. Poise is part of that ‘it factor.’ One play that best demonstrated Griffin’s poise, athleticism and quick decision-making was when he rolled to his left and could’ve hit Darrel Young for a modest gain but instead quickly slammed on the brakes, threw back across the field and connected with Fred Davis for a 26-yard completion along the sideline. I’m not sure how many quarterbacks would have still been scanning the field (especially back to the right) while rolling to his left and with a man in front of him. Griffin’s athleticism and ability to extend plays bailed the Redskins out multiple times Sunday, and even Mike Shanahan, never one to shower praise, said what he saw was something rare. It’s going to be entertaining to follow Griffin’s development, because many more heroics are on the way.
2. The Redskins aren’t afraid to run Griffin: We knew the Redskins would take advantage of Griffin’s mobility, but I wasn’t expecting to see Kyle Shanahan dial up as many quarterback keepers as he did Sunday, particularly in the first half when Griffin ran the ball nine times. Of Griffin’s 10 run plays, eight of them were designed. Only twice did he improvise after busted plays and take off. Griffin and his coaches had all said that they didn’t want him running a lot, but there was nothing conservative about their first-half approach. Griffin ran on roll-outs, draws and option plays. The Saints looked like a defense that didn’t exactly know how attack in the first half. Then, Griffin said in the second half, New Orleans appeared to have made some adjustments, and the Redskins continued to catch them off-guard by dialing up pass plays out of formations the Saints thought they had identified as running plays. The true test will come in the next several weeks when teams have film on Griffin and know what to prepare for. What kind of impact will he have then? One element Griffin has on his side is his speed. It’s hard to prepare for that. And, that should help him elude defenders even when they do sniff out a run.
3. Improved team speed: Speaking of speed, the Redskins have upgraded in this area, and not just at quarterback. The additions of Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, and Aldrick Robinson to go along with Brandon Banks, Santana Moss and Roy Helu Jr. have helped Washington attain its goal of making the offense more explosive. Receivers were getting separation from defenders Sunday and turning what would have been short gains last year into bigger plays. The Redskins had 10 plays of 13 yards or more, with five of them 20 yards or more. An ability to pick up yards in chunks will help the offense remain on the field, and also will keep the defense fresher than in years past. The defense looked faster as well Sunday. Part of it has to do with the fact that they didn’t have to be on the field for lengthy periods of time, but also because players are more comfortable in the scheme.
4. Defense delivers: Yes, Drew Brees passed for 339 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions and completed just 46 percent of his passes. The Saints had some big plays, but you knew those would happen, and so did the Redskins. Their goal was to minimize the damage, and they accomplished this feat. Jimmy Graham made a couple of incredible catches while being covered by London Fletcher, but there was very little more that the middle linebacker could do. He joked that he was practically wearing Graham’s jersey. We saw improved pass coverage out of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who at times were matched up with receivers. DeAngelo Hall appeared to do well in his new role, and even recorded a sack while blitzing from the slot. Cedric Griffin had the biggest improvement from the preseason, and made some plays as well. Up front, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen look like guys who have better understandings of their roles. If the Redskins can force the Saints into an uncharacteristic performance like they did Sunday, they have to feel good about what lies ahead.