Five observations from Redskins-Cowboys

November 23, 2012

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins pulled off their Thanksgiving Day upset of the host Dallas Cowboys and now own a 5-6 record and a tie for second place in the NFC East.

The next game – Washington’s Monday night date with the New York Giants on Dec. 3 – carries great importance. The Redskins have forced their way back into the playoff discussion, and depending on how the Giants do Sunday night against Green Bay, they could be playing for a share of first place in the division in that game.

The Redskins’ players get to enjoy their win over the Cowboys for a couple days now. Coach Mike Shanahan has given them the rest of the holiday weekend off, and then they’ll get back to work on Monday.

But before we look ahead any further, here are five observations from the Dallas win.

1.) RGIII does it again – Just when you think that you’ve seen his best, what does he do? Come out and reel off another round of highlight-reel plays. Griffin matched his career high with four touchdown passes, he again boasted an impressive completion percentage (20-for-28 passing for a .714 clip) and he was able to shake off his interception to lead his team downfield, chewing up clock and moving the Redskins into position for Kai Forbath to kick a big 48-yard field goal. It’s been said before, but with this kid, the Redskins always have a chance. His poise remains one of his most impressive features. Yes, he has great athleticism and ability, but so do a lot of other rookie quarterbacks. What sets Griffin apart is that he’s as unflappable as they come. Here was Griffin, playing in his first nationally televised game, on a short week, in his home town, in another much-win situation, against the heated rivals. Considering the circumstances, it wouldn’t have all been surprising to see him – or any other rookie quarterback – come out and play poorly. But instead, Griffin was as cool as they come, and took care of business. Mike Shanahan said: “He’s kind of like Cool Hand Luke. He just handles himself and goes about his business.” DeAngelo Hall said: “He’s a gamer. He’s a gamer. … Anytime you have a guy like him, you never worry about him. You worry about the guys around him being able to keep up with the pace. He’s definitely been able to lead those guys out there. He has that ‘C’ on his chest for a reason. It wasn’t given to him, he’s definitely earned it in the short time he’s been here.” Said Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, “There’s a reason they traded half their team for him.” Indeed. Griffin has proven that he’s worth every one of the three first-round picks and second-round pick that Washington forked over to St. Louis to gain that No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

2.) Forbath’s clutch kick – Speaking of unflappable first-year players, Forbath remained perfect on the season and made the biggest kick of his young career with the 48-yarder to put his team up 38-28 with 2:58 left on the clock. Griffin said that drive probably saved Washington’s season. Special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander agreed, saying that had Forbath missed, Dallas – which already had the momentum, having scored 14 unanswered points – would have likely capitalized on getting the ball at the 40-yard line, and then would have marched downfield and scored, tying the score at 35. If that had happened, Washington likely would have deflated. Forbath, like Griffin, never is fazed by the magnitude of the moment. He went out knowing that he routinely makes those kicks in warmups, didn’t think about the severity of the situation and put the ball right down the middle (it would have been good from about 55 yards out). Talking to Forbath – signed by Dallas as an undrafted rookie in 2011, but on the injured list all year — you’d never know how young or inexperienced as he is. He’s almost robotic in nature. Billy Cundiff often talked about timing issues and other elements that threw him off. Forbath doesn’t worry about any of that, and just makes kicks. The Redskins appear to have finally solved their long-standing kicker issues.

3.) Defense generates highs and lows – The Redskins’ defense went the better part of three quarters without allowing a touchdown or big play to the Cowboys. Not until the 1:24 mark of the third quarter did they surrender the 85-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant. On the play, cornerback Josh Wilson tried to undercut the route and mistimed the pass, and Bryant was off to the races. On the play, safety DeJon Gomes appeared to be held by a downfield blocker as he tried to get to Bryant, but he may not have gotten to the speedy receiver anyway. The Redskins did allow Romo to pass for 441 yards, and the Cowboys scored 28 second-half points to make a game of it. But there were some key plays – the interceptions by Hall and London Fletcher, Wilson’s forced fumble that Gomes recovered, Madieu Williams’s bone-rattling hit on Bryant in the end zone to prevent a late-game touchdown – that the Redskins couldn’t have won without. The defense went into more of a prevent mode in the second half, and probably should have remained aggressive. But even in prevent defense, the Redskins have to do a better job of protecting leads. There’s no denying that the effort was better in terms of generating pressure, and on pass coverage through the bulk of three quarters. The Redskins still need to work to produce a more complete effort, but on Thursday night they managed to get the job done despite the letdowns.

4.) Playmakers’ confidence – You can tell that the Redskins’ wide receivers and tight ends are playing with an improved confidence level. A veteran like Santana Moss already had it, but young guys like Aldrick Robinson and Niles Paul appeared to be working on developing theirs. And Griffin always said that he had confidence in them, but it appears that he is more confident in them as well. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen him go deep at a higher frequency than he has all year. Kyle Shanahan said last week that the deep plays have always been there. On every play, there are short, intermediate and deep options, and Shanahan said that the Redskins just haven’t taken advantage. He also said Griffin was still developing his timing and feel for his receivers on deep throws. Well, they appear to have figured it out now. Robinson had his second straight game with a big-play touchdown, and Paul did better blocking, but also route-running. His touchdown couldn’t have been more open play, but he didn’t choke on a play that seemed almost too easy. You can also tell that Pierre Garcon appears to be more confident in his toe. It didn’t even appear to bother him at all. He said he’s learning to play with it, and the results spoke for themselves: Five catches, 93 yards and a 59-yard touchdown.

5.) Some concerns remain – Yes, the victory was great, and no, it wasn’t perfect. The Redskins still have issues on defense, and their offensive line struggles to block on drop-back passes. Griffin was sacked four times on Thursday, and while one of them was on the quarterback for not getting rid of the ball more quickly, most of the breakdowns could be blamed on his protection. Kory Lichtensteiger appeared to struggle on a number of plays, and Paulsen did as well, but it’s hard to know who had what assignments. Trent Williams did well against DeMarcus Ware, but did get beat by him on one play (Ware didn’t get to Griffin on that play, however, because Jason Hatcher did before he could get there. The Redskins’ linemen, who allowed eight quarterback hits, need to shore up this area. Side note on Williams: The biggest concern with him is health. You could tell he’s not right. He was hampered by an ankle injury all week, but it was evident that his left knee is bothering him as well. Hopefully he can get healthy on this 11-day stretch between games. He still played well against Dallas, but not as dominantly as we’ve seen. Back to the defense, the secondary escaped with the victory, but got lucky at least two times when Tony Romo missed open receivers downfield for potential big gains or touchdowns. The defensive backs have talked about continuing to pay attention to detail and correcting these problems. But you have to wonder how much more improvements they can make. Another area of concern is Brandon Banks. At this point, he’s committing more damaging, unwise plays than he is productive plays. I know he’s trying to make the most of his limited opportunities, but he’s got to be smarter. Between the frequent fumbles we saw from him earlier in the year and the silly gambles he takes on kickoff returns, eventually you have to think that one of the two will occur in a clutch game, and will cost his team dearly.

MORE ON REDSKINS-COWBOYS

Two NFC East wins change Redskins’ prospects.

For Redskins, a very happy holiday.

Reid: Kyle Shanahan shines again.

Jenkins: Redskins are alive and kicking.

Bog: RGIII and Cool Hand Luke.

Bog: Redskins-Cowboys best and worst.

Grade RGIII.

Fletcher extends streak, but doesn’t finish game.

Garcon looks like old self.

Hall steps up with two big plays.

– Photos: Big win in Big D.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mark Maske · November 23, 2012