Five observations from the Redskins’ win over the Bears

Roy Helu Jr., fans

Redskins fans — and one dejected fan with a bear on his head — react to Roy Helu Jr.’s game-winning touchdown on Sunday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins improved to 2-4 on the season with a 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and today, they received the morning off to savor the win.

We’ll hear from Mike Shanahan later this afternoon, and coaches will begin game-planning for Denver on Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday, the players get back to work for a very tall task.

But first, here are five observations from Sunday’s win over Chicago.

1. Griffin is back — Hopefully now the questions about the second-year quarterback’s health and whether or not Kirk Cousins should get a look can be laid to rest. Robert Griffin III had his most electrifying performance of the season and looked very much like the guy who dazzled his way to Rookie of the Year honors last year. Griffin did it with his arm (298 yards, two touchdowns, 62.1 completion percentage and season-high passer rating of 105.2) and his legs (84 yards on 11 carries). Those 84 yards and last week’s 77 rushing yards gave Griffin his highest rushing total in back-to-back weeks since Week 6 and 7 of last season when he rushed for 138 and 89 yards against the Vikings and Giants, respectively. Alfred Morris is a talented back. But it’s clear to see that Griffin makes everything go and enhances Morris’s effectiveness. His threat to run forces the defense to account for him, and because of that, they’re not able to key so heavily on Morris, who now has averaged five yards per carry or better in each of the past two weeks. The split-second hesitation by defenders returned because of the uncertainty of whether or not Griffin would throw or run. The Redskins took advantage. It’s clear to see this team is built to run. With the ground game clicking again, the passing game improved because more one-on-one matchups presented themselves, and because Griffin had more time to throw with the Bears’ front thrown off-balance. And, as a whole, the “mojo” returned. Evidence of this came on the touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson. Griffin passed on the chance to hit a wide-open Josh Morgan underneath on a crossing route and went for it all, heaving the ball 45 yards to Robinson in the end zone. Griffin went with the off-schedule play because he saw that he had drawn Charles Tillman up some. The cornerback let Robinson by him because he believed Griffin would go underneath, and that created a small opening. Notice I said small. Tillman recovered and nearly positioned himself for an interception. But the ball dropped over his head and into Robinson’s arms. Griffin had already committed to Robinson when he noticed Tillman recover. But the Redskins dodged a bullet. As Griffin said in the locker room after the game, sometimes you have to be a little lucky. Days when nothing is working, that same play could’ve wound up an interception. Or, maybe Robinson, who got bumped by the safety, drops the ball.

2. Helu’s impact — The Redskins appear to have found a solution to cure their red zone struggles: The speedy, shifty Roy Helu Jr. Morris remains the workhorse. He rushed for 95 yards on a season-high 19 carries (sorry, fantasy owners, no touchdowns). But Helu offered a change of pace in the red zone. His running style proves advantageous for Washington. While Morris bounces and barrels his way to yards, Helu makes better cuts. He runs on a straight line, sticks his foot in the ground, makes a sharp cut and finds daylight. Now, he isn’t as effective as a feature back, but once a defense has had a steady dose of Morris, Helu’s shiftiness throws them off. In the red zone, where there’s less room to work with, that quick cutting ability serves the Redskins well. Sprinkling in Helu throughout the game also works well because it gives defenses yet another style to prepare for. “You didn’t know what way we were coming: Alfred hitting up the middle, Robert getting around the edge or Helu cutting back and gashing the defense. We just kept it coming,” left tackle Trent Williams said. Having figured out how to work this 1-2-3 punch, can the Redskins’ offense now remain in high gear and lead the way to a turnaround the rest of the season?

3. More special teams woes — Keith Burns’s beleaguered unit had another bad day. Redskins players tried to look on the bright side and say, ‘Aside from the touchdown, we played well on special teams.’ But it was not a great day. In addition to surrendering a punt return for a touchdown for a second straight week, Washington almost surrendered an onside kick that could’ve changed the outcome of the game. (An offsides penalty on the Bears bailed out the Redskins, who didn’t appear to be looking for the play). Devin Hester is one of the best return men of all time. His 19 return touchdowns are tied for first in NFL history with Deion Sanders. But, the fact that the Redskins gave up the touchdown isn’t the most disturbing thing. It’s how they gave it up. First off, I’m not sure why a struggling unit would kick to Hester. But anyway. The punt was angled toward the right sideline, and Niles Paul came downfield and got blocked out of bounds. He came back in and got a hand on Hester, but he was high and didn’t exactly appear to make a diving tackle. Hester got away from him. Okay, that’s not good, but it happens. But what’s worse was how every single Redskins defender coming downfield after Paul had been sealed inside by Bears players. No one maintained outside containment, and that set up Hester to easily sprint along the wall that his teammates had set up for him. There were no violent hits to knock would-be tacklers out of the way, the Redskins simply appeared to be out of position and unable to recover. That can’t happen. It doesn’t matter what additions you make, and who you have on your unit, if players aren’t mindful of their positioning, they will not succeed. Mike Shanahan expressed confidence that his first-year coordinator and former special teams ace from his Denver days would get the problems corrected, but so far, not good. That’s three special teams touchdowns (a blocked punt and two punt returns) surrendered in five games.

4. Davis done — The Fred Davis era appears to have officially come to an end. With him in street clothes and inactive for the first time since his rookie season, third-round draft pick Jordan Reed was out there catching everything that came his way and setting a franchise record in a big way (nine catches, 134 yards and a touchdown). Unless there’s an injury to either Logan Paulsen, Reed or Paul, it seems unlikely that the Redskins will have the need for four tight ends in many games. Davis entered the season with promise and hoped to finally put together the Pro Bowl-caliber season that he once appeared capable of. But he didn’t help himself — falling out of favor with coaches because of a lack of attentiveness in meetings and blown assignments in the first two games. That created an opening for Reed. Boasting the same size and similar speed — and possibly even better versatility — than Davis, Reed overtook the veteran for playing time, and then made the most of every in-game opportunity he received on Sunday, putting his team in position to win the game. With Reed apparently well on his way to becoming a go-to guy for Griffin, and Paulsen the team’s best run blocker and no slouch as a pass-catcher himself, and Paul one of the team’s leading special teams players, Davis finds himself the odd man out. Last year, he took a gamble on himself by rejecting a multi-year deal and playing under the franchise player tag because he believed that he could earn a bigger pay day and prove himself with a quality season. But then he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and had to settle for another one-year deal this year. (He turned down an offer from Buffalo). This move looks as if it will not translate into long-term security for Davis, either here or elsewhere. Unless something drastically changes (because of injury), it’s hard to imagine him being able to put much on film so he can market himself for next year’s free agency period. He likely will find a landing spot, but probably on a modest deal.

5. Meriweather at it again — Brandon Meriweather finds himself in a precarious situation once again because of not one, but two more helmet-to-helmet hits in the Chicago game. He already has one this season. That hit in the Green Bay game warranted him a $42,000 fine. In 2010, he received a $50,000 fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit, and in 2011, he drew a $20,000 fine for another helmet-to-helmet collision. Because he is a repeat offender, Meriweather is now either facing an even stiffer fine, or a suspension. That’s not a good thing either for him, or for the Redskins. Since returning to action this season, Meriweather had provided stability in Washington’s secondary. The team hadn’t given up any deep touchdowns with him roaming the secondary, and he offered the versatility that allowed Jim Haslett to be creative with his defense. But both of Meriweather’s reckless plays hurt Washington against the Bears. The first moved the ball from the 43 to the 28 on an eventual scoring drive, and the second moved the ball from the 14 to the 7 and led to a touchdown that gave the Bears a late-game lead. And now, if Meriweather receives a suspension this week, Washington finds itself in a bad spot as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ high-powered offense awaits on Sunday. Meriweather spoke after the game, which came as a bit of a surprise, and he pleaded his case and insisted he had no malicious intent with the hits. The first – on Alshon Jeffrey – was close, teammates say. They argued in defense of Meriweather that the receiver had taken two steps. It might’ve been 1 1/2. Either way, there is no question that the helmets struck, and a player with Meriweather’s reputation doesn’t get the benefit of a doubt. The second hit doesn’t look good at all. The more you watch it, the worse it looks. Late, flying through the air, helmet, forearm, shoulder pad all to the head of Brandon Marshall. Bang, bang, bang. Even had it not been for the first hit, Meriweather would’ve faced stiff punishment for that alone. Meriweather is a nice guy, and he’s a good player. But he has either no discipline or awareness, and that could cost not only him, but the Redskins as well.

The Takeaway video:

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Outsider, Mark Bullock, takes a closer look at what worked and what didn’t against the Bears.

More on the Redskins:

The Takeaway: RGIII’s running opens up offense for Redskins

Wise: RGIII saves Washington from negative story lines, for now

Helu, Reed play roles of unlikely heroes | Special teams again have gains, gaffes

Meriweather says he’s changed his hitting style; Still, he faces fines

Redskins break through with late drive, 45-41 win over Bears

Box score | D.C. Sports Bog: Best and Worst | Photo gallery: Sunday’s images

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