DENVER — The only surprising development during the Denver Broncos’ 45-21 blowout victory Sunday was that the Redskins had a 14-point cushion early in the second half. The Broncos quickly erased the deficit while scoring 38 unanswered points and reminding the Redskins where they stand in the NFL.
After seven games, Washington (2-5) is among the league’s worst teams. The Redskins’ long-running problems at safety, wide receiver and in the interior of the offensive line figure to prevent them from significant improvement.
The Redskins look like a bottom-rung team that won’t climb much higher. Fortunately for the Redskins, the NFC East has nothing but bottom-rung teams.
Even with their record, the Redskins still are in the hunt in a division the Dallas Cowboys lead with a 4-4 mark.
In order for the Redskins to remain relevant in the division and potentially salvage their season, they must build on what little has worked.
Now that Alfred Morris has regained his groove, the Redskins could benefit by sticking with the running game. The presence of gifted rookie tight end Jordan Reed finally provides hope for consistency in the passing game.
On defense, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan have emerged as playmakers. The Redskins need other defensive players to follow their lead. Of course, what the team needs most is for Robert Griffin III to play well, which he didn’t against Denver.
After consecutive encouraging performances, Griffin suffered a setback. Let’s start with what went wrong for the Redskins’ most important player.
Griffin had a bunch of bad numbers against the Broncos. Here’s the worst: 45.4. That was his passer rating after many of his passes sailed.
Griffin completed only 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards. He had one touchdown, two interceptions and lost one of his two fumbles.
Often, it seems Griffin lacks confidence to cycle through his progressions behind Washington’s offensive line, which has struggled in protection. Frequently, Griffin has locked in on one target.
In the NFL, it’s nearly impossible for a one-read quarterback to be effective. Most defenses are so good that quarterbacks must spread the ball around to keep the offense moving. Right now, that’s not happening nearly enough.
Reed was targeted 14 times and had eight receptions. Top wideout Pierre Garcon finished with 11 targets and seven catches — including a spectacular one-handed grab on a high pass in the first half. The rest of Washington’s wide receiver corps totaled 14 targets and only five catches.
Although Leonard Hankerson caught a touchdown pass, Reed and Garcon are the only receivers who consistently win battles against defensive backs. Usually, Reed and Garcon get separation, which gives Griffin confidence in them. The decline of slot receiver Santana Moss has hurt the offense.
Last season, Moss led the Redskins with eight touchdown receptions. Because of the emergence of Reed, Moss has been targeted less in the mid-range passing game.
The 13-year veteran, however, hasn’t made the most of his chances. Late in the second quarter, Moss dropped aball thrown well enough in the end zone.
Reed and Garcon. Get used to hearing their names called a lot more.
Morris’s resurgence has coincided with Griffin’s willingness to again use his own feet. For the third time in as many weeks, a Redskins opponent struggled to contain Morris, who finished with 93 yards on 17 carries and scored a touchdown.
Griffin’s decisions to keep the ball on zone-read plays has had the desired effect: Defenses don’t swarm Morris as much as they did during the first two games. For three quarters, Griffin was a big part of the running game while only gaining seven yards on five carries.
In the past three games, Redskins blockers have done a much better job on runs toward the end of the line, known as “setting the edge.” That’s also from the threat of Griffin running.
Offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan turned away from Morris as the Broncos pulled away, but Shanahan and Griffin must remain on the same page about the zone-read portion of the playbook. That’s the best part of it.
Hall and Kerrigan have done everything they can to prop up a defense that still needs many better parts.
Hall, superb in coverage for most of the season, hounded Broncos receivers. The 10-year veteran finished with three passes defensed and two interceptions, including one he returned for a 26-yard touchdown.
Hall’s technique has been outstanding. Whether jamming receivers off the line or giving them little space on routes, Hall is playing at a Pro Bowl level. In only seven games, he has three touchdowns on turnovers – two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Kerrigan’s impact also has been significant. The third-year player leads the Redskins with 6.5sacks and three forced fumbles. If only Brian Orakpo matched Kerrigan’s production on the other side of the line.
With Brandon Meriweather suspended and Reed Doughty ruled out after suffering a concussion in Week 7, the Redskins had arguably the weakest starting safety tandem in NFL history: E.J. Biggers and Jose Gumbs.
Biggers is a cornerback. Gumbs, who spent time on practice squads last season after entering the league as an undrafted rookie free agent, was making his first NFL start.
Rookie Bacarri Rambo, who had been a starter, has tumbled so far down the depth chart that he couldn’t reclaim a first-team job with both Meriweather and Doughty out. Rambo showed his tackling hasn’t improved since he was demoted.
During the Broncos’ 38-point second half, Manning worked the middle of the field with ease, consistently finding open spaces. Early in the fourth, Gumbs fell down in coverage against tight end Joel Dreessen, who caught a short touchdown pass from Manning that helped tie the score at 21-21. It would only get much worse for the Redskins.
The Redskins aren’t good enough to compete with a team as talented as the Broncos (7-1) for an entire game. Luckily for the Redskins, they won’t face talented teams in their remaining four games against NFC East.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
More on the Redskins:
Mike Wise: Abandoning the run proves costly
Redskins Insider: More than 100 protest nickname outside stadium
DC Sports Bog: Best and worst from Redskins-Broncos
Redskins Insider: Pugh intercepts Manning days after he is re-signed