Redskins vs. Chargers: To salvage the season, keep running, get more from Robert Griffin III, Brian Orakpo

The Post's Mike Jones says the Redskins' win Sunday over the Chargers signals that there is still hope left for their season. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist November 3, 2013

At the midway point of their schedule, the Washington Redskins haven’t shown much improvement from the start of the season. They’re still inconsistent on offense, shaky on defense and a mess on special teams. But there is good news for the Redskins: The rest of the NFC East isn’t impressive, either.

Despite their problems, the Redskins remained in contention in the NFL’s worst division by outlasting the San Diego Chargers, 30-24, in overtime Sunday. On a day the division-leading Dallas Cowboys (5-4) also won, the Redskins (3-5) notched their second victory in three games.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

For a team in need of positive reinforcement, the Redskins gained some after recovering from an embarrassing first-half performance against the Chargers.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled — the Chargers deflected three of his passes at the line, one resulting in a touchdown — and place kicker Kai Forbath had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked. Many in the FedEx Field crowd booed the team off the field at halftime. But Griffin reemerged as a playmaker in the third and fourth quarters as the Redskins appeared to take control.

The defense, however, disappointed again while squandering a late 10-point lead. The Chargers had a chance to win the game after they drove from their 8-yard line to the Washington 1 with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. The Redskins’ defense clamped down, and the Chargers settled for a field goal to tie the score.

Washington won the overtime coin toss and received the ball, and then the team’s most important players shut the door. Griffin’s passing and Alfred Morris’s running helped set up fullback Darrel Young’s third short touchdown run of the game.

The Redskins got it turned around on offense just in time. Let’s start there.

Griffin’s development

Griffin had an awful 61.0 passer rating in the first half. He earned that number.

Washington began its second possession on its 1-yard line. On the first play, Griffin locked in on Leonard Hankerson on the right side, and San Diego defensive end Lawrence Guy deflected the pass. The ball bounced off defensive tackle Cam Thomas, and defensive end Sean Lissemore intercepted it off the carom in the end zone.

Griffin has a bad habit of only looking at his primary target on routes. The best pocket passers — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees — keep opponents guessing about where they intend to throw the ball. As Griffin continues to improve as a pocket passer, he must develop a repertoire of pump fakes and other movements with his head and body that will prompt defensive players to pause briefly. Even a split second can be the difference between a wasted play and a big one.

Obviously, Griffin was in a bad spot in the second quarter. No quarterback wants to drop back into the end zone. There isn’t a lot of room to maneuver. Still, Griffin has to improve at faking out the defense.

Last season, zone-read plays provided extra time for Redskins receivers to break free from coverage. Offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan recently dusted off that part of the playbook, and the college option-style plays have breathed life back into the offense. Griffin, though, has to become more polished as a pocket passer, both for his success individually and for the Redskins’ offense to reach its potential.

After halftime Sunday, Griffin showed he possesses both the smarts and physical tools to become a top-notch passer in any style of play. Although he was basically a one-read quarterback in the second half as well, Griffin made some nifty throws to keep the Redskins moving, including several to wideout Pierre Garcon, who finished with seven receptions for 172 yards. On third and six from the San Diego 19-yard line late in the third quarter, Griffin threaded the ball to Hankerson for an 11-yard gain. That’s the type of decision making and execution Coach Mike Shanahan wants from Griffin.

Griffin finished with an 86.8 passer rating overall and 291 yards passing. There’s a lot on which to build in the passing game.

New look, same results

In addition to calling more designed runs for Griffin, Kyle Shanahan has installed creative running plays for others. With defenses again concerned about Griffin bolting from the pocket, the Redskins believe the new plays will produce good results. They did Sunday.

On separate plays, slot receiver Santana Moss and tight end Jordan Reed lined up in the backfield. Each gained 18 yards on rushes after receiving pitches on option plays from Griffin. Combined with the threat of Griffin running (he gained only 17 yards on six rushes), the Chargers couldn’t focus exclusively on Morris, who finished with 121 yards and one touchdown.

Morris has rushed for at least 93 yards in his past three games. The Redskins ran for 209 yards Sunday and have rushed for more than 200 yards in three of the past four games. The coaching staff realizes the Redskins have to run to salvage their season.

Missing man

On or off the field, no one on the Redskins’ defense outworks outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. The fifth-year player is known for hustling on every play.

Problem is, players aren’t paid for their effort. They’re paid to produce, and Orakpo isn’t producing enough.

In their 3-4 defense, the Redskins need edge rushers to make big plays. Against the Chargers, Orakpo had no sacks and no tackles for losses. He was credited with five tackles, including three unassisted.

Chargers left tackle King Dunlap won the individual matchup against Orakpo, who failed to beat Dunlap with speed or power moves. Orakpo, who wants a lucrative contract extension after the season, has only three sacks. He has had only one double-digit sack season.

The Redskins need Orakpo to get rolling in their final eight games.

The takeaway

After their blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, the Redskins rebounded against the Chargers (4-4), while Griffin did good things as a drop-back passer. Even if the Redskins fall short of reaching the playoffs this season, they need Griffin to keep moving in the right direction for the future. For them, that’s the most important thing.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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