Kyle Shanahan, the man behind the man, is shining again

November 22, 2012

It sure is fun to just sit back and enjoy Robert Griffin III’s weekly show. But what about the guy behind the Washington Redskins’ leading man?

After two rough seasons in Washington, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is rebuilding his reputation one Griffin big play at a time. He’s also part of a late-season Redskins turnaround that gained momentum after Thursday’s 38-31 victory here over the Dallas Cowboys.

With second place in the NFC East at stake, Shanahan directed a balanced attack that amassed 437 total net yards — the Redskins passed for 295 yards and rushed for 142 — and the Redskins offense took charge as the team sprinted to a 28-3 halftime lead. Shanahan floored the accelerator in the first half.

He went after the Cowboys’ defensive backs at every chance and got the payoff he desired: Griffin had three touchdown passes (he finished with four and 311 yards passing) in Washington’s 28-point second quarter.

Considered a pass-first coach, Shanahan displayed a big-picture approach late in the game.

He leaned on standout rookie running back Alfred Morris after the Cowboys cut the Redskins’ lead to 35-28 with more than eight minutes to play in the fourth. Morris (113 yards rushing) had five carries during an 11-play drive that ended on place kicker Kai Forbath’s 48-yard field goal.

Shanahan’s group again bailed out defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s crew, which looked great against the hapless Philadelphia Eagles’ offense but failed to play a complete game at Cowboys Stadium. Quarterback Tony Romo had 344 of his 441 yards passing after halftime.

Fortunately for Washington, its offense was ready for whatever challenges its defense or the Cowboys presented.

In a span of five days, the Redskins have scored 69 points in victories against NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Dallas. They’re tied for second in the division.

Coach Mike Shanahan has won consecutive games for the first time this season. Let’s take a look at how Shanahan’s son is helping him.

Making all the right calls

No member of Washington’s coaching staff is having a better year than the younger Shanahan. And although almost any coach would look good working with Griffin, Shanahan deserves a lot of credit for putting Griffin in the best position to rocket to NFL stardom.

Shanahan has succeeded in restructuring the team’s offense (the Redskins run a modified pro-style attack that draws heavily from college option schemes) while dealing with the offensive line’s pass-protection deficiencies and a key injury at wide receiver. He’s also having his best play-calling stretch of the season.

During the Redskins’ 28-point explosion — they scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions — Shanahan’s aggressive play-calling inspired the Redskins. They broke open the game by scoring at least 28 points in a quarter for the first time since early in the 1999 season. Play-action fakes helped a lot.

Shanahan drew up a lot of fake handoffs and misdirection routes by receivers. He hoped that Dallas safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray would hesitate in coverage, which would open running room for receivers because Griffin and Morris are highly productive rushers. The Cowboys cooperated.

On Griffin’s 68-yard touchdown strike to Aldrick Robinson, McCray momentarily froze after Griffin faked the handoff to Morris from an option formation. Robinson sped past the flat-footed safeties and wound up alone with the football in the left corner of the end zone.

After Morris scored on a one-yard run to help Washington take a 14-3 lead, Griffin teamed with Pierre Garcon on a 59-yard-catch-and-run touchdown. Lined up in the I-formation (Morris was the only back behind Griffin), Morris faked as if he had the ball and Garcon, who had room to maneuver, made a nifty catch on a ball thrown behind him and outraced the defense for the score.

The Redskins’ touchdown with only five seconds left in the quarter was all about Shanahan’s desire to shovel dirt on the Cowboys.

Four plays after an interception by DeAngelo Hall, Shanahan called a designed rollout to the right side. Santana Moss was covered well by cornerback Brandon Carr, but Griffin squeezed the ball into him on a hard throw. Moss caught the ball in the right corner of the end zone.

The Redskins won the game in the first half. That’s when Shanahan shined.

Back to drawing board

Haslett has tried just about everything he can think of to fix Washington’s defense. There have been occasional signs of progress, but the Redskins simply don’t have enough talent to be consistently effective.

The Redskins have been solid at producing turnovers; they had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against Dallas. Takeaways will be the key to keeping the Redskins in the division race. The less Washington’s defense is on the field the better.

What toe problem?

For only the second time this season, Garcon was a difference-maker. He finished with a team-high 93 yards receiving (an 18.6-yard average) and the touchdown that got the second-quarter party really rolling.

The Shanahans considered holding out Garcon because of the hard artificial turf at Cowboys Stadium. But Garcon wanted to play — and the Redskins are glad he did.

New sheriff in town

In three NFC East games, Griffin has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only two interceptions. His passer ratings were 108.9, a perfect 158.3 and 132.6, respectively.

A reminder: he’s 22 years old.

The takeaway

Just when it seemed as if the league had caught up to Kyle Shanahan’s offense, his guys are rolling again during the most important time of the season. Shanahan and Griffin will have to keep it up in order for Washington to remain in the NFC East race, because the Redskins’ defense definitely won’t win many games. Maybe not any for that matter.

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.
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