Everyone thought this would be a battle of offenses, but neither Washington’s nor Denver’s defense is as bad as the numbers indicated — proving once again that there really isn’t a good yardstick to gauge and predict defensive performance in the NFL. To beat the Broncos, Washington needed to outscore them. Boy, did that not happen.
Two quick touchdowns at the start of the second half — one after Ryan Kerrigan forced a fumble by Peyton Manning and Brian Orakpo recovered it, the other on DeAngelo Hall’s interception of Manning — gave Mike Shanahan’s team a 21-7 lead, and in less than four minutes. Broncos management was scrambling to put together a “Mike Shanahan Blooper Reel” to counteract the effects of their pregame tribute to their former coach, which might or might not have made him blush — hard to tell.
But they needn’t have bothered. You should never poke the bear, or the Bronco. Who would you rather have calling plays for your team, Manning or Kyle Shanahan? Interceptions and fumble aside, Manning is a better offensive coordinator than Shanahan the Younger, who when handed the lead by the defense proceeded to abandon the running game in the second half for a passing game that wasn’t up to the task.
It should have been clear from the outset that Robert Griffin III was not having his best day. He regressed Sunday, looking less comfortable and willing to run than he did last week. He took a lot of punishment, sometimes more than necessary, hanging on to the ball so long that he was practically inviting defenders to take a shot. Is he a danger junkie? Is he working as a rodeo clown or training for the MMA on Tuesdays? We know he’s tough; we’ve seen the Gatorade commercials. Enough already. Throw the ball away. Rinse and repeat.
More important, he was missing receivers, and receivers were missing balls, and he was tossing the occasional interception. He finished the day on the sideline after his left knee — a.k.a. “the good one” — was panini-ed by Terrance Knighton. That probably saved him additional punishment, although having to watch this team is punishment enough. (It didn’t save poor Kirk Cousins additional punishment; he took a blatantly illegal pop on the chin that should have been flagged. Was Dana DeMuth working this game?)
Alfred Morris, meantime, was having his usual game: grinding out short yards and occasionally finding a nice seam. The guy has gained over 100 yards just once this season and he’s still averaging 5.2 yards a carry, so it’s easy to understand why he touched the ball only once in the first three series of the fourth quarter , when the game got away. No, wait, I left out the “not.” It’s not easy to understand. It’s crazy on the face of it.
“We probably have as much balance as anyone in the National Football League,” Shanahan the Elder said of the play-calling. That’s true, if balance consists of running in the first half and passing in the second half.
Sure, you go to the passing game when you fall far behind. For some reason, Washington went to it when it fell far ahead. Don’t get me wrong, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — even if those men were agile 6 -foot-5 safeties with a clear understanding of the rules — couldn’t put Washington together again. The Broncos are clearly the superior team. Even when Manning doesn’t have his best day (three interceptions), he still manages four touchdowns. More importantly, he looks at the other team, sees its soft underbelly and strikes — all while controlling the ball. The Broncos had the football more than seven minutes longer than Washington in the second half, and the best defense is going to struggle with that much time on the field, even at sea level.
Perhaps Griffin would have been better served watching Manning directing his teammates like a helmeted maestro rather than huddled on a bench, looking at Kyle Shanahan’s iPad. And perhaps Kyle Shanahan needs to update his apps.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.