The Takeaway: Robert Griffin III’s running opens up offense for Washington Redskins

The Redskins beat the Chicago Bears thanks to a strong offensive performance, but there is still work to be done before they can take down Peyton Manning and the Broncos next week. Photos by Washington Post, AP Photo and Getty. (The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist October 20, 2013

Before his career ends, quarterback Robert Griffin III hopes to become an elite pocket passer. For now, though, Griffin is on the run again because he’s determined to help the Washington Redskins climb out of a hole.

Griffin has shelved his personal goals in an effort to jump-start the offense with his feet, and turning back the clock worked well for Griffin and the Redskins in Sunday’s 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Bears’ defense struggled to contain Griffin, who relied on his legs often throughout the shootout at FedEx Field. The mere threat of Griffin running created opportunities that rarely have been present this season.

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

On the Redskins’ final possession, it was like last season. Moving well and making big plays, Griffin directed his first fourth-quarter comeback of 2013. Running back Roy Helu Jr.’s third rushing touchdown provided the go-ahead score, and Washington’s defense — which had been solid the past few games but was shaky in the second half — put away Chicago on Barry Cofield and Ryan Kerrigan’s game-closing sack.

The resurgence of running back Alfred Morris has coincided with the Redskins’ reversion to last season’s run-first approach, and the hard-charging runner played a big role in the victory. Soon, rookie tight end Jordan Reed could become the Redskins’ third-most important player on offense. Some would argue Reed already has achieved that status.

After steadily moving up the depth chart, Reed rocketed to the top with a record-setting receiving performance Sunday. Redskins coaches thought Reed would become a star. He’s making them look good.

At this point, there’s nothing good to say about Washington’s special teams. A week after one of the worst special teams performances in team history, the Bears returned a punt for a touchdown.

But the Redskins were able to overcome poor play on defense and special teams because their offense was special again. Let’s start with the guy who gets it started.

RGIII is back

During a Week 6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan called more designed running plays for Griffin than he had previously this season. Shanahan dusted off the part of the playbook (there even was a quarterback draw sighting against the Cowboys) that produced the best results last season. Griffin ran for a season-high 77 yards against the Cowboys. He was even better against the Bears.

From the outset Sunday, Griffin signaled his intention to keep the Bears guessing by keeping the ball on zone-read plays. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Griffin faked to Morris and ran around the right side for 23 yards.

Griffin gained 84 yards on 11 rushes. The payoff was a cumulative effect: The Bears’ defensive ends usually paused before rushing in, linebackers hesitated before dropping back in coverage and safeties played closer to the line.

As the game progressed, defensive players struggled to remain disciplined in their assignments. They were tired and worried about Griffin doing something extraordinary. You saw it on Washington’s go-ahead drive late in the fourth.

Trailing 41-38, Washington started at its 20-yard line with 3 minutes 57 seconds to play. Griffin directed a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. On the first third down of the possession, Griffin faked a handoff to Helu, which froze the defense; rolled to his right while eluding the rush; and completed a seven-yard pass to Pierre Garcon for a first down.

The play was successful, in part, because the Bears reacted a little slower to everything when Griffin had the ball in his hands. Morris (95 yards rushing) and Helu (41 yards) capitalized on holes Griffin’s running helped open for them.

Griffin also passed for 298 yards with two touchdowns and one interception and had a season-high 105.2 passer rating. In the passing game, Griffin had something good working with Reed.

A record setter

Privately in the preseason, Redskins coaches raved about Reed’s ability to separate from defensive players. Reed is so smooth in making cuts at full speed, one coach told me, he’s more like a polished veteran wideout than a rookie pass-catching tight end.

The Bears would agree after Reed torched their secondary for nine catches, 134 yards — the highest total for a Redskins rookie tight end — and a touchdown. Reed repeatedly got into great position by beating Bears safeties off of the line.

With only 27 seconds left in the first half, Griffin connected with Reed for a three-yard touchdown pass. On the play, Bears safety Chris Conte gave Reed way too much room on a fade route into the right corner. The inability of the Bears’ secondary to close faster against Reed on midrange routes proved costly.

Reed was supposed to be the team’s tight end of the future. Redskins coaches, however, have turned away from former starter Fred Davis, who was inactive against the Bears despite being healthy. For Reed and the Redskins, the future is now.

Still not special

During the Cowboys’ 31-16 victory in Week 6, Dwayne Harris, a third-year return specialist, had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up a Tony Romo touchdown pass. Obviously, the Redskins couldn’t solve all of their problems on special teams in one week — but why did they kick to Devin Hester?

Hester is the greatest kick returner in NFL history. The Redskins’ coverage teams are among the worst in the league. The combination resulted in Hester returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter — his 19th career touchdown on returns.

Players have to take accountability for the Redskins’ awful performance on special teams. And coaches do as well.

The takeaway

The Redskins proved their offensive still is capable of doing big things while producing their most yards in regulation since 1999 and their most points since 2005. All it took was for Griffin to get moving again.

jason.reid@washpost.com

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

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