Washington Redskins’ offense should cruise with Pierre Garcon as a key cog

Jason Reid
Columnist July 28, 2013

Reporters here got a good laugh Thursday when wide receiver Pierre Garcon said the Washington Redskins could have the greatest offense in NFL history this season. Although the bold comment resulted in some snickering, Garcon never backpedaled. Maybe he’s not so far off the mark.

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

The Redskins’ offense roared when Garcon was in the lineup, which didn’t happen often enough last season because of his toe injury. Garcon is doing everything he can to keep himself in the game and help the offense reach its potential, which may not be all-time great but definitely is high.

Garcon had shoulder surgery and pushed himself in rehab. Doctors couldn’t ensure that surgery would fix his foot problem. The plan is for Garcon, who wears inserts in his shoes to give his toe additional support, to be fitted with special cleats. Maintaining a positive outlook also helps. “You can’t sit around thinking about it,” he said after practice the other day. “You can’t be hesitant about it.”

He learned that lesson during a roller-coaster 2012 season after signing with the Redskins in free agency. Coach Mike Shanahan believed Garcon, who played for Indianapolis his first four seasons, would be a game-changer in Washington’s offense. After one game, things were looking great.

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins discusses his book “Game Changer: Faith, Football and Finding Your Way” and how he handles being the back-up to one of the most popular athletes in the world. (Post Sports Live)

Garcon had four catches — including an 88-yard touchdown reception — and 109 yards in a road victory over New Orleans. Only one problem: On the touchdown, Garcon tore a toe ligament on his right foot. He missed six of the team’s next eight games.

Washington was 3-6 at its bye week. It appeared the team was headed toward a third straight losing record in as many seasons under Shanahan. Then it all changed.

Garcon managed to deal with the pain and returned to the lineup after the bye. The Redskins wouldn’t lose again in the regular season. During their season-closing run to the NFC East title, Garcon had 36 receptions for 480 yards and three touchdowns.

Garcon possesses the type of speed that prompts defensive coordinators to spend extra time working on deep coverage. After Garcon proved he still could outrun defensive backs despite a sore foot — he had a spectacular 59-yard-catch-and-run touchdown in a Week 12 win at Dallas — opponents focused on him again, which opened space in the secondary for others to maneuver.

How much better were the Redskins when Garcon was effective? In their final seven games, they averaged 30 points. Washington went 9-1 when he played. Garcon made an even bigger impact than Shanahan envisioned. And Shanahan expected a lot.

“There just aren’t many guys with his type of speed,” Shanahan told me recently. “When you looked at him, you just knew that if we could get [Garcon’s pain] to a point where he could play, he was going to help our football team. . . . You saw what he did for our offense.”

Overall, the Redskins ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 27.3 points. They led the league in rushing and finished third in passing efficiency. Washington was so productive and efficient in its new option-based offense, it’s reasonable to think the group should be even better with a season’s worth of experience.

Players know the playbook, which makes everything “easier,” Garcon said. “You’re not getting coached as much. You’re just tuning up the details. . . . It’s building from last year.”

The Redskins’ foundation is solid. Statistically, Griffin had the greatest year for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Alfred Morris was the league’s top rookie running back. Left tackle Trent Williams finally stopped being an underachiever and became a star. The return of speedy pass-catching tight end Fred Davis, who suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in Week 7, should be great for Washington’s midrange passing game. Many on offense have big-play ability. No wonder Garcon is excited.

“Fred can take it to the house,” he said. “Robert can take it to the house [running] it and passing it. Alfred can take it to the house. We have a great offensive line. We have players at every position [who] can be dangerous.”

Here’s where some Redskins observers would ask, “But what about the injury factor?” Griffin spent his offseason rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. The Redskins plan to bring him along slowly in training camp and the preseason. Davis has to regain his groove as well. And Garcon’s toe could be better. Sure, the Redskins have to stay healthy to achieve consistency on offense, let alone greatness. But it’s the NFL. When it comes to injuries, every team needs good fortune to succeed.

On offense, the Redskins have a winning combination of talent and leadership. Garcon provides both. The late-season comeback Garcon made off the field was no less impressive than the one he made on it.

To put it nicely, Garcon wasn’t fulfilling the league-mandated requirements for players to make themselves available for interviews. Eventually, Redskins officials persuaded Garcon to improve his approach, and you have to respect the professionalism he has shown. “You learn from mistakes,” Garcon said.

After a slow start, Garcon helped ignite the Redskins. Now he’s eager to take on more for an offense that could be the game’s best. And that’s no joke.

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

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