Washington Redskins' playmakers finally living up to big-play potential

Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST - Second-year Redskins wide receiver Aldrick Robinson had a 68-yard touchdown pass against the Cowboys.

After back-to-back weeks of sputtering performances that yielded a combined 25 points, the Washington Redskins’ offense kicked back into high gear in their past two outings, producing 69 total points and one highlight play after another.

The 511 total passing yards and eight touchdown throws in wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys represent a return to the Redskins’ early-season explosive form. The impressive output also served as yet another reminder of how far Washington’s offense has come in a year.

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In 2011, the Redskins sorely lacked explosive threats on offense, averaged only 18 points a game and mustered only three touchdown plays of 30 yards or more.

Now, 11 games into the 2012 campaign, the Redskins are averaging 26.8 points per game and have 10 touchdowns of 30 yards or more. The team has scored 295 points — topping last season’s 16-game output of 288 points.

The Redskins opened the year with strong offensive performances, but the past two outings represent the hottest two-game stretch to date.

Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III threw eight touchdowns passes in the first nine games combined, but has doubled that total with four touchdowns in each of the two games that have followed the bye week.

Of those touchdown passes, four have traveled more than 30 yards. Aldrick Robinson has scored on touchdown passes of 68 and 49 yards, Pierre Garcon a 59-yarder and Santana Moss a 61-yarder. (Griffin also had a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Niles Paul.)

“Their speed is pretty damn good. That's the biggest thing. . . . They out-executed us throwing the deep ball and they hit some huge shots on us and those are hard to recover from, it deflates the whole team,” Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.

Coach Mike Shanahan said of his playmakers, “They did exactly what we hoped our receiving corps would do in a game like that."

Improved health and confidence are big reasons for the Redskins’ pass-catchers’ recent ability to live up to their potential.

Shanahan envisioned such production when he assembled a receiving unit featuring free agent additions Garcon and Josh Morgan, veteran Moss, and second-year players Robinson and Leonard Hankerson.

But production fluctuated with Garcon sidelined for six games with a torn ligament in the second toe of his right foot, and with top tight end Fred Davis lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

Moss remained productive, leading the team in touchdown receptions (he now has seven, which equals his single-season high in seven years as a Redskin). But Washington’s other pass-catchers struggled with consistency.

On Oct. 28 against Pittsburgh, the Redskins’ receivers dropped 10 passes. But that showing and the three-game swoon that preceded the current two-game winning streak have led to a greater sense of urgency and focus. One positive play has led to another, and as Robinson said, “Every [win] is big, and they build our confidence up.”

Said Shanahan: “Aldrick is a guy who’s learning to be a pro and two weeks in a row he’s made big-time plays, which gives a guy confidence and makes him believe in himself. You can see his speed, you know what kind of athletic ability he has, but he’s got to do it on game day and he’s got to make the play. We know he can make that play. He’s done it a couple weeks in a row.”

The coach continued: “As we’ve talked about it before, we know what Garcon has done early but to make that play that he made and keep his feet and find a way to get in the end zone, everybody gets more confidence. A guy like Santana, he made four or five clutch plays, four plays in particular that are the difference in winning or lose. When you have a veteran that plays at that level, it shows you how much he wants to compete at the next level, win every game and be a leader of the football team. It’s contagious to the rest of the guys.”

Now with a full arsenal and improved mental and physical health, the receivers have delivered on the same plays on which they failed to execute earlier in the season.

“Coach is calling great plays and we’re just making them,” Moss said. “We have that kind of speed out there. We have those kind of players. When Coach gives us that chance, when the defense presents us with a defense that you can hit them on, that you can throw the deep ball on, you’ve got to take advantage of it. You never know sometimes because we called them plenty of games that you just don’t get those looks. Fortunately those looks have been there and we’ve been capitalizing.”

As a result, Washington produced their first two-game win streak since Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2011 season, and they have improved to 5-6, forcing their way into the playoff discussion.

It remains to be seen if the Redskins can maintain their torrid offensive attack, but players and coaches believe it’s possible, and that if they can, their new-found good fortunes will continue.

“I told those guys,” Griffin said, “if they ball out like they have been, we can’t be stopped.”

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