Washington led the NFL in rushing and ranked third in passer rating in 2012. That type of run-pass success usually is only achieved in video games — or if Robert Griffin III plays quarterback for your team.
Last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year led the Redskins to their first division title in 13 years. Just in case anyone forgot that Griffin is unique, he was medically cleared to take the field, less than seven months after undergoing major knee surgery. Most athletes need nine months or more of rehab.
With Griffin directing them, the Redskins are in great hands. His supporting cast on offense likes the bright lights, too. Left tackle Trent Williams shined last season.
Coach Mike Shanahan waited patiently for Williams — the first draft pick of Shanahan’s Redskins tenure — to become a star. In his third season, Williams played like one. For the first time, Williams’s commitment to his job matched his immense physical ability. Williams improved his conditioning, studied game video with newfound interest and was more attentive during practice.
The combination resulted in Williams’s first Pro Bowl selection. Williams anchored an otherwise so-so line that played surprisingly well (Griffin’s elusiveness helped a lot against the pass rush) as Washington’s versatile offense started to reach its potential. This season, the group will be even better from experience, creating even more room for running back Alfred Morris.
Morris was the NFL’s best rookie runner. He finished second in the league in rushing and set a Redskins single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards. Without a doubt, play-caller Kyle Shanahan’s option-style offense helped Morris. The former sixth-round draft pick often had elbow room because defensive linemen and linebackers were concerned about Griffin bolting from the pocket. But in the NFL, you don’t average more than 100 yards per game rushing by riding someone’s coattails.
No running back is more determined than the hard-charging Morris. When he has to choose between trying to gain extra yards or avoiding punishment, Morris usually will take the hit. NFL history tells us Morris’s fearless running style isn’t suited for longevity. As long as Morris stays on the field, however, the Redskins will have a dynamic tandem in their backfield.
Griffin is determined to become more of a pocket passer as his career progresses. Still, Morris should continue to benefit from the threat of Griffin running, as well as playbook changes Kyle Shanahan is expected to make in an attempt to keep Griffin happy and help the offense evolve. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon is a big part of the plan.
Once Garcon was able to play through the pain of his foot injury — Garcon sat out six of the team’s first 10 games — he proved to be the game-changing receiver Griffin needed. For the Redskins, the off-the-field maturity Garcon displayed late last season also was encouraging.
The Redskins signed Garcon to be a top-of-the-roster leader, something he wasn’t during his first four seasons in Indianapolis. After a rough start dealing with reporters, Garcon eventually took the time to answer their questions and conduct himself like a professional. It helped make his life easier.
If Garcon’s surgically repaired right shoulder holds up as expected and his foot is less of a problem (Garcon will wear a special shoe), the Redskins’ passing attack could be in late-season form at the start. The return of tight end Fred Davis provides another reason for both Kyle Shanahan and Griffin to smile.
In only five seasons, Davis has made more than a career’s worth of mistakes, from missing practice on the final day of his rookie minicamp and having to be located by team security personnel to being suspended in 2011 after testing positive for marijuana. He’s also highly productive, which is why the Redskins keep him around.
Davis, whose 2012 season was cut short in Week 7 because of an Achilles’ injury, is the Redskins’ best midrange target, and he’s capable of making big plays downfield. Griffin, Morris, Garcon, Davis — Kyle Shanahan has many first-string weapons from which to choose. Some of the backups are pretty good, too. Ageless wideout Santana Moss led the Redskins with eight touchdown receptions. Dependable tight end Logan Paulsen did well filling in for Davis. Young wide receiver Leonard Hankerson showed signs of putting together something good.
What about the defense? The return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, limited to only two games last season because of a torn chest muscle, is the best news for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. There are a bunch of questions on defense, but remember: Washington went 10-6 and won its division last season despite having one of the league’s worst defenses. At the very least, Orakpo (28.5 sacks in his first three seasons) should help a lot.
The Redskins finally are back in the NFL’s elite because of an offense that may be the best in the business. They’ll produce big numbers while winning with style. And don’t be surprised if the fun lasts a while.
For more by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.