1.) Things have and haven’t changed – Going into Sunday’s game, my thinking was that the matchup with the Rams would be a good indicator of how much the Redskins have improved since last season. The Redskins have pulled off upset victories plenty of times, but they also often follow-up those wins with losses to teams they should beat. That hasn’t changed. Yes, the Rams have begun improving under Jeff Fisher. But the Redskins could have won. Players admitted after the game that on Sunday, they lacked the mental toughness they will need to take a step forward from the 5-11 or 6-10 days. We saw poor tackling on defense, blown chances on offense, more poor special teams play and a lack of composure on both sides of the ball. As in years past, the Redskins found ways to lose, not win. There were, however, some indications of change. Despite all the shortcomings, Washington remained in the game until the final play thanks largely to Robert Griffin III and the offense. One touchdown did come from cornerback Josh Wilson, but the Redskins do now have an ability to put points on the board. It was the first time Washington has scored 28-plus points in consecutive weeks under Coach Mike Shanahan. And the 68-point total over two games were the most since Weeks 15 and 16 in 2005. But, as Sunday showed, without discipline, none of that matters. Yes, the referees let the game get out of hand and blew calls on both teams, but as DeAngelo Hall said, he and his teammates need to do a better job of controlling what they can control.
2.) Blocked punt – One blocked punt is one thing, but two in back-to-back weeks is disturbing. There’s no reason that should happen. Special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander called it embarrassing and said he thought it was the reason his team lost. Last week it appeared Chris Wilson missed an assignment. Against the Rams, it looked as if Perry Riley stumbled off the line, missed his block and then just ran downfield to cover. Alexander said the Redskins – and not special teams coach Danny Smith – are to blame. He planned on calling a meeting with the players on the unit to “nip this in the bud” so it doesn’t become an ongoing problem like last year’s blocked field goals. I’m sure Smith will have some tough questions from Shanahan, however. Those types of mistakes have to be eliminated.
3.) Battered defense – It was thought that the secondary would be the weak area on the defense, but on Sunday, the front seven struggled mightily as well. The losses of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo hurt in the run and passing game. Without those two up front, the unit was able to muster very little pressure on Sam Bradford. He picked the zone coverage apart and marched the Rams downfield again and again. We didn’t see defensive coordinator Jim Haslett get as creative because of the absences of Carriker and Orakpo. Now both could be out for a significant stretch, if not for the remainder of the season (we should find out today). The going could be tough from here on out for the Redskins’ defense. Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson will fill in for Orakpo, but neither are as good in pass coverage. Jarvis Jenkins hasn’t yet looked like the dominant force that he was expected to be. But now he must step up. Kedric Golston appeared to be banged up after the game as he rode off the field on a cart right after the missed field goal.
4.) Griffin’s play – He wasn’t perfect, but RGIIII again proved his worth both in the passing and running game. His 80 rushing yards were the most by a Redskins quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and his two rushing touchdowns were the most by a Washington QB since 1993. He made big throws, took big shots from defenders, and kept getting back up. Teammates praised his poise as he held up under much tougher conditions than last week in New Orleans. Griffin made some ill-advised throws – twice while off-balance and either falling away or in mid-air. But I wouldn’t call them rookie mistakes. Veteran quarterbacks are known to force throws into tight spots and take chances as well. Griffin threw his first interception on one such throw, but shook it off and continued to make plays.
5.) Missed big plays – Josh Morgan blew it when he took his team out of reasonable field goal range by throwing the ball at Cortland Finnegan in frustration. It ruined the clutch catch he had made. But the game shouldn’t have come down to that. Aldrick Robinson had a bomb from Griffin hit him in the chest and bounce off, into the air and to the ground. Another time Griffin scrambled under pressure and threw a pass to Niles Paul for a short gain while Robinson was wide-open to Griffin’s back side. Fred Davis was targeted five times but only recorded two catches (one incompletion was on the non-call blow to the head). Griffin’s interception killed a drive that had started positively. And you have to think things possibly could have been better had Pierre Garcon been able to play. The Redskins did a good job of mixing the run and the pass – 29 run plays, 29 pass plays – and Alfred Morris made the most of every opportunity he received. But Washington set itself up for some game-changing plays, and wasn’t able to capitalize.