The 17-16 victory wasn’t the prettiest of outings for the Redskins, but sometimes you have to win ugly, and Washington did just that.
There’s a lot to get into from this game – Washington’s first Monday Night Football victory since 2007. So without further delay, here are five observations from the Redskins’ Week 13 performance.
1.) New Mentality = new results – How many times have you watched the Redskins enter game only to be a tad off in a couple areas here and there, and that snowballs into one mishap after another and then a collapse of epic proportions? Last night certainly could have been one of those games. The Giants dominated time of possession and the statistical battle in the first half of the game, and the Redskins couldn’t get much going offensively. The defensive front couldn’t get pressure on Eli Manning, and the secondary gave up big play after big play (four pass completions of 20 yards or more in the first half).
But rather than fold, the Redskins continued battling in the second half and came up with the drive-extending plays they needed on offense, and the crucial stops needed on defense and thus, gutted out a much-needed victory to improve to 3-1 in the NFC East and 6-6 on the season. The Redskins have said this year that they always feel like they have a chance, and the never-say-die mentality was evident by the way they continued to battle. Alfred Morris could have let that big scoring-drive-killing fumble derail him mentally, but instead, he used it as motivation and finished with a new career-high with 124 yards on 22 carries. DeAngelo Hall and his fellow defensive teammates could have hung their heads after surrendering the 49-yard pass play to Victor Cruz in the third quarter, but instead, they buckled down and held New York to a field goal.
Another indication of how things have changed: the ball always seemed to bounce the wrong way for the Redskins in years past, but the Robert Griffin-to-Morgan touchdown play showed otherwise. It definitely looked like a lucky play, but Morgan demonstrated great discipline as he maintained his trail route in case Griffin had pitched to him. Because of this, he was in the right place at the right time, and showed great concentration as he plucked the ball out of the air and scored. That probably doesn’t happen on a previous Redskins team. Lastly, the way Trent Williams and London Fletcher gutted it out for their team, despite being badly hobbled, spoke volumes. Williams looked rather shaky during pre-game warm-ups. With trainers and coaches looking on, he struggled to change direction quickly during a drill with backup nose tackle Chris Baker (not the most nimble of dudes), but Williams showed enough – and talked enough – to convince coaches that despite still being far less than 100 percent, he could be effective. After the game Williams said he believed just being on the field and giving his all would serve as a confidence boost for his teammates. And Fletcher – that guy remained in the locker room for as long as he ever has pre-game and got in only a brief warm-up because of his bad ankle. He missed some tackles early, but then began to deliver some big hits and wound up leading the team with 12 tackles.
2.) Rushing attack – The Redskins won in an old-school manner: By pounding the ball. Kyle Shanahan made that a priority in the second half. After calling Alfred Morris’s number on only six of 18 first-half plays (and seeing his team produce only seven first downs and go 1-for-4 on third downs), the offensive coordinator fed Morris the ball on 16 times in the second half (six of the first eight third-quarter plays), and the rookie delivered with hard-nosed running. Williams aid in the locker room after the game that the Giants at first seemed so intent on getting into the backfield and to Griffin that they didn’t maintain their run gaps, and that he and his fellow linemen were able to knock the defensive linemen off-balance. Morris needed only marginal creases, and barreled through and picked up chunks of yardage. Griffin’s big runs came because of Morris’s production. After the back got going, Griffin said that he noticed the Giants biting so hard on Morris that they forgot to account for him. The ability to run the ball showed a true imposing of will. When the Redskins needed to eat up the clock, Morris wouldn’t be denied, gaining 18 yards on three carries – including the six-yard burst on third-and-3 – following the two-minute warning. Also give fullback Darrel Young credit for a four-yard gain on second-and-2 just prior to those Morris runs with just more than three minutes left. It was smash-mouth football at its finest.
3.) Defensive adjustments – Yes, the defense gave up gobs of yards – 390 to be exact – but they showed two different kinds of adjustments in the game, and that wound up making the difference. For one, they buckled down when the Giants neared scoring position. New York reached the Washington 21-, 31-, 22- and 16-yard lines and wound up having to settle for field goals. There were indeed times where the Giants helped Washington with penalties and bad throws from Manning, but the Redskins came up big when under pressure. The second half featured a change in coverage philosophy. After going with a lot of zone coverage in the first half, Jim Haslett went with a good deal of man coverage, and he brought more five-man pressures. Another change was how Haslett used outside linebacker Rob Jackson more on third downs as a pass-rusher (the majority of the time in previous games, Jackson has come off the field in these situations). Jackson came up big midway through the fourth quarter with a sack on Manning – the only one of the game – deep in Giants’ territory. All of these tweaks helped the defense hold the Giants to only 117 second half yards after giving up 273 first-half yards. The Redskins defensive players obviously would have liked to have given up fewer yards, but they cared primarily about getting the win.
4.) Offensive pressure – The Giants had film on the Redskins offense, and they had first-hand experience of the schemes having played Washington earlier this season. But that didn’t make things easier for them. Why? Because of the multiple looks and weapons that the Redskins have to throw at teams. With Morris and Griffin, there’s the constant threat of the rushing attack, and then if you key on the run, the Redskins will burn you with the pass. The great thing about the pistol formations that Kyle Shanahan draws up is the flexibility it gives his unit. They can run out of that formation just as easily as they can pass. A great example: fourth quarter, second-and-8 from the Washington 41 – the Redskins go with the full-house look (Griffin in the pistol flanked by Darrel Young and Logan Paulsen, and with Morris lined up behind him). The defense brings up a safety to either take away the Morris run off tackle, or the Griffin run off tackle, and the linebackers are keying on Paulsen and Young, or Morris running up the middle. What do the Redskins do? Hit Pierre Garcon on a slant across the middle for a 17-yard gain. The Redskins used the same formation earlier in the second half on the touchdown pass to Garcon, only that time the Giants were in a Tampa-2 formation, and after faking to Morris for a run up the middle, Griffin rolled out to his right. He had Paulsen in the front corner of the end zone, Hankerson in the back of the end zone and looked them off to confuse the defense, and then hit Garcon across the middle just across the goal line for the score. This attack can make a very good defense – the same that shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers – look very tentative and indecisive. “This offense puts so much stress on the defense that it’s hard to do the things we were able to do against the Packers,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. In another testament of the pressure that the Redskins put on opponents, the Giants were very worried about giving up the deep ball, and because of this, many times they played their safeties way upfield. How far upfield? So deep that the Redskins players and coaches couldn’t even see them in their in-game aerial pictures of plays pre-snap. That took two would-be tacklers or pass defenders out of immediate play and opened up the mid-range game for Washington.
5.) Hope remains – Did anyone believe the Redskins when minutes after falling to 3-6 they said “We’re not out of this. We can still do something special,” before they departed for the bye? Very few – if anyone – out side of the locker room believed that. But, here the Redskins are – 6-6 with four games remaining and only a game back of the Giants for the NFC East lead. Right now, the Redskins actually hold a 3-1 division record while New York owns a 2-3 record. At 7-5, the Giants have games against New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia remaining. The Redskins have games against Baltimore, Cleveland, Philly and Dallas left. Dallas (6-6, third in division) has Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington remaining. The Redskins face another tough test this week with an angry Baltimore team coming to town following their loss to Pittsburgh, but if they can continue to play at this new-found high level, perhaps that talk of “doing something special,” isn’t so crazy after all.