1.) Griffin’s return – the good: Reservations existed (at least in the fan base and in the media) about the timing of Robert Griffin III’s return, but the quarterback did enough to satisfy his coaches and earn the green light for a Week 9 comeback. And once the game began, Griffin actually impressed, completing his first six passes, keeping the defense off-balance by running a couple of designed runs and moving his unit down the field. He hadn’t thrown to his receivers in a game in seven weeks, but that didn’t appear to be an issue as Griffin displayed good touch, arm strength and timing early in the game. Griffin proved he has regained his quickness as he pulled off a couple of amazing escapes from pass rushers and then connected with receivers to complete the plays.
It was evident why Jay Gruden maintained that despite solid outings from Colt McCoy, Griffin gives the team the best chance to win. As hoped, Griffin’s presence led to improvements in a couple of crucial categories – the run game and third downs. It’s no coincidence that Alfred Morris had found daylight hard to come by in the six games without Griffin. Yes, some of the problems stemmed from a mental slump on Morris’s part as he second-guessed his eyes and didn’t run with decisiveness. But the absence of Griffin as a running threat also helped defenses. They didn’t have to honor Kirk Cousins as a runner. Colt McCoy ran some zone-read plays, and that seemed to help Morris.
But things definitely opened up with Griffin back. You could see a twitch of hesitation on defenders as they had to determine who had the ball on those zone-read plays. With one or two fewer defenders keying on him, Morris had a season-best day with 92 yards on 19 carries (4.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Then, with the running game clicking, Gruden was able to effectively use the play-action attack, which led to some big gains. The Redskins found themselves in more manageable third down situations, and early on, Griffin & Co. clicked on these crucial points. Griffin’s elusiveness and ability to extend plays and make off-schedule throws helped the offense string together productive drives and score 26 points – the most the team has scored since the Week 3 loss to Philly.
2.) Griffin’s return – the bad: This is in no way to say that Griffin should not have been out on the field. Gruden made the right call here. But along with the promise and talent that Griffin displayed, he also picked up where he left off in some of his problem areas as well.
As the game wore on, Griffin’s effectiveness in the pocket seemed to diminish. He didn’t have a good feel for the pressure and a number of times stepped up into pressure, or rolled toward pressure. Other times he did roll away from the rush, but lacked the sixth sense needed to feel it coming toward him, and as a result got sacked. Griffin started holding on to the ball a little too long, missing narrow windows of opportunities for plays. These two weaknesses largely were to blame for the five sacks that Griffin took. Now, a sack is not always a bad thing. Gruden would rather hold onto the ball too long and take a sack if the alternative is to throw an interception (like Kirk Cousins) or commit what the coach calls “catastrophic plays.”
Griffin did have one catastrophic play to close out the first half, however. Given the ball with 1 minute 4 seconds left and a chance to march his team downfield and add to the 10-0 lead, Griffin had his worst throw of the game. He placed the ball to the inside, and it should’ve been to the outside, the direction Andre Roberts ran. Captain Munnerlyn intercepted it, and the Vikings cashed it in for their first touchdown of the game.
Then, after leading three scoring drives in the second half, and with the game on the line, Griffin had his second-worst throw, an incompletion at the feet of Pierre Garcon on fourth and six. Garcon had proper position on his defender. Griffin could have hit him in stride. But instead, he appeared to short-arm the throw while unable to set his feet, and that killed Washington’s chances.
Griffin took the blame for the loss, saying he had to be better. Indeed, he does, but overall for a first game back, his stat line (18 for 28, 251 yards, one touchdown, one interception and passer rating of 90) wasn’t awful. But a quarterback defines himself on those clutch-moment plays. Griffin needs to clear up these problem areas over the next seven weeks, and if he can, that bodes well for his future in this offense.
3.) Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde defense: Although Griffin did not come through on that final drive, he is not the real reason why this team lost Sunday, and anyone within the locker room (outside of Griffin, who blamed himself) will tell you that. It’s hard to believe that the same unit that flustered and harassed Tony Romo and derailed one of the most impressive offenses in the league couldn’t get the job done against a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and his offense, which hadn’t cracked the 20-point mark in four straight games.
The Redskins sacked Romo five times, and hit him another four times. The pass rush was spotty at best against Bridgewater (two sacks, five hits). Bridgewater is more elusive than Romo, but the pressure was almost non-existent in the second half. Bridgewater completed 9 of 14 second-half passes and was clutch on third downs.
Washington’s secondary had miscommunications throughout the game. The Redskins’ youth and inexperience showed through when twice cornerbacks passed off receivers to safeties they expected to be there when actually the safeties had other responsibilities on those plays. Safeties and linebackers were slow to pick up tight ends off the line and running backs as receivers out of the backfield. Twice in the latter portions of the game, Washington’s defense just needed to come up with a stop while playing with a lead, and instead, they gave up a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, and a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive.
Jim Haslett looked sick to his stomach just after Matt Asiata scored to make it 27-26 just before his team lined up for a two-point conversion the Vikings converted. And could you blame the coach? Jay Gruden was very pointed in his remarks. “Very, very, very sickening,” he described his response to the defensive play. He also said, “It bothers me. We had a lead. We got down. We came back to get the lead. We let them drive 80 yards to take the lead. We go back down to score and take the lead. We go down to take the lead and they come back again.”
Gruden continued, “I’m disappointed. I thought our defense would play a lot better than that. No turnovers again I think. It’s not good enough by any stretch.” On a lack of pressure from the front seven, he said, “I don’t’ know. I’ve got see the film. I can’t believe it. We got them in third and longs. Had a guy standing back there for 10 minutes to pass. … We’ve got to look at the film and see if it was something physical or they out-physicaled us, out-schemed us or something else, I don’t know.” And on the coverage breakdowns, “This game’s hard enough as it is. You can’t blow coverages.”
On whether the defense was out-physicaled or out-schemed, the answer is probably a little bit of both. We haven’t been able to publicly talk with Haslett yet to find out why he dialed back his pass rush, but the idea of dropping more guys back into coverage to confuse Bridgewater did not work. The Vikings went to more zone-read looks, and that appeared to cause hesitation on Washington’s part. You would think, because of their great familiarity with those concepts, the Redskins could have thwarted this attack, but they did not.
Up front, Washington’s players did indeed get out-physicaled, and Asiata and his line made things look easy as they racked up three rushing touchdowns in the second half. Ryan Kerrigan described it as “a tale of two halves,” but couldn’t come up with the reasons for such drastic differences.
4.) Short on mental toughness: This is not the first time that we have seen this Redskins team (this year, or previous years) get up for a big game and pull off the unexpected, or at least play well in those circumstances, only to turn around and have a terrible letdown and blow a winnable game. Why does this keep happening, you ask? Because this team has far too many players with a lack of focus, maturity and mental toughness. Yes, they get keyed in during a game, but if you’re too loose and lack a sense of urgency and focus throughout your preparation week, then you’ll find yourself on the short end come game time.
The great players will tell you about the importance of mental fortitude and a business-like approach and attention to detail. This isn’t always something that can be taught. Sometimes it can start from the top, but these are adults, who have to be accountable for their own actions. Strong leaders can help set the tone and rub off on teammates to some degree. But this Redskins locker room lacks strong leaders. Maybe they have guys that can talk a good talk, but this roster needs more than spokesmen. It’s important this offseason for Jay Gruden and the team’s talent evaluators to go out and find more players that can help strengthen the leadership ranks, raise the level of professionalism and help improve the mental toughness of this team. Gruden has talked about changing the culture here in Washington, but this task remains far from complete.
5.) Improbable quest? This is a familiar setting, isn’t it? The Redskins at 3-6 and needing a dramatic turnaround to save their season. It’s the fourth consecutive year that this team has put itself in this situation. In 2012, Mike Shanahan, Griffin and Co. ripped off seven consecutive victories to finish 10-6 and win the division. The magic didn’t happen in 2013. The same cast of characters went 0-7 down the stretch with turmoil rampant.
What about this team? There is no opportunity for a quick bounce-back, because Washington now enters its bye week and will not play again for another two weeks. Gruden will likely have a lot of sleepless nights as he tries to go over this team with a fine-toothed comb. With deficiencies across the board, it’s hard to say if this team has enough to pull off a rebound in this final seven-game stretch. The road ahead is rather challenging. The Bucs, Rams and Giants are the only teams with losing records left on Washington’s schedule, and given their own woes, it’s hard to confidently predict the Redskins have a chance to handily beat anyone. Road games at San Francisco, Indianapolis and New York will not be easy, either. And divisional matchups against the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all remain.
E-mail a Redskins question to email@example.com, with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered in Wednesday’s Mailbag.
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