After Robert Griffin III landed awkwardly on his left ankle early in Sunday’s game at FedEx Field, the Washington Redskins again turned to backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. It appears they’ll lean on him for a while.
Although the Redskins did not announce a timetable for Griffin’s return from a severe ankle injury, some in the organization privately acknowledged he could miss at least six to 12 weeks. With Cousins calling signals for most of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Redskins’ offense impressed throughout a 41-10 laugher.
As team medical personnel tended to Griffin, who suffered the injury while eluding the rush and throwing across his body near Washington’s sideline, Cousins quickly got rolling. In fact, Cousins appeared much more comfortable than Griffin, who has struggled while trying to become primarily a pocket passer under new Coach Jay Gruden. The loss of wide receiver DeSean Jackson was another significant blow.
A shoulder injury may wind up sidelining the Pro Bowler for this week’s NFC East Division matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, who released Jackson in the offseason. Even without Griffin and Jackson for the final three quarters, the Redskins were never challenged. The offense received a lot of help from the defense, which tied a franchise record with 10 sacks.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan continued his fast start, recording a personal-best four sacks. Defensive end Jason Hatcher, a disruptive force during the season-opening road loss, anchored the strong rush. The Jaguars finished with 148 total yards, including only 25 rushing.
Generally, the defense has played well since the start of training camp. The offense was playing catch-up. Things may be changing. Let’s start with how the offense improved once Cousins got in the game.
Cousins completed his first 12 attempts. Overall, he connected on 22 of 33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He had no turnovers and a sparkling 109.4 passer rating while Washington amassed 449 yards.
You know what you call that? A sensational relief appearance.
Griffin also got off to a good start against the hapless Jaguars. On two read-option plays, Griffin ran for 22 yards and even slid well once, triggering applause from the crowd.
Once Cousins took over, though, Gruden scrapped the college option-style stuff. For the remainder of the game, Cousins directed a traditional West Coast offense predicated on timing and rhythm. For Gruden, there’s no need to use gimmicks to help Cousins. In the coming weeks, not only will Gruden remove read-option plays from the Redskins’ playbook, he’ll also likely open up the offense.
After Griffin played poorly during the preseason debacle against the Baltimore Ravens, Gruden scaled back the offense in last week’s loss to the Houston Texans. Despite having a reduced role in the opener, Griffin still made several perplexing decisions that left Gruden frustrated. As a play-caller, Gruden feels liberated with Cousins executing his orders. It showed Sunday in how the offense flowed.
Generally, Cousins reacts more quickly than Griffin in reading defenses. He’s rarely indecisive. And, most importantly for signal-callers in a West Coast offense, Cousins knows where the receiver should be and throws before the receiver finishes his route. Cousins is comfortable with the route concepts on which Gruden relies.
“We will cater to his strengths,” Gruden said of Cousins. “He is a darn good quarterback. He can do a lot of things.”
After switching from their long-standing 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment before the 2010 season, the Redskins envisioned having many outstanding performances. Better late than never. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had his best game since joining the franchise.
Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne appeared lost. Often, Henne was on his back, trying to elude the Redskins’ relentless rush or throwing into coverage. As a play-caller, Haslett brought his A game against Jacksonville. Having Hatcher on the line could make any decision-maker look good.
After two games, this much is clear about the Redskins’ defense: It finally has a difference-making rusher.
Although Hatcher had 11 / 2 sacks, his stats didn’t reflect how well he played. Hatcher, whom Haslett moves around, manhandled Jaguars guards Brandon Linder and Zane Beadles. Quick and strong, Hatcher also wins many battles by using his hands. On several plays in the second quarter, Linder repeatedly stumbled while attempting to slow Hatcher.
When Hatcher was on the field, Jacksonville struggled to establish a pocket after the snap. Kerrigan noticed.
Hatcher’s efforts are “helping the whole” defense, said Kerrigan, who tied a team sacks record and also knocked down a pass. “It seemed like every time Henne dropped back, Hatcher was back there. It’s kind of crazy.”
On the third play from scrimmage, the Redskins signaled their intention to feature Jackson in the game plan. He beat double coverage down the left sideline, but couldn’t come up with the catch after Griffin’s pass hung in the air. Jackson’s shoulder injury occurred midway through the first quarter.
Gruden is eager to have big plays in the passing game. The Redskins signed Jackson to make it happen. But Jackson may remain stuck on the launching pad this week, too.
Griffin’s injury could be a game-changer. What happens if Griffin is out even longer than the team fears, and Cousins plays well in his place? The Redskins are facing big questions. Gruden is ready to get some answers.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid
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Game summary: Redskins 41, Jaguars 10
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