As they barreled toward a 17-16 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night at FedEx Field, the Washington Redskins demonstrated once again why they have the top rushing attack in the NFL. It was evident that Washington had too much for New York, from the powerful legs of rookie running back Alfred Morris to the sprinter’s speed of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to the creative formations of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
New York entered the game with first-hand knowledge of the Redskins’ offensive schemes, having faced Washington in a Week 7 comeback victory at MetLife Stadium.
In that game, the Redskins gashed New York for 248 rushing yards; they used Griffin and Morris on option plays and runs off tackle, and fullback Darrel Young on dives up the middle.
But that experience did New York little good Monday.
The Redskins again topped the 200-yard mark, Morris set a career high with 124 yards on 22 carries and Griffin rushed for another 72 yards on five carries.
“We ran the plays we always run: a little zone, a little power,” center Will Montgomery said. “We just wanted to execute and sustain our blocks so Alfred could have time to get up into the holes.”
Once Morris got going, his productivity drew the attention of the defense and set up Griffin for big-gain keepers.
The duo’s combined rushing led to advantages in the play-action passing attack. Griffin had most of his success on play-action passes (9 for 11), far more than on straight drop-back throws (4 for 10), because the rushing attack and the Redskins’ pistol formations caused indecisiveness in the minds of the defenders, who had to decide whether to key on Griffin, Morris or the passing game.
“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,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, whose team was coming off a 38-10 victory over Green Bay.
After seeing Washington strike on deep passes against Philadelphia and Dallas, the Giants played their safeties deeper than normal Monday night. That put the safeties out of position to help with the rushing attack.
Moreover, Redskins players said that New York’s pass rushers seemed so intent on getting into the backfield to harass Griffin that they neglected assignments in run defense.
The Giants also struggled to get a bead on Washington’s game plan because of the non-traditional “pistol formations” that the Redskins use with frequency.
In the pistol, the quarterback is closer to the line (four yards back) than he is in the shotgun (eight yards back).
Said New York Coach Tom Coughlin: “There is no doubt that because of the different nature of the scheme and their concept, you don’t see it every week, so it does cause you a lot of time and energy and effort in trying to figure out what the formations tell you and what you can expect from those formations. . . . You saw how quickly [Griffin] gets to the outside when he throws the ball. That kind of speed is going to be devastating any time.”
Such schemes are uncommon in the NFL because defenders are so fast and because it is rare to have a quarterback athletic enough to run them.
The best example of the Redskins’ effectiveness in the pistol came in the fourth quarter.
On second and eight from the Washington 41, the Redskins went with their full house look: Griffin lined up four yards behind the center, flanked by Young and Logan Paulsen, with Morris lined up four yards behind the quarterback.
As had been the case for much of the game, the Giants were confused as they lined up and called out defensive assignments for each other.
The defense brought up a safety to take away a run off tackle by either Morris or Griffin.
The linebackers kept an eye on Paulsen and Young and Morris running up the middle.
What did the Redskins do? Griffin hit Pierre Garcon on a slant across the middle for a 17-yard gain to extend a drive as the two-minute warning approached.
It was the same formation that the Redskins used often on runs by Morris and Griffin for nearly half of Washington’s offensive snaps.
They also used the look on a touchdown pass to Garcon.
But on the touchdown, 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 and Leonard Hankerson in the back of the end zone, but looked them off to confuse the defense.
Griffin then hit Garcon over the middle just across the goal line for the score.
“We felt good throughout the game,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We stopped ourselves a couple of times. I give the Giants credit because they’re an excellent defensive team. We felt like we were moving the ball well, we just had to stay on course and make a couple big plays.”