The “playoffs” actually began weeks ago for the surging Washington Redskins, who probably can’t afford even one more misstep yet are thriving under pressure. It’s definitely not what we’ve been used to from the Redskins recently. But quarterback Robert Griffin III has changed everything.
Suddenly relevant again, the Redskins got another follow-me performance from their sensational rookie quarterback and a surprisingly strong defensive effort in Monday night’s 17-16 victory over the New York Giants. Griffin teamed with wide receiver Pierre Garcon on a go-ahead, eight-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter and the Redskins’ defense – statistically among the NFL’s worst – limited the NFC East leaders to only a second-half field goal in Washington’s third consecutive win.
Coach Mike Shanahan’s bunch was at its low point after losing to Carolina, which then had only one victory, on Nov. 4. It seemed the season was all but over. A month later, the Redskins are among the NFL’s hottest teams and, in second place in the NFC East, very much in the playoff discussion.
Although no one knows where this once-improbable run will end, Griffin is determined to keep it going all the way to the postseason. Against the Giants, he got a lot of help from the defense, Washington’s offensive line and the team’s top playmakers on offense. It was one of those victories coaches love because of all the things that went right.
Let’s look closer at some of what went right for the Redskins on “Monday Night Football.”
Again, the statistics were outstanding: eight receptions, 106 yards and one touchdown. That’s what Garcon did against the Giants while continuing his improbable in-season resurgence.
This is the same guy who was hobbling around for weeks with a painful toe injury? Give Garcon credit for battling through his injury, which, the Redskins say, would have led many players to season-ending injured reserve.
The Redskins’ offense has been so much more explosive the past two games (remember how Garcon torched the Cowboys?), in large part, because of Garcon’s ability to beat zone or man-to-man coverage on deep balls and crossing routes. Seeing Garcon on the field inspires both Griffin and play-caller Kyle Shanahan.
It’s not that Griffin and Shanahan lack confidence in the rest of the receiving corps. They just believe Garcon is special. That’s why Shanahan called a deep pass to Garcon on the first play from scrimmage. Griffin and Garcon failed to connect. The Redskins, however, quickly established that their best deep threat was ready to go. As it turned out, he certainly was.
The Redskins rank 31st out of 32 teams in pass defense. Entering the game, Washington was one of only two teams (last-place Tampa Bay is the other) to give up an average of more than 300 yards passing per game. And the Redskins’ secondary has been especially vulnerable to deep balls: It had given up 41 passes of at least 20 yards, tied for the NFL’s 11th-highest total. Included on the long list was Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s 77-yard, fourth-quarter strike to Victor Cruz that provided the winning margin in New York’s 27-23 victory over the Redskins in October.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett expected Manning to challenge Washington’s defensive backs from the opening snap Monday night, and that’s what Manning did. It was the obvious move. Fortunately for the Redskins, Manning wasn’t as sharp as he was at the end of the teams’ previous meeting.
Haslett did a good job of mixing secondary coverage. The Redskins’ pass rush wasn’t great, but outside linebacker Rob Jackson came up with a timely sack of Manning late in the fourth quarter, which prompted the Giants to punt, after Griffin and Garcon connected on the go-ahead touchdown pass.
With Griffin leading the offense, a few timely plays by the defense is enough.
One of the ways to limit Griffin’s highlight plays is to keep him on the sideline. Controlling the clock by running the ball is the best defensive strategy against him.
The Giants used Ahmad Bradshaw well in accomplishing that goal. Bradshaw, one of the most determined runners in the NFL, gained yards through the middle of the Redskins’ line and around the edge to extend drives. Bradshaw had 77 yards at halftime (he finished with 103 yards on 24 rushes) as the Giants established their game plan.
In time of possession, the Giants held more than an 11-minute advantage during the first two quarters. Griffin had to hang out and watch the action much more that he would have preferred. But as he has done throughout the current winning streak, Griffin found a way to make just enough plays to lead the Redskins to the win.
The Giants succeeded in controlling the game’s tempo, particularly in the first half, which prevented Griffin from, well, being Griffin for much of the game. When the rookie quarterback has the ball, a big play can occur at any moment. Still, he managed to make just enough big plays to keep the Redskins rolling.
On the go-ahead touchdown to Garcon, Griffin, who rolled to his right, displayed how well he reads defenses in locating Garcon and his ability to throw accurately on the run. Griffin didn’t have one of his biggest performances statistically (163 yards passing, one touchdown pass). But the outcome was as good as it gets.
Mike Shanahan isn’t in the least bit surprised about Alfred Morris’s success this season. In fact, Shanahan told people privately before the season that the Redskins will have one of the best rushing attacks this season. Obviously, Griffin is at the center of everything on offense for the Redskins. Morris isn’t far behind.
Morris is perfect for the Redskins’ wide running plays because he has great vision and is a one-cut runner. No dancing in the backfield for Morris. In the first quarter, the sixth-round draft pick had a 19-yard run to become Washington’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008. Morris — he has established a Redskins rookie rushing record — finished with 124 yards. Morris’s running helped the Redskins finish off the victory, which is exactly the way the elder Shanahan prefers to wrap up victories.
The kid isn’t perfect: Morris lost a fumble in the third quarter. But he definitely appears to be a building block for the future along with Griffin.
Although the Giants still lead the division at 7-5, the Redskins are 6-6 with a lot of momentum. What a difference a few weeks makes.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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