- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Has Robert Griffin III returned to form? Not completely, but the signs he displayed against a good Oakland defense show that he continues to improve. There have been signs of progress each week. He’s getting better at keeping his eyes downfield, especially when he resets in the pocket, as we saw a couple of times Sunday. He still needs work on influencing defenders (and not staring receivers down). Griffin makes mistakes each game; he made a lot last year, too -- but they were overshadowed because he could make more plays with his legs. Griffin clearly noticed the increased mobility in the Oakland game -- his coaches sure did -- giving him more confidence. The protection has been OK -- seven sacks in 187 drop-backs, and facing more blitzes, is good. I don’t think it’s any worse than a year ago; again, Griffin’s use of his legs helps here. Last season Griffin’s play made those around him better -- buying more time in the pocket; creating gaps in the coverage with his fakes.
2. Can they get Roy Helu more involved? Not at the expense of Alfred Morris -- he’s still their best running back; his ability to set up defenders with his patience is exceptional. But Helu needs to get more touches. The more the Redskins are in tight games and the more they have an offensive tempo, the more they can accomplish this. The way Helu ran last weekend is how he looked during training camp and in preseason games. He also had one nice catch-and-run against Detroit. The offense needs more energy and Helu could provide some with his open-field runs. That hurdle was the first time I saw a legitimate surge of confidence or swagger or whatever you want to call it from the Redskins’ offense. Both running backs make plays that can fire up an offense; Helu with his hurdles and Morris with his big-boy runs.
3. Is there anything wrong with the run game? No. Except for the amount of carries. In key statistical categories, Morris is better than he was in 2012. Several plays against Oakland should remind anyone why he’s good. He sets up his blocks so well, especially when his blockers give him a chance to do so. For the season he’s averaging 5.29 yards per carry and 2.30 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Both are better than last season (4.88 YPC; 1.97 YAC). There have been slip-ups, whether by his sometimes missing the hole or by his blockers failing. But the problem with the run game is the volume. The blocking hasn’t changed a whole lot from last year, though I’d like to see Trent Williams more consistent (in run and pass). To make the zone game work, the tight ends and receivers must block well, too.
4. Is tight end Fred Davis being phased out? Sort of, yes. Rookie tight end Jordan Reed has advanced faster than the coaches anticipated, especially as a blocker. That allowed them to make a move if Davis wasn’t as focused or productive. After the draft, based on Reed’s college film, it was tough to see him making an impact as a blocker. But his footwork and work ethic has enabled him to improve. There’s room for both but, regardless, Davis’ contract year is once again not going as planned.
5. Has Leonard Hankerson finally emerged? Well, he has definitely matured as a receiver, but emerged? He needs to have a couple big games first (50 yards or less in each of his past three games; one catch over 20 yards). For now he’s an improved receiver who has sharpened his route running, able to create separation off his cuts. It's a good start. The 17-yard catch-and-run Sunday out of the stack formation was a nice example of this; he conned the defensive back into thinking he was going outside through patience and obviously direction, allowing Santana Moss to screen the defender. When Hankerson cut back inside, the middle was wide open. He doesn’t scare a defense, but he can at least help. And with Josh Morgan not doing a whole lot, Hankerson will continue getting more chances. Believe it or not, Griffin’s passer rating is highest when targeting Hankerson (124.2). He’s on pace for 60 catches, 10 more than a year ago -- a combination of more pass attempts by Griffin and improved play.