Sunday, September 18, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Redskins 22, Cardinals 21
By Dan Graziano
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals:
What it means: That the Redskins are in first place, just as everyone predicted they'd be! Seriously, Washington is 2-0 going into its first road game of the year and they got there with a strong running game and an inspired-looking defense. There was a lot for the Redskins to overcome in this game, with quarterback Rex Grossman throwing two early interceptions and the missed opportunities piling up throughout the first half. And for a long time, it looked like the kind of game the Redskins have become used to losing over the past couple of years. Instead, it's a tough, feel-good win piggybacked on last week's season-opening victory over the rival Giants.
Defensive leader: The best player on the field for Washington was 14-year veteran linebacker London Fletcher, who was in Kevin Kolb's face all day. The Redskins used a variety of shifting and confusing looks on defense, often freeing up the versatile Fletcher to blitz undetected. He and outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan were disruptive forces in the Arizona backfield, and it was Fletcher who delivered the hit on Kolb as he was getting rid of the ball on the long touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. Arizona's Beanie Wells found a little bit of success running the ball in the third quarter, but really, other than the bomb to Fitzgerald, the Redskins' defense played an excellent overall game, culminating in the three-and-out that gave them the ball back with time left to drive for the game-winning field goal and the forced fumble by Byron Westbrook that iced it.
Grinding it out: The Redskins mixed up the play calling early in the game, but after Grossman's second interception they went to a heavy dose of Tim Hightower and the run game. Hightower got 15 carries for 83 yards in the first half, and Roy Helu got four more carries to help spell him. Hightower looked as though he wore down and wasn't hitting the holes as effectively in the second half, so we saw more of Helu but nothing, oddly, from Ryan Torain. It looks as though Helu is the clear second option for carries after Hightower, who's had a strong start to the season.
Star in the making? Redskins tight end Fred Davis continued to show a remarkable ability to get open and catch the ball from Grossman. He has emerged as a favorite target in the Redskins' passing game, adding to the array of reliable possession receivers Grossman has at his disposal and making it difficult for the defense to figure out who to cover between him, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney. It seemed the Cardinals' pass defense was based largely on the hope that Grossman would throw interceptions. Grossman completed passes to eight different receivers, and Davis led them all with six catches and 86 yards.
Kicking issues: Until he kicked the 34-yarder that gave the Redskins the lead with 1:45 to go, it was not a great day for Redskins kicker Graham Gano, who had a first-half field goal blocked and then kicked the opening kickoff of the second half out of bounds. Gano seemed solid in the preseason, winning the job despite a brief outside challenge from veteran Shayne Graham, but he looked shaky Sunday. The Redskins played a lot of close games last year, and if that's going to be the way this year goes, too, they may need to keep an eye on the kicking game.
What's next: The Redskins travel to Dallas next week for a "Monday Night Football" matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN. The Redskins split the two meetings with the Cowboys in 2010, winning the opener at home 13-7 and losing 33-30 in Dallas in Week 15.