- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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I wrote about this in my game column, but receiver Pierre Garcon was rather candid after the game about the offense, saying the passing game “sucked” and that he did not think the offense had turned a corner after the previous two weeks. And while the column focused heavily on the offense, and obviously Robert Griffin III, they still have to prove they can play a certain way all game before you can really trust that they're headed in the right direction. They are 2-5 and playing like it. At some point you need to find optimism from something other than, ‘Hey, we have nine more games!' That's not a slogan that sells tickets or legitimate hope.
Washington threw 22 times to nine runs in the final two quarters. Running back Alfred Morris carried six times in the third quarter out of the Redskins' eight plays -- yes, they threw only twice in that quarter. It's in the playbook; look it up. But the drives that hurt were the first two in the fourth quarter when the game was either tied or they trailed by a touchdown. In those two series, the Redskins ran the ball one time and Morris gained 6 yards. Griffin dropped back to pass on the five other plays, throwing three incompletions and losing the ball on a sack.
It's too easy to rip play-calling every time they lose; some of those passes should have worked. OK, they're a better run team, and I will say of the pass game that just because plays should work doesn't mean they're high percentage when the players aren't executing them consistently. Some of these guys are too hit-or-miss. Anyway, Josh Morgan was wide open on a deep cross over the middle. Griffin threw behind him, but Morgan did not look at him until it was too late. Another time Aldrick Robinson dropped a third-down throw. Tough? Sure. Catchable? Heck yes. The Redskins absolutely need more help at this position. The calls themselves were fine; the execution failed. That's the larger problem here. On the following series they went pass (8 yards to Jordan Reed), run (6 yards by Morris) and pass (sack/fumble/ballgame).
Sometimes I wonder if they could help Griffin find a better rhythm, especially during games where his legs are taken away. Then again, on one play Griffin failed to see two open receivers -- Garcon on a deep post and Morgan in the right flat. Other times passes are dropped. Griffin will just have to gut out this season, knowing he will be up and down. Knowing him it'll drive him all offseason. Don't pin everything on him as the pressure was strong, too. But he still doesn't look sharp throwing the ball.
Lost in this mess is the fact that Morris continues to have a strong season, with 93 more yards on 17 carries. He's better than a year ago. I know, I hear you: Then run him more. Denver used a lot of seven-man boxes to defend the run, which usually will equal success for the Redskins. The Broncos powerful interior and athletic outside linebackers helped.
The Broncos did a terrific job taking away Griffin's legs out of the zone read option. A good, athletic 3-4 defense always will be hard to run that look against. Denver played more base 3-4 than it had all season. But it wasn't just that. “We knew they ran a lot of different stunts and ran a lot of techniques off those fronts,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “Usually guys play straightforward. They have a lot of variety to their defense. It's stuff they had shown in previous games, it just wasn't as emphasized.”
For example, Denver used its athleticism to make Griffin pay when he did keep the ball. On one outside zone read to the left, the outside linebacker slid inside, but when Griffin kept the ball he was able to recover and force him wide. And that “screws up the angles on the perimeter,” Paulsen said, “which allows the safety to take a downhill angle and make a nice hit.” But Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said the Broncos ran stunts they hadn't seen much of, with the three-technique tackle and end pinching inside and the nose wrapping around. “They reached down deep in the bag when we started hitting them with some good runs,” Lichtensteiger said. Left tackle Trent Williams said, “They kept us off-balance. We really never knew where they were coming from. They mixed it up a lot and had a great scheme.”
For a long time Sunday the Redskins did an excellent job in areas they had been inconsistent, or bad at, in earlier games. The tackling was rather strong, preventing gains after the catch. Safety Bacarri Rambo did a nice job in his return. The special teams pinned Denver deep -- seven of the Broncos' first nine drives started at their own 20 or worse. Then came the shanked punt. Yikes.
The defense deserves kudos for how it played in the first three quarters. The safeties weren't a problem, not like many feared considering the absence of starters Reed Doughty and Brandon Meriweather, though neither one is exactly a Pro Bowler. Denver's two big pass plays came off screens, both for 35-yard touchdowns. “Peyton [Manning] was flustered,” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said. “We were able to get some turnovers. We just weren't able to keep our foot on the pedal.” And end Stephen Bowen said, “I feel we were affecting his throws.”
They doubled Manning's season interception total, from three to six. Credit DeAngelo Hall for two of those picks. He's having a terrific season and you can complain about what he doesn't do, but what he is doing is making huge plays. He's been consistent lately, too. Had he done this last season that pay cut wouldn't have been as severe. And there's nothing mystical about how he's getting these picks; he's playing tough physical coverage and winning on the play. He's competing.