NFC East: 2013 Week 8 WAS at DEN

10 Observations: Broncos 45, Redskins 21

October, 28, 2013
DENVER -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 45-21 loss to the Denver Broncos:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.

Redskins let down by offense

October, 27, 2013
 Robert Griffin IIITim Rasmussen/The Denver Post via Getty Images"I just don't believe we're a 2-5 team," Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said.
DENVER -- This is what bad teams do when the moment arrives for them to respond. When a home crowd is foot-stomping loud, their cheers shaking the stadium. When a play must be made to swing the momentum back.

They run 14 plays, gain 22 yards and punt three times. One of those punts traveled 15 yards. And landed at their own 35-yard line. Followed one play later by the go-ahead touchdown.

And then they followed that with four straight drives ending in interceptions.

A 21-7 lead and potential season-defining win for the Washington Redskins not only slips away, it is carried away in a tornado of mistakes.

“It was like a blur,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “I looked at one point, 21-7. Felt good. Turned around and it was 38-21.”

The score ended up 45-21, in favor of the 7-1 Denver Broncos. It's not a surprise that Washington lost; it would have been stunning had the Redskins won, truth be told. But they looked so sharp in building a 21-7 lead, more on defense of course. The offense, though, had contributed a 95-yard scoring drive and the special teams had been successful in winning the field position battle.

But a 24-point loss courtesy of a last-quarter meltdown? That's not a way to build any belief that they'll ever find the necessary consistency to turn anything around.

“I just don't believe we're a 2-5 team,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said.

Oh, but they are 2-5. And it's deserved, too.

It starts on offense. Denver scored 45 points, but the Redskins had held the Broncos to 14 points through three quarters. They did not finish strong in the fourth quarter, but the way the offense responded put them in a bad spot. Again and again.

Before the season, Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon boasted of this group possibly being the most prolific ever. Funny how long ago that seems. Maybe it seemed silly at the time; it's even more so now. They'll show flashes. They don't sustain anything.

“As an offense we've been struggling all year,” Garcon said. “We have to finally put it together. It's our fault.”

Garcon was frustrated and it shows at times during games. Like on the deep post in which he was wide open -- by a good 15 yards perhaps -- and not seen. On a play in which the coordinator told him earlier in the week that he'd be wide open. It happens, they say. It stands out when not enough is going right. Not that it hurt Washington as the Redskins still scored on the drive. But it's just where the passing game is at, even against a defense that had struggled before this game.

“Doesn't matter who [you're playing]. If you suck at passing, you suck at passing,” Garcon said. “We've just got to figure it out.”

Garcon was not pointing the finger at Griffin, but rather at the whole group. Santana Moss dropped a touchdown pass (again, they scored on the drive). Aldrick Robinson dropped a pivotal third-down pass with the game still tied early in the fourth quarter. Sav Rocca then shanked a 15-yard punt. One play later it was 28-21.

Garcon was asked if he felt the offense had turned a corner after the previous two games in which they moved the ball well.

“We haven't put up a fair amount of games where we played equally good running the ball and passing the ball,” he said, “so that's a no.”

So much of what they do returns to Griffin. And he was bad Sunday, completing 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards and finishing with a 45.4 passer rating. Denver wanted to take away his legs and the Broncos succeeded for a variety of reasons, from their 3-4 front against the zone read option to the way they stunted and applied pressure. He was hit more than in any game this season. The luster of his golden rookie season has faded.

This is not all on him; at times last season his scintillating play covered up a lot of sins that are now evident. But it's clear that his passing needs to improve.

“We had times where we had guys open and we couldn't make plays. There are times where you have to have those tough catches and tough throws and we didn't make those either,” Griffin said. “We have to be better as a group.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Griffin failed on all seven pass attempts of 15 yards or more. He was pressured or sacked on 42 percent of his dropbacks, the highest percentage of his career. Makes life tough under those circumstances, but Griffin needs to help himself, too, and defeat the rap that he struggles when he can't hit his primary target.

Maybe this was just one bad game. But you heard Garcon: They know they haven't played the way they're capable. The Redskins have a chance to still climb back into respectability the next two weeks with a home game against San Diego and a road game at Minnesota. Their outlook would then change considerably. And a week ago Griffin's impact on the game looked a lot like last year. But the impact was real and there's no reason it can't happen again.

In many ways the Redskins and Griffin are going through the growing pains you would have expected them to endure last season when he was a rookie. The kid is not a finished product and that can't be underestimated. Until he gets there, ugly games like Sunday will arise.

For the Redskins to really be optimistic, they need to play a complete game. Then repeat it the following week. Until then they'll keep believing.

“That's all we've got,” Redskins end Stephen Bowen said. “There's no other choice.”

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

October, 27, 2013

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 45-21 loss to the Denver Broncos:

What it means: It’s not as if Denver winning was a surprise. Most predicted the Broncos would win. But it’s the manner in which the Redskins lost that should be disconcerting. They are now 2-5 and what do they really have to build on at this point? Washington was doing all the little things right in taking a 21-7 lead -- and looked strong in doing so. The Redskins looked like a team ready to announce a return to legitimate contention. But the last quarter highlighted so much of what’s still wrong with the Redskins. They missed a couple more tackles; they failed to catch passes; the quarterback missed too many open receivers and the punter shanked a 15-yarder deep in his own territory. Peyton Manning doesn’t need the sort of help Washington provided in the fourth quarter.

Bad day: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III had perhaps his worst game of the season, one week after it appeared he had turned a big corner. Griffin did not look comfortable in the pocket, missed open receivers and could not hurt a defense that has been carved up a few times this season. It was not the sort of showing the Redskins needed. Had they lost but Griffin played well, then they could feel good about where he was headed. Now? Back to wondering week to week what Griffin will do. The Broncos took his legs away and turned him into a less-than-ordinary player. Griffin finished with a 45.4 passer rating after leaving the game with a left knee injury, having completed 15-of-30 passes for 132 yards a touchdown and two interceptions. Griffin is going through growing pains that many thought he might endure last season.

Stock report: Going up: Corner DeAngelo Hall intercepted two passes and played an all-around good game. It gets lost now, but his physical coverage led to another pick-six and 21-7 lead. Hall added an interception later in the game, again with good coverage. He showed up. Going down: Everything else. The Redskins looked good for three quarters, but a complete collapse in the fourth quarter, when they did just about everything wrong, makes it tough to remember.

Key statistic: The Redskins turned the ball over no times in the first three quarters and five times in the fourth quarter. That's how you go from leading 21-7 to giving up 38 straight points.

Next up: The Redskins host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, a game that becomes yet another must win if they want to have the illusion of still being in the NFC East title chase. Because of all the parity in this division, a 3-5 record would qualify as still in the hunt.