- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, the Redskins stopped running the ball in the fourth quarter (after running it on six of their eight plays in the third). But the first two series in the fourth quarter did not bother me. They threw the ball on their first three plays, but the first play begged for a pass: After playing a seven-man front for most of the game, Denver walked the safety up on the right side. He bit hard on the play fake; it was perfect for the play call until Robert Griffin III threw too far inside of Morgan. Sure, they could have run on second down instead of throwing long. But on third down Aldrick Robinson dropped a high, but catchable pass. The catch radius for some of these receivers is rather small. The next series ended after three downs, and one run, because of a sack/fumble.
The one drive that bothered me occurred after Denver went ahead 31-21 with just over 11 minutes remaining. At that point the Redskins had thrown five times in six downs and were not clicking. They had thrown on first down four straight times. But they went right back to the air on three straight passes, one of which was completed. They had just given up 31 straight points; there was still enough time to recover. Why not settle things down by starting this drive with a run? Bread and butter. This game did not come down to play calls; I can point to a number that should have worked because the calls were excellent. If you think this game was about play calls, dig deeper, please. But this is the sequence I would have at least opened with a run.
The Jordan Reed effect? On the Santana Moss dropped would-be touchdown, Griffin stayed patient in the pocket and let the route develop. A linebacker had dropped down the left hash, but when Reed, starting outside the numbers, cut inside, the linebacker started toward him. That left an alley for Griffin to hit Moss. Good throw; bad drop. But the attention paid to Reed helped.
The Redskins' offensive line was criticized for its pass protection, but the hits Griffin took were a group effort. Too often receivers weren't winning one-on-one's in time or Griffin was holding the ball a while. You're going to get hit in those cases. The line was not perfect and allowed pressure. There were definitely times that Griffin could not adequately follow-through because at some point every lineman, even left tackle Trent Williams, was driven either into him or right by him. And running back Roy Helu, while improved in protection, missed some, too.
This team, not just the line, is not yet built to win from the pocket, not with consistency. But if you want to rip on the line for protection have at it. Just sing their praises for the run blocking, too. It helped that Denver spent most of the game in a seven-man box (in a 3-4 look, though they occasionally used a four-man line as well). The Broncos' inside linebackers were usually aligned four or five yards off the ball. It's not as if they were stationary at the snap, but being this depth allowed the linemen to reach them better.
Guard Kory Lichtensteiger said Denver tested the line's rules in pass protection with some of their looks. You could see it on a second-and-10 in the fourth quarter. Denver stunted the right end through the middle with the rest of the line slanting to the left. A linebacker then blitzes behind the stunt. That meant Lichtensteiger had two defenders coming through his gap. He has to pick up the blitz, but with center Will Montgomery on a double team to his right, the end crashes through for a sack in 2.2 seconds.
Lichtensteiger did get beat for the hit that knocked Griffin from the game. Lichtensteiger tried to attack defensive lineman Terrance Knighton. But a swim move to the inside by Knighton defeated him. Lichtensteiger used the same tactic earlier to stop a rush. It can be tough when you're a smaller guard to just sit back and try to anchor. Lichtensteiger did a solid job in run blocking.
Denver linebacker Von Miller looked pretty good to me. That is all.
On the third play of the game, Garcon ran a crossing route against what appeared to be man coverage. But as he reached the middle, his man stopped and the safety who had been deep left came up to cover him. The safety dropped to an area Reed was going. This coverage change took care of the Redskins' two best targets. Griffin had to pull the ball down and run after being in the pocket for 3.7 seconds.
I remember this happening twice, but the Broncos clearly were ready for the cuts in which the wideouts go inside and then cut back out. Leonard Hankerson did this one time, with the defensive back staying slightly outside when he first cuts inside. It prevented him from being open when he cut back out. Same thing happened to Santana Moss on another play.
Pointed this out after the game, but I'll repeat it: Denver did a terrific job taking away Griffin's ability to run. It helps to have athleticism on the edge, which is why the Broncos showed so much of their 3-4 look. Shaun Phillips made one play on Griffin without being involved in the tackle. He played the zone read perfect: staying square while stepping upfield about two yards. That forced Griffin, after starting wide, to spin back inside. Had Griffin been able to go wide without obstruction, he had two blockers against two defenders. But, thanks to Phillips, the edge was lost. The safety, Duke Ihenacho, sprinted up and nailed Griffin. But Phillips made this play happen.