- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Through three quarters the defense was outstanding. They did what they needed to do: create turnovers; play sound, disciplined coverage (with minimal exceptions) and force long drives. It’s difficult to force three-and-outs with Denver so any time the Broncos punt it’s a win. And any time you cause four turnovers you should win. The offense kept putting the defense in bad spots in the third quarter and certainly they got worn down. But they also allowed scoring drives of 11 and 16 in consecutive series, before the offense had imploded. It’s no shame to surrender scoring drives to Denver, but the defense had a chance to get off the field a couple times and failed. They needed to play perfect and that’s asking a lot.
Corner DeAngelo Hall is playing more consistent than when he made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season. Hall did an outstanding job against receiver Demaryius Thomas (35 of his 75 yards came off a screen pass). Hall played physical against him leading to two interceptions. On the first, which he returned for a score, Hall jammed him and Thomas fell. Easy pick. On the second, Hall played tight man coverage and when the wobbly pass was coming down, Hall turned briefly. Then he turned back to Thomas and simply took the ball away. Where would this team be without Hall?
There was a stark contrast between the quarterbacks in the pocket, as there should be given Peyton Manning’s experience and talent level. Robert Griffin III will never reach that same level in the pocket; they’re just different quarterbacks. But Griffin can improve and become good. Anyway, Manning does a tremendous job anticipating routes and coverages. It’s why he rarely gets hit. He had one route in which he dumped the ball to what looked to be his third target, but unloaded it in 2.0 seconds. When Griffin would get hit, at least 2.5 seconds had usually elapsed.
Another time Manning connected with Wes Welker on a 16-yard pass over the middle. As Manning starts to throw, Welker is behind two Redskins in zone coverage (Josh Wilson and Nick Barnett) and not open. By the time Welker reaches the open middle, the ball is there. Great example of anticipation and throwing guys open. Of course, Manning’s anticipation got him in trouble on Jordan Pugh’s interception. E.J. Biggers covered Welker one-on-one at the line with Pugh over the top. Manning anticipated a win and didn’t hesitate; Welker didn’t win -- Biggers did a great job on this play -- but if you have receivers you trust to win these matchups, then you let it go. More often than not you will be rewarded.
Really liked how end Stephen Bowen played, especially with a bad knee. Bowen does an excellent job of staying low before the snap, enabling him to play with more power and shoot through faster. On a three-yard Knowshon Moreno run in the second quarter, Bowen took on a double team. He stayed low and held his ground, with his legs more outstretched than usual and his knees almost touching the ground. Linebacker Perry Riley stayed free because of it and made the tackle, along with Rob Jackson. But Bowen made the play. Another time he stayed low as he slanted to the right, causing disruption on a run to the left that end Jarvis Jenkins turned into a zero-yard run.
Denver runs an awful lot of picks; they weren’t illegal and they weren’t always effective. But it’s how Welker scored the first touchdown. Thomas ran at Wilson, playing man coverage in the slot against Welker, who was then wide open for an easy six-yard score. Thomas played it almost like a pick-and-roll, turning and extending his hands for the pass. Wilson avoided some of these screens other times, going underneath. But rookie corner David Amerson got caught too over the top and had to widen his depth to avoid the screen, leading to a 19-yard catch-and-run by Eric Decker.
By the way, Amerson did a good job on Decker. Manning tested him twice in a row earlier in that series with two deep passes. But Amerson played tight coverage and Decker wasn’t open.
Give Manning enough plays, he will hurt you eventually. He caught Washington on a slot corner blitz on the 35-yard screen touchdown pass to Thomas, who had three blockers to handle three defenders. On the 35-yard screen for a touchdown to Moreno, the Redskins had Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins in at tackle. My wonder: If Barry Cofield and Bowen had been in, would they have noticed the screen earlier? Baker and Jenkins were intent on getting to Manning; both tackles had strong moments at other points, by the way. Still, the only person who recognized it was linebacker Perry Riley, but when he ducked around two blockers and forced Moreno back inside, no one was there. Manning also caught Washington with one defensive back at the goal line (Jose Gumbs) on the fourth-and-1 touchdown pass to tight end Joel Dreessen early in the fourth, tying the score.
Bacarri Rambo played more aggressive and decisive than at any point since camp opened. Jose Gumbs is good to have on special teams.
Aside from one play, linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo had quiet days (though Orakpo also had a batted pass that forced a field goal). Manning neutralized them with quick throws (he also got Kerrigan to jump offsides on a hard count, taking it from third-and-7 from the Washington 25 in the third quarter).
On a third-and-10 late in the third quarter, the Broncos got away with two holds. Bowen and Cofield ran a perfect stunt, with Bowen crashing into the center to free up Cofield. But as Cofield runs past the left guard, as he falls, grabs his jersey. Meanwhile, the center, as he’s going to the ground, tugs Bowen’s jersey with his right hand. It slowed them down enough to enable Manning to complete a 13-yard pass to Welker en route to a game-tying touchdown.