Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 22-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday:
One way for a quarterback to restore some shine to his reputation is to engineer a comeback victory after throwing interceptions on his first two drives. For me, this was a huge win for QB Rex Grossman in terms of confidence and leadership as he looks to establish some momentum as the Redskins’ starter.
“Any time you get in a situation like that, you want a leader,” fullback Darrel Young said. “You don’t want a guy to fold, and that’s what he did today.”
In fairness, Rex was able to move on from the interceptions relatively easily because he wasn’t to blame.
On the first interception, WR Santana Moss slanted from the right slot and then was supposed to break back out to the sideline. However, he tried to improvise and did some sort of stop-and-go before finally breaking back out. Moss said he was “trying to make a play when I should have just kept going.” Rex locked onto Moss but had to pump fake at first. Moss threw the timing off.
On the second pick, WR Anthony Armstrong was held by CB A.J. Jefferson. So instead of catching the pass in stride, it tipped off Armstrong’s fingertips. “It was a perfect read,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I thought [Jefferson] did a good job of kind of tugging him a little bit. He should have been wide open, but we won’t get into that.”
Still, Grossman had to work back from 8 points down with 10:52 remaining. After Larry Fitzgerald’s 73-yard touchdown increased Arizona’s lead to 21-13, Grossman was 9-of-14 passing for 87 yards and a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan went to short, low-risk passes that would beat pressure. Grossman took what the defense gave him and proved that could overcome adversity in the clutch. His decision to go to the end zone on fourth-and-3 took guts. That will be an important building block for him and the team.
The Cardinals’ quality coverage made it difficult for Grossman to find open receivers. This didn’t look like a group that gave up 422 passing yards seven days prior.
“They did a lot of different things today than they did a week ago,” Mike Shanahan said.
“They did a good job,” Grossman added. “They’ve got talented corners, and their safeties do a good job disguising and blitzing and putting pressure on us. We couldn’t quite get to some of our big plays because of how they defended us. But we got enough.
“They were taking [them] away by either pressure or just by not running the same coverages that they had previously when we had [certain plays] dialed up.”
The key to overcoming that is adjusting, and the Redskins did it successfully by run blocking better in the first half. They rushed for 114 yards by halftime, which forced the Cardinals to commit to stopping the run.
It sure seems like Fred Davis has established himself as the No. 1 tight end over Chris Cooley. It’s not necessarily what Cooley hasn’t done or can’t do, but Davis has been so dynamic as a pass catcher. He’s got great hands, and he adjusts well to passes that aren’t on target. I don’t have numbers to back this up, but the Redskins appear to be splitting him wide as a receiver more often this year. That adds a different dimension. It has been an incredible weapon for the passing game, and there’s no reason to change what’s working.
Ryan Kerrigan took another step forward Sunday. The most important thing about him right now is that he continues to improve. For all that he’s done through two games, think about how much better he’ll in three weeks, in six weeks, in three months. His intelligence and hard work in practice are showing on the field.
On Sunday he showed a new level of explosiveness. His rip move to get under Cardinals RT Brandon Keith set up ILB Rocky McIntosh’s sack. He also was solid in coverage, tipping the pass that ILB London Fletcher picked off.
I wasn’t convinced in the preseason that Kerrigan would turn out to be a good pick because he’s not as explosive as Brian Orakpo and he played too slowly, but he’s changing my mind as he gets more comfortable in the defense and at his new position.
The Redskins were 6-of-17 on third downs and 2-of-7 on drives inside the red zone. That will keep things sober around team headquarters this week.
“You assure your football team that you’re not going to be able to win these games like this all the time, so you’ve got to eliminate those mistakes,” Mike Shanahan said. “I think our football team, even though that we’re fairly young, they’re grounded enough and they work hard enough to understand that things change very quickly in the National Football League. To have success, you’ve got to do it a day at a time and do things the right way.”
Grossman is listed at 6-1, which is at least three inches smaller than a prototypical quarterback. Because of that, he is susceptible to batted passes at the line. That was the case Sunday. I’ll have to go back and count, but I noted about five during the course of the game.
The Redskins’ linemen need to overcome that by keeping defenders’ hands down. Grossman also must seek clear lanes to pass and make sure he’s throwing with a high release point, not sidearm.
It’s entertaining to watch defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dial up the blitzes, especially with personnel who can make plays. ILB London Fletcher made the most of his chances rushing the quarterback. ILB Rocky McIntosh had a sack, as well. The Redskins’ defense got the offense the ball back in the final two minutes with a blitz (Ryan Kerrigan batted the pass down) on third down.
Of course, blitzing involves risk, which was clear on Arizona’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. CB DeAngelo Hall had no help, and he was beaten by the best. The gambles have paid off so far, though. It’s worth investigating how new players such as Kerrigan and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe allow Haslett to be aggressive.
RB Roy Helu (74 yards, 10 carries; 38 receiving yards, 3 catches) provided a valuable spark replacing Tim Hightower. Helu’s feet are extremely quick, and he did well pressing the hole. Heck, there were times when he waited to make his cut until he was inside the hole. He sees the field well, too.
“One of the reasons we drafted him, and we were hoping we could get him when we did (fourth round), was his big-play capability,” Mike Shanahan said. “He’s extremely fast, and you could see it out there. You give him a yard, you give him a foot, and he’s got the chance to break the big play. It’s always nice to bring in a guy that’s fresh when Tim gets a little bit tired. It’s a different type of back for the defense.”
Some credit for the Redskins 172 rushing yards on 35 carries (4.9 ypc) goes to the receiving corps for blocking downfield. WRs Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong, in particular, did well.
Good for K Graham Gano to rebound from the Week 1 miss and first-half block to make the 34-yard game-winner. Maybe it’s a stretch to say his job was at stake, but if he missed it, the heat would have been scorching.
He has to build on this and put the inconsistency behind him. It’s a tired storyline. It’s time for him to take a step forward.
Brandon Banks’ 35-yard punt return in the second quarter didn’t result in points because Washington’s field goal was blocked, but Banks showed again how he’s capable of changing a game.
Special teams coach Danny Smith’s punt return scheme involves setting up a wall of blockers on one side of the field. Banks has the speed to turn the corner and get behind the wall no matter where the ball is kicked. His second-quarter return was made possible by exception blocks by ILB Perry Riley, WR Niles Paul and SS Reed Doughty.
When your fourth cornerback makes the victory-clinching play, you’re onto something.
“A Super Bowl team needs to have great depth, and I think we have great depth in this room,” said CB Byron Westbrook, who forced a fumble with 1:39 to go.
Whoa, Byron! He said S–- B–. Easy, fella!
His point is clear, though. And 2-0 entering Dallas Week – it’ll be an entertaining eight days.
“It’ll be a very heated game, Monday Night Football, Cowboys-Redskins,” London Fletcher said. “What’s not to like about that?”