The Washington Times - September 11, 2012, 08:08PM

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

GAME BALLS

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QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III: Where to begin? Griffin saved his best for when the games counted, and the offensive game plan helped him. The six screen passes on the opening drive, although not all scripted, helped him get comfortable throwing the ball and build some positive momentum.

His decision to keep the ball and run around the right edge for 12 yards on the Redskins’ second offensive play presented the Saints’ defense with a dilemma it never quite solved. He turned the corner quickly and bursted upfield, and from there New Orleans’ linebackers had to respect Griffin as a threat to run. As a result, they repeatedly sacrificed their depth in pass coverage, which opened up the middle of the field for intermediate completions.

Griffin extended several plays with his feet, one of his most valuable traits coming out of Baylor. One thing on my mind entering the regular season was that Griffin did not once make me think, “Wow!” during training camp practices or preseason games. It’s not that he was less than advertised, but in non-contact practices and in a vanilla preseason offense we didn’t see what makes him great. Well, the “wow” moment occurred on the first play of the second quarter.

On a designed bootleg left, Griffin decided not to throw short to FB Darrel Young running open toward the left sideline. Instead, he stiff-armed FS Malcom Jenkins in the backfield, changed directions and threw all the way back across the field to a wide open TE Fred Davis for 26 yards. His athleticism and playmaking ability in space and ability to throw deep and accurately were on display.

Griffin also was tough in the pocket and willing to take hits in order to get the ball out. He took a shot from Jenkins on the 88-yard touchdown to WR Pierre Garcon, but he got as much power into the throw as he could with Jenkins closing on him. He also took a vicious hit while rolling out on the fourth-and-1 throw to WR Aldrick Robinson. The Redskins won a game-changing pass interference call in the end zone on the play.

One of the most tantalizing elements of Griffin’s performance Sunday is that there was obvious room for improvement. He threw behind WR Santana Moss on a 14-yard completion in the third quarter when he didn’t step into the throw and let his front shoulder fly open. Moss had a step on the cornerback, and a ball out in front of him would have resulted in a big gain. Griffin was credited with a fumble after a botched play-action fake. The quarterback-running back exchange was problematic during the preseason opener in Buffalo, remember. And Griffin’s legs got tangled up with RB Alfred Morris’ on at least two plays.

Another negative: Griffin forced a throw to Moss in coverage on a sprint-out in the first half. CB Johnny Patrick came off the receiver on the outside to jump the Moss’ ‘out’ route from the slot, and Griffin was lucky it went through Patrick’s hands in the end zone. That kept the Redskins’ drive alive, and they scored a touchdown two plays later.

WR ALDRICK ROBINSON: Robinson had an excellent game catching passes in his NFL debut. His hands were sure, even when he was drilled after catching the ball, which he was by FS Malcolm Jenkins on a 13-yard completion over the middle in the fourth quarter. He opened up his hips and turned his body to catch a screen pass QB Robert Griffin III threw behind him on the opening series. The smooth adjustment enabled Robinson to maintain some speed after the catch, and he gained five yards for a first down.

On Robinson’s 29-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter, he released to the outside of CB Patrick Robinson near the left sideline but fought back to get inside position at the top of his break. Then he concentrated on the ball while Robinson was draped over him and still made the catch.

Robinson played extensively because WR Pierre Garcon was injured early, but the Redskins can’t keep him on the sideline if he plays like that.

C WILL MONTGOMERY: Montgomery stood out on a solid day for the entire offensive line, which was better as a whole in pass protection than in the running game. The Redskins operated out of the shotgun on 39 of their 71 offensive plays (54.9 percent), and Montgomery’s snaps were quality. Montgomery occasionally struggled with soft or off-target shotgun snaps in the preseason, but he pretty much snapped a perfect game.That’s especially impressive because of how loud the Superdome crowd was.

Montgomery effectively cut blocked a defender on each of RB Alfred Morris’ touchdown runs. On the first, a 1-yard plunge, Montgomery cut down DT Brodick Bunkley, who was a menace to LG Kory Lichtensteiger for much of the game. That, paired with the surge Lichtensteiger and LT Trent Williams generated on the left, opened a path for Morris’ first NFL touchdown.

Montgomery climbed to block MLB Curtis Lofton on third-and-1 on the Redskins’ first touchdown drive, and Morris gained four yards. He got to Lofton again on the stretch run on the last play of the third quarter, on which Morris gained 11.

RB ALFRED MORRIS: Morris had to bang and grind his way to 96 yards in his NFL debut because clean running lanes were rare. What does that indicate about the Redskins’ and Saints’ lines? We won’t know for sure until we can compare performances in other games. But 20 of Morris’ 28 carries went for 3 yards or less, and that’s not particularly good.

I suspect Morris wishes he were more patient at times and even second-guesses some of the cutback lanes he chose. However, he made some defenders miss, sometimes with sneaky speed. On his 18-yard run, he bounced it outside after running into LT Trent Williams’ back, and he outran FS Malcolm Jenkins to the edge. On a 10-yard draw early in the fourth quarter, he juked a defensive back on the second level.

Morris was physical, which we’ve gotten used to seeing early in his career. On his second touchdown, he kept his shoulders square and – *body-lean alert* – churned through LB David Hawthorne. Morris even used his off hand, his right in this instance, to help shed Hawthorne and surge across the goal line.

WR PIERRE GARCON: Garcon’s ability to gain yards after the catch was one of the traits that most attracted the Redskins’ coaching staff during free agency, and he came through with 72 yards after the catch on his 88-yard touchdown. Garcon exploited SS Roman Harper’s poor angle and then made sure CB Patrick Robinson, who was covering WR Joshua Morgan on the play, didn’t catch him from behind.

Garcon set up LT Trent Williams for a block with a jab step inside on the 12-yard gain he had on an opening-drive screen pass. It was reminiscent of how he set up Williams on the screen pass for a touchdown against Buffalo in the preseason.

As Garcon works his way back from the right foot injury that sidelined him for most of the game, note that he and WR Aldrick Robinson combined for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 10 targets. That shows the potential of the X receiver in this scheme.

K BILLY CUNDIFF: He was perfect on four field goals, including kicks from 41 and 45 yards. After missing from beyond 40 in his preseason debut with the Redskins, he needed a strong game.

GASSERS

RT TYLER POLUMBUS: Each lineman had difficulty in the run game at times, but Polumbus struggled the most. DE Cameron Jordan troubled him throughout the game. Jordan’s strength was overpowering at times, and Polumbus’ hand placement was an issue. Polumbus sometimes failed to finish blocks when he had Jordan engaged. Several times Polumbus’ defender shed his block or peeled off to make the tackle. He was too slow in getting to LB David Hawthorne on one second-half run, and Hawthorne tackled RG Alfred Morris for a loss of 1.

Polumbus was impatient, lunged and missed cleanly blocking a defensive back in space on a designed sprint around the right edge by QB Robert Griffin III on a third-and-6. Polumbus, at 6-8, 305, doesn’t excel in space as well as some of the Redskins’ other linemen do, so asking him to kick out and lead for Griffin might not be putting him in the best position to succeed.

Polumbus was fine in pass protection, and so was the line, as a whole. On RB Roy Helu Jr.’s 21-yard reception in the left flat, Polumbus moved his feet well and kept his chest squared to DE Junior Galette when Galette tried a spin move inside, and then Polumbus kicked out to block Jordan stunting around the outside.

OBSERVATIONS

Play of the Game

Fourth-and-inches from the Saints’ 33. 11:35 Third quarter. 20-14, Redskins.

The bootleg pass was designed for FB Darrel Young, who, out of the I-formation, faked left as a lead blocker before changing direction and releasing to the right flat. Young, however, was impeded by DE Cameron Jordan, who cut Young off on the way to the quarterback. Griffin moved off of Young and onto WR Aldrick Robinson, who ran a go route against coverage he diagnosed as Cover-2 on his side of the field. When Robinson made a play on the ball, S Roman Harper held his left arm just enough to earn a pass interference penalty.

The call put the Redskins at the Saints’ 1-yard line, from where they scored on the next play. Instead of turning the ball over on downs, the Redskins increased their lead to 13 points.

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RG3 Breakdown

Griffin in the game was 19-of-26 passing for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions; a passer rating of 139.9.

Out of shotgun, he was: 15 of 21 for 176 yards and a touchdown; a passer rating of 112.4.

From under center, he was: 4 of 5 for 144 yards, a touchdown and a sack; a passer rating of 158.3, which is the highest possible. Of course, 88 yards came on one play.

On play-action passes, he was: 12 of 15 for 237 yards, a touchdown and a sack; a passer rating of 141.0. That’s a good indication of how effective play-action was in sucking the Saints’ linebackers toward the line of scrimmage, or at least freezing them, to create openings over the middle for Griffin to attack.

On straight passes (no run fakes), he was: 7 of 11 for 83 yards and a touchdown; a passer rating of 116.9.

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The Saints tackled Griffin or contacted him to the ground 13 times during the game. Six of those occurred on designed runs. That’s worth keeping track of as the Redskins try to balance effectively using Griffin’s speed with the need to preserve his health.

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Coach Mike Shanahan, in his remarks to media Monday after analyzing the game video, noted how greatly play-action, and specifically QB Robert Griffin III as a threat to run, affected the Saints’ linebackers. A perfect example of this was WR Joshua Morgan’s 21-yard reception early in the third quarter.

Griffin took the shotgun snap and faked an inside draw to RB Alfred Morris. The fake froze MLB Curtis Lofton and brought LB David Hawthorne and S Malcolm Jenkins up to the line of scrimmage chasing air. That left the middle of the field wide open for Morgan, who beat CB Patrick Robinson off the line with a stutter step and inside release. Morgan had plenty of open space into which to slant, and Griffin had an unobstructed throwing lane because the defenders had vacated the space.

Similar plays occurred throughout the game, even on play-action passes from under center. The 88-yard touchdown to WR Pierre Garcon was a good example of that.

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The Saints struggled to stop QB Robert Griffin III on zone read runs early because their linebackers AND the defensive end would crash down on RB Alfred Morris. Griffin could easily read the end taking a flat route to Morris and keep the ball with space to run. He had runs of 12 and 7 yards on the first three drives.

New Orleans adjusted by having the linebacker stay wide to cover Griffin, while the end continued to crash down. That opened up passes over the middle.

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Morris gained only 16 yards on six zone-read carries, by my count. What stood out to me about those is how the Redskins’ offensive line often blocked straight ahead on those plays, more similar to a power scheme than the inside/outside zone running game characteristic of coach Mike Shanahan’s offenses.

The Redskins’ assembled this offensive line with athletic – and sometimes smaller – linemen suited to the zone scheme, so if the spread/zone read requires power blocking concepts, it’ll be interesting to see how the Redskins’ line performs. They’ll see lots of room for improvement on Sunday’s game.

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Communication on offense was a topic leading up to Sunday’s game because of the Superdome crowd noise. The Redskins handled shotgun snaps well. When Griffin was ready to receive the snap, he dipped his right arm to the ground. RG Chris Chester opened up his left shoulder in his stance to look back and wait for Griffin’s signal. When Chester saw Griffin dip his arm, he tapped C Will Montgomery. Montgomery would then bow his head to indicate he was about to snap the ball, and then he snapped it. Here’s thinking the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis won’t be as loud this Sunday.

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After how often TE Niles Paul was used as a receiver during the preseason, and considering how Mike Shanahan converted Paul from receiver so he could create mismatches against linebackers in the passing game, it was fair to wonder whether Paul would have a big impact catching the football Sunday. But Paul was used as a blocker against the Saints.

His best work was on the opening drive. Paul split wide as a receiver and helped block on the perimeter as QB Robert Griffin III targeted other receivers with screen passes. Now that that look is on film, the Redskins could play off of that and use Paul to catch passes out of similar formations in upcoming games.

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QB Robert Griffin III lamented a missed touchdown on his fumble on the opening drive. The Saints had 9 in the box when Griffin faked a handoff and dropped the ball. Meanwhile, WR Joshua Morgan ran a post from the right side, and he was open to the inside with no safety protecting the middle of the field. Morgan slipped out of his break, though, so it might not have been a touchdown if Griffin had been in position to throw, but the play-call was perfect for that defense.

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WR Brandon Banks made a positive impact on offense with his shiftiness. He put the ball on the ground twice returning punts, but Mike Shanahan valued how elusive he was in converting third-and-5 with a 6-yard reception on the opening series. Banks caught a screen pass near the left sideline, and he dipped underneath CB Malcolm Jenkins’ arm tackle in space to dive for the necessary yardage.

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QB Robert Griffin III’s 5-yard touchdown pass to WR Aldrick Robinson was possible because of two exceptional blitz pickups. RB Roy Helu Jr. blocked S Roman Harper’s interior run from the left (although he ducked his head at the point of attack) and RG Chris Chester read S Malcolm Jenkins’ blitz and stopped him without much trouble.

…That’s it for the offense. Let me know what I missed or whatever thoughts you might have. Leave a comment, email me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.