The Washington Times - October 29, 2013, 06:37PM

Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 45-21 loss to the Broncos on Sunday:

In the weeks that have followed every loss this season, Redskins players have often pointed to the schedule, noted that there’s time to improve and have vowed to do so. One loss, two losses, three losses don’t matter, in the grand scheme of things; it’s extraordinarily rare that a team runs through a season undefeated, and even teams that lose more games than they win have gotten into the playoffs.

Yet as the Redskins lost again on Sunday, this time to the Broncos, and fell to 2-5, their willingness to preach development and note that there’s still time for a turnaround is starting to look unlikely. There are noticeable areas where the team hasn’t improved but has regressed – and one of those is in the passing game, which is remarkable considering how often Robert Griffin III’s arm has gotten a workout this season.

The Redskins’ receivers have been unable to create any separation from defenders in two of the past three games; they were adequate in doing so in the 45-41 victory over the Bears on Oct. 20. The inability to get open against the Broncos, who entered with the league’s worst pass defense, was baffling; there was one play early in the second quarter, when Griffin made an ill-advised throw downfield to receiver Leonard Hankerson as pressure arrived, when he held the ball for 6.2 seconds.

Even Pierre Garçon, who has been the Redskins’ most reliable receiver since arriving prior to last season, hasn’t gotten his hands on nearly as many balls as he should. Knowing there’s no one else to throw to, defenses have paid particular attention to Garçon – who, on the other side, now needs to be able to elevate his game, with the help of the playcalling and the quarterback, to get free.

Griffin completed only 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and his 45.4 passer rating was by far the worst mark of his brief career. His lack of success is hard to pinpoint, as the reasons all feed into each other. The offensive line is not build to protect Griffin 30-plus times a game; the players were signed for their abilities in the zone-blocking run scheme. The running game can’t get going, though, if the Redskins are trailing by a wide margin. That prevents a balanced offensive attack, which leads to the team being one-dimensional, and therefore receivers are covered well – you get the point. There’s a lot to deal with, and there’s certainly not a lot of time left on the schedule for it to be figured out.

* Tight end Jordan Reed played 50 snaps, and I counted 16 where he was lined up as a receiver – mostly on the right side, when the Redskins went with a bunch formation with Santana Moss and a third receiver. I’d expect this trend to continue, especially as he continues to earn Griffin’s trust.

Reed has already caught 34 passes for 388 yards, both of which are second only to Garçon, though he’s outperformed Garçon in each of the last two games. (There was one sequence in the fourth quarter, even, when Griffin attempted passes to Reed on four consecutive plays.) Reed’s athleticism and playmaking ability is apparent, but it’ll be interesting to see how he fares as defenses adjust to his presence. The Redskins need him to catch balls if they hope to be able to move the ball through the air.

* Receiver Aldrick Robinson saw his most extensive time on the field in any game this year, rotating in for 24 plays but, yet again, failing to make a catch. His usage on Sunday was interesting, though, given that it was the first time he lined up on the field as the Z receiver, or flanker, in a regular-season game. Robinson has primarily been Garçon’s backup as the X receiver, or split end, but with Hankerson continuing to struggle – he caught one pass for seven yards against the Broncos, though it was for a touchdown – and Joshua Morgan continuing to see his snaps decline partly because of his usage as a return specialist, it was only a matter of time before Robinson got a look beside Garçon. And, given Robinson’s inconsistent performance this season (three catches on nine targets for 89 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown grab against the Bears), it may be a while before it happens again.

* It’s a commendable move that the Redskins held Griffin out of the game after he injured his left leg with 5:53 remaining, though I wonder what would have happened if the team wasn’t trailing by 17 points at the time of his injury. After cornerback DeAngelo Hall intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning the second time, Griffin got off the examination table and tried to re-enter the game before deferring to backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. By all accounts and tales, Griffin’s left leg wasn’t seriously hurting, and he left the field for precautionary measures. But if he was, or the score was different, or it was the other leg, what would have happened? It’s interesting to think about.

* This was a topic of conversation after the game, so I decided to do a little fact-checking: Does Griffin have a fumbling problem? Griffin has 22 fumbles in 23 career games (the playoff game included), including two credited to him against the Broncos. Obviously, his habit for running the ball – and the fact that he’s a quarterback – is going to lead to a higher number of fumbles. But going back to his first game, eight of those fumbles were bad snaps, which are automatically counted against the quarterback. In actuality, Griffin has 14 fumbles since the start of last season – a number that still puts him on par with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (15, including bad snaps) and Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (14 last season, including bad snaps). So, the answer? Yes and no.

* Griffin was hit 13 times by Broncos defenders on Sunday – and that’s according to the NFL’s official stats, which are usually a bit low. He had been hit by defenders a combined 33 times in the Redskins’ previous six games; the Eagles hit him nine times, previously the high, in the opener.

* The unofficial running tally: The Redskins offered only three zone-read looks on Sunday, with Griffin throwing the ball twice and carrying it once. That’s 65 zone-read looks on plays this season: Griffin has thrown the ball 32 times, Alfred Morris has run it 18, Roy Helu has run it once and Griffin has run it 15 times.

* The greatest mismatch entering the game appeared to be Manning against the Redskins’ safeties, considering Brandon Meriweather was suspended for the game and Reed Doughty did not make the trip after sustaining a concussion the previous week. All told, that unit fared well. Cornerback E.J. Biggers was back at free safety, while starting strong safety Jose Gumbs left the game after 14 plays and the Broncos’ second drive because of a left leg injury and was replaced by Bacarri Rambo, the one-time starter who had been exiled after the second game of the season. Rambo played particularly well; he made nine tackles, the second-most on the team, and by my count missed only one. That has to do wonders for his confidence.

Of course, their performance comes in context. Manning completed 30 passes for 354 yards, though his longest was a 35-yard completion to running back Knowshon Moreno in the fourth quarter. That was a screen pass; his second-longest completion, 24 yards, was a 4-yard pass to Wes Welker on a dig route that the receiver took an additional 20 yards. He only truly tried a pair of deep balls, which were intended for receiver Eric Decker on consecutive plays in the third quarter. He basically sat there and picked apart the Redskins on screens, outs and slants, taking what the defense gave him.

It’d be interesting to know how much Manning’s right ankle is bothering him; he took all but 17 snaps in the shotgun formation, three of which were kneel-downs at the end of the game. That’s standard fare for the Broncos’ offense (not the kneel-downs, the formation, but that too), but there were times when he’d throw the ball, or even on the occasional drop-back, when he’d take a hop-step and wince.

* One defensive player said Monday he had no idea why the Redskins’ pass rush wasn’t able to counter a fairly ordinary Broncos offensive line. He was right, in one regard – the unit is missing starting left tackle Ryan Clady, who’s out for the season with a Lisfranc sprain of his left foot, and right tackle Orlando Franklin returned after missing one game with a sprained left knee and sprained left ankle. Several players talked all week about the need to make Manning move around in the pocket, especially because the Colts did it so well a week earlier. Manning, though, was truly sacked only once – Rob Jackson had the honor in the first quarter after Darryl Tapp got him moving – and that was the only time a Redskins player laid an appendage on him.

* A large, black plastic sign hung on the wall of the tunnel leading out to the field warning teams of the dangers of altitude sickness, and though players downplayed the effect the thin air had on them after the game, the Redskins did their best to rotate in players to help others sharp. That was especially true on defense, where the Broncos’ sustained use of a no-huddle offense tired players out. Inside linebacker Nick Barnett played 24 snaps in place of London Fletcher and Perry Riley, marking his greatest workload of the season. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who has rarely missed a snap in two-plus seasons, missed 12 on Sunday with Darryl Tapp filling in. Even inside linebacker Josh Hull, signed two weeks ago to play special teams, was on the field for one play in the second quarter.

* The Broncos did not score a touchdown against the Redskins’ punt coverage unit, snapping an ignominious three-game streak for Washington.

* The snap counts (Includes plays run but negated by offensive penalties; zero plays means the player only appeared on special teams):

Offense (71 plays): Chris Chester 71, Tyler Polumbus 71, Trent Williams 71, Will Montgomery 71, Kory Lichtensteiger 71, Pierre Garçon 64, Robert Griffin III 61, Jordan Reed 50, Logan Paulsen 41, Roy Helu 41, Leonard Hankerson 33, Santana Moss 31, Alfred Morris 30, Aldrick Robinson 24, Darrel Young 20, Joshua Morgan 19, Kirk Cousins 10, Niles Paul 2, Evan Royster 0, Adam Gettis 0, Tom Compton 0.

Defense (81 plays): E.J. Biggers 80, DeAngelo Hall 80, Josh Wilson 78, David Amerson 74, London Fletcher 73, Ryan Kerrigan 69, Perry Riley 65, Brian Orakpo 61, Bacarri Rambo 56, Barry Cofield 44, Stephen Bowen 43, Chris Baker 33, Jarvis Jenkins 30, Nick Barnett 24, Rob Jackson 21, Kedric Golston 20, Jose Gumbs 17, Darryl Tapp 12, Jordan Pugh 10, Josh Hull 1, Jerome Murphy 0, Trenton Robinson 0.