The key drive of Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos featured three consecutive passes from the Washington Redskins. The resulting three-and-out early in the fourth quarter epitomized a season in which Washington's passing game has been inconsistent, at best.
The numbers aren't terrible — 1,800 passing yards, 257 yards per game. The Redskins actually rank 10th in the NFL in the latter category. But too often those yards have come with them well behind in games. When it comes to sustaining long drives, quarterback Robert Griffin III and his receivers just haven't been on the same page often enough.
"I think we've had trouble passing all year, to tell you the truth. What do you think?" wide receiver Pierre Garcon asked a reporter when pressed about why Washington struggled to take advantage of one of the NFL's worst pass defenses in the 45-21 loss at Denver.
"Shoot — doesn't matter if we're playing the worst team or our defense. If you [stink] at passing, you [stink] at passing. Just got to figure it out."
That three-and-out early in the fourth quarter showed many of those issues. With the game tied at 21 — a 14-point lead erased — Griffin had a wide-open Josh Morgan over the middle for what would have been a gain near midfield. Instead, Griffin threw behind Morgan, incomplete. On second-and-10, Griffin launched a ball downfield to Garcon and it sailed on him. He nailed the throw on third down, a perfectly placed pass that Aldrick Robinson simply dropped.
If even one of those plays connects the Redskins are in business and not far out of field goal range to re-take the lead. Instead, it took one short pass to running back Knowshon Moreno for the Broncos to take the lead for good.
Griffin has had his moments this season, but his accuracy throwing the ball has clearly regressed. He completed just 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards against Denver with two interceptions. Griffin has completed just 59 percent of his 268 attempts this season. That ranks 25th in the NFL. Griffin's passer rating is 79.2. That is 21st.
Last year he was fourth in the NFL with a completion percentage rate of 65.6. The task now is to find a way to crawl back toward that mark.
"You go back and look at the film, the little techniques that you have in every game, that you have in every throw," Griffin said. "Try to fix those things and then try to do more to help this team win. That's all I can do."
There are any number of reasons for Griffin's decline. His recovery from major offseason knee surgery limited him in offseason work and kept him out of any preseason games. Seven games into the regular season it's clear he and his receivers still aren't always on the same page.
"There was a lot of plays where the receivers and tight ends didn't make [plays] where the quarterback made great plays," Garcon said. "And there was plays where we didn't block as well on the receivers' end and we didn't play our best. So it was not one person or one thing. It was a complete team. We dropped balls, we didn't make plays, we didn't block well."
Indeed, tight end Jordan Reed dropped a pass in Sunday's loss. He was seen on an off day Monday afternoon catching passes by himself on the field at Redskins Park. Robinson's drop was crucial on what would have been a huge first down. And veteran Santana Moss also dropped a ball in his wheelhouse.
And by the time Washington fell behind and had to throw the ball, the offensive line couldn't give Griffin the protection that he needed. He was sacked three times and hit 13 more. The final blow by Denver nose tackle Terrance Knighton knocked Griffin from the game with 5:43 left.
On Monday, Shanahan reiterated that Griffin was okay after suffering a left knee injury and would practice on Wednesday. That was a rare bit of good news coming out of the Broncos loss. Griffin, at least, can get back to work with his teammates fixing the problems in the passing game. There are many.
"It's all those things. Which one is it?" Shanahan asked. "But the key to a great offense is to make sure you eliminate mistakes and everybody's got to be in tune to be a top offense in the National Football League. And if you're missing one of the other areas, it costs you, sometimes dearly."
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