1. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been sure why Lorenzo Alexander didn’t play a little bit more before Sunday. OK, when Brian Orakpo was healthy it was understandable. But lately? The other guys weren’t getting it done on third down so give the guy a chance. Sunday they did. What made Alexander useful, and he said it in his postgame presser, is his background. He’s an inside linebacker now, but he’s also been an outside linebacker and a defensive tackle. Guess what? He lined up pretty much all over and used skills he had learned at each spot, with Perry Riley sometimes rushing off the edge. They used players to their strength. Alexander finished with a fumble recovery (forced by Riley’s rush from the other side) and two sacks and had good pressure on a couple other occasions. Chris Wilson hadn’t done much of anything in his time on the field so it was smart to finally see if someone else could. Wilson is on the roster because he can rush the passer, but perhaps he’s better as a change-of-pace guy off the bench and not as someone you’ll see a dozen times a game.
2. What’s nice for Alexander is that he’ll get a lot of credit this week and it’s deserved. Alexander is the perfect backup. He’s confident in what he can do and believes he could be a good starter. However, he also knows his role and isn’t going to complain and he’ll just do his job. And he’ll do it well. I felt a little bad for Alexander with the new kickoff rules; gives guys like him less opportunities to showcase their skills. (Though with Kai Forbath, and an explosive offense, this could change). Alexander got a well-deserved game ball. Few guys are as respected in that locker room as Alexander. I’ll also say when the guy blitzes, he does so as if his paycheck depends on him getting home. It’s the same approach he takes on special teams. You can’t come last in the NFL with his background unless you play this way.
3. While Robert Griffin III’s 76-yard run was the highlight, it doesn’t happen without key blocks from a couple players. First, running back Evan Royster, aligned to Griffin’s left in the gun, crossed over and stuff a blitzing linebacker (there were two coming). Center Will Montgomery got the other. Then, at the 35-yard line, receiver Joshua Morgan sealed his man to the inside and Griffin cut wide and picked up the momentum he needed to score. When players know that any block can mean the difference in points, they hold them longer.
4. The Redskins absolutely needed a win like this. I’ve said it before, but you can’t keep saying you’re headed in the right direction, you have to show it. Words mean nothing after a while. But games like this show where they could be. The offense put up 31 points after getting shut down in the first quarter (OK, one drive was only six yards, but another was 90). It’s their ability to use multiple looks to get defenses into the look they want that makes them so dangerous. Minnesota had to scrap the cover-2 and play a single-safety look probably more than it would like when the Redskins used the triple option formation. Anyway, now they’re headed to New York for a game that’s much bigger because they beat Minnesota. The Giants defended Cam Newton and the zone read well, but Griffin is more of a threat simply because his passing mechanics are much better as is his decision-making. This is quite a yo-yo season that always seems on the verge of turning one way or another.
5. One of my favorite plays: the 15-yard pass to Fred Davis. Here’s why. Davis lined up to Griffin’s left with Niles Paul to the right and Alfred Morris directly behind the QB. Looks like some sort of inside run, using one of the tight ends to block through the line. The Vikings countered with all seven defenders between the tackles. So the Redskins gave them that look, faking a handoff to Morris inside. With the linebacker’s eyes on Griffin and then Morris, Davis was able to run free. As the ‘backers drop no one sees him and he’s wide open for a 15-yard catch on the left side. The play designs in this offense really screws with defenders eyes. Someone’s going to get lost and it happened a few times Sunday. The TD pass to Darrel Young was similar. He was the fullback in the I-formation with Griffin under center. Griffin faked to Morris and every eye seemed to be focused this way. Young slipped out past the safety, Harrison Smith, who was staring at Morris. It was an easy pitch-and-catch to Young. I could list more, but I’ll wait for the film review. Just trust me, I’m a reporter.
6. One of the problems with the run game is that when Washington tried to go outside, the Vikings always got too much penetration. It happened to both sides. A couple times the linemen – I saw this with right guard Chris Chester and left tackle Trent Williams – seemed to only have to bump a defender as they went elsewhere. But those bumps weren’t physical enough and they weren’t kept off their track. Jared Allen of all people had a free lane into the backfield on one tackle for a loss in which Logan Paulsen was supposed to come from the other side and block him. Anyway, the problem with the inside zone was Minnesota’s tackles. Not just Kevin Williams, but Letroy Guion. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said Guion posed a problem because on inside runs he wouldn’t try to get upfield. Rather, he’d almost take a step back and dance to see where the play was going; it’s why he had five tackles and it’s why there wasn’t a whole lot of room.
7. Kai Forbath is completely different from Billy Cundiff in so many ways. One has a great leg for kickoffs; the other will be hit or miss. One can make 50-yarders; the other, well, you know the answer. But Forbath also is different when it comes to his attitude. Cundiff seemed bothered by the .2 seconds slower the operation was under long snapper Justin Snow as compared to with Nick Sundberg. Here’s Forbath’s attitude on the timing of the operation: “It felt great. I have two great veterans in the operation. I can’t complain about anything.” I know someone who can. I don’t know what this means for Forbath’s future and the life of a kicker can change dramatically, but it has to be nice for the Redskins to have a kicker who doesn’t worry about everything that might throw him off. That’s like a receiver who can only catch the perfect pass.
8. Say what you want about the secondary, but one thing this group has done well is face the criticism. Said this in my Final Thoughts piece before the Falcons game, but they’re always available to answer questions. And many of those questions have been about their poor performances. But I have yet to see any of the safeties or corners turn down an interview. Yes it’s part of their job, but a lot of guys know where to hide during tough times. These guys haven’t. And today they made plays, with Madieu Williams getting an interception for a touchdown and DeAngelo Hall getting a pick to end the game. Hall, by the way, played some single-high safety, which allowed the Redskins to use both safeties up near the line of scrimmage in some sets to help against the run. That alignment made a difference on a second-and-eight run in the third quarter; both Reed Doughty and Williams were up near the line and Adrian Peterson was stuffed for a two-yard run. Next play: incomplete pass followed by a field goal. It’s one reason why the Vikings averaged just 3.9 yards on the ground despite a 32-yard run by Peterson. On their other 23 carries they gained 62 yards. The defense really showed some versatility Sunday. They’re far from perfect and the Vikings aren’t the most feared passing team; their game is built on running the ball and short throws to playmaker Percy Harvin. They’re not a big-play team, however. Still, the Redskins took away their strength and played solid D in the red zone (one for six with four field goals and an interception in the red zone).
9. I know Christian Ponder is supposed to be an accurate passer, but, man, did he look off on some throws Sunday. When he was under duress or when he had to throw downfield he just wasn’t as good. On the interception the Redskins showed a cover-0 look only to drop into a zone. The Vikings handled it well, only blocking with five and Ponder actually had time to throw. But he got lazy. Ponder didn’t turn his feet, but that’s fine as long as you get your shoulders around. He didn’t do that either and the pass predictably sailed. Guess who was waiting? Williams. He didn’t have to do anything special, just sit in his zone and then make good reads as a runner en route to the touchdown.
10. The Redskins converted six of 12 third downs, ending a string of ugly play on this down (3-20 last two games combined; 14-60 for the season). One reason: third and manageable. They faced third and four or less six times and converted four. Just a guess but I’ll be that’s the most times they’ve been in third-and-four or less this season. I’ll double check for Tuesday’s film review. They also converted a third and 11 (the 15-yard run by Robert Griffin III) and his 76-yard TD run came on a third and six.
Plus one: Niles Paul is a bad man. How many returners will think twice about doing anything other than a fair catch if they know this guy might be running at them? I did see Paul miss a block on a corner Sunday, one of the few times that’s happened. But when I checked who it was I understood: Antoine Winfield. He’s one of the toughest corners in the league and one of the most physical. But Paul popping a guys helmet off on a return will be talked about a bit more. Just a hunch.
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