Redskins 38, Browns 21: Ten Observations

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

 

1. The Redskins are now 8-6 and in control of their playoff fate. They once were 3-6. This is not a misprint. Do I need to add to this one?

2. Dallas beating Pittsburgh also means the Cowboys control their playoff chances. There’s a real chance the finale will be for the NFC East title. Yep, just like everyone thought a month ago. There’s also a chance that the loser of that game ends up with nothing.

3. Here’s a thought: Maybe it’s good that Robert Griffin III didn’t play. Maybe the Redskins received more from this win than if they had won with Griffin. Perhaps they needed to win a game to show that they’re about more than just one guy. Yes, they have 22 players on the field but so much of what they do – and have done – is based on Griffin’s ability. But they showed just how far they’ve come in recent weeks; I can’t imagine they win a game without Griffin a few weeks ago. But when you believe in what you’re doing and where you’re headed, then you can pull out games like this. Now, I have to believe their confidence soared after Sunday because they scored 38 points with their No. 1 playmaker sidelined and a rookie making his first start in Kirk Cousins. Let that marinate for a while. Games like Sunday – not against a great team, but in a tough spot – show the sort of mettle you need to make playoff runs. Meet adversity, then find a way to overcome. That’s what they did. That’s what the playoffs are about.

3. By the way, here’s another thing to think about: In the first start by rookie QBs this season, the Redskins have scored a combined 78 points.

4. It’s sometimes tough to get a handle on a team’s confidence. You know it’s growing. You sense a difference. But where are they really at? I think we found out Sunday. The other thing that’s obvious is that the players understand the pulse of their fans. Is that important? I don’t know, but there’s a real connection.

“We could have a home playoff game,” Redskins safety Reed Doughty said. “D.C. needs that. It’s exciting…. We have to take care of business the next two weeks.”

5. It wasn’t the run game that set up the play-action passes. It was threat of it – and it was the success of it in previous games. Cleveland oversold to stop Alfred Morris and, congrats, it succeeded. He needed 27 carries to gain 87 yards. Not a highly-productive day in terms of yards per carry. But that hardly mattered. The Bo

“They made it their business to stop the run game,” Morris said. “They stacked the box and they were flying downhill. We did the toss and outside zones and they were sprinting that way. Kudos for them to stopping our run game in the beginning.”

6. Yeah, kudos. Except that once the Redskins turned to play-action and bootlegs, the Browns never wavered in selling out to stop the run. The tough part on the bootlegs is that the stretch zone leaves overanxious defenders even more out of position because they’re flowing hard one way. It provided a similar effect as the zone read in terms of leaving defenders scrambling to get into position. It also created numerous clean looks for a rookie QB in his first start. This is just one example, but on the third and 4 pass to Logan Paulsen late in the game en route to another TD, the linebacker raced two or three yards one way as Paulsen went the other. The ‘backer had no shot. I could find another 10 examples where Browns defenders were out of position.

“We knew they ran the boot, but not that good,” Cleveland’s Jabaal Sheard said. “They had a great disguise. They ran the stretch and they ran the play-action also.”

7. Cousins missed on his first three passes, with one of them intercepted. The Redskins gained no first downs on their first four series. And still scored 38 points. They go on binges, which is what explosive teams do. Perhaps the biggest pass of the game was the 54-yarder to Leonard Hankerson, who showed up again. He caught only two passes; he scored twice. Sort of efficient. Guys are making plays when they’re available and that’s how you become explosive. Anyway, it was a slightly gutsy throw, but Cousins is a confident passer. But before that pass, no first downs. After that drive, no three-and-outs. Well, except for a three-play drive that ended in a Morris touchdown run. But you get the point. The Redskins clearly were calmed by that play, wiping out a 7-0 deficit.

8. I was going to say what this game proved is that one of these teams has two quarterbacks and the other one might not have one. But it’s simplistic to look at it that way. I think the game showed how well one team uses its quarterbacks. It helps that all the Redskins did was run the offense they ran last season. But they did a good job putting Cousins in excellent position to make plays, after some initial sputtering. The gameplan and play-calling were superb. When you keep fooling a defense that isn’t bad, then you’ve had a good day. Give Cousins and the offense credit for execution, but they had help. Games like this elevate a coordinator’s profile even more. Loved the TD pass to Hankerson, where he ran across the field behind the line as Cousins faked a handoff to the left. He turned and hit Hankerson wide open.

9. The defense, once again, was strongest in the second half. They did allow the 69-yard touchdown pass, but that was all and the offense made sure it didn’t matter with another TD drive and 17-point lead. But the Redskins did a good job of confusing Brandon Weeden. They’d show seven and, in the past, they’d typically drop three defenders. Sunday, they dropped four and rushed with three, causing hesitation in reads and eventual checkdowns. They took away the quick passes, for the most part. The linebackers did an excellent job in this area. They tackled maybe as well as they have all season, preventing potential long runs by receivers after the catch.

10. The Redskins sent more pressure in the second half. They also used Reed Doughty in the box quite a bit and the Browns struggled to always account for the extra man, which is why Trent Richardson was hit so often in the backfield. By the way, Richardson, the No. 3 pick, did not look explosive at all. As for the game plan, corner DeAngelo Hall said, “Early in the game we were able to play generic coverages and zone. [Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett] said, ‘Let’s go. I was blitzing so many times I was like let me cover, I’m tired. They were picking me up, but someone else was getting free. We had constant pressure on [Weeden]. We were able to disguise him. We ran coverages we had not run since training camp. It’s good when you can go to your back of tricks and pull out new tricks and display them on the field.” Hall could have had a pick in the second half, when he conned Weeden into a pass. It looked like Hall was going outside with the slot receiver, but cut back inside to zone coverage at the last moment. That’s where Weeden threw the ball; but Hall couldn’t finish the play. London Fletcher made a pick, too, when Weeden failed to get it over the top. Not sure if he saw him or not.

11. What the Redskins also did was make plays. Linebacker Rob Jackson continues to do this quite often and deserves major kudos. He’s getting better. On his interception, all he did was be in the right place.

“I dropped to the middle of the field and I saw him dropping back, but I read his eyes and he threw the ball right to me,” Jackson said.

Game changer. It gave the offense a short field and the offense scored a touchdown for a 17-14 lead.

Jackson’s sack did not have the same impact because the next play was a 69-yard touchdown. But the sack was nice nonetheless. Left tackle Joe Thomas set upfield as Jackson took a couple steps up, but he ran an inside stunt with Jarvis Jenkins and had a clear path. They fooled the left side.

12. Don’t know how Will Montgomery’s left knee is; he will undergo an MRI Monday. But it helps that the Redskins have valued versatility not only in their backups, but also their starters. They’ve always said they could insert either Kory Lichtensteiger or Chris Chester at center. They opted for ‘Steiger to allow Maurice Hurt to play his more natural spot of left guard. If anything happens to Montgomery, then ‘Steiger can remain there and they have a semi-experienced backup ready to take over. And there’s no way to know yet about Tyler Polumbus, who looked woozy after a play in the first half and did not return after halftime because of his concussion. Jordan Black appeared to do fine in his place. Tough to say, but what I know is they scored 38 points. If players have to miss now, I just assume the Redskins will keep rolling. Not sure why I should think otherwise.

 

 

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John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner