Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's clash between the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears at FedExField:
As the losses have unexpectedly piled up this season, the storylines in Washington have become less and less to do with the opponent and more to do with fixing internal concerns.
Some games it was the offense looking rusty, others it was the defense hemorrhaging yards. Last week was the first distressing performance for the special teams unit, which added three new members this week, all active on gameday.
With each passing week, the Redskins find themselves in a more and more precarious situation in terms of postseason aspirations. If this team has plans to punch their ticket to the postseason, the battle starts in earnest today.
The Washington Redskins have looked better on offense each week of the season, but have lacked the downfield threat they possessed through much of the seven-game winning streak. That opened up again today, with Robert Griffin III dropping back in the third quarter and finding Aldrick Robinson streaking downfield to the end zone. There were two defenders in the area, but Griffin III found his man for a 45-yard touchdown. Welcome back, Aldrick.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Outside linebacker Brian Orkapo is many things, but a ball-hawker he has not been in his career. It took until today, his 55th game to earn his first career interception, which he then converted for his first career pick-six. Orakpo missed an opportunity for an interception vs. Oakland in Week 4 and has probably had other opportunities at other points in his career. He did not, however, miss today, and his interception returned for a touchdown sparked the Redskins with their second touchdown in 17 seconds.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Without question, the Redskins X-factor today was rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who shook off an early injury to return for the biggest game of his professional life. Midway through the second quarter, Reed had a career game. By halftime, he had a touchdown plus a single-game rookie tight end franchise record 87 receiving yards, breaking the 78-yard mark set by Jerry Smith on Nov. 28, 1965 vs. Dallas. That record is more than twice as old as Reed and was set nearly 25 years before he was born. He finished the game with
Perhaps the ultimate unsung hero in football is any team's right offensive guard, or in this case, Redskins big man Chris Chester. Chester gets no glory, is rarely part of a key matchup, and has one of the more cerebral positions on offense. Those smarts came into play in the first quarter after running back Alfred Morris fumbled the football, leaving Chester as the lone man in the backfield able to make the play. Not trying to do too much with the loose football, he dove to the ground and curled around the football, securing the possession. The Redskins would go on to score a field goal on the drive, three points that got the team going.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins got the ball first and capitalized with the first points of the game behind a Kai Forbath field goal. That wasn't remarkable in and of itself, until you consider the team's struggles to score points of any kind on the opening drive of a game. Not only did the team put the Bears in an early hole, but they also scored in uncertain fashion, testing the cohesion of brand new long snapper Kyle Nelson with the rest of his unit. The kick sailed true and got the early goose egg off the board.
--The Redskins raised eyebrows with their pregame decision to bench veteran tight end Fred Davis, who practiced fully this week and is technically atop the offensive depth chart. Logan Paulsen started in his place and had some solid play today, but the real star of the tight end pool was rookie Jordan Reed, who had a career game in the first half. On five targets, he had five receptions for 84 yards, finishing well north of the century mark. Reed has elite tools and is showing what a top tight end can do in this offense.
--The Redskins don't often use it, but they may have one of the best one-two punches in the NFL with Roy Helu Jr. behind starting running back Alfred Morris. Given the opportunity in the red zone, Helu Jr. knifed through the middle, cutting hard to his left and surging into the end zone to paydirt. A well-orchestrated play run to perfection.
--Roy Helu Jr. has a pretty miraculous NFL story, going from mid-round pick to backup, to NFL starter to a forgotten man, and finally back into the spotlight today. In addition to his 41 rushing yards, he also had the first multi-touchdown performance of his career, scoring three.
His second score was a Herculean effort, as he carried the ball three times in the hurry-up offense, tallying 21 yards and a touchdown. His third score iced the game in the final minutes of the game. That's the type of production few teams have off the bench. That is clutch.
--After evening the momentum with Helu Jr.'s first touchdown, the Redskins put the pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and he crumbled under the pressure. With Alshon Jeffery covered by Reed Doughty, Cutler took his chances and lost. Jeffery could not corral the pass, popping the ball into the air and into the hands of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo for his first career interception. Twenty-nine yards later, it was Orakpo's first career touchdown off interception, putting the score at 17-10. Not only had the Redskins scored on offense, defense and special teams in the first 20 minutes of the game, but they also stole the momentum in dramatic fashion.
--Starting with their performance last week in Dallas, the Redskins defense has turned over a new leaf, particularly on the back end. With veterans Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty carrying the load, there's a confident look to the bunch, as Hall and Doughty played aggressively throughout the game. This is largely the same personnel that gave up record-pace yardage through the first three games of the season, but seems to have hit its stride as the team nears midseason form.
--One hypothesis for that turnaround may have nothing to do with the secondary. In fact, it has to do with the middle of the defensive line, where nose tackle Barry Cofield has been a man on fire since the removal of the club from his broken hand. Now healthy, Cofield is able to tie up more blockers, freeing up the linebackers and defensive ends to make more plays and apply more pressure to the opposing quarterbacks. That pressure finally hit home with an ever-so-sweet sack to end the game and secure the Redskins first home win of the season.
--Niles Paul bounced back nicely from the Devin Hester special teams touchdown with a heads up play of his own. Greenhorn returner Joshua Morgan had a loose hold on the ball on the ensuing kickoff, fumbling it after a 17-yard return. Seeing the ball loose, Paul scooped up the fumble, securing the possession and allowing the offense to move down the field.
--The Redskins brought in Josh Hull and Trenton Robinson this week on special teams, but it was a little-known regular that ended up making the big play this week, putting a ferocious hit on Eric Weems at the 11-yard line after a poor decision to return. It was a bit moment for Gumbs, who had his first career tackle last week vs. Dallas.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--After a rookie season in which he slung the ball around and threw only five interceptions, it is still surreal to watch Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III throw picks. However, he tied his 15-game mark from last season in five games this season and passed for his sixth in the first quarter today. This is a troubling trend for the offense, as Griffin III and Alfred Morris have combined for 10 turnovers in six games. The Redskins need better ball security out of their top offensive weapons.
--One week after struggling against Dwayne Harris, the Redskins met world-class returner Devin Hester and came up wanting. On a kickoff in the second quarter, Hester was nearly snagged by Niles Paul, but slipped to his right and picked up blockers. Streaking down the sideline, his blockers led the way for his NFL record-tying 19th touchdown return for his career. Not much more to say about that.
--Bears running back Matt Forte is one of the best at his position for a reason, and showed it with a 50-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of today's game. Taking the handoff up the middle, he juked to the left around on of his blockers and landed at full speed streaking past David Amerson and Brandon Meriweather who game over to make the play. The Redskins defense will have some valuable film study after this week to tighten things up.
--Whether or not Brandon Meriweather deserves the reputation as a dirty tackler, he is being flagged for anything that could be perceived as a personal foul in the secondary. He picked up two flags for personal fouls, costly 15-yard penalties that are intended to clean up the game in the most painful way possible to the team. There is reasonable discussion over whether or not these calls were warranted, but Meriweather isn't in a position to earn the benefit of the doubt.
--The Redskins had much better success vs. Jay Cutler than Josh McCown, which could be a product of game-planning, but could also be a productive of McCown's mobility. He rushed only four times for 33 yards, but McCown was constantly on the move in and out of the pocket, not succumbing to the pressure and looking downfield. The Redskins' pressure was rarely able to hit home, allowing drives to stay alive, which was too many opportunities to defend.
The Redskins first half dominance was easy to see on the field, but was more impressive on paper. The halftime lead was the Redskins' first since Philadelphia in Week 16 of last season. The 24 first half points were the most since playing in Dallas on Thanksgiving last season (28). The Redskins outgained the Bears 249 yards to 46 on offense, a span of 203 yards. The Redskins have not enjoyed such a lopsided first half in yardage since outpacing the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 23, 2005 (234 yards).
The Redskins look to the ride the momentum of today's win to the Mile High city and pick up a tough road win in Peyton's house. This is a homecoming of sorts for head coach Mike Shanahan, who will return to Denver for the first time since his coaching tenure ended there in 2008. No road team has won a regular season game there since the Houston Texans won 31-25 in Week 3 of the 2012 season. The Redskins are 1-2 on the road this season.
If you had told the Redskins they would knock out the Bears starting quarterback and best defender in the first half, they could have reasonably assumed a lopsided final score. But preparation is everything in the NFL, and Bears backup Josh McCown very nearly made the Redskins pay for their Cutler game-plan.
This game was the perfect example of everything happening at the right time for the Redskins. They needed touchdowns and they scored. They needed to force incompletions and they did. They needed a sack to stop Josh McCown on the final play and they did.
Last year's motto for the locker room was "Our will, Our way." This was the first game of 2013 that this team even resembled that philosophy and they played it to a 'T.'
Let no one take credit away from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has played lights-out football since the bye week. He finished the day 18-for-29, 298 yards, 85 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. His 105.2 passer rating was the highest of the season, as he secured his third career fourth-quarter comeback.
Welcome back, Robert.