Mike Jones of The Washington Post, who expertly covers the Washington Redskins, has been kind enough to answer five questions on that team heading into this weekend’s NFC Wild Card game.
Check out the Q&A below.
1. From a distance, Robert Griffin III has had a very efficient performance as a rookie, finishing with 3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and a 102.4 passer rating. He also topped the league in rushing yards with 815, and was voted a team captain. What are the key reasons for his impressive play so far this season?
Jones: Griffin has exceptional intelligence and a tireless work ethic. He came in for the rookie minicamp and asked coaches to dump the whole playbook on him and he has soaked it up like a sponge. His coaches describe him as a “natural-born leader.” He didn’t come in with a sense of entitlement, but instead earned his teammates’ trust by leading by example. A perfectionist in the classroom and practice field, Griffin has achieved more in his rookie season than even his coaches imagined.
2. Along Griffin, running back Alfred Morris has helped create a nice, 1-2 punch offensively for Washington. Just a sixth round pick, Morris emerged as the starter and finished second in the league in rushing (1,613 yards). Why is Morris such a good fit for Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme?
Jones: Morris is a hard runner, who takes the ball, follows the line while running with his eyes, and then sticks his foot in the ground and makes that cut toward daylight. He doesn’t dance around. Instead, he hits the hole and lowers his shoulders and powers through contact. The first man to him rarely brings him down. Morris is always fighting forward for extra yards, and always seems to find a way to fall forward rather than backward when he is tackled.
3. Washington’s defense seemed to struggle early this season, but appears to be playing well during the seven-game winning streak. What’s been the difference?
Jones: Jim Haslett has continued to work to find ways to mask Washington’s deficiencies and come up with more creative pressure packages and coverage schemes. Players took a hard look at themselves at the bye and came back with a sense of urgency and have done a better job of grasping their roles. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson challenged Haslett to put him in more pass-rushing situations and has taken advantage of the opportunity by generating more pressure. Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins have gotten more comfortable in the scheme and are playing without hesitation.
4. Turnovers have played a key role in Washington’s success this season. The Redskins have a +17 turnover differential, and have corralled 21 interceptions this season. How much is that a point of emphasis for Shanahan’s team?
Jones: It’s what Haslett preaches over and over, and his players have done a good job of studying and recognizing their opponents’ tendencies and anticipating where the ball is going. Mike Shanahan came to Washington wanting to run the 3-4 defense because of the potential for more big plays and turnovers, and finally, the Redskins are getting those.
5. What do think Washington has to do well in order to win on Sunday?
Jones: Griffin has to have a better passing game than he did against the Cowboys, but Washington can’t get away from Morris. That balance on offense has been the key to their success because it keeps teams from being able to key on one area. Their offensive line has battled some injuries, but needs to be at their best against a very talented group of Seattle pass-rushers. On defense, the secondary can’t afford to have any letdowns and revert to their old ways. Washington’s defensive players say their goal is to bottle up Lynch, which they know is no easy task, and then force Wilson to have to shoulder the load. From there, look for Haslett to disguise coverages and try to find ways to confuse Wilson, forcing him into turnovers.