The Redskins have reached midseason with the same 3-5 record that they had through eight games a year ago. And yet, there’s a totally different vibe about these Redskins despite the fact that they’ve lost two straight games and three of their past four.
The difference, of course, is at the NFL’s most important position, quarterback, where Washington has replaced turnover machine Rex Grossman with Robert Griffin III, who’s already one of the league’s most dynamic performers.
With that said, let’s review the highs and lows of the Redskins’ first half which ended yesterday with a 27-12 loss at Pittsburgh, their lone game not to be decided in the final minutes.
Biggest surprise — No one expected Griffin to be quite so superb even though he was the second overall selection in April’s draft, but sixth-rounder Alfred Morris has rocketed from fourth-string running back when training camp opened three months ago to one of the NFL’s rushing leaders. Despite two quiet games during the past three weeks, Morris is on pace for 1,434 yards, which would be the most by a rookie since Clinton Portis’ debut for Denver in 2003. The runner-up has to be Tyler Polumbus, who has been credible as the fill-in replacement for right tackle Jammal Brown, who was hurt on the eve of camp and might return from hip surgery after the Week 10 bye. In fact, kudos to the entire offensive line for a surprisingly solid first half.
Biggest disappointment – The free-agent class. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather hasn’t played since initially injuring his left knee in the second preseason game. Receiver Pierre Garcon has done virtually nothing since his outstanding first quarter in the opener because of a right foot that won’t heal. Who knows when or if either will return? Tanard Jackson will spend the season on suspension after yet another failed drug test while fellow free safety Madieu Williams is part of a pass defense that has crashed from 12th in 2011 to the NFL’s worst in 2012. Kicker Neil Rackers was cut in August. Receiver Josh Morgan has 23 catches but none for longer than 21 yards and hasn’t scored. He was most noticed for an unsportsmanlike penalty that might have cost Washington a victory at St. Louis. Nickel cornerback Cedric Griffin missed three games with an ailing hamstring and has been merely OK.
Best moment – While Garcon’s 88-yard catch-and-run at New Orleans was dazzling as was Griffin’s late go-ahead drive at New York, the 22-year-old’s 76-yard dash to the end zone that clinched the victory over Minnesota was not only the longest by a quarterback in more than 15 years, it was simply unforgettable. It will be part of RGIII’s highlight reel no matter how long or successful his career becomes.
Worst moment – Morgan’s meltdown against the Rams and cornerback DeAngelo Hall’s similar behavior in the final minutes against the Steelers are candidates as are the secondary getting beaten for three long touchdowns by the Bengals and since-waived kicker Billy Cundiff’s three missed field goal tries at Tampa Bay. However, the winner (?) is Williams and cornerback Josh Wilson getting torched by Giants receiver Victor Cruz for the 77-yard game-winning touchdown just 19 seconds after Griffin had seemingly beaten the world champions with a gorgeous 30-yard scoring toss to veteran receiver Santana Moss.
Best in-season development – Kai Forbath had never kicked in a regular season game when he beat out veterans Olindo Mare and Josh Brown to replace Cundiff for Week 5. While he had an extra point try blocked yesterday and has had a couple of short kickoffs, Forbath is 6-for-6 on field goals with all but one of his kicks from beyond 42 yards. The runner-up is last week’s return of Chris Cooley, who has caught more passes than any tight end in franchise history.
Worst in-season development – Injuries. Since they kicked off on Sept. 9, the Redskins have lost two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, reliable defensive end Adam Carriker, leading pass-catcher Fred Davis, 2011 top rusher Roy Helu, and rookie safety Jordan Bernstine to season-ending injuries while Garcon has played just nine of 40 quarters. Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher was able to overcome a slight hamstring injury and balance issues to extend his consecutive games played streak to 232 yesterday. Losing the 37-year-old captain would be one cruel blow too many.
Coach on the rise – Oft-criticized for his feud with quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2010 and not orchestrating a productive attack that year and in 2011, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan looks smart thanks to Griffin and Morris and some fine play-calling and schemes.
Coach in trouble – Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was on the rise in 2011 as his unit tightened up from 31st to 13th in yards allowed. Losing Orakpo and Carriker early hurt, but the Redskins shouldn’t be close to this bad on defense. Imagine if they hadn’t forced 16 turnovers.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin