Reporting David Elfin
We all love to rag on Jim Haslett and the Redskins’ defense which is well on its way to finishing near the bottom of the league for the third time during his four years as Washington’s coordinator.
And we like to celebrate the excellence of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense which dazzled the NFL as the Redskins won their first NFC East title since 1999 last season.
While Haslett’s defense – minus its suspended/concussed starting safeties — allowed 38 points and 446 yards in yesterday’s 45-21 loss in Denver, those numbers were actually below par for the Mile High Broncos offense, which came in averaging 39.6 points and 469.3 yards.
The Redskins didn’t lose this game on defense, ladies and gentlemen. Nor can it be blamed on Sav Rocca’s one shank among his seven punt or on the rest of the often-horrid special teams.
No, this loss is on Shanahan’s head, an embarrassing development for a one-time wunderkind who was five when his father, Mike, began running Denver’s offense, 15 when his dad was named the head coach, and 17 and 18 when the elder Shanahan became a local legend by guiding the Broncos to their only Super Bowl victories.
Kyle’s Sunday wasn’t all bad. The 95-yard touchdown drive that tied the game 7-7 just before halftime was a deft mix of runs and passes that included four runs by Alfred Morris and finished with a smart touchdown toss from Robert Griffin III to receiver Leonard Hankerson.
The second half began with outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo combining to force a Peyton Manning turnover at the Denver 19-yard line before Morris ran three straight times, the final one into the end zone to give him 85 yards on just 12 carries. When cornerback DeAngelo Hall picked off Peyton and returned the ball for another touchdown, the massive underdog Redskins led 21-7.
“All we had to do was get a couple drives offensively going, keep Denver off the field, and we could have dictated the outcome of the game,” Mike Shanahan lamented after his Redskins were overwhelmed 38-0 during the remaining 26:25.
After the Broncos marched 75 yards for a touchdown following Hall’s big play – which made him the first player during the Redskins’ 83 years to score three times on defense in a season – Kyle called Morris’ number three times on the next series. The battering ram gained just six yards and, after one first down, Washington punted the ball back to Denver, which drove 83 yards to tie the game on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Having seen Manning & Co. begin inflicting that expected damage on the Redskins’ tiring defense, one would think that Kyle would’ve tried to give Haslett’s guys a break by killing some clock. That would mean relying on the three-headed running attack of Morris, Griffin and Roy Helu that killed Chicago for 220 yards on 41 carries the previous Sunday.
Think again. Griffin went deep on three straight plays. Denver took the lead on its subsequent snap. Morris ran for six yards on the second of the three plays before Rocca’s next punt. A field goal made it 31-21 Broncos, but there was still 11:14 remaining. And yet, Kyle called three straight passes again. Morris lost four yards when Washington got the ball back next, a play before Denver intercepted Griffin to set up the touchdown that sealed the Redskins’ defeat. Morris never carried again, finishing with 93 yards on 17 attempts.
So in a span of 13:05 in the third and fourth quarters when Washington led, was tied or was within striking distance, Kyle called 10 passes and just two runs. This even though Morris’ 5.2 yards per-carry is the best of any of the NFL’s 25 leading rushers save Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor and even though Morris was averaging 7.1 per attempt against Denver before he virtually disappeared from sight.
And it’s not like the Redskins’ passing game was working. By the time that stretch of nearly a full quarter was over, Griffin’s halftime passer rating of 90.3 had shrunk to 60.1 as he managed just 28 yards on those 10 drop-backs while getting sacked twice, fumbling once and throwing the pick. The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year finished with a career-worst 45.4 rating while passing for just 132 yards, his lowest in a full game.
“We’ve had trouble passing all year,” receiver Pierre Garcon said in frustration, knowing the Broncos had come in ranked last in pass defense. “Doesn’t matter [who you're playing]. If you suck at passing, you suck at passing. … We’ve just got to figure it out.”
There isn’t that much to figure out, Pierre. The Redskins need to keep running the ball until opponents show they can stop it. Got that, Kyle?
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.