Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's contest between the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions at FedExField:
The Washington Redskins came into this season expecting a hot start en route to an NFC East title defense. That didn't happen in the a game or season scope through the first two weeks, but the nature of the 16-game schedule gives the team plenty of time to work out the kinks.
The Detroit Lions come into this matchup with one of the strangest streaks in the NFL, having not beaten the Redskins on the road in 78 years. This stretches back to a 1935 contest between the Boston Braves and Portsmouth Spartans at Fenway Park in Boston.
But none of that matters. And neither do any of the Redskins' early season struggles, as each team starts with a blank slate today.
For the Redskins, a fast start is needed to stick with the balanced offensive gameplan. On defense, the team needs to put pressure on the mistake-prone Matthew Stafford and find some way—any way—to shut down Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.
The play that summed up the Redskins performance today came on the 57-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson in the second half that was called back upon further review. For an offense that relied primarily on dink-and-dunk passes to the sidelines, it was nice to finally see Robert Griffin III crank back and hit Robinson 57 yards downfield. Unfortunately, he just didn't have quite enough to complete the catch all the way to the ground.
Close, but no cigar. Like the Redskins comeback, it was within reach but just short.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The play of the game occurred on Alfred Morris' second quarter, 30-yard touchdown rumble up the gut, giving the Redskins their first first-half offensive score of the season. This was a satisfying moment for Morris, who had two fumbles and just 45 yards the last time he stepped foot on FedExField. After a strong game in Green Bay last week, he carried the momentum into Week 3, busting off his third 30-plus yard run of the season.
More importantly, it was cause for relief on the Redskins' sideline, as the Redskins scored twice in the first half for the first time all season and finally seem to be maintaining momentum.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ultimately, it wasn't enough, but receiver Pierre Garçon turned in another stellar performance today, backing up a 138-yard day in Green Bay with an eight-catch, 72-yard line today. He was also hit illegally on his final reception, which tacked on 15 yards to the end of the play. Garçon is a quiet player off the field, but plays on another level on gameday. He may not wear the 'C' on his jersey, but Garçon is one of the tone-setters on this offense and will need to play a major role in turning things around.
Redskins linebacker and captain London Fletcher may have lost half a step in his pursuit, but his knowledge and preparation still have him half a step ahead of his competition. He finished with a stat line of six tackles and his first sack of the season, but his influence was bigger than the numbers. On a number of plays downfield, it was Fletcher in pursuit when other defenders had given up or were caught out of position. Fletcher may not be in his prime, but he remains one of the best defenders in burgundy and gold.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--For all of its flaws, the Redskins' 2013 defense is incredibly opportunistic, collecting the second turnover returned for a touchdown this season. Veteran cornerback has always been a ball-hawk, but with his first quarter touchdown, he tied receiver Leonard Hankerson for the team-lead in touchdowns this season. There's an element to being in the right place at the right time, but Hall has been on fire so far this year.
--Give the Lions defense credit for stopping the Redskins offense in the first quarter, but this was a different Redskins offense that took the field to start each of the other games this season. The passes were a little crisper. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and receiver Pierre Garçon each rushed the ball. While they still need
to work on sustaining drives (five-for-12 on third downs), the offense took a step forward this week by starting to look like they did at the end of 2012.
--The Washington Redskins made the most of their pass rush, sending Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo right at Matthew Stafford on the first play of the game. Kerrigan corralled Stafford for the first-play sack, giving him three-straight games with a sack for only the second time in his career (2011, Weeks 9-11). Kerrigan is no longer the second fiddle to Brian Orakpo. Leading the team with four sacks, Kerrigan is off to the strongest start of his career, and ranks among the NFL leader in sacks. This is what the Redskins envisioned, pairing him with a healthy Orakpo, and the combination is each players' best asset.
--Redskins running back Alfred Morris had another under-appreciated dominant day, rushing a team-high 15 times for 73 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown rush. Morris' best run was likely the 10-yard rush that got called back, when he saw how the defense was positioned and bounced it outside for a huge individual effort, first-down run. The Redskins need to keep feeding Morris, who appears to be back on track after a rough Week 1 game.
--Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III had his best first half of the season, completing 14-of-21 passes for 120 yards. He also added one rush, a designed fake, for a seven-yard gain. He finished 32-for-50 for 326 yards, his first back-to-back-to-back 300-yard games of his career.
--Tight end Jordan Reed is his go-to threat out of the gate, catching four passes on five attempts for 43 yards in the first half. More importantly, Griffin III found a comfort level with all of his receivers, throwing to eight in the first half and finding six. The Redskins are stocked with weapons and Griffin III got them all involved early today.
--Last week, I wrote how punter Sav Rocca appeared to be experiencing a power outage, knocking a number of short punts out of bounds and putting the Redskins in a bind as far as field position. He turned things around this week, booming a pair of 60-plus yard punts, including a 63-yarder in the third quarter. This was his longest punt since Week 11 of the 2011 season vs. Dallas. He averaged 49 yards on four punts, including one downed at the 10-yard line.
--Until the final Lions touchdown, the Redskins red zone defense did a solid job in the red zone, holding Matthew Stafford to 1-for-9. Unfortunately, both of those completions went for touchdowns, including the one that put the game out of reach.
--The Redskins finally got penalties under control, committing only six offenses for 45 yards. There is still room for improvement and some of the penalties hurt, but the Redskins kept the laundry to themselves and put themselves in a position to win at the end of the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--Robert Griffin III looked more like himself today, but made mistakes that fans didn't see last year, including a second quarter interception when he should thrown the ball away. Griffin III rolled out of the pocket and bought himself time, but ended up taking the big hit on the play and forcing the ball into a situation with four Lions defenders and only two blanketed receivers. In situations last year, Griffin III was able to get more defenders to bite on the fact that he would run, but the Lions were able to contain Robert against the sideline and keep everyone else back. For his own sake, Griffin III needs to make faster decisions and know when to put the ball in the stands (which he did when things broke down on last play for the half).
--Quarterback Robert Griffin III managed to avoid the big hit on his fourth quarter, season-long, 21-yard scamper. Unfortunately, he made the decision to dive headfirst rather than feet first, and fumbled the football. Had he slid feet first, it would have counted as him giving himself up, and therefore the end of the play, no fumble. However, because he dove without being touched, the play remained live and the ball came out, recovered by the Lions. Taking full advantage of the situation, the Lions marched downfield and kicked a field goal.
--Not to belabor the point, but Griffin III finished with a career-worst four turnovers today, adding three fumbles to the mix. He only lost one, but the game was too close for ball insecurity.
--The Redskins have struggled early this season with stupid penalties, but two of the biggest plays of the first half were called back by unnecessary penalties. It started with a tremendous cutback run by Alfred Morris that would have given the Redskins a first down deep in the Lions territory. After not converting, the Redskins committed a similar mistake on the next drive, as left tackle Trent Williams held a Lions defender on a long pass to Aldrick Robinson, negating the longest play of the day. Considering both of these plays put the offense in field goal range, the Redskins reasonably wasted six points and a potential halftime lead for the first time all year.
--Rookie mistake by cornerback David Amerson, who tried to make a play on a pass intended for Nate Burleson right before the half. Instead of intercepting the pass, he whiffed completely on the play, leaving deep safety Brandon Meriweather to corral him after a 41-yard gain. The red zone defense locked down to hold the Lions to a field goal on the drive, and Amerson did things right in the game, but sound defense beats high-risk, high-reward most days.
--Aldrick Robinson worked hard this offseason to develop as a route runner and become a more consistent target in the Redskins offense. That does not, however, take away from the fact that he is the team's best deep threat, and he flashed that again with what was ruled a 57-yard touchdown catch on the field. Unfortunately, in the act of the going to the ground, Robinson let the ball slip from his grip and hit the ground, thus making it incomplete. It was a great effort by Robinson, but the play was simply too much to complete. The overturned call sucked the wind out of the Redskins sails, who went from leading one moment, to trailing and punting the next.
--The Redskins lost sensational rookie tight end Jordan Reed for most of the second half, suffering from a painful right quad bruise. These injuries may not sound like much, but a deep thigh bruise nearly kept tackle Trent Williams off the field last year. The loss is significant, as he was the team's leading receiver at the time of his exit.
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall tallied his 40th interception in the first quarter, joining Ed Reed, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey and Asante Samuel as the only active players with 40 picks. He also scored his second touchdown of the year, eighth of his career, fourth off an interception.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the loss:
"Nobody in this league is going to feel bad for us because we're 0-3."
The Redskins will seek to get things going on the road next week, traveling 3,000 miles to a hostile environment in Oakland. The Raiders were 1-1 coming into Week 3 with a big matchup against the Denver Broncos, and likely pose the least daunting matchup so far. With that being said, the Redskins need a big game to jolt their confidence heading into the Week 5 Bye week.
There is little solace to be taken in being competitive, but the Washington Redskins finally found themselves in a position to win the game today, something that was eliminated by halftime in each of the first two games.
Robert Griffin III has had his struggles early this season, but seems to be improving his rapport with his receivers, hitting more targets and taking more shots downfield. The Redskins are not without their flaws, but this was the most encouraging of the three losses to start the season.
Heading into Oakland, look for the coaching staff to make big changes, shaking things up in search of a spark. The Redskins showed creativity today, but there is still more to be done to resemble the Redskins from yesteryear.
Three teams have made the playoffs since 1990 after starting the season 0-3: the 1998 Bills, the 1995 Lions and the 1992 Chargers. The Redskins have their work cut out for them, but have clawed back from three games below .500 before.