Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's battle with the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium:
The Washington Redskins scored a significant victory last week against the Chicago Bears, scoring their most points under Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan, and their most overall since 2008.
Despite giving up a combined 72 points in the last two weeks, the Redskins defense has also look much improved, giving the team ample opportunity to win in each of the last two contests.
The Redskins travel to Denver in Week 8 for perhaps their biggest game of the season, providing the ultimate gut check against one of the NFL's all-time greats in Peyton Manning. If the Redskins are as good as they think they are, this should be a competitive contest that comes down to the last possession.
If not, the Redskins will have to make the ultimate in-game adjustments in order to keep pace.
The Washington Redskins played well in the first half but didn't fully find their stride until the second quarter, when outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan swatted the ball away from Peyton Manning on a sack-fumble. Partner-in-crime Brian Orakpo was there on the back side of the play, recovering the football at the Broncos' 19-yard line, putting the Redskins in prime position to score. They would take their first lead three plays later punching it in from the 1-yard line, but the play was set up by a favorable turning point in the game.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Washington Redskins scored twice in 51 seconds in the second half, punching it in for a one-yard touchdown run by Alfred Morris and then turning in their fifth defensive touchdown of the season with a DeAngelo Hall pick-six on the ensuing Broncos drive. The touchdown put the Redskins up by two scores for the first time all game, was their 20th and 21st-straight points in the game, and turned the tide of the ball game in Washington's favor.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
DeAngelo Hall continues to have a tremendous season, twice intercepting Peyton Manning today and returning one for a touchdown. More perspective on his feat is offered below, but Hall has been the team's, and one of the NFL's best defenders over the last three games. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said a new standard was set after the Dallas Cowboys game, but the bar continues to rise for the undisputed leader of the Redskins secondary.
Running back Alfred Morris was the team's most consistent playmaker on offense, carrying the ball 17 times for 93 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't enough and the Redskins got away from the run late in the contest, but his steady performance contributed heavily to the team's early success today.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--With one of the most sensational plays of his highlight career, Pierre Garcon bailed his quarterback out a pass that sailed high in the first quarter. Spinning to his right, he saw the pass would be actually over his left shoulder and spun to make the catch. Contorting his body in the air, he threw his right arm up and clutched the football, securing the catch and diving at the first down marker. Not many players in the NFL can make that kind of play.
--Despite his notoriously statuesque presence in the pocket, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is one of the toughest sacks in the NFL, as he has great awareness and good size. The Redskins got to him early, however, as outside linebacker Rob Jackson got his first sack of the season in his third game. Since returning from suspension, Jackson has provided a spark in the pass rush, collecting an interception and now a sack. That's big play for a linebacker off the bench and proof that the Redskins made a good re-signing with him this offseason.
--Running back Alfred Morris came out of the chute hot today, rushing for 57 yards on his first seven rushes, including a critical 27-yard burst in the second quarter that got the Redskins out of the shadow of their own goalpost. After last week's success, he was spelled early by Roy Helu Jr., and the pair each found success in the early going. Credit Kyle Shanahan with remaining dedicated to the running game after back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances for the first time in a generation. Credit the offensive line for opening up gaping holes off tackle, particularly on the left side of the line. A team's commitment to the running game opens up so many opportunities in the passing game, but it also keeps the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands. Finding success is the only way to ensure that happens and the Redskins got it done early today.
--The Denver Broncos made a bone-headed play after stopping the Redskins in the red zone at the end of the first half, bringing the Redskins' field goal unit onto the field. However, instead of putting 11 man on the block unit, the Broncos trotted out 12, drawing a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down. The Redskins took advantage immediately, throwing on 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line for Leonard Hankerson and the Redskins first touchdown.
--Give Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, the Bash Brothers, a lot of credit against one of the best quarterbacks to ever take the field in Peyton Manning. They applied consistent pressure throughout the game and hit home in a big way with the sack-fumble and fumble recovery. It was Kerrigan's 6.5th sack of the season with his third forced fumble. For Orakpo, it was just the second fumble recovery of his career. Big-time performances from two of the team's biggest big-time performers.
--This offseason, DeAngelo Hall gambled on himself with a reported one-year deal to return to the Washington Redskins. He has proven his worth and more, collecting his 41st and 42nd career interceptions today, his 21st and 22nd as a member of the Redskins. These gave him three in his career vs. Peyton Manning, and gave him his third defensive touchdown of the year and his first season in which he has scored two pick-sixes. If that isn't a Pro Bowl campaign, I'm not sure what is.
--The Redskins have played extremely disciplined football during the team's recent run of success, with the team committing just one penalty for five yards through the first three quarters of play. This after the team has been penalized multiple times for illegal hits in the secondary in recent weeks. The Denver Broncos are good enough on their own and the Redskins made the concerted effort not to help them in any way today.
--Joshua Morgan may have finally provided the spark his coaches were looking for in the return game today, busting off a 34-yard punt return in expected physical fashion. Morgan is far from the fastest player on the field for either the return or coverage unit, but his size and strength gives him the ability to break tackles and use punishing stiff arms on would-be tacklers. He needs to prove that he can do this on a more consistent basis, but this may finally be what coordinator Keith Burns and head coach Mike Shanahan have been calling for on special teams.
--Safety Jordan Pugh, a little-used option at the back end of the defense, found himself in the right place at the right time in the fourth quarter, interception a tipped Peyton Manning pass and giving the Redskins offense the ball at the 21-yard line. Training by 10 with nearly half the fourth quarter remaining, this was the opportunity the Redskins needed. It was Pugh's second career interception and first as a member of the Washington Redskins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The most troubling thing that went wrong in the fourth quarter of today's game is that the Redskins lost Robert Griffin III to a left knee injury following an earthquake sack by Terrance Knighton. Griffin III walked off the field to the sideline and did not return in place of backup Kirk Cousins.
--A homecoming spoiled: Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan coached in Denver for 21 seasons; 14 as the head coach and seven as an assistant. This was supposed to be a much happier ending to a long-anticipated return to Denver, but his former threads got the better of today, totally dominating with a fourth quarter blowout. Shanahan downplayed the return in his comments this week, but his players understood what a game like this would mean to win and felt the disappointment in the locker room after the game. The Broncos scored 38-straight points to end the game in a disastrous series of plays that affected all facets of the Redskins team.
--The Redskins got off to a slow start on offense, with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III launching passes to Aldrick Robinson and Jordan Reed that both sailed long. It appeared that defenders got physical with both Robinson and Reed but nothing was called. Regardless, the Redskins ran the risk of being knocked out of their gameplan early by not being effective out of the gate. It will be interesting to see what the game tape reveals on missed opportunities in the first several drives of the game.
--On the first play inside the two minute warning of the first half, Robert Griffin III threw incomplete to tight end Jordan Reed, who came up hobbled on the play. The problem was that 20 yards beyond Reed was a wide open Pierre Garcon, with no defender within 15 yards. Griffin III had time to make the play but clearly never saw his top receiver open. Garcon was visibly upset after the play, but it was too late by then.
--How The Game Unraveled: The Redskins had a series of squandered opportunities late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed their fate in this contest. It started with a touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen in which safety Jose Gumbs fell down in the end zone leaving the tight end wide open. Throw in the fact that nose tackle Barry Cofield got pancaked on the play and the Redskins were unable to cover or create pressure.
--On the ensuing Redskins drive, Griffin III threw the ball incomplete down the middle three times before punting the football. Despite playing in a tie game, the Redskins had abandoned the run that carried them through the first three quarters and instead put the ball in the receivers' hands. The most frustrating incompletion was a deep pass to Aldrick Robinson, who was once again unable to come up with the football despite it hitting both of his hands. On top of that, he popped the ball up and it was nearly intercepted.
--On the ensuing punt, Sav Rocca, who had a 60-yard blast to his credit on the afternoon, shanked a 15-yard flare out of bounds, giving the Broncos the ball at the Redskins 35-yard line. Peyton Manning doesn't need an invitation to score and this was a critical failure in field position that resulted in a quick Denver touchdown.
--On the next two drives, the Redskins managed just five yards on five plays, as Griffin III was sacked twice and roughed up another time. The Broncos built a 10-point lead and that was all that was necessary to handle the Redskins.
--After intercepting Peyton Manning midway through the fourth quarter, the Redskins had a chance to mulligan all of their mistakes of the first eight minutes of the quarter by cutting away at the Broncos' 10-point lead. Instead, the Redskins ran for a four-yard loss on first down and Robert Griffin III threw an interception on second down. Not surprisingly, turning the ball over deep in Broncos territory yielded another touchdown moments later.
--After coming into the game in a tough situation, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins misjudged the safety coverage and was intercepted on his seventh pass attempt of the day. The end result was an interception and 75-yard touchdown return for yet another Broncos touchdown. Credit Cousins for racing the showboating Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie back to the goal line. It ultimately did not change the outcome of the play, but in a game that ran off the tracks in a hurry, it's nice to see players play with pride.
The Redskins' 95-yard touchdown drive to close out the first half was the longest under head coach Mike Shanahan in Washington, coming at a fitting time during his return to Denver. The previous high was 92 yards, done twice (vs. Houston and Indianapolis).
The Washington Redskins return home next week for their Alumni Homecoming game against the San Diego Chargers at FedExField. This will be the fourth annual homecoming game, a tradition started by general manager Bruce Allen in 2010 as a way to honor the tradition of the team's now 81-year franchise. The NFL has adopted this tradition for all teams, but that tradition will carry out in its home with a recognition of the 25th anniversary of the team's Super Bowl 22 victory. The San Diego Chargers are playing well this season, currently ranked third in a strong AFC West at 4-3. The Redskins have played the AFC West well so far this season.
One week after the Redskins played their best complete football game of the season, the Redskins played their best three quarters, followed by the single worst.
The Redskins out-played the Broncos in every facet of the game through three, confounding Peyton Manning and Co. on defense and taking advantage of opportunity on offense. The passing game never seemed to be in sync for the Redskins, as overthrows and miscommunications left points on the field, but the Redskins were in position to steal a win going into the final 15 minutes of the contest.
They just weren't able to put the game away.
This is a familiar storyline for the Broncos, who have still not lost in Denver since Week 3 of the 2012 season, taking advantage of one of the best home field advantages in the NFL.
The Redskins needed a perfect game today and that didn't happen. They will have to regroup and get ready for the San Diego Chargers, who are coming off their bye week this week.
The road gets no easier ahead, but at least it leads home from here.