Brian Orakpo and Reed Doughty collaborated on a pick-six last week. What does the defense have in store for the encore? (Photo: Toni L. Sandys / Washington Post)
Open up your eyes, open up your ears,
Get together and make things better by working together.
It’s a simple message, and it comes from the heart.
Believe in yourself,
For that’s the place to start.
If you’re a product of the ’90s like myself, or you had kids during that fine era, you may recognize the above quotation as coming from the theme song to Arthur, the kids television about an aardvark and his friends. It’s a classic show, and the song (performed by Ziggy Marley) carries a great message for kids that is very relatable. So relatable, in fact, that when I heard the song for the first time in ages the other day, a certain professional football franchise sprang to my mind. Yes, the Washington Redskins (2-4) will take on the Denver Broncos (6-1) at Mile High Stadium on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX), and they need to follow this seemingly simple piece of advice if they hope to come back from the Centennial State with a win.
It starts with “making things better by working together,” as the song suggests. Last week, in a 45-41 win over Chicago, the Washington defense once again struggled to stop . . . anything. But there were a few positives, most of which resulted from teammates collaborating on big plays. In the second quarter, S Reed Doughty knocked a Jay Cutler pass intended for WR Alshon Jeffery into the air, and it fell into the waiting arms of Brian Orakpo, who housed his first career interception for six. On the final play of the game, as backup QB Josh McCown tried to muster up a miracle, DL Barry Cofield and LB Ryan Kerrigan came together to bring McCown down with a sack as the clock flashed all zeros.
This needs to continue against Denver. Look, it’s no secret that Washington’s defense has more blemishes than a Proactiv commercial. But when all the parts of the unit work in sync, like they did against Dallas, they can still be effective. It certainly won’t be easy to defend Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Knowshon Moreno (man, this offense should be illegal), but it is possible. The defensive line has to get to Manning early and often. He slightly tweaked his arm in Denver’s loss at Indy, and he missed practice time this week with an ankle injury. If Cofield can sustain pressure up the middle, allowing Kerrigan and Orakpo to rush the passer, the Redskins D could be in business. If they cannot, well, it won’t be good to be DeAngelo Hall. The corner has performed admirably all season long, and can take one of the Broncos targets out of the game plan completely , but he can’t cover everyone by himself, and, frankly, the secondary is nowhere near good enough to cover these receiving threats if Manning has time to throw.
Offensively, the Redskins need to take heed from the next line in the song: “Believe in yourself.” Specifically, believe in your dynamic starting quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Last week, RGIII showed signs of life after starting the season slowly following offseason ACL surgery. He was more patient, much more mobile, and sparked the team when they needed it most. On the Redskins final drive, down by 3, Griffin faced a third-and-5 middle blitz from Chicago. He didn’t panic; instead, he rolled right, threw a potential tackler down with his left arm, and fired a bullet into a pinwheel sized hole to Pierre Garçon for the conversion.
More plays ending in celebrations like this, please, Mr. Griffin III (Photo: Aerys Sports)
When Griffin is right, the Redskins are right. They know that if they make a mistake, he’ll pick them up, brush the dust off, and head right back into the huddle spouting words of encouragement like it never happened. And then he’ll pull off something like the pass to Garçon. Or his famous 76-yard touchdown run against Minnesota in 2012. He has the natural ability to come up big when the teams needs it most, signified by his four career 4th-quarter comebacks (and 3 GW drives) in 20 NFL games.
This lets the whole offense (and team) play with confidence and take risks that they need to take in order to win. It’s been established thus far in 2013 that Washington is not all that talented or deep as a whole. So sometimes they need to send a zero blitz. They need to bench proven TE Fred Davis in favor of the younger but raw Jordan Reed. They need to call a deep post pattern to Aldrick Robinson, and Griffin needs to throw it to him even though he’s double covered. And you know what? More often than not, it works, and it’s a big reason Washington made the playoffs last year. But they can’t do all of those things with a less than stellar Griffin under center.
Thankfully, at least for now, it appears that Griffin is back, and the team can play with reckless abandon once again.
Sunday will mark Washington coach Mike Shanahan’s first game in Denver since the Broncos fired him following the 2008 season. He won 2 Super Bowls over 13 years while in Denver, with an outstanding winning percentage of 61.1%. The occasion will of course add some fuel to the Redskins fire, not to say that it needed any. A win, and the Redskins could find themselves 1 game out of first place in the NFC East, as the first-place Dallas Cowboys take on the upstart Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
No prediction this week, because it’s a complete toss-up. Fans may laugh at the thought of the Redskins taking down Denver, but Indianapolis exploited some definite weaknesses last Sunday, and Washington has the playmakers of offense to do just the same. Turnovers will be key, as always; protect the ball, win the game. It might come down to which teams gets the ball last.
Things to watch on Sunday: Penetration by the D-line, RGIII’s miracle plays, and Arthur, because sometimes its fun to act like a little kid again.
And for the Redskins this week, it’s not just fun; it’s critical.
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