Since Mike Shanahan took over as head coach of the Redskins, the one thing he's lacked is a quarterback that could lead the type of offense that he wanted to run. In the offseason, Shanahan was able to convince owner Daniel Snyder to make a commitment to spend the resources to go get the quarterback that he needed.
Robert Griffin III was the guy that Shanahan targeted, and through some creative means, he was able to move to the second overall spot and draft him.
When you study Griffin, the first trait you notice in his game is the poise with which he is able to play. Usually rookie quarterbacks struggle when it comes to managing a game, but you don't see a lack of confidence in his game at all. He plays with a sense of calmness that translates throughout the offense.
Where Griffin is different than other mobile quarterbacks is that he throws the ball better and is more accurate, which is what really hurts you on defense. Not only can he make plays down the field, but he can also beat you with his feet.
In this league, you had better be able to avoid pressure, something we see on a weekly basis with Tony Romo. But Griffin manages to do it better than anyone I have seen during my career studying this league. What defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to ask himself is, how much pressure do you apply? Or, can you afford not to pressure him at all? Like all quarterbacks in this league you have to find a way to hit them each time they go back to pass, but Griffin is rare in that the more you hit him, the better he seems to function. I have seen him make incredible throws under pressure.
Griffin also creates problems for the defense in that he makes you to have to defend the entire field. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has taken some of the things that his father likes to do in the running game, particularly with the stretch plays, but has given them a college-formation look. Shanahan tries to get the ball out of Griffin's hand quickly, which he been doing successfully.
I don't know what it is with Mike Shanahan, but in the sixth round, if he drafts a running back, there is a great chance that player is going to be special. He did it in Denver with Terrell Davis, and now this season Alfred Morris has been outstanding.
This is the third week in a row where the Cowboys have had to deal with a back that can carry his team on his own. Morris is that type of guy. He doesn't have the number of receptions that Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy or Cleveland's Trent Richardson have, but in this scheme, Griffin uses him well, handing him the ball on the stretch play or on the option or even the toss sweep.
Morris, like Richardson, is a physical, downhill runner that is difficult to tackle one-on-one. There is not much wiggle in his game, so he will run until he hears glass breaking. Morris is the type of back who if they give it to him enough, he will make you not want to tackle him anymore.
Darrel Young is the fullback in this offense and he usually lines up to either the right or left side of Griffin. He'll be used as the option man out of the pistol formation. Young will also looks very comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield.
On the outside, the Redskins made the commitment to try and get their young quarterback some help with receivers Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon. Last week against the Eagles, Garcon was back in the lineup after battling through a foot injury, and he seemed to make it through with no problems. Morgan is the leading wideout, along with Leonard Hankerson and the always-explosive Santana Moss, who seems to had the best games of his career against the Cowboys.
What Shanahan likes to do is either throw the ball off play-action or move the ball to one side or the other in the pocket with a vertical route down the field, trying to hit the home run. Garcon and Hankerson are big targets, and as many problems as the Cowboys defense has had with routes in the middle of the field, don't be surprised if the Redskins try to do some work inside with these two.
At tight end, the loss for the season of Fred Davis was a big blow, but Logan Paulson has stepped in and tried to give the offense another option up the field or off the boot and waggle plays.
When the Redskins drafted Trent Williams in 2010, the thought was he would handle the best rushers in the division, like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul and Trent Cole. Last Sunday against one of the best left tackles in the league, Joe Thomas, Ware was able to battle him to a draw. This week against the Redskins, Ware will be in another battle with Williams.
I have to say that I have always been impressed with Williams' work, but there are things he is doing technique-wise, both in the run and pass, that shows he has raised his level of play to another level. Williams is able to block with a combination of power and athletic ability. It's rare that you see him on the ground or really struggling playing out of position.
Next to him guard Kory Lichtensteiger is a player that I really didn't give that much respect to, but in the games I was able to study, I thought the left side of the Redskins line was their best combination. Lichtensteiger's strength is his mobility, whether he is reach blocking or scooping, he does a really nice job of getting in position to sustain his block.
There is nothing pretty about center Will Montgomery's game, but like Lichtensteiger, he plays on his feet and is able to run with his man to keep in position. He is not a powerful player, though, and at times that really hurts him.
Right tackle Tyler Polumbus is steady and tries to play with technique, but there are times where he is on the edge of completing his block. The way to attack him is make him have to adjust from power to speed.
For all the issues that Mike Shanahan has had on offense, he had to believe was going to be fine on defense. Unfortunately, that has not been the case at all.
Going into the season, I thought Washington's defense was going to be able to hold them in games until Griffin learned the offense, but it's been a struggle. In five of their 10 games this year, the unit has given up double-digit points in the fourth quarter. It's a defense that has struggled to get off the field on third down and get consistent pressure on the quarterback.
With all that being said, the Cowboys have had their own issues on offense, so something will have to give. The Redskins line up in a 3-4 front and they try to move so they don't have to take you on toe-to-toe. These types of schemes have given the Cowboys trouble this season in trying to secure blocks.
The heart and soul of this group is London Fletcher, who as a Mike linebacker has had a remarkable career. Many said "too this" and "too that" about him, but all he does is continue to make plays. He was battling an ankle problem on Sunday, and on the short week, might not be able to make the quick turnaround. If he is out of the lineup, that's a huge break for the Cowboys offense not having to deal with him.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is their best pressure player with Brian Orakpo on injured reserve, and how the Cowboys deal with Kerrigan will go a long way toward how they are able to move the ball. Kerrigan will usually line up on the left side, which would be the offense's right, meaning he will be over tackle Doug Free. But, you will see Kerrigan shift to the other side and get some snaps over either Tyron Smith or Jermey Parnell as well.
What I really like about Kerrigan is that he is a relentless player. You have to almost block him after the whistle blows because he never stops. He can play with some power in his game, but he is more about trying to use technique to break the blocker down and then get the corner. There is no doubt that you have to know where he is on the field because he is always chasing the ball.
On the defensive line, I have always liked Stephen Bowen and was disappointed that he couldn't remain in Dallas. Not only can he play the run, but he's solid as a nickel pass rusher, too. Their backups, Chris Baker and Kedric Golston, actually look a little better than their starters, Barry Cofield and Jarvis Jenkins. Where this group has struggled is that they don't do a great job of getting off blocks in the passing game, which is why they are ranked 28th in sacks per attempt. Don't know that the Cowboys get a break here, but it's worth noting that Washington's defensive front hasn't been overpowering this season.
In the secondary, the Redskins lost a really nice player in safety Brandon Meriweather, who suffered a knee injury against the Eagles and has been placed on injured reserve. There is nothing dynamic about safeties Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams as both struggle with their range and cover skills. There have been times during games where they have been slow to react to the ball, and when you are already challenged with a burst, this is a problem.
Josh Wilson will usually play the right corner with DeAngelo Hall on the left side. When they go to the nickel you will see Hall move inside with Cedric Griffin coming in to take his spot. Wilson has lined up at nickel as well and plays with a great deal of quickness, while Hall tends to give more cushion and will react on what he sees.
Again, where this secondary has struggled is in trying to get off the field on third down, although in my view, a lot of that has to do with the rush. When the Redskins do bring pressure, it's usually with their inside linebackers on cross blitzes or a corner off the edge.