Washington Redskins: Questions Left Unanswered After Week 1
Fans of the Washington Redskins have had springs in their steps since Sunday's 40-32 season-opening win in New Orleans. And they have every right to be excited after rookie savior Robert Griffin III directed the team's offense with cool confidence and workmanlike precision in one of the NFL's most hostile environments.
The Redskins are off to a sparkling 1-0 start and have a very good chance to go to 2-0 this Sunday in St. Louis. But when a team scores 40 points and has to hold off a Hail Mary attempt by its opponent to send the game into overtime, there must be questions left unanswered.
So in the spirit of objectivity, let's go over some of them in hopes that the Redskins can improve, while staying on the good side of the win-loss column.
1. Can Washington's defense be consistent?
But for every high point, there was a low point. Jones noted that "we saw improved pass coverage" by Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and a floating DeAngelo Hall. His Post colleague Mark Maske added that Washington's secondary "got the job done" against quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' high-flying attack.
But Brees still passed for 339 yards, and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hauled in six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, despite blanket coverage by London Fletcher. And while the Redskins pressured Brees for two sacks and two interceptions, there were some glaring mistakes in coverage that frustrated the coaching staff.
Of course, a win is a win, but Washington's offense is not going to score 40 points every week, so the defense needs to tighten things up.
2. Has Mike Shanahan really settled on his starting back?
If you're a fantasy football owner and you have ever owned a running back coached by Mike Shanahan, you know the drill. Stay away. That, of course, did not keep me from snatching Alfred Morris off of my waiver wire. But I picked him up two weeks ago, after watching him run roughshod over Chicago and Indianapolis in the preseason.
So, should we believe Shanny when he says that Morris is the guy moving forward? Or is it another case of "shanahanigans," as Adam Rank assumed on NFL Fantasy Live?
According to CBSSports.com, the coach clarified his intentions for this week's game against the Rams with the following statement: "Alfred right now is our starting running back and I thought he did a good job."
The "right now" worries me, but I'm going to go out on a limb with Morris over Adrian Peterson in my starting lineup. I just hope Alfred doesn't cough up the ball a single time (à la New York Giants rookie David Wilson against Dallas) and get pulled in favor of Roy Helu, Jr. or Evan Royster. Like Giants coach Tom Coughlin, rookies are usually on a short leash with Shanahan, no matter how promising they appear to be.
3. Is Pierre Garçon going to be okay? And if not, is Aldrick Robinson the answer at the "X-position"?
According to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times, Pierre Garçon told the media he "should be good to go" for Week 2 in St. Louis. X-rays on the right foot he injured against the Saints were negative, so it's assumed he'll be available to start. But Washington's trainers plan to re-evaluate him as the week progresses, so the team will have to wait and see.
A bad wheel can be a hindrance to a wide receiver that needs two good ones to outrun defenders to paydirt, like Pierre did in the Big Easy. So, Aldrick Robinson is going to have his chin strap ready, just in case Garçon's a no-go.
In a one-on-one interview I had with Aldrick Monday night, the second-year pro from SMU said that he was "told to be ready" as Garçon's immediate backup Sunday in New Orleans and believes he'll continue to be in the future.
With four catches for 52 yards and a score against the Saints, Robinson certainly proved he can serve well in the role as Pierre's substitute. He also looked downright electrifying at times in the preseason. But can he handle the pressure of being a starter? And why is Santana Moss listed as Garçon's immediate backup on the Redskins' official depth chart?
I'll have much more from my interview with Aldrick in an exclusive column on Friday, but he sure sounded like a man that can handle the workload.
4. Is Robert Griffin III going to play like a rookie anytime soon?
I don't mean to be sarcastic, but is RGIII for real or are we dreaming? In his film review of the offense's impressive performance Sunday, Washington Times writer Rich Campbell gave his "game ball" to Griffin and it was well deserved.
Campbell praised the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for his toughness in the pocket, his ability to extend plays with his feet and for a "wow moment" that occurred on the first play of the second quarter, when Griffin threw all the way back across the field to a wide open Fred Davis for 26 yards.
To be honest, RGIII had some mishaps (with a Morris entanglement, a fumble and some off-the-mark throws), but overall, he played incredibly well in his first NFL start in enemy territory.
As Campbell points out, Robert confounded the Saints with his athleticism and playmaking ability in space, [which] opened up his ability to throw deep and accurately.
[The Saints'] linebackers had to respect Griffin as a threat to run. As a result, they repeatedly sacrificed their depth in pass coverage, which opened up the middle of the field for intermediate completions.
Garçon was the beneficiary of one of those completions, which Griffin threw under intense pressure. Pierre caught it in stride, and the rest is history.
Now it's the Rams' turn to get their first look at RGIII. They'll be home too, but they better be ready because Griffin may just be a Rookie of the Year candidate in the making.
5. Can newly signed Justin Snow hold down long-snapper duties while Nick Sundberg recovers from a broken left arm?
If you couldn't keep your eyes open for the late game Monday night in Oakland, you missed one of the most demoralizing performances in NFL history. I witnessed it, and all I can say is I feel horrible for Raiders backup long snapper Travis Goethel. I won't explain. Just watch it for yourself.
The end result proved an important point. You can never underestimate the importance of a good backup.
Goethel's horror story took the spotlight away from Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg. Sundberg made a name for himself against the Saints when he refused to leave the game in the second half, despite a broken left arm.
According to the Associated Press (via NYDailyNews.com), Sundberg urged RGIII to "keep the offense rolling," so he didn't have to go out on the field for another punt.
Goethel deserves heaps of credit for his courage and grit, but the Redskins better hope former Indianapolis Colts snapper Justin Snow doesn't get a case of the yips like Goethel had against San Diego.
6. Will penalties cost the Redskins next time around?
It's often said that penalties, turnovers and special teams can be the difference between wins and losses. So, in reality, the Redskins should be thanking their lucky stars. Washington was spotless in the turnover department (compared to two by the Saints), but special teams cost them dearly, when a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown by New Orleans.
Return man Brandon Banks muffed a couple of punts too, but the team's biggest unanswered question is: When will the penalties subside?
They committed 12 for 127 yards, and some of those penalties wiped out big gains that could have put the team in scoring position. Others, such as personal fouls on defense, bailed out the Saints after the Redskins recorded what would have been big stops.
Oakland's Monday night loss also showed how penalties can be costly.
Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly should be ashamed of himself for jumping offside twice on third downs to keep Chargers drives alive. According to Paul Gutierrez of CSNBayArea.com, Raiders coach Dennis Allen has drilled Kelly to "watch the ball," but his lesson has obviously gone in one ear and out the other.
Let's hope the Redskins can avoid mistakes like Kelly's or at least limit "stupid penalties" to single digits. If they can do that and continue to win the turnover battle, they'll be tough to beat.
Joe Versage is a NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage
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