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Washington Redskins: The Biggest Early Season Storylines

Aidan ReynoldsContributor IIISeptember 19, 2012

Washington Redskins: The Biggest Early Season Storylines

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    The Washington Redskins have been right at the center of the NFL season so far. It was always going to be an exciting year, regardless of the results. The first two games have proved that already.

    Victory in Week 1 preceded heartache in Week 2—as is traditional in D.C. Both games made the headlines but for different reasons.

    Many questions about the team have been answered, but others have just multiplied. The storylines that have already emerged will last the season, forming excuses and validation for fans as the weeks roll by.

    It's worth catching a breath for a few minutes and looking at the biggest things to come out of the Redskins' two weeks of football.

Robert Griffin III

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    It's going to be hard to remain pragmatic about Griffin if he keeps performing at this level.

    Going 19-of-26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints, Griffin silenced the doubters and led his team to victory in New Orleans.

    He was strong in the pocket, refusing to panic and rush his throws. His connection to Pierre Garcon for a touchdown was a particular highlight, as he was under pressure and took a hit immediately after making the throw.

    The game against St. Louis brought with it a different challenge. Although he was only sacked once, Griffin was targeted by a Rams defense that stretched the limits of what is acceptable in an NFL game.

    It was a clear strategy: rough up the rookie and force him into mistakes. To his credit, Griffin refused to change his play, escaping the pocket and making plays with his legs as the offensive line broke down.

    His interception may have been a result of taking a shot on the previous play—and his complaint that the Rams defense were leading with their helmets showed his inexperience—but for the most part he was composed and in control.

    He put up 209 yards with one touchdown, as well as 82 yards rushing for two more touchdowns. If Shanahan had elected to let him throw on fourth down with a minute and change to go, it might have been a different outcome. More on that later, however.

    It's difficult to look at Griffin's first two games as anything but an unqualified success. I just wish he'd slide more.

Injuries

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    It's that time again. The Redskins injury parade begins anew, and in record time.

    Nick Sundberg, Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker are all out for the season. Josh Wilson suffered a concussion after his touchdown-saving tackle and is uncertain for the next game, while Pierre Garcon missed the Rams game with a foot injury.

    All of the players listed above are absolutely vital to the Redskins’ season. Jarvis Jenkins will come in for Carriker, although he doesn’t look fully confident in his knee.

    The front seven needs to protect the secondary, which has already suffered injuries to Brandon Meriweather, Jordan Bernstine and Chase Minnifield, along with the suspension to Tanard Jackson.

    Wilson has been the best player in the backfield and there is no one else on the roster who is as good in coverage.

    Without Orakpo and Carriker, the defense just isn’t as explosive, which is a necessity in the NFC East. Rob Jackson or Chris Wilson will likely step into Orakpo’s place, and Markus White has already been re-signed. Doug Worthington has also been promoted to the active roster.

    With Orakpo out of the picture, teams will be adjusting their game plans to take Carriker out of the equation. He needs to be ready for the additional pressure and work his way around it.

    The defense had visions of being in the top 10 this year, but they’ve already surrendered too many yards to make that a realistic achievement.

    Allowing the Rams 452 yards of total offense isn’t good enough, and the injuries will make things much harder as the season progresses.

    London Fletcher said the Redskins were "a no-excuses team." It's now time for them to prove it.

Defense

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    Griffin knew that a lot rested on his shoulders this season. So far he has embraced it, but the load just got a lot heavier. He has led the offense to 68 points already, but still finds his team at 1-1.

    Scoring 40 points at New Orleans was a remarkable achievement in his first game, but the last few minutes were very tense as Drew Brees marched up the field with an eight-point deficit to chase.

    Conceding yards to Drew Brees and the Saints offense is excusable, and the defense actually performed solidly that day. They brought pressure to the Saints QB from the front, hurrying him to the extent that he completed less than 50 percent of his passes.

    Against the Rams, however, it was a different story. Matching DeAngelo Hall up against Danny Amendola in the slot was asking for trouble; insisting on zone coverage even after Amendola hauled in catches and yards was just plain wrong.

    Jim Haslett has taken a lot of criticism for that, and rightly so. Generally, if the TV commentary team is yelling at the defense to switch to man coverage before the first half is out, the hope would be that the defensive coordinator has also noticed the need for a tactical change.

    Having a second punt blocked is ridiculous, too. This time it was Perry Riley who missed his assignment and offered the opposition an easy route back into the game.

    Games can be won or lost on special teams, and coach Danny Smith must be feeling a little uneasy right now. For a short time, Smith's Wikipedia page proved to be an outlet for fans' frustration.

    According to The Washington Post, special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said he would be calling a meeting this week in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

    The home opener against Cincinnati is now a must-win game. The schedule is back-loaded for the Redskins this year, and the NFCE matchups look less inviting by the day.

    Washington has to make the best of its home advantage and harass the Bengals. The Browns could have beaten Cincinnati last week, but the game was lost on penalties, blown assignments and missed tackles. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Replacement Officials

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    It was only a matter of time before the lockout started to affect the games. The atmosphere inside the Edward Jones Dome was so bad you could feel it through the television.

    The players had no respect for the officials and you could see that the reaction from the fans started to make the officials doubt themselves.

    The Rams looked determined to stretch the rulebook as far as it would go. Consistently laying on players after making tackles, pushing heads into the ground and taking shots after the whistle are all things that should be identified early and erased.

    The officials have to make it clear to the players that these actions will not be tolerated. The helmet-to-helmet hit on Fred Davis after an incompletion was savage; if he hasn’t got a concussion he should consider himself very fortunate.

    On a separate note, where is Davis? Does Griffin hate him or something? There were at least two or three occasions when Griffin ran the ball himself when he could’ve just given it to Davis and let him try to make the play—and take the hits. Davis looked improved as a blocker, but not much else.

    Every play seemed to end with both teams squaring up to each other, surrounded by officials who looked out of their depth and quite fearful.

    It wasn’t all on the Rams, but their grievances should be with the bad decisions they received. Both teams received penalties for hits that were clearly in bounds and Steven Jackson should have had a touchdown.

    The game just looked too fast for the referees to call, and too aggressive for them to control. The officials who are locked out make mistakes, sure, but they never look overwhelmed and intimidated to the point where they lose their grip on the game.

    It’s time to end the lockout, for the sake of all teams. With all the claims to safety that Roger Goodell makes, they ring hollow when the people charged with protecting the players on the field aren’t up to the job.

    You often hear words like “battle” and “war” thrown about by players to get them pumped up before a game. The fact remains, however, that the NFL is neither of those things. It’s controlled and regulated to ensure the maximum amount of safety for its participants.

    Across the league this week, we’ve seen that the system isn't working.

Josh Morgan

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    Every game needs a scapegoat—just ask Kyle Williams—and Josh Morgan volunteered for the job on Sunday. The first point should be that if he turned inside on his reception then he gets a first down.

    The second point is that he should have controlled his emotions and walked away, while the third point is that he went on record before the Rams game, doling out advice to the world on how to play Cortland Finnegan:

    You don’t want to be the second guy because the second guy is going to get caught. He’s going to come at you and he’s going to be the first, second and third guy. You’ve got to remind yourself not to be that fourth and fifth guy, and throw your hands up and walk back to the huddle. (Via The Washington Post)

    Sage advice, made all the more inexplicable by his failure to heed it.

    The truth is that it’s not all on Morgan, as there were many things leading up to that point that could have turned the game. Aldrick Robinson’s drop on the Rams' 12-yard line was costly, as were the special teams failures and the injuries to Orakpo, Carriker and Wilson.

    Another valid argument is that, even after Morgan received the 15-yard penalty, why not put the ball in Griffin’s hands and tell him to win the game?

    Even if his throw was slightly off, the game was so uneven that there was always a chance the Rams would get hit with a penalty and the drive be allowed to continue. There was still time to clinch victory.

    However, it was Morgan’s reaction that will be remembered. He takes the blame because his was the final act of stupidity in a game that was full of them.

Alfred Morris

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    It’s always nice to finish on a positive note, and Morris has certainly provided that. He had a great start to the season, coming up with 96 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.

    This continued into Week 2, as he ground out 89 yards in a tough game. He broke free on a couple of occasions, but most of his work was done the hard way.

    Reporting for the Washington Examiner, John Keim noted that 26 of Morris’ 89 yards came after contact. In a game as out of control as this one, it’s vital that players can take the hits and use them to their advantage.

    Morris looks completely undaunted by the big stage and shows no fear whatsoever. Watching him plow through James Laurinaitis was a particularly joyous sight, and the extra few yards he gained on each run looked like they really meant something to him.

    The offensive line opened up some good holes for Morris against the Rams and he had no hesitation in finding them. His decision-making is already looking better and will only improve as he gets more playing time.

    He needs to improve in pass-protection, but that’s a common trait in rookie running backs and will also get better with practice. Morris and Griffin have so far been the highlights of the Redskins offense, despite being rookies. That’s a good sign for the future.

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