The Washington Redskins failed to assume control of the NFC East by unseating division powerhouse New York Giants, but there are still plenty of reasons for them to be positive about the 2012 campaign.
Washington's 27-23 defeat on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions drops Mike Shanahan's team to 3-4. However, three important factors were on display that provide real hope that this team can end the regular season on winning terms.
The Redskins Possess the Best Running Game in the NFL
After two seasons of waiting, Redskins fans are finally getting to see what all the fuss was about over Shanahan's famous zone-running game. The prolific scheme, combined with Robert Griffin III's talent for making plays as a runner, gives the Redskins the league's best rushing attack.
On any given play a defense has to account for Griffin taking flight and leaving the pocket. His speed and grace in the open field is too much for most defenders to handle.
The threat he poses creates extra room for Alfred Morris to exploit. The sixth-rounder is taking full advantage, thanks to his quick thinking and tremendous strength after first contact.
When Morris is pounding the ball, it naturally forces a defense to try and close rushing lanes, which only gives Griffin more space to attack on the outside. Both players have been dovetailing perfectly and the use of misdirection and play fakes keeps defenses guessing well after the ball has been snapped.
Those same fakes and the production from designed and freelanced runs is also creating one of the best play-action passing games in the NFL. With a running game this consistent, the Redskins should be in every game. Letting the ground attack lead the way as it did in the first half against Big Blue will always keep the Redskins close enough to win.
Defense has Found the Knack for Creating Turnovers
When Shanahan switched a top-10 defense to a 3-4 front, forcing more turnovers was one of the decisive arguments in favour of the change. While the new scheme has not yielded a stout unit, those extra turnovers are starting to materialise.
They may not be able to stop anybody's wide receivers or consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, but the one thing the 2012 Redskins' defense can do is take the ball away. The turnover binge continued with two key interceptions of Eli Manning.
Those two thefts give the Redskins 15 takeaways for the season. Coordinator Jim Haslett's group now has a definite opportunistic streak and can be expected to steal possession back in any game and create short fields for Griffin and company.
Robert Griffin III is a Complete Playmaker
Griffin's already bloated collection of rookie highlights has certainly swelled after facing the Giants. He hurled two touchdowns to Santana Moss and scampered for 89 rushing yards.
His 4th and 10 conversion late in the game was the stuff legends are made of and he routinely baffled Big Blue's defense with a now trademark mix of superior athleticism and a natural knack for the big play. With Griffin under center, the Redskins are always likely to produce two to three game-changing plays.
That's the kind of quality that makes no deficit seem insurmountable. Griffin will ensure that the Redskins win on the strength of their offense and will keep the unit among the most prolific in the NFL.
Any loss to a division rival is tough to take, but real progress was been made. Running the defending champions close on the road is no small thing and provides hope that the Redskins can go to tough places and win down the stretch.
The dynamic of the team is now offense-first and while that comes as a surprise given the expectations for the defense, the Redskins are now potent enough to pose a threat to any team in the league. That theory will face a stern test on the road in Pittsburgh against the Steelers next week.