Washington Redskins: Surviving the Trap Game

Tom NataliCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 09:  Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins runs onto the field after being introduced before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at FedExField on December 9, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Four weeks ago, Mike Shanahan was being trashed (I was the main culprit), Jim Haslett was dead as a door nail, Pierre Garcon was labeled as a “bust” and it was another miserable year in Washington.

Since then, this Washington Redskins team has passed a variety of tests.

The first was beating an inferior opponent (Philadelphia Eagles).

The second was beating a talented yet inconsistent team on a short week (Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving).

The third was beating your division leader on Monday Night Football (New York Giants).

The fourth was battling with one of the best teams in football and overcoming outrageous odds in a victory on your home turf (Baltimore Ravens).

Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns will be the Redskins' fifth test: surviving the trap game.

Ironically enough, this is the second “trap game” article I’ve written this season. However, this time the Redskins are playing meaningful football in December.

The Browns are not a playoff team; however, they are coming off three straight victories and would love to play the role of spoiler.

With Robert Griffin’s injury up in the air, predictions of this game are going to fluctuate.

The Redskins will need to do two things to come away with a win in Cleveland: run the ball effectively and step up on defense.

The offense has been bailing out the defense practically all season; it’s time for a role reversal. Without Robert Griffin in the lineup, Kyle Shanahan’s offense will look completely different.

Predictably, we will see more of a pro-style offense with a simplistic playbook, thus putting rookie Kirk Cousins in a position to manage the game. Therefore, don’t expect a 30-point output for the Redskins.

This is all contingent on Griffin’s status, of course.

With this incredibly impressive winning streak, the Redskins have now surpassed gaining respectability. Teams throughout the league no longer look at the 'Skins on their schedule with relative ease.

Mike Shanahan has formed a dangerous ball club with Robert Griffin III leading the way. That’s why beating the Cleveland Browns is so important to this organization; they are better than the Browns. Their season is on the line and there’s no excuse to lose to this team even without RGIII.

Playoff teams year in and year out always remain hungry, even in less-than-marquee matchups like this Sunday’s game. It will take the leadership of someone like London Fletcher to remind his teammates that regardless of the Browns record, this will not be cakewalk.

The same preparation and execution will be required if they want to win. The defense will have to continue their bend but don’t break style and get another momentum-shifting play from the special teams.

Help will be required from all angles from this point on, and it’s incredibly gratifying to watch a team succeed with help from all sides of the ball, especially athletes with limited expectations.

Alfred Morris, who was initially projected as a fullback, became one of the best running backs in football this season. Billy Cundiff was a disaster, and rather than go after a veteran kicker who has had success in the past, Shanahan gambles with an inexperienced kicker named Kai Forbath, who has been perfect thus far this season. (Everyone please knock on wood for our continued fortunes in place-kicking, I’m not joking.)

It’s too late Washington Redskins. We won’t be able to rationalize our excitement. We’re all in. “We’re” is the operative word here. The coaches are all in, the players are all in and the fans are all in. Something like this hasn’t happened in a long time, and it could be something special.