Redskins vs. Browns: Sketching out a Game Plan for Washington
On Sunday in Cleveland, the Browns may or may not get a close look at the man who reportedly was very close to becoming their franchise quarterback in the spring. But the Washington Redskins outbid Cleveland for St. Louis' No. 2 overall pick and the opportunity to select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL draft.
I say "may or may not" because the jury's still out on whether Griffin's injured right knee will be healthy enough to get him onto the field Sunday afternoon. RG3's been practicing this week, but just in case his rehab slows and he isn't able to suit up in Week 15, we have a pair of offensive game plans in place so that the 'Skins can take care of business and get the better of the Browns... yet again.
If Robert Griffin III starts at quarterback...
The Redskins have been playing it safe with Griffin more often than not, especially since he was concussed in Week 5 against Atlanta. They've come out of their bye week with a whole new commitment to running the ball with rookie stud Alfred Morris, so expect that to be the case again this week.
Griffin will not be 100 percent healthy, and the 'Skins absolutely can't risk putting him in harm's way. So if they do start him, Kyle Shanahan has to draw up even more two-tight end sets than usual in order to help right tackle Tyler Polumbus and the rest of the line, while making Morris the centerpiece of the offense.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's necessary. Compared to his regular output, Griffin has struggled this year against teams from the tough, physical AFC North. And while the Browns haven't been taken too seriously in recent years, only two NFL defenses have given up fewer points than Cleveland dating back to Week 6.
Guys like T.J. Ward, Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin might not be household names yet, but they've all had good seasons and can wreak havoc against a quarterback like Griffin. Only six teams have more sacks than the Browns this year. Griffin has faced two of those defenses that have more than Cleveland, and he was flustered by both Cincinnati and St. Louis in losses.
The Browns are only average in run defense, giving up 4.3 yards per carry and 120 yards per game on the ground. The 'Skins rank second in the league with 5.3 yards per rush and 168 yards per game, and Morris has gone over 110 yards three weeks in a row.
Against this defense and with a hobbled quarterback, it makes sense to feature Morris in a tough road game.
If Kirk Cousins starts at quarterback...
Things shouldn't have to change dramatically, because the Redskins shouldn't expect or want a hobbled Griffin to be significantly more mobile than Cousins, and we've received indications that the rookie backup can make many of the same throws Griffin can.
Still, the Redskins can't take as many risks through the air if Cousins starts in Cleveland. Cousins has thrown two interceptions on only 11 pass attempts, whereas Griffin has only four picks on 351 throws.
With the more trustworthy Griffin, the Redskins wouldn't have to stress about the fact only two AFC defenses have had more takeaways than the Browns, but it's a different story if RG3 sits. In that case, Washington would be better off with a lot of Morris combined with a lot of small to intermediate, timing-based throws.
This is a matchup between two teams featuring rookie quarterback-running back duos, which means that Washington will be guessing on defense just as much as Cleveland will be.
The key will be to stop Trent Richardson, which will be weird for the Redskins because they haven't faced a lot of run-first offenses this season. The mediocre secondary has been getting a lot of help from a suddenly dynamic pass rush, but they've been able to cheat a lot because the run D has been stellar.
But they've begun to leak. The Redskins have surrendered 117-plus rushing yards in four of the last six weeks and they were trampled on by Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce last week against Baltimore. Only seven defenses have given up more rush yards than the 'Skins have the last two weeks.
I know this sounds crazy, but Jim Haslett might have to trust that defensive backfield, because with Montario Hardesty working as his underrated right-hand man, Richardson could have a chance to take over the game if the 'Skins become too blitz-happy in an attempt to mask their deficiencies on the back end.
With London Fletcher injured and struggling and Ryan Kerrigan more dedicated to the pass rush, Perry Riley and Rob Jackson have to spend more time hanging back.
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