A little more defensive restraint and greater offensive balance gave the Washington Redskins their first win of the season. The Redskins used their pass rush to swarm all over the Oakland Raiders offense, while their zone-running game wore down the defense.
That combination helped Washington overcome another poor display from their special teams. They were also hamstrung by a very shaky performance from quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin's failings were compounded by an offensive line that struggled to identify and react to blitzes. These points and more form the biggest takeaways from Washington's impressive road win.
Robert Griffin III was wayward on a number of throws.
It has to be a concern just how many throws Robert Griffin III is missing. His delivery was downright awful at times in Oakland.
Griffin frequently flighted throws that were just too high for his intended receiver to even have a chance of catching. There were also times when Griffin overlooked open receivers and tried more difficult passes.
Problems with delivery and decision-making are not necessarily all due to rust. Yes, Griffin has not been helped by missing the offseason. But that doesn't alter the fact there are major parts of his game that head coach Mike Shanahan needs to refine.
A blocked punt was just part of another dodgy special teams performance.
The special teams continued to be an accident waiting to happen. In fact, that accident happened more than once in Oakland.
First, there was the blocked punt, resulting in a Raiders touchdown. That was in addition to further struggles in the return game.
It is not a matter of Washington's special teams needing to decide games. But if the unit cannot create its own big plays, it at least needs to be stable enough to not surrender so many.
Roy Helu Jr. showcased his knack for the big play.
It has taken too long, but Roy Helu Jr. finally took a chance to show his worth to the offense. A natural playmaker, Helu demonstrated his flair for the big play at key times in the game.
He converted a key third down in the first half, but he saved his best for the fourth quarter. First, there was the catch, run and hurdle that put the Redskins in scoring range.
The third-year running back followed that with a burst up the middle for the decisive touchdown. Helu's acceleration and excellent hands add another dimension to this offense.
Hopefully, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took note and can work in more plays for Helu during future games.
Helu combined well with Alfred Morris.
It took an injury to prove what should have been obvious all along, but rotating carries between runners can be great for this offense.
Helu and Alfred Morris combined for 112 yards, and their complementary styles wore down a stubborn Raiders defensive front. Morris got his power game going in the second half, before a rib injury forced him to the sidelines.
That allowed Helu's speed to take over. This rotation may have been enforced, but it provided a blueprint for the kind of committee approach that can better utilize Washington's bevy of talented runners.
Mixing up the run and pass more often proved vital.
Balance between the run and the pass was missing against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. But the Shanahans evened the scales this week, and it helped rescue a stuttering unit blighted by Griffin's struggles.
Griffin threw 31 passes and handed the ball off 29 times. In all, the Redskins executed 32 running plays, counting Griffin's three scrambles for 10 yards.
It was refreshing to see the coaches not try and force things with Griffin this week. They have been guilty of simply calling pass after pass, hoping Griffin would turn things around through force of repetition.
But this time patience was exercised with the ground attack, despite Morris finding yards tough to come by in the early stages. Granted, that patience was made possible by the defense keeping the game close.
But this even-handed approach to play-calling should provide a template for the rest of the season.
Griffin was again put under too much pressure.
Griffin not being as mobile as he was prior to his major knee surgery, has encouraged defenses to blitz more often. Clearly, Washington's O-line is unprepared for this challenge, as free blitzers are frequently getting to Griffin.
Using overload blitzes and edge pressure was the Raiders best strategy for slowing down Griffin. Defensive backs frequently flew off corners untouched to harass or hit Washington's youthful passer.
Veteran Charles Woodson decked him for a big sack and was in on further pressure. The most troubling aspect is that the Raiders are not the first defense to have success with this approach.
Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers overwhelmed this offensive line with blitzes from multiple angles. It is an issue that is chiefly responsible for this season's feeble performance on third down.
The defensive front was trusted to create pressure and delivered.
After three games of surrendering a season's worth of big plays, the defense tightened thanks to a more conservative approach. Coordinator Jim Haslett found an appropriate blend of coverage and pressure to wreck the Raiders offense.
The formula was a simple mix of deep, safe coverage behind a front that was trusted to get pressure with little blitzing. For once, Haslett relied on his athletes along the line to win their battles and get to the quarterback.
The result was seven sacks and periods of dominance against an offense missing its starting quarterback and reeling from the loss of its starting backfield.
Facing a group that depleted might have tempted many coordinators to push the blitz button. But to his credit, Haslett kept things safe and simple.
He let his secondary play a loose zone shell. That nullified the threat posed by the vertical speed of Oakland's receiving core.
While he let his defensive front run rampant, Haslett was selective with his use of the blitz. He waited for when the Raiders were focusing all their efforts on subduing the defensive front.
It was a smart game plan that let the strength of the defense, its pass rush, lead the way.
One win has put the Redskins back in the thick of the NFC East race.
They may be 1-3, but being in the NFC East means the Redskins still have legitimate playoff hopes. The division is there for the taking by the last least incompetent team standing.
With five division encounters left, that team could well be the Redskins. Remember, they are only a season removed from going 5-1 in the East.
A repeat of that performance and even just two wins elsewhere, could see Washington return to the postseason. With a bye week to prepare for the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins now have a golden chance to rescue a season that had looked doomed.