San Diego vs. Washington: Takeaways from Redskins' 30-24 Win over Chargers
The key takeaways from this Week 9 win were strong performances from wide receivers that helped quarterback Robert Griffin III overcome a somewhat erratic effort.
There was also the greater emphasis placed on the running game. The offense ran the ball 40 times in total, with workhorse Alfred Morris being particularly productive.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his troops kept the Chargers off-balance just enough, and they made some smart calls on third down.
These three points highlight the list of takeaways for the 3-5 Redskins.
Run First and Win
Many have been calling for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to lean more on the running game. For the most part he didn't disappoint in Week 9.
The younger Shanahan gave running back Alfred Morris over 20 carries for the first time this season. The result was 121 rushing yards from the second-year back and an offense that owned the clock.
Washington held the ball for 40:33 thanks to Morris consistently battering the San Diego defense.
This offense is at its most effective when the run leads the way—that is when defenses are put in a pre-snap bind over whom to key on and are more vulnerable to big gains off play-action.
New Wrinkles Spruced Up the Ground Game
It wasn't just the commitment to the running game that was crucial. It was how the coaches spiced up the game plan.
The Shanahans applied some wrinkles to their rushing schemes, which included overloading the offensive front with an extra linemen. Inserting tackle Tom Compton routinely gave the Washington offense a six-man front near the goal line. He helped pave the way for the other key change.
Giving the ball to fullback Darrel Young inside the 5-yard line was a smart choice. The Chargers had to respect Morris and would not have anticipated Young getting the call.
The plan also took advantage of Young's underrated skills with the ball in his hands.
A similar ploy with Roy Helu Jr. worked wonders in the red zone against the Chicago Bears in Week 7. Using Young the same way showed just how easily the Redskins can successfully vary their versatile and potent ground attack.
The Wide Receivers Held Up Their End in the Passing Game
Washington's wide receivers have often been accused of not doing enough to help out Griffin this season. At times the group has merited that criticism, but they certainly did their bit against the Chargers.
Pierre Garcon led the way. He actually played like the No. 1 receiver he is supposed to be.
Garcon hauled in seven catches, some of which were of the spectacular variety, for 172 yards. As good as Garcon was, he was not alone in his efforts. Youngster Leonard Hankerson made five clutch grabs for 55 yards. Both receivers helped Griffin at key times.
Garcon did it by turning wayward throws into good ones with acrobatic catches. Meanwhile, Hankerson was an invaluable outlet on third downs.
This receiving corps has the talent to perform like this every week. It is time for some consistency.
Robert Griffin III the Passer Still Needs Work
Even after throwing for 291 yards and leading his team to an overtime win, Robert Griffin III remains something of an enigma.
He was gutsy and dynamic in clutch situations, but his accuracy was abysmal at times. Griffin's unfortunate habit of telegraphing many throws led to a handful of passes being batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Washington boasts a natural playmaker at quarterback but one who still needs to develop key aspects of his game.
We're Still Waiting for Improvements on Special Teams
What has been a nightmare season for the special teams so far is not getting any better. The unit suffered through another error-strewn performance.
Two blocked field goals and a pitiful return game undermined the offense. Most of the focus has been on the group's issues in coverage, but this is a special teams weak in every area.
It is also a unit seemingly destined to putting a win in jeopardy every week.
Restraint Leads to Solid Third-Down Defense
Coordinator Jim Halsett has his critics, and I'm certainly one of the most consistent, but he deserves credit for the smart choices he made on third downs against the Chargers.
In particular, Haslett used a restrained approach to stifle quarterback Philip Rivers. During the first half Haslett frequently sent only a three-man rush at Rivers.
Packing the zones with extra defenders made it tough for San Diego to convert. The Chargers finished just 3-of-9 on third downs, and much of that was due to Haslett's measured approach.
David Amerson's Inconsistency Is Worrying
Haslett may have called a nice game on third downs, but that won't stop him being concerned about the performance of top rookie David Amerson.
The first-year cornerback was routinely victimized by fellow rookie Keenan Allen. The Chargers' third-round pick caught eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Most of those catches came against Amerson. The Redskins' second-round selection is struggling to establish any consistency. He was promising at times as a press corner against the Denver Broncos in Week 8. But against the Chargers, Amerson was frequently outwitted by a receiver's initial move.
Haslett needs Amerson to become a key figure in Washington's suspect secondary. But for that to happen the first-year defensive back has to develop some consistency.
A Happy Knack for Turnovers Could Prove Crucial
Before Week 9, Philip Rivers had been intercepted just five times this season. He had become a model of efficiency.
But Washington's defense still managed to snare a pair of his passes. Those thefts helped limit San Diego's high-powered attack despite a big passing day from Rivers.
The turnovers kept Washington in the game while the offense tried to establish some rhythm.
This defense is never going to dominate. But the unit's flair for opportunism could prove crucial during the remainder of the season.
If the turnover-happy defense can keep giving the offense chances, Washington might still put together the winning run it needs.