New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins: Takeaways from Washington's 24-17 Loss

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins: Takeaways from Washington's 24-17 Loss

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    Robert Griffin III produced his most efficient performance of the season for the Washington Redskins in Week 13. But it wasn't enough to prevent a 24-17 defeat to NFC East rivals the New York Giants.

    Griffin was revitalized by the use of the no-huddle attack to start the game. He also played with more patience and assurance in the pocket, particularly in the first half.

    Sadly, he was stifled after the break thanks to another woeful showing from his offensive line, as well as some calamitous moments from his receivers.

    But Griffin and his offense were also undermined by a defense that was too easily overpowered. While the Redskins generated pressure thanks to a star pass-rusher, they were soft against the run, particularly when it came to safety support.

    Here are the main takeaways for Washington from its ninth loss of the season.

No-Huddle Attack Plays to Griffin's Strengths

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    Using a fast-paced, no-huddle offense to start the game was a masterstroke from head coach Mike Shanahan. The up-tempo attack not only caught Big Blue off guard, it also gave Griffin a much-needed confidence boost.

    The no-huddle directly suits the style of quarterback Griffin is. He is an instinctive playmaker, at his best when not challenged to think through multiple reads.

    A quicker tempo and some excellent play designs yielded a clutch of early completions. That initial success set the tone for a consistently strong display.

    Considering how slow Griffin has started in most games this season, early use of the no-huddle is an invaluable ploy for future contests.

Early Confidence Leads to More Assurance in the Pocket

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    A direct by-product of the early confidence he gained from the no-huddle, was a more assured Griffin in the pocket. His first-half statistics showed just one incomplete throw from 17, highlighting his greater proficiency as a passer.

    What was most notable was Griffin's increased willingness to forgo his appetite for the big play and check the ball down. It became common to see him look off his first read and settle for a quick underneath strike to running back Alfred Morris, or a short-range out pass to a tight end.

    There has been a lot of scrutiny recently on Griffin's suitability as a credible pro passer. Much of the criticism has been justified, but this performance proved he can develop into a more thoughtful quarterback.

Griffin Still a Threat as a Runner, but He Is Playing Smarter

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    As solid as he was as a passer, Griffin was just as effective as a rushing threat. He was productive on several designed read-option scampers and decisive enough to make a play with his feet when his receivers were blanketed.

    What was particularly impressive about Griffin as a ball-carrier was how smart he ran the ball. He regularly headed for the sidelines to avoid unnecessary contact.

    When the sanctuary of the sideline was not available, Griffin didn't hesitate to slide to escape extra hits. This is the way Griffin has to run the ball.

    His threat as a rusher is invaluable to the offense, evidenced by 88 yards on 12 carries. But the big-play potential it offers has to be balanced with a safety-first approach.

Brian Orakpo Is in Dominant Form

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    Brian Orakpo is finally becoming the consistent playmaker he is supposed to be in this 3-4 scheme. The 2009 first-round pick is dominating offenses from his outside linebacker position.

    Orakpo has been prolific in the recent games, as CSN Washington's Tarik EL-Bashir noted before the game:

    After racking up only three sacks in the Redskins’ first eight games this season, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has been on a tear the past three weeks. 

    He’s notched 3.5 sacks during that span to boost his season total to 6.5 and his career total to 36, pushing him past Dave Butz and into fifth on the Redskins’ all-time sack list.

    Orakpo took that level of play into Week 13 and dominated Giants left tackle Will Beatty from the game's first play. He was in on a pair of sacks and made several stops in the backfield against the run.

    He was particularly effective whenever he took an inside move to slant across the face of Beatty and split the tackle-guard gap.

    This not only maximized Orakpo's natural power and leverage, it also spoke to how he is varying his pass-rush arsenal. Playing like this, Orakpo gives Washington a legitimate building block to rebuild its struggling defense around, enhancing his chances of a new contract.

Barry Cofield Is Getting Back to His Best

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    Barry Cofield has been a non-factor in recent games, but the anchor of the defensive front was back to very near his best against his former team.

    Playing over the center, Cofield had some sketchy moments winning inside against the run. But he was effective as an interior pass-rusher from nickel looks.

    Cofield applied plenty of pressure on the middle of the pocket. He regularly prevented Giants quarterback Eli Manning from escaping the outside rush from Orakpo.

    This was Cofield's best overall performance since his dominant display against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4. If he can build on it, this defense can produce a strong finish to the season.

The Safety Position Remains a Major Problem

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    The one area where the most money should be spent this offseason has to be the safety position. No matter who defensive coordinator Jim Haslett deploys at the last line of his defense, they struggle.

    This week it was feeble run support from veterans Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty that let the Giants back into the game. Neither one could stand up to bruising backs Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis.

    A defensive scheme like Haslett's, that relies on fire-zone pressures, needs versatile playmakers at safety. Without them, this defense will continue to suffer.

Special Teams Continues to Falter

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    If the safety position is an issue, it is nothing like the unit-wide mess in the special teams. There are problems in every area.

    Low snaps, penalties, feeble kicking and unimaginative returning were all on display against the Giants. A short punt by Sav Rocca gave Big Blue favorable field position and allowed them to take a lead they never relinquished.

    As said many times during this season, this special teams needs a complete overhaul on both a coaching and personnel level.

Costly Penalties Show Lack of Discipline and Contribute Directly to Losing

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    For a coach noted as a disciplinarian and seemingly always preaching about "character guys," Mike Shanahan's team commits too many costly penalties.

    Numerous bonehead infractions directly contributed to a losing effort in Week 13. The Washington Posts's Dan Steinberg highlighted how sloppy the Redskins were: "In one stretch of the third quarter, the Redskins committed five infractions in 11 snaps."

    Pierre Garcon was flagged for kicking the ball away in the end zone, while fellow wideout Santana Moss drew his own damaging unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

    These were critical gaffes that wrecked Washington's momentum and kept the Giants close. Penalties have been a problem this season, and they reflect how Shanahan struggles to instill discipline and efficiency in his team.

Tyler Polumbus Has to Be Upgraded This Offseason

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    Want a reason why Griffin wasn't as good in the second half as he was in the first? Step forward Tyler Polumbus.

    The hapless right tackle was a major liability in pass protection all night. He simply couldn't handle veteran D-lineman Justin Tuck. The player, who had just 2.5 sacks entering this game, helped himself to four takedowns of Griffin.

    Polumbus has been strong leading the way for the run this season, but is an easy target for even above-average pass-rushers. This offense needs competent tackles at both ends of the O-line, and upgrading Polumbus has to be near the top of the team's offseason to-do list.

Too Many Dropped Passes Are Undermining Griffin and the Offense

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    It also didn't help Griffin that so many of his receivers dropped key passes. Garcon and tight ends Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis were all guilty of putting the ball on the ground, wasting good passes and big gains.

    Sometimes the ball was jarred loose following a big hit, but receivers have to expect that and hold onto the football. What can't be excused are the frequent drops caused by a lack of concentration.

    It is a sloppy trait, symptomatic of the lack of discipline and efficiency currently plaguing the whole team.