As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Washington at FedEx Field, we asked Mike Jones, the Redskins beat writer for the Washington Post, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1.Believe the hype. Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III is quickly emerging as a big-time difference maker.
Jones points first to Griffin’s 69.1 completion percentage through five games, tops in the NFL. Then there’s the fact that the rookie quarterback has thrown only one interception in 139 pass attempts.
Indeed, the intelligence NFL folks raved about before the draft is being shown.
“The way he’s been able to read defenses and take care of the ball has been impressive,” Jones said. “We knew of his great athleticism and knew he’d be able to make plays with his legs. But there was a question on whether he’d be dangerous right away with his arm. Now he’s come out and hasn’t been limited in the passing game at all.”
Griffin reached 1,000 yards passing in his fourth NFL start, a feat only two other rookies in league history have accomplished. He was also named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month in September.
2.That RG3 charm that you’ve heard so much about over the last year has been well received in Washington.
It’s not just Griffin’s magnetic smile and natural charisma. He’s also shown a superb work ethic and a sincere willingness to learn. That has only heightened the respect he’s gained from the Redskins.
“His teammates have embraced him,” Jones said. “They all will tell you that even though this kid has become a star overnight, he doesn’t act like it. He has a laid-back but confident manner. And that’s had guys rallying behind him.”
The biggest fear with Griffin is that his ability to make plays on the run will expose him to too many brutal hits. That was evidenced against Atlanta on Sunday when a kill shot from Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon forced Griffin out of the game with a concussion.
A week earlier, the Bengals sacked Griffin six times and delivered countless big hits as Griffin ran a flurry of option plays as well.
Said Jones: “The thing he’s still learning is that in college, you could carry out some of those fakes and still make that option pitch and be OK. Well, in the NFL, defenders are so much faster, they’re going to get to you sooner. So I think he’s learning to not sell those fakes quite as hard.”
The beating Griffin has taken has also maybe put the Redskins coaching staff on higher alert.
“Since then they seem to have gone to a much more vanilla approach,” Jones said, “much more in line with the traditional Mike Shanahan-Kyle Shanahan offense. So you can guess that they’re trying to protect him a little bit more.”
3.Running back Alfred Morris has had a surprise breakout as a rookie.
In April, 11 running backs were drafted before Morris was taken in the sixth round with the No. 173 overall pick. Even the reporters in Washington saw an uphill battle for the power back out of Florida Atlantic to make the roster considering the Redskins had Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster in the mix.
“We were thinking Morris was a practice squad guy,” Jones said.
Then the preseason arrived. Hightower was slow in recovering from the torn ACL he suffered last October and was eventually released.
Helu was bothered by toe and Achilles tendon injuries. (He’s now on injured reserve.) And Royster developed knee soreness that kept him out for spurts.
So an opening was there and Morris pounced to win the starting job.
“He runs hard. He’s incredibly physical. He doesn’t dance around,” Jones said. “He just hits the hole and drives his legs. This is a guy who squats 645 pounds. He has a ton of power and he just doesn’t mess around.”
RG3 + Morris = jackpot.
“That’s two huge building blocks for an offense,” Jones said.
4.The Redskins defense has been hindered greatly by injuries.
Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo was lost for the season in Week 2 with a torn pectoral muscle. Defensive end Adam Carriker also suffered a season-ending injury in that game, tearing the quad tendon in his right leg.
Brandon Merriweather, who was supposed to be the starter at strong safety, injured his left knee in the preseason and has yet to return. And fellow safety Tanard Jackson has been sidelined by a suspension related to his latest violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
No wonder the Redskins have had such difficulty defending the pass.
They’ve allowed an average of 328.6 passing yards per game and 13 touchdowns. Plus they have only eight sacks.
Defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield have stabilized the defense against the run. But with Orakpo out, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson haven’t supplied nearly the same pass rush from the edge.
And Ryan Kerrigan has drawn added attention on the other side of Washington’s 3-4 defense.
“Kerrigan was the Robin to Orakpo’s Batman,” Jones said. “But now he’s having to step up and be the leading pass rusher. And that means he’s the one drawing the double-teams now.”
Oh, and that familiar face on the back end of the Washington defense? That’s nine-year vet Madieu Williams, who spent three seasons with the Vikings (2008-10) but has been just OK for Washington.
"He’s a very smart guy,” Jones said. “But he’s still limited in pass coverage and gets beat on double moves and things like that too often.”