Second Read: Washington turns RGIII loose, and other Week 6 observations
The Redskins were awfully predictable to start Sunday's game with Minnesota. On each of their first two possessions, the Redskins lined Robert Griffin III up under center on first and second down, then dropped him into the shotgun on third.
The results? A three-and-out, followed by an interception.
By the time Washington took over for a third time, Minnesota led 9-0 and the Redskins were badly in need of a spark. That pick-me-up came courtesy of a more creative playbook, starting with Washington dropping Griffin back into the pistol -- that decision opened the door for the zone-read and some triple-option looks.
Washington's first series with Griffin operating mainly in the pistol resulted in a 13-play, six-minute drive that ended with a Kai Forbath field goal. And from there, the Redskins never really looked back.
We've seen that pistol set cause teams major issues, starting with New Orleans in Week 1. Alfred Morris' emergence has given the Redskins a weapon out of the more traditional sets, but Griffin's skills are best utilized when he has room and time to roll the pocket. It's a quicker transition for him when Washington is in the pistol -- meaning bigger headaches for the defense.
Here are some other observations from Week 6:
1. The Dolphins destroyed Janoris Jenkins: Jenkins has paid off the Rams' faith in him in spades thus far in his rookie season, but Miami picked on him all day Sunday. With Cortland Finnegan taking Brian Hartline totally off Ryan Tannehill's radar -- Hartline finished with no targets -- the Dolphins looked to the other side of the field. The results? Tannehill threw in Jenkins' direction nine times and completed all nine passes.
Nowhere was Jenkins' discomfort level more noticeable than on Marlon Moore's 29-yard TD. Jenkins committed one of the cardinal sins of cornerback play there, allowing himself to get caught looking in the backfield as Moore streaked by him. Chalk Sunday up as a learning experience for the young Jenkins.
2. Riley Reiff gave the Lions a boost: Jim Schwartz said on Monday that rookie offensive tackle Riley Reiff could soon be in the mix for a starting job, and it was obvious on Sunday that Reiff has earned the Lions trust. The Lions ran 25 plays in which Reiff was on the field as an extra tackle, with LT Jeff Backus and RT Gosder Cherulis out there as well. Reiff wasn't perfect, but he was aggressive -- he worked over Jason Babin on multiple plays and was able to get to the second level on a few Detroit runs. The three-tackle look certainly appears to be an option to help the Lions jump-start their run game.
3. The 49ers did a number on Vernon Davis: Davis was a major headache for the Giants in last year's NFC title game, but New York did perhaps the best job of any team in 2011 stopping the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez duo. They found similar success Sunday in a rematch with Davis, and did so by interchanging their looks against him.
On one San Francisco first quarter possession, for example, the Giants used Stevie Brown, Corey Webster and Jacquian Williams in man-coverage on Davis, then later chipped him at the line and released him into a zone. He appeared to be one of the main focuses for the Giants' defensive game plan, and their approach worked wonders as Davis caught just two passes for 13 yards prior to a meaningless 24-yard grab late.
4. So there's that Bills D-line: It's amazing what a game against the Cardinals' turnstile offensive line can do for a struggling defense. Buffalo came into Week 6 struggling mightily on defense, and its highly touted front was a big part of the problem. But the Bills came up with five sacks Sunday in Arizona and upwards of 20 hurries of Kevin Kolb/John Skelton.
One of the main catalysts? Marcell Dareus, who had several hurries of his own and helped set up at least two of the Bills' sacks by tying up multiple blockers in the middle. Dareus was horrible against San Francisco last week; he looked like a different player Sunday.
5. Lamenting the Colts' missed chances: Andrew Luck is plenty comfortable in the shotgun and the Colts have no problems putting him there -- all but two of their snaps in the second quarter came out of that set. But the Colts' offense clicks much better when it's balanced, as the Packers found out in Week 5. And one of the keys to that balance is a play-action pass in which Luck fakes a stretch play, then rolls back on a bootleg the opposite way. Three times, Indianapolis had huge plays set up off that play ... and all three times, the Colts missed.
Luck killed Indianapolis' first drive by overshooting a wide-open Dwayne Allen on the play, then later in the opening quarter missed Coby Fleener in the end zone, forcing the Colts to settle for three points. In the third quarter, Luck had Donnie Avery deep off that play-fake, but underthrew him and LaRon Landry broke it up (though Landry probably deserved a pass-interference flag). Hit on one or two of those, and the Colts might have stayed a lot closer.
6. Josh Freeman wasn't as good as his stats say: Freeman finished Sunday's win with 328 yards passing plus three touchdowns and a 133 QB rating. But aside from a clinical drive to open the third quarter, he was far from perfect -- and had his receivers not bailed him out a couple times, his day would have been a lot longer. He made a terrible read on an interception near the Chiefs' goal line, and a 62-yard connection with Tiquan Underwood should have been picked, too. Mike Williams' athleticism bailed out Freeman on a couple of occasions. Give credit to Freeman for giving his receivers a shot, but he lived on the edge Sunday.
7. Mike Martin stepped up for Tennessee: The Titans' defense could have hit the wall early Thursday when Jurrell Casey left with an injury. Mike Martin refused to let that happen. Martin stepped in for Casey on the interior of the line and wreaked havoc against Pittsburgh's make-shift front, helping stuff inside runs and creating pressure on more than one occasion. Martin has been a steady contributor in his rookie season, and Thursday night was another step forward.
8. Cincinnati's defense slowed down at inopportune times: The Bengals' defense did not play nearly as poorly as Cleveland's 34-point scoreline indicates, but it did have some key issues down the stretch. Cincinnati seemed noticeably slow defending to the boundaries in the fourth quarter -- Chris Crocker totally lost backup TE Jordan Cameron on a crossing route at one point, allowing a 23-yard pass; on the next play, the Bengals completely botched their coverage on Ben Watson, which cost them a TD.
9. What's the deal with Jonathan Joseph?: It has gotten to the point where I'm convinced Joseph is playing at far less than 100 percent. He had a poor game in Week 5 against the Jets, then looked absolutely lost Sunday trying to cover Jordy Nelson. Case in point: Nelson's early 41-yard TD grab, a play on which he simply ran past Joseph.
10. Russell Wilson's elusiveness not a one-man act: Watching Wilson run around in circles to create plays on Sunday, it's easy to just marvel at his ability to escape trouble. In most cases, though, those ad-libbed plays only work so long as the offensive line keeps blocking and the receivers continue to fight to get open. Aside from one holding penalty, both things happened Sunday. A perfect example came on Doug Baldwin's 50-yard catch -- Wilson avoided the pass rush, then fired downfield just as he got to the line. An underrated aspect of that play? The Seahawks' O-line not getting caught ineligibly downfield, a legitimate risk when you have a mobile quarterback deciding to stop and fire.
11. Is Darrius Heyward-Bey healthy or not?: In his first game back from a severe concussion, Heyward-Bey touched the ball just once. But he looked explosive on that play, taking an end-around and getting 20-plus yards while spinning out of tackles. Aside from that, he was a ghost against Atlanta -- on the field for 50 plays, he saw just one target. Credit Asante Samuel's coverage on him for much of that, but Carson Palmer rarely even looked his direction.
12. Sean Lee was a one-man pass rush: This is both a good and bad thing for the Cowboys. Lee terrorized the Ravens with his pass blitzes Sunday, hitting Joe Flacco on at least three occasions and forcing multiple rushed passes. However, Dallas was unable to get home without Lee blitzing -- the Cowboys' front was neutralized by a so-so Ravens line, forcing an increase in blitz calls. That, in turn, left the Cowboys vulnerable in coverage, and they downright forgot about Ray Rice on one 43-yard check-down pass.13. Philip Rivers let himself get boxed in: As the Chargers were streaking out to a 24-0 lead over Denver, Rivers had a lot of success down the middle of the field, particularly to Antonio Gates. Once Denver rallied and began jumping routes over the middle, though, the Chargers could not adjust. Rivers had just four downfield completions (10 yards or more) outside the hash marks all night, and he only looked to his left twice -- with one of those plays resulting in Denver's game-clinching pick-six late.