The Washington Redskins announced Friday night they planned to face the Cleveland Browns — in Cleveland — without their leader, quarterback Robert Griffin III. Despite a week of encouraging news from practice, the team’s doctors and coaches decided to be cautious with their best playmaker, and likely rookie of the year, and sit him at least a week after spraining his knee the previous week against the Baltimore Ravens.
That left the reigns to Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered offense in fourth round draft pick Kirk Cousins.
The rookie shook off a couple of rough series at the beginning of the game to lead the Skins to a fifth consecutive win and first place in the NFC East — thanks to tiebreakers — with a 38-21 win over the hapless Browns.
The Redskins now control their own playoff destiny by virtue of a victory delivered by their backup rookie quarterback.
Cousins, obviously, is not the only rookie that has delivered for the Redskins this season. Fellow first year player Alfred Morris, a sixth round pick, has emerged as a tough running tailback in the mold of Gerald Riggs — big enough to run folks over but with enough speed to break off a big run when the hole is available.
The Skins are getting contributions from unheralded young offensive linemen as well. Of course, that depth will be tested this upcoming week with the news of Will Montgomery’s knee injury, Troy Polumbus’ concussion and Jordan Black’s PED suspension.
Another big contributor has been wide receiver Pierre Garcon. Once he got back on the field from a foot injury, the fifth-year playmaker has developed a big-time rapport with Griffin and given the Redskins a young veteran receiver that opposing teams need to game-plan for. That gives room for younger receivers, such as Leonard Hankerson (two TDs against Cleveland) and Aldrick Robinson, to make plays. Even veteran Santana Moss is enjoying a renaissance season with seven touchdowns among his 37 catches.
Kyle Shanahan has designed and developed an offensive scheme to take best advantage of the talent that has been assembled. He’s also showed an ability to adjust the game plan when necessary depending on injury or opponent. The offensive coordinator — much as his head coach father — took a great deal of critique the last couple of unsuccessful seasons with less-than-NFL quality signal callers.
Now that the Skins look like they possess two of those, they are on the precipice of the playoffs. The team sent out a press release Monday morning announcing the plan for distributing playoff tickets — with two big NFC East games yet to play. It’s heady days for the Washington Redskins organization, and it seems like health will be the biggest challenge to the success this season, and for the foreseeable future.