Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. This week, I chatted with Rich Campbell, who covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Times.
MV: How unique is Robert Griffin III? And how has this young man been able to handle himself with such poise with all the pressure, expectation and responsibility that has been heaped on him since Day One?
RC: Griffin is as unique as they come because, basically, he's perfect. That's not hyperbole. He has the total package of physical talent and all the intangibles a franchise player needs to fill that role. He has matched natural athletic ability with extreme determination, a high level of focus, intelligence and humility. That results from how his parents raised him according to their Christian and military values and from how intensely his father trained him in football and running track. His parents emphasized to him at a young age the importance of humility and preparation. Those two traits help him handle the avalanche of attention he has received. His physical ability and work ethic help him meet expectations on the field, and his affable personality lends itself to being a star off it. He's mature, smart, talented and willing to work hard. He almost seems too good to be true, but actually he's worth everything the Redskins traded in order to draft him -- and more.
MV: Alfred Morris has been one of the NFL's biggest surprises. He was a sixth-round pick, but here he is, sitting among the league leaders in rushing. What does he do well and how did he fly under the radar?
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RC: Morris does so many things well in Mike Shanahan's outside zone running scheme that he's almost a perfect fit. He has excellent vision in diagnosing cutback lanes. He presses the hole and sets up blocks well. Most importantly, he routinely breaks tackles and gains yards after contact. Morris runs behind his pads with a great body lean. Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said it best earlier this year: "When he runs, there’s nothing to hit. It’s shins and shoulder pads." The only deficiency in Morris' game is elite speed. He fell to the sixth round of the draft partly because he ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February. He also played behind a porous offensive line at Florida Atlantic, which prevented him from consistently showcasing his skill set. FAU ran a power scheme, too, so the Redskins had to project him into their zone scheme. And coaches say if they knew in April what they know now, they would have drafted him earlier.
MV: How have the Redskins managed to overcome all of their injuries on defense, particularly the one to Brian Orakpo?
RC: Actually, the Redskins still are struggling to overcome their injuries on defense. They lost Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker to season-ending injuries in Week 2, and their pass rush continues to suffer. They rank 29th in the NFL in sacks-per-pass-attempt. That's a big reason why they have surrendered 10 receptions of at least 40 yards. Rob Jackson replaced Orakpo as Washington's right outside linebacker, but the Redskins have rotated him off the field on third downs in favor of Lorenzo Alexander. That is, until the second half of last Monday's win over the Giants. Jackson lobbied defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to rush the passer on third downs, and he had a critical fourth-quarter sack of Eli Manning. We'll see if Jackson continues to fill that role this week.
MV: I know Billy Cundiff is gone, replaced by Kai Forbath, who has kicked well. But he is of great interest up here for obvious reasons. Why didn't it work out for Cundiff with the Redskins? Was his confidence simply shattered?
RC: Cundiff didn't last with the Redskins because he missed four field goals in a two-game span, including two 31-yarders. Coach Mike Shanahan ran out of patience and replaced Cundiff with Forbath. Only Cundiff knows whether his inconsistency in Washington resulted from any lingering mental effects from his miss in last year's AFC championship game, but he was the most confident player I have ever encountered. At any position. Many other reporters and I were amused by how strongly he believed in his abilities and how open he was in expressing that belief. I enjoyed talking to him because of that. But he couldn't back up that confidence with successful kicks, and kickers don't last when they miss from inside 35 yards.
MV: The Redskins are a great story and have put together three wins in a row. But are they really for real?
RC: That's difficult to say. Beating the defending Super Bowl and NFC East champions last Monday indicates the Redskins are, in fact, for real. With Robert Griffin III as their quarterback, they have a chance to win every game. He's that good. The Redskins have several other quality wins, including Tampa Bay on the road and Minnesota at home. Receiver Pierre Garcon (sprained right foot) is closer to full health than he has been since Week 1, and the offense has regained some of its big-play capabilities. Washington is 5-1 this season when Garcon plays. The defense is starting to figure out how to play without key injured players. The Redskins have forced at least one turnover in nine of their 12 games. They are going to give up yards, but if they force turnovers, there's a good chance they can beat anyone.