The Redskins are favored by about 3 points over the Baltimore Ravens. Who in the world thought that would ever happen, particularly with a rookie quarterback? Rich Tandler notes this hasn't happened in a while.
They won as underdogs in Dallas (3.5 points) and against the Giants (3). But it will be a different story when the Ravens come to town.
The Ravens are 9-3. The last time the Redskins were favored over a team that had nine or more wins was the last game of the 2007 season when they were favored by 9 over the 13-3 Cowboys.
That game carries an asterisk. The Cowboys had already locked up the top seed in the playoffs when they came to FedEx Field that day and the Redskins were playing for their playoff lives.
In games where both teams had something to play for the Redskins were last favored over a team with nine or more wins when they played the 10-4 Giants on Christmas Eve in 2005. Washington was favored by 3 and won 35-20.
So far this year, the Redskins have won as underdogs against the Saints (New Orleans favored by 8.5), Bucs (2), Vikings (2), Cowboys and Giants. They have won as favorites just once, against the Eagles (Redskins favored by 3.5).
The last 15 times the Ravens have lost a football game they came back the next week to win. The Redskins have been very good at breaking their own bad streaks this year [ending a home losing streak on Monday Night Football that dated back to 1997, for example], but can they break this remarkable Ravens streak that dates back to week 6 of 2009.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III has thrown only 4 interceptions through twelve games, an astounding achievement for any NFL passer, much less a rookie one taking over a 5-11 team and playing without his two best receivers for more than half the season. Griffin will face perhaps his sternest test this Sunday when he goes up against that Baltimore Ravens defense -- particularly its ballhawking future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, who is 10th in NFL history with 61 interceptions. But as John Keim points out, Ed Reed will face a stern test, too. In almost 1200 passing attempts in college, RG3 threw only 17 interceptions. In other words, protecting the ball isn't anything new for Griffin.
Of the four other rookie quarterbacks starting, only one -- Seattle's Russell Wilson -- has thrown fewer than 10 picks. And he has eight. Indianapolis' Andrew Luck (16), Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (15) and Miami's Ryan Tannehill (12) all have had their share of turnovers. Only Wilson has thrown more touchdown passes (19) than Griffin (17).
"He's pretty precise on getting rid of the ball," Reed said of Griffin. "He seems to have guys open. That's the key to it really. When he does throw to guys that are covered, you can see that he's accurate, a good decision maker. To run the option and making plays the way he makes plays, you have to be a good decision maker."
One NFL defensive coach said Griffin's ability to run helps prevent him from forcing the ball. He said when they faced Griffin, he saw some hesitation. But rather than force a ball, Griffin would look elsewhere -- or he knew he could pick up a half-dozen yards by running.
"The scheme that they're running helps him out a lot," Reed said.
The Redskins run a lot of play-action, whether in the traditional manner or off the zone-read look. Their scheme forces linebackers to scramble into coverage, sometimes losing sight of players or the quarterback. And receivers get free.
But you can't just credit the scheme. Another defensive coach echoed what Reed said about Griffin's accuracy. This coach was impressed by how Griffin could throw receivers open and how he often placed the ball in a spot where only the offensive player had a shot. It's a misnomer to think he only throws to open targets; against Dallas, for example, some of his more impressive throws were thrown into tight windows.
"He has the arm strength, so when you do see a hole, he can get that ball in there very quickly," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "It doesn't have to be a big hole."
Griffin has a simple philosophy.
"Just don't force things," Griffin said. "Trust the system that you're within so you can go out and work through the system. ... God blessed me with decision-making ability to know when to put things into those tight windows and when not to."
Rich Campbell has more on RG3's ability to avoid turnovers.
Speaking of RG3, the NFL Hall of Fame is already calling him. Why? Read this and find out.
The Ravens are not just worried about RG3, though. They're worried about the offense he's running out of the pistol formation -- a unique offense in the NFL.
“We’ve got to contain him,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said in a conference call. “We have to get him on the ground and not allow him to run. But that’s like telling Superman not to fly. But he’s a pocket passer as well as a scrambling quarterback. You’ve got to maintain coverage as DBs, and you’ve got to contain him and hold him in the pocket as much as you can, but make sure that you get to him and tackle him.”
Griffin’s skill set has been put to good use in the pistol formation, and Monday’s win against the New York Giants was a good example. When running back Alfred Morris started grinding out yards up the middle, Griffin would then keep the ball on a read option, bouncing the play wide.
Then there were times he would fake the ball to Morris, drawing defenders in, before throwing over the top to an open target.
“It’s just a little nuance to create confusion amongst the defense — which way we’re going, what plays we’re running,” Griffin said. “But it’s not just the pistol offense. We run our entire offense out of that pistol look, so it’s really just our offense.”
For years, it was assumed the option had no place in the NFL. Defenders were too big, too strong and too fast for that kind of simplicity. Griffin has helped change that school of thought, showing that it can work at this level.
“It’s proven they can do it and be more than competitive with that system,” Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain said. “It’s going to be a unique challenge.”
Mike Wise writes that TB Alfred Morris plays running back like a football star, but doesn't run his mouth like one. The Redskins are lucky indeed to have a such a quiet, hard-working rookie playing a big role on the team this year.
Redskins CB Josh Wilson, who is from Maryland, played at the University of Maryland and suited up for the Ravens before coming to D.C., isn't having any of this Redskins-Ravens rivalry talk. "We've got enough rivalries as it is," says Wilson. I think that is absolutely correct. The Redskins have rivalries with the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles. We play those teams twice a year every year and because they're in the same division, each game has the potential to put one team in the playoffs or knock the other one out. It isn't just about rivalry bragging rights, it's about how your favorite team does that season. It's the same with the Ravens in the AFC North and their young, but already-legendary rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Redskins and Ravens simply won't play each other often enough to sustain any kind of rivalry.
Meet RG3 Woman, the newest DC-based superhero. Appropriate, I suppose, since RG3 himself is now a complete rock star in DC and beyond. Why else would a local hotel chain looking to hire 35 people give special consideration to anyone with the initials R.G. or a III designation after their name?