For all of the grumbling this season about the Redskins' play-calling, mostly authored by Kyle Shanahan, Sunday's road win over the Seahawks — a defense that had improved noticeably in prior weeks coming in — proved one thing: It's the playmakers who make things happen. Yes, a good offensive scheme is needed to combat tricky and specifically designed defensive systems. But without the 11 players on the team working harmoniously and giving great individual efforts, no scheme, no matter how brilliant, can succeed long term.
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The griping of fans that rookie RB Roy Helu had not seen the field enough prior to Sunday might appear legitimate, considering how well he fared: career highs in carries (23), rushing yards (108) and touchdowns (one), adding 54 receiving yards on a team-high seven receptions. He now is the leading rookie RB receiver in the NFL, and his leaping TD run (call it the "Helu Hurdle," if you'd like) showed that there is a little juice on this roster.
But therein lies the point: If you watch the play again, you can see that two defenders had a chance to make it a no-gain run or a loss of yardage. Helu slipped one tackle and then hurdled the next defender before breaking into the free. The blocking was OK on the play, but it was a great individual effort.
So was Anthony Armstrong's 50-yard TD reception, the Redskins' longest play from scrimmage this season. He barely has been heard from after a breakout 2010 season, but Armstrong outworked Seahawks CB Brandon Browner for the ball in the endzone and made his quarterback, Rex Grossman, look good.
In fact, you would have to say that Grossman is one of the team's better playmakers. He drives the ball, throws aggressively and has the guts to make big plays. You want that in your quarterback. But where scheme, strategy and individual talent have to converge is in measurement. As in, can you dial back your aggressiveness when it's warranted? Grossman might not be the best example, as he likely never will change his spots. But, at least he has the ability and the nerve to make a play when one is needed.
It matters on defense, too. You need individual playmakers. DeAngelo Hall, despite his recent problems and a TD pass he allowed on Sunday, is one. London Fletcher is another. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are too. When healthy, LaRon Landry is one of the best safeties in the league. Same historically for Oshimogho Atogwe, who nonetheless has had a lost season. Perry Riley, who has started the past few games next to Fletcher, appears to have that playmaking DNA, totaling a team-high 14 tackles.
It's a reason why the defense has been mostly very good all season despite the offense and special teams putting them in compromising positions and why all the above players likely stand to return and play big roles next season. Yes, scheme factors in, as last season clearly shows. The players were learning the Jim Haslett system on the fly and too often they were thinking and not reacting. This season, there is far less of that; it's more instinctual now. Again, an example of scheme and individual talent marrying well.
CB Josh Wilson, who dropped an interception, might end up being a smaller version of Carlos Rogers, who was noted for his botched picks. Brandon Banks, who was a standout returner as a rookie, as been held mostly in check this season, although he has found a few cracks of late. The return schemes appear sound; he just is pressing too much and not taking what is blocked for him.
So hold back from your desire to send the Redskins' coaches to the showers. If fans had their way in 2010, Haslett might have been run out of town, and this year anyone with the last name of Shanahan has been mostly persona non grata in the greater D.C. area. Perhaps Mike Shanahan deserves a bit more heat for picking the players that have left him noticeably short of playmakers on offense. But until that fact changes, relish the big plays when they happen and give the play-calling a bit of a break, please.