The bye week seemed to change the Washington Redskins.
A team that was declining steadily after a fast start and had lost three in a row has come back from the bye with back-to-back intra-divisional victories. The Redskins now have a chance to move just a game back of the division-leading New York Giants while tightening their grip on the tiebreaker with a win in front of a national audience again Monday night.
It's pretty impressive that this young, depleted 'Skins team will control its own playoff destiny for at least two days in the month of December. With that in mind, here's my latest state of the union-style look at the what I consider to be the NFC East's most intriguing team.
What They Should Be Thinking
We beat the two injury-ravaged division rivals, but the Giants and Ravens are on deck so there's a chance we'll fall back to earth with a thud by the time we wake up on Mon. Dec. 10.
Against those guys, we'll have to step up our game to a new extent.
For starters, we can't allow Griffin to get hit on clean shots as often as we have lately. Against Dallas, it wasn't about the number of times our quarterback was hit, but rather the number of times he was crushed by unblocked rushers.
If said number is higher than zero, it's a problem.
Right tackle Tyler Polumbus sucks and Jammal Brown can't come to the rescue after being placed on injured reserve, so we simply have to get Griffin more help over these final five games. The Giants are too stacked up front for us to risk it Monday night.
And while we're dissecting the offensive line, Pro Football Focus rated left tackle Trent Williams as our worst offensive player against the Cowboys. He's dealing with a deep thigh bruise, which is scary.
If he's forced to miss time, we're screwed.
That's just the latest injury to scare the hell out of this team. We've been hit time and again by supposedly season-altering injuries—Brown, Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, London Fletcher, Fred Davis, Brandon Meriweather. We've survived thus far, but at some point this has to catch up with us.
Griffin is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, and he has a chance to keep it going with Pierre Garcon finally healthy and making an impact. With Garcon, Morgan and Santana Moss as RG3's receivers, this team can win track meets, especially if they continue to maintain such nice balance.
While the rest of the division takes criticism for offensive play-calling, it's hard to find many flaws in the approach Mike and Kyle Shanahan have taken to game-planning for this offense all season.
Yet we won't have to get into track meets if the defense keeps this up. We're suddenly getting to the quarterback again, which is nice. And as a result, our secondary is experiencing better results than it has all season.
Aside from that one slip-up on a deep Dez Bryant touchdown in Week 12, we haven't been allowing teams to hit home runs since our Week 10 bye.
In fact, we've surrendered only one completion on 11 passes that traveled 20 yards or more in that span. Cedric Griffin and DeAngelo Hall have given up only nine catches on 23 targets the last two games.
Considering that we're still shutting down opposing backs regularly, it appears, then, that we've finally turned a corner on defense. If we can keep that up, protect RG3 and maintain balance on offense while continuing to win the turnover battle, we're a playoff team.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Pierre Garcon
He's still not getting a full gamut of offensive snaps, but Garcon certainly didn't appear to be affected by that foot injury as he went light-speed into the end zone on a 59-yard touchdown against Dallas. He had his best game yet on Thanksgiving, and should be a force over the final five weeks.
Stock Rising (defense): DeAngelo Hall
His stock couldn't have gotten any lower at the bye, but Hall has been fantastic the last two weeks, getting beat for a grand total of 48 yards on 12 targets (4.0 yards per target, per PFF) and picking off two passes.
Stock Dropping (offense): Trent Williams
It was a tough day for the entire offensive line in Dallas, but especially the injured Williams, who gave up half the number of hurries he had all season in one game (according to PFF).
Stock Dropping (defense): Josh Wilson
It's been a tough year for Wilson, but he hit rock bottom when he was beat for two touchdowns against the Cowboys Thursday. The 'Skins might need to consider benching him.
The key is beating the Giants. If they don't, they have virtually no way of winning the division and are a long shot for a wild-card spot. But if they win Monday night, they'll be close to 50/50 for the division title (considering tiebreakers and the easier schedule) and will still have a very good chance of landing a wild-card spot in the middle-case scenario.
Essentially, this is the biggest game of the season. If they win, they're playing meaningful games the rest of the year. If they lose, it's pretty much over.
And I actually think they might pull it off.
View last week's report here