REDSKINS COLUMN: Skins’ opening night flop hints at tough times ahead
Tuesday, Sep. 10
For someone who has been a Redskins fan for as long as I have – my earliest gridiron memories have Eddie LeBaron under center – I am entirely too pessimistic.
There have been sufficient good times so that it should be otherwise, under both George Allen and Joe Gibbs. Even under Mike Shanahan. there have been sufficient highlights over many years to give one hope, and I was very hopeful for this year, after last year and after a 4-0 pre-season.
After Monday night’s performance in a 33-27 loss, I’m not so confident.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed in the first half, the Skins could have won their opener. They lost by less than a touchdown and conversion, despite multiple turnovers, a missed field goal, a safety and the decision – awful as it turned out – to start a quarterback who had not taken a snap during pre-season.
Playing RGIII just a smattering in the meaningless games would certainly have been a gamble, and whether or not he would have been cleared to do so by his surgeon is unclear.
But, man, was he rusty in the first half.
Rust only accounts for part of the problem. More worrisome is the read-and-react offense that Kyle Shanahan unveiled for his talented quarterback last year may be on the shelf this offense.
It is an offense so confusing to defenses and so potent that most teams in the NFL, those, at least, with a quarterback with a modicum of mobility, will use it, at least on occasion.
Griffin looked better – far better – in the second half, presumably having sloughed the rust, but it strikes me as more likely that his success was more directly related to the Shanahans putting in more of the short pass plays at which he excels.
There were more downfield attempts in the first half, and Griffin drops from stellar to ordinary on such tries.
He was ordinary last year; there is no reason to think a reconstructed push-off knee is going to make him any better.
Blame for Monday night’s loss goes well beyond Griffin, however.
Receivers were tentative and butter-fingered. Kai Forbath missed an attempt he should have made to keep Washington within hailing distance of an Eagles team that was running the home team off its feet.
Tackling in the secondary, as it was last year, was questionable. More than anything else, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett waited far too long to start putting pressure on Michael Vick, whose accuracy falls precipitously when he’s on the move, despite his reputation as an excellent scrambling quarterback. The hits he has taken over the years have added up.
The heaviest burden for a successful season falls squarely on the shoulders of Kyle Shanahan.
With a healthy and extremely quick and mobile quarterback last year, Shanahan was brilliant.
Without that mobility, Shanahan’s offense is pretty predictable, pretty stoppable. That is not to suggest that the Redskins will have Griffin’s services for the entire season if they take off the shackles, nor should they, at least at this early juncture.
Mike Shanahan had John Elway in Denver, of course, but he also had a whole slew of running backs who contributed mightily.
The Redskins’ running game seems pretty solid, despite Alfred Morris’ early problems holding on to the ball.
Can the Redskins ride a stout running game to a second straight division title? Possibly. But it’s going to be a tougher season than that which a perfect preseason indicated.
Despite the hype and the high hopes, it’s back to basics. Better tackling. Better special teams play, especially on kick and punt returns – Chris Wilson had an awful night.
Still, and despite my natural inclination to see the glass as half empty, I think the Redskins will make the playoffs again this year. There is a lot of talent on this team.
If. If the Shanahans realize that the road this year is going to be quite different from the road they traveled in 2012, and make changes accordingly.
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