There is nothing good about sitting at 3-8 when you defy the odds and win your Division the previous season. Everyone is looking for the key reasons as to how the same top five offense, bad defense and horrible special teams can’t pull it together to win seven straight again. It not easy to explain, but there are many factors that have put the Redskins into this slump that has most of us looking to 2014 for a breath of fresh air.
Compare the two seasons and you find a different final seven games against very different teams.
The 2013 Cowboys and Eagles are very different teams this year compared to last year. So are the Giants but in a worse way. Last year’s seven game win streak put the Redskins against teams of which only two finished the season with more wins over losses. Already in 2013, it would look to be that we are playing teams of which four have current winning records above .500. This isn’t any excuse of course, and doesn’t explain why we can’t seem to put points on the board.
Many things have happened in the NFL since Robert’s injury and recovery that have not only effected us, but other teams that run the read option. It’s not working as well as it did last year for most teams outside of Carolina and Seattle. They have success with it because it makes up very little of their total offense. Robert’s skill set was geared towards this type of play and sadly that will not sustain wins in the NFL and will most likely injure him further if used heavily. Colin Kapernick is struggling as well with this realization. It can have success, but it has to be a minimal part or exception. Greats like Rogers, Peyton, Brady, and Brees are extremely successful without running it at all. This is where young rookie QB’s have to place their focus, with allowing the read option to be a small portion of their pocket passing to succeed. It can’t be an all-in strategy.
Robert has to learn to be a pocket passer and we are seeing week to week that the coaching staff are pushing hard for it. He is having some success and improvement in learning to step up in the pocket and that is encouraging, however he seems to struggle with his pre-snap reads and he still tends to show his intentions too easily, which defenses are picking up. His footwork could use work and he needs to spend time trusting his recently repaired knee. After an injury like that, no QB is going to fully trust it right away, but he will have to work on trusting it more and more to not release throws off the balls of his foot. Planting is central to accuracy and confidence. It will come, but it won’t come immediately for a young QB who had no off-season or pre-season.
You can’t simply blame Robert for this teams inability to get an offense going. There are issues that start at the offensive line that would have even some of the best QB’s scrambling to get the ball out. The most solid part of our o-line is Trent Williams, and that’s about it. When an o-line can’t hold against a defense bringing four men, you have an issue. A pocket passer needs a good o-line and if the coaching staff expects Robert to learn this unknown-to-him play style then they have to protect him. Nothing kills confidence better than hit after hit and Robert has been taking hits that would make pro-wrestling jealous. Until we have depth here, there is no way to expect a second year QB to make huge strides in his ability to operate in the pocket. We were a team that was known for its unbreakable offensive line and it won us Superbowls. This needs to be priority number one this off-season, with the following priority right behind it.
There is nothing you are going to be able to get out of our current secondary on defense that can be seen as a positive. Late round draft picks have seen Rambo struggling with a few improvements and Phillip Thomas’s injury only prolongs being able to see what he could develop into. Our defensive front is not all that bad, but Josh Wilson is not going to be the answer at corner and Hall is only getting older. Hall has stepped up to become the corner he should have been all the time we were paying him big money, and more than likely we will need to pay up this off-season. Losing him to another team will hurt and I think the coaches know this. We need big pick-ups in our secondary if we want to even pretend to stop even backup QB’s from shredding us apart.
One thing we need to talk about is coaching. When you have almost the exact same weapons you had the previous season and those weapons aren’t getting open, tackling, hitting their mark, or blocking, it become clear that at some point coaching has taken a dive. Haslett has done what he can with what he has, but he has also lived off this excuse since we switched to a 3-4 defense. We simply don’t have the players to execute this type of defense, and so I think that at the end of the season it’s time to part ways with Jim. Lovie Smith is waiting out there in the wind and has had success in the past. I’m not against picking him up and seeing if he can light a fire under this teams ass. Seeing Haslett sitting in a booth game-to-game (even though it may be necessary with the personnel he has) seems like a coach who is disconnected from his players. The entire secondary is young and I’d like to see him down on the sidelines firing them up and giving them instant commentary on their successes and mistakes. Keep in mind we went from a top ten 4-3 defense to a worst ranked 3-4 defense. There is an issue on defense and I fear it starts at the top.
When it comes to offense, I’m undecided on what should be done. I’m not sure firing Kyle Shanahan is the right thing to do, but I will say that there has to be something done about his play calling on important downs. At most, it is suspect. Something about calling pass plays on third and two when you’ve run the ball all day makes me uneasy. He seems to fire on all cylinders in some games and then completely makes calls that boggle my mind in others. Calling a fade to Santana Moss (not a tall guy) on fourth down to tie the game seems like the last play to call in that situation. Something is not correct and maybe it’s Mike’s gambling that he often says he likes to do, that allows these calls to be made? I just don’t know. What I do know is we tend to always abandon the run game when it’s successful, knowing that the Redskins are a run team. I won’t say he needs to go, but I will say he needs to learn to evaluate his situational play calling.
Drops have been a constant this year. There is always going to be a learning curve and growth period for younger WR’s but too often, big plays have come to a halt because of the inability of Moss, or Garcon to hold onto a perfectly thrown ball. You’re paid millions to catch. You’re not always going to catch wobbled, off-mark, or poorly thrown balls, but perfect passes are supposed to be secured. If its in your hands, then its on you.
So how do these Redskins get better? Well for one we no longer owe the league 18 million a year for something every team did that off-season, which means we have to be able to re-sign key players and add depth to both sides of the field. O-line needs to take priority and we’ve been calling for it since Mike came to D.C. Secondly our secondary needs depth in ways were veteran players need to come in a teach these younger guys how to successfully play zone and man. Haslett needs to exit and we need to bring someone in who wont radio their dissatisfaction from a booth, completely disconnected from their squad. Mike needs one more year along with his son, but Kyle needs to understand that big flashy plays don’t guarantee wins. If you can win on the ground or in the short passing game, then you stick to what works to grab that W. With an o-line and a full off-season to sync up, you will see Robert improve greatly in the pocket. Robert is still only 23 years old and new to this style of offense. It’s going to take time, but time in the pocket will give you glimpses of what he can be. Just look at Cam Newton now for hope. Receivers need to sync and work on fundamental catching and defense needs to work on fundamental tackling (which has gotten better recently).
Most of all, us fans need to stop thinking that the solution in D.C. is to blow this team up every year and get all new coaches, systems, players, and QB’s. Development takes time and it sucks waiting, but the success known to the Packers, Patriots, Saints isn’t created overnight and requires vigilance to maintain. This off-season will be huge in being able to determine if D.C. acts in a way that will bring success. Watch them closely, because there are no excuses next year if they address these issues.