Five observations from Washington’s loss to San Francisco

And the slide continues. With a 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins suffered their fourth straight defeat – the second such futility streak of the coach’s tenure in D.C. – and fell to 3-5.

Today, the Redskins — who have not led an opponent since their Oct. 2 victory over St. Louis — limp back into Redskins Park to go over yesterday’s performance, determine what went wrong and see what, if anything, they can build on when they turn their attention to the Miami Dolphins starting Wednesday.

Here are five observations from Sunday’s dismal outing.

1.)Shanahan finally takes the honest route

Last season Shanahan offered the notion that Donovan McNabb could lead the team to a Super Bowl late in his career as John Elway did under the coach in Denver. This year he staked his reputation on the fact that Rex Grossman and John Beck both could play and that either could win a lot of games for him this season. (Yeah, we all had our doubts there.)

But after Sunday’s loss, a seemingly humbled Shanahan finally said what he should’ve said all along: This is gonna take time. There’s some young talent on this team but the Redskins are not in win-now mode. On more than one occasion, Shanahan referenced the team’s youth and how important this year’s playing time is for their development. The coach said he knew this wouldn’t be easy and hoped to be farther along right now. In Sunday’s post-game presser, Shanahan basically said, ‘We’re playing for next year and the year after that. I’ve gotta raise these kids right now and keep adding pieces this offseason.’

Shanahan, of course, says whatever he has to say to build his players’ confidence and get his story across. But he could have eased outward pressure on himself had he taken a more transparent approach from the get-go. He may very well have shared the keeping-it-real version with his boss, Dan Snyder, so the owner would have patience with his rebuilding project. Shanahan needs it. Given their injuries, it’s not really a surprise that the Redskins aren’t winning. How badly they’re losing does come as a bit of a surprise, however.

What’s clear is the cupboard was so bare that it’s going to take a good while to restock it. You feel for aging soldiers like London Fletcher because he’s running out of time and this team isn’t even an offseason away from morphing into a contender next year.

2.) An example of youth

The Redskins missed on a chance to pick up a nice gain early in the second quarter when Beck threw an incompletion to rookie Niles Paul, who appeared to quit on the route. Turns out Paul, who was open, did not quit. It was a tempo route, which required Paul to drift into the area at less than full-speed, find the hole in the zone coverage, make the catch and accelerate to the top. Paul admitted he is still learning how to feel out a secondary on such a route and that he was kicking himself for blowing a rare opportunity. Next time, he said he probably would drift in at about three-quarter speed and read his quarterback more closely. That’s one of many things a rookie has to learn and the only way to do it is by getting more reps.

3.) Good and bad of Trent Williams’s personal foul

For a second time this season Trent Williams bailed out the opposition with a foolish decision after a play ended. The first time came against Philly and let the Eagles out of the shadow of their end zone after an interception. This time Williams’ personal foul wiped out what would’ve been a first down. The good news is that both times Williams was stepping to the aid of a teammate he saw being wronged. But the bad outweighs the good. As the franchise left tackle he has to be a leader and carry himself with more poise. You can get in a guy’s face and tell him to knock it off but you have to control yourself and resist the urge to retaliate physically. Williams said he didn’t know it was a personal foul and 15-yard penalty to hit a guy in the back, and that he believed the play hadn’t ended. Actually it had. Silverback needs to have more discipline and awareness so he helps his team instead of hurting it.

4.) Beck needs to find balance

Last week against Buffalo, Beck helped cause five or six sacks by hanging on to the ball too long. Yesterday he missed on several big plays because he wanted to get the ball out quickly and go to his safety valve, Roy Helu, so the defense wouldn’t get to him. Problem was, in several instances, the QB needed to wait only half a beat longer. As he let go of short passes, guys were coming open down the sideline. After the game, Beck admitted that he needed to be more patient on several plays so his downfield receivers could get open. Shanahan says he’s sticking with Beck, so it’s clear the coach is done with Rex Grossman. He’s hoping Beck can develop a sharper mental clock and pick up on all of the nuances a winning quarterback needs to learn. Even if the Redskins draft a quarterback next year, Shanahan needs a veteran to serve as a bridge, and he may want to do as much as he can to put Beck in that role.

5.) The hole in the defense

The Redskins’ defense did enough to position the team to win, but there still were some breakdowns on that side of the ball. It’s been no secret that the Redskins’ linebackers struggle in pass coverage and teams continue to exploit this area. In back to back games, we’ve seen teams score wide open touchdowns on pass routes that draw coverage from the inside linebackers.

It’s easier said than done, but London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh have to do better in coverage or Jim Haslett needs to find a way to give them some help. The team’s cornerbacks have given up some plays, but none in the last two weeks have been as costly as the Scott Chandler touchdown for Buffalo, which looked almost identical to yesterday’s 49ers touchdown to Bruce Miller. Usually, blown assignments like those will frustrate a coach. But then he turns to his offense to get those points back with a touchdown of their own. For the Redskins, as Haslett noted, every defensive mistake is magnified because the offense can’t score.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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