Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Steelers

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III and the Redskins fell to 3-5 on the season. (Associated Press)

The Washington Redskins suffered their most disheartening loss of the season, falling 27-12 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and dropped to 3-5 on the year.

 A lot of warts were exposed in this loss – on both offense and defense. The Redskins scored a season-low 12 points and found the end zone only once. On defense, a once promising unit appears to be getting worse.

 Here are five observations from the defeat:

1.) Toothless defense – It was more of the same. The defensive backs still struggle mightily in coverage, the linemen and linebackers continue to have a hard time mounting any sort of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Injuries are an easy excuse. But every team deals with injuries. The Steelers were without their top play-making defensive back in Troy Polamalu, and still found a way to execute. Yes, Brandon Meriweather remains sidelined and hasn’t set foot on the field during the regular season, and yes, Tanard Jackson is serving a year-long suspension. But Madieu Williams is a seasoned veteran, and DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are original starters on this defense. But they don’t consistently execute. The Redskins went with more zone coverage to try to avoid getting beat by the speedy Steelers, but the defensive backs were slow in their reactions, and tackled poorly for much of the game. Up front, the Redskins linemen didn’t get the same type of push that the Steelers did, and missed tackles abounded there as well. The Redskins have been good against the run, and hadn’t allowed a back to rush for more than 83 yards all season. But Sunday, they allowed Jonathan Dwyer to average 6.3 yards per carry. The Redskins tackled high, didn’t wrap up, and as a result were gashed. There were no forced turnovers, and only one sack (and that was on a wide receiver pass). The Redskins recorded only one hit on Ben Roethlisberger, and moderately pressured him only three times. Those aren’t schematic problems. It’s something else. Mental toughness and execution seem to be blame. There is no killer instinct and no imposing mindset from the defense. The Steelers dictated what they were going to do from start to finish, and the Redskins presented little opposition. Who’s to blame for this? The coaches? Players? Both?

2.) Punchless offense – The Redskins had their worst offensive outing of the season, but it wasn’t because they had a rookie quarterback going against a veteran defense. Robert Griffin III put his teammates in position to make plays, but the pass-catchers didn’t hold up their end of the deal, dropping ten passes. As a result, the Redskins couldn’t string together many drives and found themselves having to play catch-up. That meant they had to move away from the running game and lacked the balance that has paved the way for offensive success this season. Receiver Josh Morgan wanted to use weather as a reason for the drops, but his Steelers counterparts made big catches in the rain. Evan Royster and Darrel Young said that they believed they were pressing and feeling desperate to make plays and thus began looking to pick up yards rather than focusing entirely on catching passes. As with the defense, the Redskins’ offense is now rather lacking in the talent department, so there is virtually no margin for error. The players need to maintain focus. Washington succeeded on just three of 12 third downs. The Steelers exposed the Redskins’ lack of playmakers. Griffin is electrifying, but as Mike Shanahan said, “He’s got to have some help.”

3.) In search of speed – In addition to the dropped balls, the Redskins’ offense was hurt by a lack of speed. The Garcon and Davis injuries rob Washington of their only explosive threats on offense. There doesn’t appear to be anyone capable of creating real separation. Santana Moss gets open, but isn’t used as much as in the past. (Maybe that needs to change). Aldrick Robinson has good speed, but he was used on only 14 snaps. I’m not really sure what changed, but Robinson did a good job of stepping in for Garcon in the New Orleans game. His playing time has decreased ever since. The Redskins need to find a way to get him more involved, because Leonard Hankerson and Morgan aren’t going to beat anyone deep. Brandon Banks again was passed over on offense, but if he can hold onto the ball, he can help the team as a receiver or in the option attack. We saw Kyle Shanahan go to a fair bit of creativity in attempt to manufacture some explosiveness, but there was no big payoff. The Redskins no doubt have fingers crossed that Garcon returns after the bye. Otherwise, this offense may never again kick into high gear.

 4.) Hall’s blowup – As poorly as the Redskins played on both sides of the ball, nothing was more discouraging than Hall’s late-game blowup at an official. As one of the leaders of the team, he should understand the importance of maintaining his composure regardless of the situation. Coach Mike Shanahan preaches that all the time. It’s one thing to argue a call or non-call. We see London Fletcher do it often. But Hall didn’t just get upset and remove his helmet in the field of play (which draws a penalty), he also got in the face of the official and dropped one F-bomb after another while complaining about the job the referees were doing. Beyond ridiculous. Hall refused to discuss the incident later, saying only that he was scheduling a meeting with the commissioner to get to the bottom of some things. What exactly he was trying to get to the bottom of is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t matter what’s called or not called, a leader of a team – or the 53rd guy on the squad – can’t conduct himself in such a way. We’ve seen Hall lose his cool off and on during his time in Washington, on the field or criticizing a coach. Considering that he has struggled in pass coverage more often than not, his behavior certainly outweighs any positives he provides. That being said, the Redskins won’t cut him. But Hall needs to be reminded that as one of the more veteran members of the team – and one of the highest paid players on the roster (he makes $6 million this year) – he must set a better example, keep his mouth shut, and focus on making plays.

5.) Halfway-point thoughts – We’ll take a closer look at the Redskins at the halfway point later this week, but here’s a quick rundown: Griffin is as good as advertised, and maybe better. We thought he’d make plays with his legs, but didn’t expect him to be as advanced in the passing game as he is. The Redskins got it right, giving up the farm to acquire him. … The other offseason moves have yet to pay off. The Redskins are still waiting for a return on their investments in Garcon, Morgan, Meriweather, Williams and Cedric Griffin in free agency, and outside of Griffin and Alfred Morris, the 2012 draft class has yet to prove itself. … There’s nothing the Redskins can do about their defensive personnel at this time, but the effort and mental toughness have to improve. If the Redskins are going to give up yards, they’ve got to get more takeaways and be strong in the red zone. And they have to do better against tight ends. Teams routinely torch them in the mid-range passing game, where the linebackers have struggled in coverage as well. … People want someone to blame and Jim Haslett often is the target, but I’m still not convinced coaching is the problem. Personnel seems to be more like it. The Redskins don’t seem to be very good. And Shanahan and Bruce Allen are getting what they paid for. They went bargain shopping on defense in the offseason and addressed the offense (yes, the $18 million cap penalty hurt). What happens when you buy cheap products? Things don’t work as well. … A win against Carolina Sunday would do the Redskins a lot of good. They can go into the bye week with some positives, and they would own a 4-5 record and remain relevant in the NFC East, which, outside of the Giants, appears to be rather shaky. … Stiff challenges lie ahead. After Carolina and the bye await Philadelphia, Dallas and the Giants on consecutive weeks. Depending on how those games play out, the Redskins will either be done for the season by the time December rolls around or have a chance to continue to claw their way down the final stretch and hope for a respectable 9-7, 8-8 record.

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