Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Panthers

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins fell to 3-6 and have lost three straight games. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Well, so much for riding into the bye week with a sense of encouragement and promise before beginning the final stretch of the season.

 The Washington Redskins put on their second woeful performance in as many weeks Sunday and proved to be the medicine that the previously 1-6 Carolina Panthers needed to end a five-game skid.

 For a second consecutive week, the Redskins’ once high-powered offense mustered only one touchdown, and for the eighth time this season, the defense surrendered a pass play of 40 yards or more.

 Now, the 3-6 team has 14 days to stew over its disappointing situation and figure out how to get back on track.

 Here are five observations from the Redskins’ 21-13 loss to the Panthers.

 1.) Shanahan’s message – Was Mike Shanahan waving the white flag, just being brutally honest or trying to motivate his players by ticking them off to the point where they come roaring back in the final seven games of the season? It’s hard to say. It’ll be interesting to see what the coach has to say for himself at today’s 5 p.m. press conference. I can tell you his players didn’t take kindly to the statement when it was relayed to them in the locker room by reporters after the game. The expression on Trent Williams’ face was a mix of anger and surprise when he heard what Shanahan said. He retorted, “How many games do we have left? Seven? I don’t think its over. I’m not giving up hope just yet.” His teammates said more of the same. Asked about Shanahan’s statement on the Football Night in America broadcast on NBC, former coach Tony Dungy said, “I would not [say that]. We’re still battling. We’ve got a chance. The Denver Broncos were 1-4 last year and made the playoffs. I would never tell my team that.” Shanahan may have been speaking out of frustration, but he has to be careful. He would appear to have some job security because of the drafting of Robert Griffin III. But if he loses the locker room, Redskins owner Dan Snyder – who has done everything he can to win from firing his good friend Vinny Cerrato, fading into the background himself, bringing in a general manager and Super Bowl winning coach, paying for high-priced free agents and selling the farm for Griffin, only to watch in agony as it all goes south once again – may have to think again.

2.) Secret out on the offense? – After ranking among the most potent offensive attacks in the league for the first seven weeks of the season, the Redskins have looked very weak. Of the teams that played both last week and this week, only the Browns have mustered fewer points (22) than Washington’s 25-point total for Weeks 8 and 9. The Redskins did rush for more than 100 yards against Carolina, but the yards have been harder to come by lately, for both Alfred Morris and Griffin. The Steelers and Panthers both did a good job of taking away the edge and stringing both runners out. Griffin is most dangerous when he cuts that corner and takes off. But Pittsburgh and Carolina prevented that from happening. Are teams now hip to the “East Coast Offense”? The Panthers’ effectiveness in limiting the Redskins shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was their coaches who introduced such concepts last year when Cam Newton entered the NFL. The next game will indicate whether defenses have truly caught up to the Redskins, or whether Washington had two bad outings and stopped themselves. It does seem like the Steelers and Panthers have laid out a blueprint for the rest of the league. But whether upcoming foes, Philly and Dallas, can execute it remains to be seen. One side note to the Redskins’ ineffectiveness on those outside runs: Evan Royster and Tyler Polumbus didn’t have their best games. Royster did score his first career touchdown, and had a 17-yard catch-and-run, but his blocking struggles continued. It’ll be interesting to see if Keiland Williams takes more  snaps going forward. Polumbus had done better this season, but appeared to give up two sacks, and didn’t seem to seal the edge as quickly as he needed to.

3.) Still lacking big-play threats – Griffin targeted 11 different players (nine caught passes), but the Redskins continue to lack a big-play pass catcher. Josh Morgan made some great catches and showed his toughness and acrobatic ability, but he doesn’t have game-changing ability. Leonard Hankerson made some clutch grabs, but he’s more of a move the chains guy than a big play guy. Aldrick Robinson blew a chance to make a catch on a slant and show off his speed on the first play of the game. It’s been said before, but the Redskins need Pierre Garcon back. Without him and Fred Davis, they are no threat to strike quickly. What are the chances of Garcon returning right after the bye? I don’t get a good feeling. There are still 14 days left before the game against the Eagles, but Garcon still walked with a pretty visible limp this past week.

4.) Same song on defense – At first thought, you think, Well, the defense did better, limiting a quarterback to less than 250 yards passing for a second consecutive week. But then you’re reminded that the Panthers put together two 90-yard touchdown drives and imposed their will upon the Redskins. Newton & Co. did it two different ways: once by methodically grinding their way downfield and once by striking quickly with an 82-yard pass against what looked like a blown coverage to put themselves in scoring position. DeAngelo Hall – who later in the game did prevent another long touchdown pass – didn’t talk after the game, so I couldn’t find out whether he was supposed to pick up Armanti Edwards on that big play, but he seemed to be in the area, and Josh Wilson, Madieu Williams and London Fletcher appeared to be locked in on other players. Hall’s teammates didn’t go into detail on what went wrong, but instead gave credit to Carolina for executing the play well. The defense did in fact give up its fewest points all season. And had this been a couple weeks ago, when the offense was putting up 28 points a game, the defensive effort would have been good enough to win. But, it’s a team effort.

5.) Drastic changes shouldn’t happen – At least they not right now. As Griffin said, “People are going to criticize. They are going to criticize the coaches, they are going to criticize the players, they are going to say a drastic change needs to be made. I don’t feel that way. I feel it’s on the players to make sure we go out there and play, regardless of what the coach calls, offense, defense or special teams.” Yes, people want Jim Haslett’s head. Some even want Shanahan’s. But that wouldn’t do any good at this point in the season. If you fire Jim Haslett, who is working with a subpar collection of players at some key positions, you have to replace him. And who would that next man up be? Raheem Morris? His area of responsibility is the worst of the unit. Again, he, like Haslett, is trying to prepare a five-star meal with two- and three-star ingredients, but Morris hasn’t brought the change that was expected. Morris is a great football mind and will one day return to the ranks of effective defensive coordinators and probably head coaches. But moving him mid-season to coordinator of a 3-4 defense that he still is learning after running 4-3 defenses all his coaching life would not work. Next option? Linebackers coach Bob Slowik? He was fired as secondary coach in January and was brought back a week or so later as linebacker coach because Lou Spanos went to UCLA. And he didn’t exactly direct powerful defenses in his previous stints as a coordinator. Staying the course through the final seven games of the season is the way to go. Then Snyder, Bruce Allen and yes, Shanahan need to ask tough questions. But the question isn’t just about coaching, Allen and Shanahan need to look at their own decisions as talent evaluators and say, “OK, was it coaching, injuries, or did we bring in the wrong pieces for Haz to work with, and can he/we get this thing back on track?”

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