Five observations from the Redskins’ season-ending loss to the Seahawks

A remarkable turnaround ended on a down note.

A remarkable turnaround ended on a down note.

The Washington Redskins this morning will clean out their locker rooms and scatter to their offseason homes while their coaches and the team’s front office officials assess their season and turn their attention to improving this team.

The Redskins exceeded expectations this season, rebounding from a 3-6 start to win the division and reach the playoffs with a 10-6 record. But last night’s 24-14 loss to Seattle is disappointing for a number of reasons.

Here are five observations from that game.

1. How different could things have been? So, the what-if game is already being played. And it’s natural. What if Robert Griffin III had been healthy, what if he could’ve gone out and done all the wonderful things that we have seen him do for much of the season prior to his knee injury? Seattle’s Richard Sherman said it would’ve been a much different game. There’s a very good chance the Redskins would have won. Russell Wilson basically gave a little hint of what we could’ve seen from Griffin and the Redskins. Wilson made plays with his arm and legs. The one-two punch of him and Lynch kept Washington’s defense off-balance, and they moved the ball up and down the field. Griffin probably would’ve done it even better, both with his legs and arm. There is no question that Griffin and the Redskins started off hot, jumping out to a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter. Had he not gotten hurt, there’s a very good chance the offensive fireworks would have continued. There is the question of the Washington defense, which gave up a season-high 224 rushing yards. But before Griffin got hurt again, Seattle’s defense didn’t have any answers either. The Redskins’ defense played very well in the first quarter. Could they have kept up the pace? Or, would we have seen a very exciting zone-read/pistol/play-action shootout? There’s no way to know for sure, but most likely we would have seen a better outcome for the Redskins.

2. What-if, Part 2: What if Mike Shanahan had pulled Griffin sooner? The coach said Griffin had earned the right to stay in the game because of all that he had done this season. Not a single Redskins player disagreed. However, Shanahan admitted that from the second quarter on, Washington’s offense was not the same. Griffin continually told his coach he was still capable of playing at a high level. We all saw his diminished impact, but Shanahan said Griffin basically told him what he wanted to hear, and he wanted to believe his player and went with his gut. That gut decision obviously now looks like it was wrong. But, say Griffin had been able to come out in the second half and pull off a strong finish. Say Leonard Hankerson doesn’t drop the pass in the middle of the field early in the fourth quarter on a play that would’ve given Washington a first down in Seattle territory. Say Darrel Young could’ve gotten just a little bit more of Bruce Irvin as he tried to prevent the 12-yard sack on Griffin on that bootleg later in the fourth (the play before Griffin left the game), then what? If Griffin emerges victorious, his legend would have soared to unbelievable heights. But, it seems the risk was greater than the reward. You can make an argument that sending Griffin back into the game in the third quarter wasn’t a bad move. I do believe that after that fourth-quarter run where he moved so poorly (still gained 9 yards but was dragging his leg like there was a bowling ball attached to it), was where he should have come out. If not there, then definitely after the sack by Irvin. There’s no questioning Griffin’s desire and that special “It” factor that he has or the size of his heart. He believed he owed it to his teammates to be out there on the field. The question is whether Shanahan risked long-term health and success for short-term gain? It’s a hard, fine line when you’re in that situation. But as not only the coach but also the team president, you owe it to that player in the franchise to step back and assess both. Sometimes, you have to protect the player from himself. I’m not saying that Kirk Cousins would have been able to come in and lead the Redskins to more points, which would’ve protected their lead prior to that Lynch touchdown. I’m not saying that sending Cousins into the game right after the touchdown would have led to a comeback. As we saw, the Seahawks defense went hard after Cousins, who completed just three of 10 passes. But by going with Cousins sooner, before you had no choice but to go with him because of Griffin’s final fall, Shanahan possibly could have saved the franchise from a long-term setback. If Griffin’s knee is seriously injured and requires significant surgery, he could miss all of the next season. Had he been pulled sooner, maybe that could’ve been avoided, or maybe the damage is already done. We will never know. But, Shanahan obviously went with what he thought was right at the time. It will be interesting to hear his take later Monday.

3. Pressure on defense: The Redskins’ defense found itself in the position that many of their opponents have been in this season. The Seahawks kept them off balance with the zone read and play-action attack and they struggled to get key stops on third downs. They gave up the season-high 187 rushing yards and played 63 snaps compared to the offense’s  52 snaps. They got crucial stops throughout the third quarter. They had big stops in the first quarter. They had a letdown in the second quarter, and then in the fourth quarter, they wore down. The Redskins struggled with maintaining their gap assignments. They weren’t surprised by anything they saw, player said, but they didn’t consistently execute the way they should have. There were times when they did very well, but it wasn’t enough. They didn’t allow any big, damaging pass plays, but Lynch and Wilson gashed
them in the running game, and as a result, the offense had fewer opportunities in the second half. The defense obviously could have been helped if the offense could have moved the ball and sustained drives in the second, third and fourth quarters, but Redskins defensive players said it was on them that they did not get off the field sooner than they did.

4. Not enough Morris? I’ve already gotten the question a good number of times in the last several hours since the game has ended: Where was Alfred Morris? Why didn’t he have a bigger role? Morris had 16 carries for 80 yards. Yes, a big dropoff from his 33 carries for 200 yards last week against Dallas, but the Redskins also ran fewer plays. They were not able to extend drives. They only passed the ball 19 times before Griffin got hurt. Morris carried the ball on eight of 16 first- and second-down plays from the second quarter until the middle of the fourth quarter when Cousins entered and Washington had to play from behind. The thing was, the Redskins couldn’t pick up third downs because Griffin struggled with his accuracy, and because of some drops by receivers. Washington was 5-for-11 on third downs and had 15 first downs to Seattle’s 22. Both Griffin and Shanahan said his knee didn’t hinder his throwing motion, but he definitely was not planting on that right leg. Regardless, an inability to pick up third-down conversions was the reason Morris didn’t get as many opportunities.

5. Still a remarkable season: The loss to Seattle stings, yes. The injury and uncertain future of Griffin hurts even more for the Redskins and their fans. But there’s no denying that this was a remarkable season for the franchise. Their rookie quarterback came in and exceeded expectations. He energized disfranchise an elevated everyone’s levels of play. The offensive line that was such a concern in training camp and the preseason played extremely well for the most part. Morris was the steal of the year and appears to have a bright future as the feature back in this office. Pierre Garcon made an impact in the second half of the season; the Redskins were 9-2 in games in which he played. It will be interesting to see how a fully healthy Garcon further impacts this team. On defense, the Redskins had plenty of glaring problem areas in the first half of the season, but they pulled off a dramatic turnaround. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett does not get enough credit for the work that he did in the second half of the season. He had the same collection of players as the first half, but he came up with the right concoctions and pushed all the right buttons and made this a formidable unit as the team went on the seven-game win streak. Imagine having Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather healthy this season; there possibly would’ve been several more victories. People were calling for Haslett’s job at midseason. Now, however, his name has been mentioned as a possible head coach. If he returns next season, which it sounds like he wants to, this defense should take a significant step forward with improved health and the addition of some other pieces in the secondary.

What next?The Redskins will hold their breath and wait to find out about Griffin’s knee. The offense has the pieces in place to continue to improve. Defense is where the bulk of Washington’s attention needs to devote the bulk of its attention in the draft in free agency. Yes, they are without a first-round pick, and $18 million short because of the salary cap hit. But the Redskin still have the resources to go out and add pieces to their defense whether through the draft or free agency. They need to look at the safety position. Can Meriweather return? What about free safety? DeAngelo Hall is owed more than $7 million next year. Will they restructure him or release him? What moves at cornerback need to be made? Will London Fletcher return? It’s Keenan Robinson the answer at that inside linebacker spot if Fletcher does not? Is it Lorenzo Alexander? What do the Redskins need to do to continue to get better so this will not just be a one-hit wonder? All these questions and more will be answered within the next several months. The process will start quickly. The Senior Bowl is at the end of this month. The Combine is in February, free agency in March and the draft in April. Don’t blink: It’ll be here before you know.

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