Redskins mailbag: The handling of RGIII, Meriweather’s play and Jordan Reed’s potential

Kyle Shanahan, Robert Griffin III

Should Robert Griffin III have opened the season as the team’s starting quarterback? (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Washington Redskins players get today as one final day to lick their wounds and reflect on Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions. Then, tomorrow they will return to the practice field and begin laying the groundwork for their cross-country trip to take on the Oakland Raiders.

Redskins coaches today are formulating their game plans for that game, which is a must-win for 0-3 Washington.

Meanwhile, we’ll do a little reflecting ourselves as we — through your mailbag questions — tackle some of the Redskins’ problem areas and prospects for a turnaround.

Thanks again for sending in your questions.

Here we go!

Is Shanahan playing Griffin because he feels the Redskins have a better chance of winning with him in the game, or is he playing him for some other reason — political, personal, emotional, some kind of “NFL mob”-related expectation, draft picks, etc.?

— Brian James

Mike Shanahan is playing Griffin because he is their franchise quarterback and ultimately gives them the best chance to win. Now, having said that, although he didn’t come out and say it at the start of the season, Shanahan knew it was possible that Griffin would encounter some struggles in the opening weeks of the season as he worked his way back into the flow. He didn’t have offseason practices or preseason games. I think the hope, however, was that the defense would have provided more support, and that the other 10 offensive players could have helped compensate for any rust Griffin experienced. But, the defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone, and the team has fallen behind early in games, and Griffin has had to pass more than anyone wanted. The plan of feeding Alfred Morris early and often while Griffin got his groove back has gone out the window because of the large deficits. Griffin has gotten better each week. Is he his old self? Not quite. Is he making improvements? Yes. His knee is structurally sound, it’s just muscle memory and mental sharpness that must be refined. Shanahan could have sat Griffin for the first four weeks of the season, but then he would have faced the Dallas Cowboys in a Week 6 divisional game without any game reps. As is evident, practice-speed reps are nothing like game-speed.

Shanahan also has done the right thing sticking with Griffin. If he’s already working on regaining his confidence, a benching would only rattle him, and possibly jeopardize the player and coach’s relationship. The crazy thing about this past week is, you take away three mistakes — the interception, the fumble and Aldrick Robinson’s drop — and the Redskins are 1-2 and headed for Oakland looking at a good shot at going into the bye with a 2-2 record. The Redskins would’ve likely scored a field goal on both of the drives that ended in turnovers, so it’s possible they could’ve actually led in the fourth quarter. And despite the interception and fumble, Washington still had a chance for the win. Say Aldrick Robinson gets his hand further under the ball by just a couple more inches and keeps it from rolling around before he did secure it. Everyone would’ve been saying, “Okay, Griffin the gangster is back. Mojo is flowing. He got the last bit of ugly out with the turnovers and then shrugged both of them off to throw a game-winning touchdown pass to stop the bleeding.”  But, just a couple inches made a difference. As Al Pacino said  — in one of my favorite movie lines of all time —  in Any Given Sunday, it’s “a game of inches … We claw with our finger nails for that inch, ’cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing.”

Early in the first half of yesterday’s game against the Lions, Bacarri Rambo left the game with an apparent injury and never returned, or if he did I didn’t see him or hear his number called the rest of the day.  There is nothing about the injury in the Post this morning.  Do you know his status? Thanks.

— John Brewer

Redskins trainers tended to Rambo on the field after a first-quarter kickoff because the rookie started cramping up. He eventually walked off the field on his own power and was fine. He played a total of 19 special teams snaps on Sunday, but didn’t play on defense — partially because the Redskins went with a secondary alignment that called for only one safety (Brandon Meriweather) and also because Redskins coaches haven’t been happy with Rambo’s inconsistencies in the tackling department.

Given that our punt/kick return teams are truly making me long for Brandon Banks, why isn’t the team trying to block more punts and use speedsters like Robinson off of the corner to try and block them? Could doing that really be less productive than what we have now?

 — Bob Lasher

You’re right, the Redskins have yet to get things on track in the punt and kick return games. But Brandon Banks, who remains out of work, isn’t the answer. You remember his frequent fumbles, right? The Redskins do put some of their fastest guys on the edges so they can try to get in the backfield and to the punter, but it’s easier said than done — getting off those blocks and getting back to the punter in a matter of seconds to pull off a block. According to Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg, it takes 0.70 seconds for the snap to get from his hands to Sav Rocca’s. And from snap to punt is only 2.0 seconds. That’s not a lot of time to cover 10 to 15 yards to get back to the punter. Of the 2,422 punts attempted across the league last season, only 21 of them were blocked.

How does the NFL decide how much fines are for illegal hits?  It seems pretty arbitrary. How was Brandon Meriweather‘s hit $42,000 and not $50,000 or $35,000?

 — Stuart Andreason

Those figures are determined by the league office based on the infraction, the severity of the hit, the player’s history (repeat offender or not). Some lesser personal fouls draw fines of $7,875, others fall in the $15,000-$20,000 range. And then you have some that the league believes warrant heftier dollar amounts based on the circumstances.

Do you think the new safety rules are having an impact on the poor tackling?  I watch a lot of NFL games (even this early in the season) and I have noticed a lot of missed tackles, not just by the Redskins.  It seems to be altering the tackling techniques of many defensive backs and linebackers.  

— Tom King

The rules that have made helmet-to-helmet hits and launching into a defenseless player shouldn’t have an impact on tackling. Proper tackling technique, which every football player learns on the first day of Pop Warner practice, involves aiming to put your shoulder at the belly of your opponent, helmet on the ball, wrapping your arms and driving the runner to the ground. The problem is, you don’t see these techniques very often anymore. Redskins players and coaches have all struggled to explain how men who have been tackling since grade school have forgotten these ABCs of tackling. Jim Haslett said last week he was taking his players back to basics and drilling tackling. It appeared to help some, but there still were a number of missed tackles in the last game. I think some of it has to do with the speed of the game, though. It’s not always easy to get in perfect position to wrap up. In those cases, many defenders are trying desperately to at least lay a lick on a ballcarrier and hope that he knocks him down or at least slows him down enough for someone else to get there for the tackle.

Should the Redskins cut their losses and let Meriweather go? He can’t stay healthy or out of trouble.

— Tim Fredrick

No, I don’t think they can do that. Not this year anyway. I think everyone will continue to hold their breath regarding Meriweather for another couple of weeks until he proves he can stay healthy. But he did actually play a full game for the first time in his Redskins career. He provided some solid coverage and recorded nine tackles. You saw the versatility that he gives Haslett. Because of his range, Haslett was able to go with only one safety and more run-stoppers. Meriweather also gave Haslett a sure tackler, which Rambo at this point is not. Now, there will likely be some blown assignments here and there, and possibly some personal fouls to come. But Meriweather is the Redskins’ best option at safety for now.

Is it realistic to think Jordan Reed will overtake two vets to become the starting tight end in Washington? Would it be worth dropping Davis to pick up Reed?

 — Michael Cauley

Jordan Reed has already proven himself to be sure handed, catching all but two of the 15 passes that have come his way. He showed on Sunday that he also is improving as a run blocker. He has great versatility, and because of that, he has a bright future and already seems to have overtaken Fred Davis. It’s still early, so Davis could play his way back into favor with the coaches. But I did have a couple players tell me that they wouldn’t be surprised if Logan Paulsen remained the starter because of his strengths as a run-blocker, and that Reed would likely remain the primary tight end target.

Concerning Jordan Reed: do you think Washington will ever use him in a Wildcat offense? He was a QB in high school and threw with success a few times at Florida. 

 — John G.

I don’t see the Redskins going with any Wildcat formations, but you can never rule out the possibility of a gimmick play that would call for a pass from Reed. He ranks among one of the most versatile players on the roster, and Washington’s offensive coaches will look for ways to take advantage of everything he can offer.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins say it’s time for action, not words.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Defensive creativity, but no resultsKeeping Fletcher fresh, getting more from Rambo

D.C. Sports Bog: Cris Carter on Smoot’s RGIII comments | More Bog

Wonkblog: The real reasons the Redskins can’t win

Wise: Veterans deserve better | Hamilton: High expectations, low results

The Early Lead: Ravens’ Jones in fight on party bus | More NFL

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Redskins have been creative on defense, without success so far