At 3-6, Washington Redskins dealing with myriad problems in bid to save season

The Washington Post's Jason Reid offers the key takeaways from the Redskins' crippling performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night. (The Washington Post)
November 8, 2013

The Washington Redskins’ 34-27 loss Thursday night in Minnesota dropped them to 3-6, the same disappointing mark they reached through nine games last season. At this point in 2012, the Redskins fixed their defense and saved their season; they won their final seven games to capture the NFC East title.

In 2013, the problems are not limited to one area.

Although everyone within the organization, at least publicly, believes the issues can be fixed, the Redskins have yet to figure out how to put together a complete game.

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan opted Friday not to dwell on the shortcomings. He instead looked for positives

“First off, you take a look at our offense and I think any time you’re [among the league leaders] in rushing, you’re doing some good things,” he said. “We’ve improved in passing — maybe not as effective, but at times we’ve been very effective. And we have to play our best football in the second half of the season.

“Defensively, we’ve talked about that as well. We’ve played some good halves over the last three or four games, but we have to put complete games together to get where we want to get. And special teams, we’ve made some strides. Our coverage teams have been much better than they have been. We’ve got a little more continuity and players feeling more comfortable in our system.”

The team’s inability to play four strong quarters is a glaring concern, however. Against the Vikings, the Redskins scored 24 first-half points. A field goal early in the third quarter stretched their lead to 27-14. From that point, Washington went 0 for 6 on third downs and did not reach the end zone.

Pass protection was one area of concern as the line surrendered four second-half sacks.

“It’s extremely frustrating. That game was right in our hands,” tight end Niles Paul said. “We had it won. It seemed like anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It sucks, man.”

The defense didn’t exactly dominate in the first half. In the second half, the unit proved incapable of stopping the Vikings, giving up 20 unanswered points — a collapse similar to the 38 unanswered points the team yielded in the second half two games prior in a 45-21 loss in Denver.

The Redskins managed only one sack against the Vikings and allowed quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel to complete a combined 78 percent of their passes.

“This was a game that was very upsetting because defensively we played good and the second half, I don’t know what happened,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We put too much pressure on our offense, which is unacceptable if you want to be a good defense. So, it’s back to the drawing board for us.”

The struggles on special teams continued as well. For a sixth consecutive game, the team had a crippling play on special teams. A botched fake punt attempt — where Paul, in the role of gunner, didn’t see the signal from teammate Reed Doughty and thus wasn’t looking when punter Sav Rocca threw a pass his way — served as the latest blunder for a unit that has surrendered a blocked punt for a touchdown, two punt returns for a touchdown, a 90-yard kickoff return and two blocked field goals.

Shanahan said that the team has done better on coverages in the last few weeks and will continue to experiment with return men after failing to find consistency in that department.

Shanahan said he remains confident in his players’ ability to resurrect their season just like they did last year. But the coach only wants his players focusing on next week’s game at Philadelphia.

“The bottom line is to be 4-6. We were 3-6 a year ago, and we had one goal and that was to become 4-6, and to do that, we have to have a group effort,” Shanahan said. “This loss [Thursday] was a team loss just like against San Diego, I thought it was a team win. We’ve got to do it collectively to get it done, and I think we can do that.”

Notes: Rookie running back Chris Thompson will be placed on the season-ending injured reserve list and will have surgery to correct a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Shanahan said. Thompson, a fifth-round pick out of Florida State, opened the season as the team’s kick and punt returner.

But he struggled in that capacity and has been inactive the last six games. . . .

The NFL fined linebacker London Fletcher $15,750 for a horse-collar tackle of running back Danny Woodhead last Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, according to a person familiar with the situation. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was not fined for an unnecessary roughness personal foul during the San Diego game.

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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