Redskins back to basics in search of a cure


The Redskins say they’re confident in their game plans and their young players’ upside. For offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, left, and quarterback John Beck, there’s nowhere to go but up after a 178-yard, zero-point game. (Toni L. Sandys/WASHINGTON POST)
October 31, 2011

There is apparently no instant remedy for whatever ails the Washington Redskins, whose myriad woes have turned a first-place team into a division bottom-feeder in barely two weeks’ time.

Fresh off Sunday's 23-0 drubbing by the Buffalo Bills, Washington Coach Mike Shanahan said he foresees no major changes around Redskins Park this week.

Are coaches doing enough? “Yeah, we try to,” he said.

Play-calling okay? “Yeah,” he said, “pretty comfortable with the play-calling.”

So, what’s the plan to turn around a team that has lost all three games since the bye week, that’s dropped four of five and in no way resembles the squad that was creating such a stir in September?

“First thing you try to do is go back to the basics and that’s good practices,” Shanahan said. “We’ll continue to try to do that day-by-day. That’s the only way you have a chance.”

With the San Francisco 49ers coming to town this weekend at 6-1, the Redskins will have to quickly master those basics if they hope to right a ship that’s sinking fast. The problems seem to stretch from the players’ locker room to the coaches’ offices.

While injuries have prompted heavy turnover on offense, the Redskins’ recent foes have had no problems with Washington’s gameplans. In fact, Carolina cornerback captain Munnerlyn said last week, “We were just calling out their plays.”

Play-calling is done primarily by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, though Mike Shanahan said Monday that he is “heavily involved with the offense.” Redskins coaches spend all week scripting their opening plays for each game, yet they’ve totaled just three points on opening drives this season.

Mid-game adjustments have been difficult to spot as well. In Sunday’s loss, the Bills opened the second half with a 43-yard run that set the stage for a touchdown; the Redskins’ first drive of the half began with a one-yard run, two penalties, a sack and a Sav Rocca punt.

While Shanahan discussed fundamentals on Monday, players in the locker room stressed execution.

“At the end of the day, whatever they call, we’ve still got to go out and execute, so it falls back on us,” said right tackle Jammal Brown. “Not Kyle Shanahan or nothing like that.”

Whether blame lies with coaches, players or both, the Redskins’ past three games suggest the team is pointed in the wrong direction, particularly on offense. Washington entered its bye week with a 3-1 record. In the three games since, the team has lost several key starters to injuries — wide receiver Santana Moss, running back Tim Hightower, left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Chris Cooley among them — and benched quarterback Rex Grossman. But the Redskins also have seen their offensive numbers fall drastically.

Washington went from scoring 20.8 points and rolling up 356 yards per game before the bye to averaging just 11 points and posting 272.7 yards after. Production has slipped in almost every important category: turnovers, sacks, first downs, third-down conversions.

“We believe in this offense,” said Ryan Torain, the Redskins’ starting running back who posted a team-high 14 yards on eight carries against the Bills. “We believe in Kyle. We love Kyle out here working with us. We’re in this together, so we’ve just got to keep fighting and keep pressing.”

So far, the offense hasn’t shown big-play ability. It has gained more than 40 yards on only two plays this season. Only the New York Jets have fewer. The Redskins have reached the red zone 23 times and scored on just 16 of those trips. That’s less than 70 percent of the time and worse than any other NFL team. Washington has given up 22 sacks, more than all but five teams. And the team’s quarterback rating is 67.7, worse than every other team except Jacksonville.

At the center of the offensive struggles is John Beck, who still is searching for his first win as an NFL quarterback.

In the first half Sunday, before the Bills pulled away, Beck was 8-of-13 passing for 66 yards. By the end of the game, he’d totaled 208 yards but also threw two interceptions and was sacked nine times, some of which could have been avoided.

“John, like most young quarterbacks, is going to go through some growing pains. . . . There’s going to be some good games, there’s going to be some games that are a little off,” Shanahan said on Monday. “I would say that yesterday was one of the games that John was a little off in.”

While Shanahan said the Redskins would maintain their normal routine this week in preparation for the 49ers, the roster and starting lineup will still be a point of intrigue. Washington claimed former Dallas running back Tashard Choice off waivers Monday, and team trainers will be monitoring tight end Fred Davis, the team’s top playmaker this season, who is slowed by a sprained ankle.

While the Redskins’ slide down the division standings took just a few games, with second-string players pushed into starring roles, it may be more difficult for Washington to claw its way back to the top as quickly.

“We’ve got some young players that are playing that I think have a big upside at a number of positions. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Shanahan said. “I’ve got a lot of belief in these guys that they’ll play well, hopefully much better than we played yesterday.”

Staff writer Gene Wang contributed to this report.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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