Everything positive the Washington Redskins believed about themselves is gone. All that’s left is the reality of the winless team’s nightmarish start, which reached an historic low in Sunday afternoon’s dispiriting 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Washington hoped to jump-start its season against an opponent it had defeated in every meeting on its home field. Instead, the Redskins (0-3) remained stalled at the starting line after failing in what some in the organization last week privately described as a must-win game.
The Redskins continued to commit costly errors on offense — struggling quarterback Robert Griffin III had two of their biggest — tackled as poorly as usual and did just enough wrong overall to lose to the Lions for the first time in 22 meetings at their house. Entering the season, the Redskins figured they would have many groundbreaking performances — just not this type.
Washington’s ineptitude on offense, defense and special teams has created a desperate situation in which Coach Mike Shanahan and his assistants are scrambling to find answers. How bad has it gotten for the Redskins? Consider: Of the 161 NFL teams that have started the season 0-3 since 1978, only five have qualified for the postseason, according to STATS LLC.
Before the Redskins can think about trying to salvage their season, they must win a game. And from the look of things Sunday at FedEx Field, they’re not even taking baby steps toward accomplishing that elusive goal.
The group that led the NFL in rushing and finished tied for first in yards per play last season hasn’t showed up. Detroit’s defensive line — led by dominant tackle Ndamukong Suh — gives most offensive lines fits. Redskins blockers, predictably, often were overmatched.
There were, however, some encouraging signs as offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan got back to what the team did best least season: he moved things around. Play-action passes, zone-read runs, passing plays from option formations, rollouts, bootlegs — the Redskins were on the go throughout the game.
The line did a better job protecting Griffin, who mostly just dropped back in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. Although Griffin only had 37 yards rushing, his designed runs prompted Detroit’s defensive ends to pause before rushing in. Even one extra second could lead to big plays, and that element had been missing. Getting it back could make a difference down the road — if the Redskins protect the ball better.
In addition to having his third consecutive meaningless 300-yard passing game, Griffin committed two momentum-ending turnovers. At the Lions 19-yard line midway through the second quarter, Griffin, while being taken down by defensive end Willie Young near the sideline, threw into a crowd and was intercepted by cornerback Chris Houston.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins drove from their 20 to their 43. Griffin made a great play, scrambling up the middle for 21 yards, but he dove headfirst, fumbled before being touched and the Lions recovered.
If wide receiver Aldrick Robinson had better hands, Griffin might have atoned for his mistakes. On the series after Griffin fumbled, he connected with Robinson for what appeared to be a 57-yard go-ahead touchdown. Television replays, however, showed Robinson juggled the ball. Officials ruled he did not control it and the touchdown disappeared. Robinson is on the roster for one reason: to catch deep balls.
The good news for the Redskins was that cornerback DeAngelo Hall delivered against phenomenal wideout Calvin Johnson. Sure, Johnson had 115 yards receiving and caught an 11-yard the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown late in the final quarter. But Hall, who usually had deep safety help when he was lined up against Johnson, was about as effective as he could be in jamming Johnson and sticking with him in coverage. He finished with an interception return for the game’s opening touchdown and two passes defensed, plus he provided strong run support.
The bad news was everything else. The Redskins still missed way too tackles. Their inability to wrap up well has enabled opponents to extend plays and gain extra yards. Tackling is about fundamentals. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has emphasized fundamentals. Are the players listening?
As if the Redskins don’t have enough problems on offense and defense, now they’re searching for a new kickoff returner.
Rookie Chris Thompson hasn’t inspired confidence returning punts or kickoffs. Wideout Josh Morgan, who replaced Thompson on kickoffs against the Lions, was just okay in averaging 21.5 yards on two returns. The Redskins have to improve their field position on returns. It’s that simple.
In fairness to Thompson, he was put in a tough spot for a rookie. Thompson was elevated to the important role after cornerback Richard Crawford suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Thompson is trying to find his place in the league. The Redskins, though, have to pick up the pace across the board. This is no time to hold anyone’s hand.
The Redskins are among the NFL’s worst teams, which isn’t what Shanahan envisioned. It’s on Shanahan to find solutions before the Redskins face the Oakland Raiders in Oakland in Week 4. Washington begins its bye week after that game, and the view from 0-4 would be as bad as it gets.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.