There’s no question that the Washington Redskins are better at quarterback this season than they have been in a long, long time. And as rookie Robert Griffin III continues to develop, he could become even more productive. But Griffin plays one position. The Redskins need to improve at many others.
Facing a one-victory team before beginning their bye week, the Redskins again were ineffective on offense. They converted 20 percent of their third-down attempts, were bad in the red zone and struggled to protect Griffin, who was sacked four times.
The defense, which has played the biggest role in ruining the team’s season, performed better in spurts than it has throughout the recent rough stretch. Still, the secondary was burned for another long pass play — a busted coverage that resulted in an 82-yard catch-and-run — and the Panthers had two touchdown drives of least 90 yards for the first time in franchise history.
The Redskins were booed off the field at halftime. Some fans sprinted for the FedEx Field exits after the Panthers took a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and the stadium was mostly empty by the time Brandon Banks caught a short pass from Griffin and was slammed to the turf for a nine-yard loss as time expired.
Losers of four of five, the Redskins are 3-6. It seems their break couldn’t have come at a better time. Management, coaches and players face many difficult questions about where they’re headed. Let’s look at some of the biggest ones:
‘You are your record’
That’s what Shanahan once said in response to reporters’ questions about whether the Redskins, who went 12-20 under former head coach Jim Zorn, were better than their record. In his first two seasons, Shanahan went 11-21. He’s now 14-27.
In fairness to Shanahan, the team’s personnel situation was much worse than he realized before he went to work at Redskins Park. After inheriting a decade’s worth of poor drafts and awful free agent signings, Shanahan is still digging out from the mess. That process takes time.
But your record is the bottom line. In the most important area, the Redskins are still moving in the wrong direction.
Shanahan takes comfort in having Griffin. He believes the Redskins are better because they finally have a franchise quarterback. If the Redskins, however, are making the type of progress Shanahan sees, it certainly isn’t reflected in their record.
As important as the quarterback is in the NFL, he can only do so much. Although Griffin has experienced many more highlight-reel moments than Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Indianapolis is 5-3. Last season, the Colts went 2-14. You know what that’s called: clear improvement.
Defenses catching up?
Historically, NFL defensive coordinators eventually figure out how to attack every newfangled offense. It seems the rest of the league has recently become better at corralling Griffin.
In their last two games, the Redskins had their worst performances on offense. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive linemen and linebackers contained Griffin by executing their pass-rushing assignments and tackling well. The Panthers, who entered the game with 20 sacks, consistently pressured Griffin.
Play-caller Kyle Shanahan deserves a lot of credit for changing Washington’s offense to accentuate Griffin’s strengths. Until recently, the Redskins were far ahead of defenses. Redskins opponents had fits trying to stop Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris on all of those option-style plays you see mostly in college football.
Something has changed. Griffin and Morris haven’t had as much running room in the middle of the line. Teams are doing a better job pursuing Griffin as he runs out of the pocket and toward the sidelines (it’s called “setting the edge”).
At this stage of the season, opponents have a lot of tape on the Redskins. It would stand to reason that they’ve figured out, at least to some degree, how to go at Griffin.
The Redskins would argue that their offense is just fine. In fact, Griffin did. “It’s all about execution,” he said. “People are going to criticize. They are going to say drastic changes need to be made. I don’t feel that way. I feel it’s on us . . . the players.”
The Redskins have had trouble on offense recently. That’s just a fact. It just may be time for Washington to make another major adjustment.
The injury impact
In assessing the performance of the team at this point, Shanahan has to determine how much the Redskins have been hurt by those losses.
Undoubtedly, Griffin, and the entire offense, would benefit from having Garcon and Davis on the field and in top form. Injuries, however, are as much a part of the NFL as helmets and pads. Backups are expected to perform well when first-stringers are out. The Redskins’ other receivers have dropped too many passes.
Washington’s secondary is the worst in the NFL. Perhaps the group would be better if injured safety Brandon Meriweather, a projected starter, had made a positive impact. But how much? All the defensive backs have disappointed.
After Griffin’s hot start, this isn’t where the Redskins expected to be during their bye week. Griffin’s solution: He needs to shoulder even more.
“I promise you,” Griffin said, “I’ll come back and I’ll be a better quarterback the second half of the season for us, for this team.”
The Redskins can count on Griffin. Their problem is pretty much everyone else.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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Game summary: Panthers 21, Redskins 13