Except, the defense immediately let the Panthers walk all over them again.
The injury situation is one thing — the Redskins can’t do anything about their run of terrible luck. It’s no mean coaching feat to replace fully half their starting offense, after injuries to Kory Lichtensteiger, Trent Williams, Cooley, Moss, and Tim Hightower, while also transitioning to a new quarterback in Beck. “I don’t think I’ve ever lost so many on one side so quickly,” Shanahan said.
But at risk of sounding unsympathetic, all NFL teams have injuries — we just don’t notice them as much on teams playing well. The Redskins can let themselves be distracted and excused by the injury situation, but they would be better off examining why they seemed to be regressing even when they were healthy.
Two weeks ago the Redskins were 3-1 and feeling pretty good, fresh, mostly healthy and presumably coached up after a week off. But it was Shanahan’s fear that “sometimes when you got young guys you can forget what got you there.” They showed up against the Philadelphia Eagles flat, uninspired and mistake-prone, and fell behind by 20-0 in the first half. It was easy to dwell on Rex Grossman’s four interceptions as the cause of the loss. But don’t forget the Redskins also committed nine penalties for 95 yards, and yielded 128 yards to LeSean McCoy in that game.
This season was always going to be a middle-ground struggle. Shanahan has clearly improved the 53-man roster in a year and a half, retooled it to give it a sturdier and more professional foundation, but it’s going to take multiple drafts to build a powerhouse, and they still lack beef — Newton is a big kid and a big talent, and the Redskins made him look like Gulliver. But that doesn’t mean the Redskins lack the depth to compete this year, just that they don’t have much margin for error, and can’t afford lousy tackling.
Shanahan’s hope was to coach up a team that did all the little things right, and “to be in a position to win the close games,” he remarked a couple of weeks ago. Somewhere along the line, his performance, and theirs, started to slip in a number of small ways. That’s as big an issue as any injury.