Washington Redskins’ loss of composure has been a problem this season

November 2, 2012

There have been a few constants to the Washington Redskins’ season: The brilliance of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The shortcomings of the pass defense. And temper tantrums.

The Redskins have made a fairly regular habit of making spectacles of themselves when things haven’t gone as scripted, from wide receiver Josh Morgan throwing a football at an opponent in retaliatory anger to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and cornerback DeAngelo Hall having late-game meltdowns directed toward officials.

A few of the team’s locker-room leaders said, on the heels of Hall’s outburst at head linesman Dana McKenzie that earned him an ejection from last Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh, that while they understand emotions can boil over on the field, they believe the conduct is a bad reflection on the team and must cease.

“I think it does reflect badly just because you want to always have your composure,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “Nothing against those guys. Obviously when you’re in the moment of competing at the highest level and you’re trying to win games and things don’t happen your way or you see something that you thought is totally wrong or obscene, you’re going to act out. But guys have got to continue to learn from it.”

Said linebacker London Fletcher, the team’s defensive captain: “The thing you talk about since day one is keeping your poise regardless of the situation, always maintaining your poise. It’s football and sometimes emotions do run high. But there’s no excuse for it. We’ve still got to maintain our poise in whatever situation it is.”

Hall and the Redskins were waiting Friday to see how much Hall would be fined by the NFL. Hall said in a radio interview Tuesday, two days after the incident, that the official “was equally at fault” and was “dishing it out just as much as I’m dishing it out.”

Hall yelled, appearing to use profanity, and gestured at McKenzie, and said later he was upset that no penalty was called on Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a tussle at the end of a play. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan also said he thought a penalty should have been called on Sanders and the episode would have ended there, in Shanahan’s view. But Shanahan also said Hall should not have lost his composure.

“Of course when those things start to cost you games, it puts the focus on it,” former Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said. “Until we know what the ref said to D-Hall, I’m not going to be too hard on him. But we know D-Hall. He’s a hothead. I think the Josh Morgan thing showed a lack of discipline, especially from a guy who was supposed to be one of your top free agents. Everything starts from the top. When somebody at the top like one of your coaches does it, everyone else says it’s okay for me to do it too.”

In the second game of the season in St. Louis, Morgan threw the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan after Finnegan had shoved him following a play. That drew a 15-yard penalty that pushed the Redskins back and left them trying a 62-yard field goal to tie the game. It missed and the Redskins lost. Morgan received threatening messages on Twitter and was fined $7,875 by the league.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was fined $25,000 after berating a replacement official, according to observers, during and after the Redskins’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 23 at FedEx Field. Shanahan was upset, he said later, that an official told Mike Shanahan that a false start penalty would result in 10 seconds being run off the clock to end the game. There was no 10-second runoff but Kyle Shanahan was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Television cameras caught him following the replacement officials off the field and observers said he profanely criticized one of them.

Mike Shanahan said in recent days the Redskins aren’t an undisciplined team.

“I think of all the teams I’ve been on, I’ve never seen a team really adapt to the discipline over the last couple years so quickly,” he said. “It has been really embraced.”

Smoot did not dispute that characterization. Even so, Smoot said in a telephone interview, the Redskins must find a way to halt the emotional outbursts.

“You’ve got to ask yourself which time do you send a message,” Smoot said. “Do you bench a guy? Do you suspend a guy or something like that? What’s going to send the message that makes it stop? What’s going to open people’s eyes?”

NFL traditionalists would say that cutting a player would send a message to other players that such incidents won’t be tolerated. In today’s NFL, though, the collective bargaining agreement limits what disciplinary measures teams can take. Redskins players say releasing someone is not the answer, anyway.

“I think if the person is a continuous repeat offender, then obviously that’s something Coach will address in a manner that he feels appropriate,” Fletcher said. “If one guy has an incident, you can’t all of a sudden just say, ‘You’re out of here.’ But if the guy continues to do something, then obviously you can do something.”

Alexander, the Redskins’ special teams captain, said the stature of the offender matters.

“Who are you going to cut?” Alexander said. “You going to cut somebody who didn’t do it? Because you can’t cut one of them guys. You can’t release our offensive coordinator, one of our starting receivers and our starting corner. So it has to happen in-house. Guys just need to be smarter.”

Alexander backed Hall’s version of events last Sunday, pointing out that Hall “never touched the ref” and saying that “both parties needed to do a better job of” avoiding further conflict. But the Redskins need to learn to just walk away, he added.

“You’re never going to win a battle with a ref, no matter how wrong they may be in the situation,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to realize that. And also, I think, teammates around you need to recognize that you may be going down the wrong path and try to grab you aside and try to defuse the situation as best you can. . . . When somebody is hot and they’re upset, the last thing you’re thinking about is ‘Let me back down.’

“You’re men — testosterone, you’re competing, all that stuff comes into play. And you can say, ‘Be smarter.’ But I mean, it’s like a rage. You’re in a moment. So it’s kind of hard to take yourself out of that. I think guys need to do a better job of kind of stopping it or getting in the way as far as pulling guys away, trying to move them away from the situation as best they can.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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