After three weeks of football, did you think Washington already would have set an NFL record? Sure, it’s for most yards allowed, but still . . . it’s in the books.
Let’s start with Griffin, only because we started with the defense last week, and everyone should get a turn. His worrisome knee, when he used it, looked better than in the previous two games. In fact, he looked like his old self on that 21-yard gallop. He also headed out of bounds when he was supposed to instead of trying to get those extra few yards and risking annihilation. He did appear to be limping a few times as he came off the field — just a tiny bit, barely noticeable — but overall his running game showed some improvement.
But he’s still hanging on to the ball too long when the line can’t hold; he has to throw it away quicker. He is still overthrowing receivers, and he is still occasionally throwing right into double or triple coverage. (I could have sworn I saw one instance of quadruple coverage.) He fumbled three times — although he had a lot of help on one of those — including the drop after the terrific run because he can’t do something the average Little Leaguer can do. Time to add “Slide, Kelly, Slide” to the practice playlist and get someone from the Nats out to Ashburn to work with Griffin before he gets killed.
The playbook seems to have been adjusted to allow Griffin shorter throws, and for a while that worked: He was racking up first downs and steadily moving the ball. Just not in the red zone. And hey, third-down conversion percentage improved some.
But last season, the talent of Griffin and Alfred Morris was able to sustain drives. And that kept the defense off the field, which is exactly where you want it right now. The season isn’t over — not as long as the NFC East continues to be the wretched refuse of the NFL — but an 0-3 start certainly lessens the chances of a return to the postseason. Since 1990, just three teams who started with three losses made the playoffs. The last team to do it was Buffalo, in 1998. None has won a Super Bowl.
Unless the defense can solve its problems, not only will Washington miss the playoffs, it’ll miss by a lot. How can a team with so many veterans up front and in the middle miss so many tackles? “Wrapping up” is hardly a new concept. The secondary includes two rookies, yes, but they are hardly the only two problems. And David Amerson actually showed — wait for it — some improvement, swatting away a few passes without drawing a flag.
The secondary contained Calvin Johnson better than many expected — including, I’m sure, Calvin Johnson — but overall, the defense is dreadful. The game plan isn’t working, and if the coaching staff is making in-game adjustments, those aren’t working, either.
And speaking of not working: the return game. The return yardage stats are deceiving, because they include how far back in the end zone the returner was standing when he fielded the ball. Gentlemen, “take a knee” is not a new concept, either. Neither Chris Thompson nor Josh Morgan have shown any signs that they’re on the cusp of taking one to the house, so a guarantee that a drive will start on the 20 should look pretty good. The best field position Washington got all day was when Detroit’s Sam Martin sent the second-half kickoff out of bounds, putting the ball at the 40.
That, and the early interception, were the only gifts Detroit brought to Washington, where it hadn’t won in 21 attempts. Apparently 22 is the charm. So one team breaks a long streak of futility, and the other team can only hope to end a shorter one this weekend. A lot of people long ago put Sunday’s game at Oakland in the win column, and even with the shaky start they haven’t changed their minds.
Optimism is a wonderful thing. But the Raiders have managed to win a game, while Washington joins the winless ranks alongside the Giants, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. It’s probably time to ratchet down expectations in the nation’s capital. Washington isn’t losing on bad calls or bad luck or even on a bad knee. Washington is losing because it is bad. And good seems to be a long way in the distance.To see previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, see washingtonpost.com/hamilton.