700-Page Playbook, 1,001 Things to Fix

By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

GLENDALE, Ariz. There are too many coaches.

The offensive playbook is too big.

The whole quarterback situation is a mess.

The offensive line isn't what it's purported to be.

They don't run the ball enough.

The defense has been terrible.

They made too many changes in the offseason -- again.

They continue to make terrible personnel decisions, like trading a third-round pick, which should become a starter in the NFL, for T.J. Duckett, a perfectly healthy and capable back they don't play a lick.

You can say anything you want about the Washington Redskins today, make almost any criticism, and chances are the case in point is at least a little bit true.

What's wrong with the Redskins?

Everything, or at least a little bit of everything.

Probably, the Redskins are the most disappointing team in the NFL after the first third of the season. They reported to camp and announced, quite reasonably based on last year's results and the personnel on hand, that anything less than reaching the Super Bowl would be a disappointment. And even if that was setting the bar a little bit too high, certainly there was every reason to expect that the Redskins would be in the mix to win the NFC East and challenge for a spot in the NFC championship game.

But following the stunning loss to the previously winless Tennessee Titans at home -- and for my money it's the most shocking loss of the NFL season to date -- the Redskins trail the following teams in the conference: Bears, Saints, Seahawks, Panthers, Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, Vikings, Falcons and Giants. That's 10.

The Redskins have lost two home games already, two division games and all three conference games.

They've put together one truly good game, and that was against the lowly Houston Texans. The other game they won went to overtime and came against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was coming off a three-game stretch against Dallas, Pittsburgh and at Indy. The Redskins probably should be 1-5. After the Bears, who are the talk of the league for all the right reasons, the talk of the league is, "What's Wrong With the Redskins?"

Even here at the Monday night game between the Cardinals and Bears, players from both teams and personnel people from various NFL teams would see somebody from Washington and invariably ask, "What was that yesterday against Tennessee?"

For every question posed Monday night, there was a theory, one as good as another.

They've got to bench Mark Brunell and get Jason Campbell in.

They've got four studly running backs (Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, 275-pound Mike Sellers and Duckett) and don't know how to use them.

The offensive coaches, particularly Joe Gibbs and Al Saunders, are walking on eggshells because there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Hey, it's not like the Redskins can come out and refute these theories, because when you're 2-4 and just lost to a winless team with a rookie quarterback at home, you can't refute anything.

Of course, the quarterback issue dominates the conversation, mostly because Brunell has been, well, not good except for that out-of-body, record-setting performance down in Houston. I've been very, very slow to jump on the rip-Brunell bandwagon because he appeared to become comfortable with the Saunders offense in Houston and against Jacksonville.

I'm not a proponent of rushing a kid quarterback into play. Yes, there are exceptions, like Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. But even some of the all-time greats, like John Elway and Troy Aikman, struggled desperately early. One school of thought is that if the Redskins go to Campbell now, the season is done. Just look at the schedule. You want to throw the kid in at Indy after the Colts' bye week? Dallas is after that. The Eagles after that.

Where? When? Is putting Campbell in the lineup right now a concession that this season has turned into a rebuilding year? And how do you justify doing that when the team has gone out and spent so much money to win now?

The other school of thought is that Brunell is so far past done that the club is wasting time both in terms of trying to win now and getting Campbell ready. It's difficult to see Gibbs, as much as he believes in veteran players, taking that viewpoint.

Perhaps, however, with Campbell in the game the coaches will ask him to do less and rely more on those runners who might as well be in mothballs half the time. (How silly is it, from the standpoint of building a team, to give up a third-round pick for Duckett and not use him? A third-round pick isn't a throwaway; it should yield a starter in the NFL. Lance Briggs, the Bears' starting linebacker, was selected in the third round. Olin Kreutz, perhaps the best center in the NFL, was selected in the third round. Perhaps you've heard of a certain Terrell Owens, wide receiver, Cowboys? Third-round pick. Trading a third-round pick for Duckett, even if it was to keep him away from the Eagles, hurts the team in the future very clearly. It hurts the team now because you have a man in the prime of his career who has to be down emotionally because the coaches won't put him in the game. It's nothing less than absurd.) Personally, I'd start Brunell but tell both quarterbacks that Campbell will play. I'd get him in the game next week against the Colts, but try to shield him from the pressure that goes with being named a starter. If Campbell looks like he's up to the moment, then increase his playing time.

If he's not, back off.

Fixing the other stuff might actually be more difficult. You can't go to the bench and come up with an entirely new offensive line. If Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin are out for long, the defense will be even more sickly than it is now. But maybe there are some plays in that 703-page playbook that will actually play to the strengths of the personnel. Was it Brunell's fault, that ugly lofted intercepted pass on the Redskins' final offensive series Sunday? Or was it the worst-imaginable play call, to throw the ball downfield and up for grabs when three or four dump-offs might have produced a game-tying field goal and sent the game into overtime?

The only thing we should conclude six games into the season is that there are so many things wrong with the Redskins, nothing should escape serious consideration.

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