I don’t know if ugly quite fits. Embarrassing might be better. Regardless of what adjective is bouncing in your head following the Washington Redskins’ 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills, one this is clear: This team’s in trouble, and Mike Shanahan has to do something STAT to stop the bleeding.
Let’s get right to it: five observations from Sunday’s debacle.
1.) Poor offensive line depth – It doesn’t matter if it’s John Beck, Rex Grossman or even Aaron Rodgers back there at quarterback for the Redskins. With the line that Coach Mike Shanahan has been forced to trot out there the last two weeks, the team’s chances for success are very low. You can’t help injuries, but Shanahan could have done a better job of bolstering the depth along the line this offseason. Sean Locklear (a career right tackle) was a solid pickup but it’s clear he is best suited as a right tackle, where he spent the previous seasons of his career. But to think that Erik Cook (a former seventh-round pick pressed into duty in his first NFL season) and rookies Maurice Hurt (a seventh-rounder) and Willie Smith (undrafted) would be enough to get by with in the event of injury was unwise.
I remember watching practice during training camp and thinking, these starting linemen better not get hurt. The Redskins went the cheap route and now they are paying for it. Coaches didn’t believe Artis Hicks could help them anymore, and cut him. But the veteran guard certainly would have allowed Washington to keep Will Montgomery at his natural position of center. And even if Shanahan didn’t want Hicks anymore, the coach should’ve had general manager Bruce Allen find him another veteran backup. The Bills, who had only four sacks in six games, looked like world-beaters and sacked quarterback John Beck on one in every four drop-backs. This offense will go nowhere with this sieve of a line.
2.) A lack of offensive preparedness? -- Last week Shanahan blamed the Carolina loss on the defense not being prepared enough to handle Cam Newton and the Panthers. Well, this week the defense gave up some big plays but did hold the Bills under their season average and also came up with two clutch turnovers. The offense, meanwhile, appeared ill-prepared this week. The Bills defense ranked 30th both against the pass and the run and Washington couldn’t exploit either weakness. The Redskins came out throwing, throwing and throwing some more and quickly found themselves in a hole before they ever made much of an attempt to establish any sense of a balanced attack. The Bills looked like a team that knew all of the holes in Washington’s defense and how to take advantage. The Redskins, meanwhile, appeared confused as to how they should go about imposing their will on their opponents. Several players said it wasn’t in their gameplan to throw as much as they did, but when they fell behind, that gameplan was scrapped. Thing is, though, the Redskins didn’t fall into a huge hole early. Down 7-0 and even 10-0, they didn’t need to panic and go away from a balanced attack.
3.) More special teams struggles -- The Redskins managed to go a couple weeks without them, but the field goal woes returned. Graham Gano’s only attempt was blocked at the line and Washington ruined spectacular field position gained by a fumble recovery. This offense couldn’t pick up 32 yards and get into the end zone? This team couldn’t get three points? The punt game remains strong thanks to Sav Rocca & co. But the Redskins continue to lack the spark on the kick return game thanks largely to the new kickoff rules. Brandon Banks produced a 21-yard punt return, but he remains bottled up for the most part on kickoffs.
4.) Fletcher is a soldier -- Okay, there’s something positive for you. London Fletcher may have had some struggles off and on this season, but on Sunday, he turned in one of his most gutsy performances, racking up 20 tackles, half a sack and an interception that should’ve changed the game had his team’s offense had it together. Fletcher’s game in and of itself was impressive, but further demonstrating his toughness was the fact that he was hampered by a strained hamstring all week, still hadn’t reached 100 percent, and still was out there flying around making plays. This team needs more London Fletchers.
5.) Now comes the test -- This season is slipping away, and up next are the surprising 49ers, who will likely run all over the Redskins, who have now allowed at least 120 rushing yards four times. This week, and the weeks beyond it, represent the true test of this team’s mental fortitude and unity. Players said at the beginning of this season that things felt different, that the team was more united, more focused and better prepared to weather storms. Well, the storm’s here now, and the Redskins must act. Even if Washington continues to lose, the players must remain united.
There are some signs of fraying. There were some heated exchanges on the sideline. Some internal doubts are starting to creep up among players over how they are or are not being used and some heads are being scratched and eye-brows being raised over some decision-making. Now we’ll see if this group can band together and fight through its circumstances, or whether Shanahan has already lost the squad and is drifting toward a second consecutive dismal campaign.