The Takeaway, with Jason Reid:
Mike Jones’s five observations:
The Washington Redskins dropped to 0-2 after another baffling performance in which they struggled to do anything right in the first half and then had to claw their way back to respectability in the second half.
Unlike last week, where turnovers kept the Redskins’ offense from getting going, this week’s problems could be blamed on the offense’s ineffectiveness on third downs (Washington failed to convert any of their first seven third downs of the game) and the defense’s inability to tackle or cover.
In the two first-half showings combined, the Redskins’ offense has been outscored 50-0.
A once-promising season has gotten off to a very shaky start. Let’s take a dive into what went wrong on Sunday. Here are five observations from the 38-20 loss.
1. Lack of the dual threat: As the Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense got off to another slow start and ultimately fell to 0-2, the questions began to fly. What happened to last season’s potent attack? Why – after seemingly knocking off the rust in the second half of the season opener – did Griffin appear to struggle once again? Is he not healthy? Should Kirk Cousins have been under center? Is it time to bench RGIII? Watching the way the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers defenses attacked the Redskins, and then watching the Seattle Seahawks face off with the San Francisco 49ers later Sunday night, something became evident. Indeed, something is off. But it’s not health-related. Robert Griffin III’s knee is fine. He can drop back, roll out, make cuts – whatever the Redskins need him to do. But here’s the problem: The Redskins have changed their offense. They’ve kept the pistol formations, but they’ve drastically scaled back the zone-read option plays, and without them, Griffin no longer poses the same threat he did last season. As a pocket passer now, he’s a stationary target. Pass rushers pin back their ears and go right after Griffin. This is very different from what we saw last year from Redskins foes, and different from what we saw out of the Seattle and San Francisco defenses Sunday night as each tried to defend Russell Wilson and Collin Kaepernick, who both run the zone-read. Wilson and Kaepernick (until San Fran fell in a hole and had to go almost exclusively pass) made their opposing defenses look hesitant and off-balance by running the option – just like Griffin did last year. Those two quarterbacks aren’t coming off of knee surgeries, so that’s a factor. But on a couple of second-half runs against Philadelphia and several scrambles against Green Bay, Griffin showed he still has quickness. Mike and Kyle Shanahan seem intent on protecting Griffin by using him primarily as a pocket passer. Griffin has the intelligence and ability, but the problem is he doesn’t have pocket-passer-quality line in front of him. Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery and Chris Chester struggled to keep the heat off of Griffin. Far too often he’d drop back to pass only to have one of the three (if not all of them) shoved back into his path. Griffin tried throwing over them but passes were batted away. He’d throw falling away, or rush a pass without planting, and the passes would be off. Griffin’s coaches need to cut it loose, go back to the attack that served them so well last season. The zone read caused linebackers to slow up and read the backfield before rushing. The rollouts (of which there were only two on Sunday) moved the pocket and eased pressure on the linemen. Lichtensteiger, Montgomery and Chester are ideal fits in the zone-blocking scheme where they work together as a unit – not a drop-back attack where they have to block defenders one-on-one. No, Griffin doesn’t want to run 10-12 times a game, but he and the Redskins may have to feature the zone-read attack with a handful of designed quarterback runs early in games to soften up the defense, because as things currently stand, they’re just not equipped for this new philosophy. Bringing back the zone-read is the solution – not turning to Kirk Cousins, who remains unproven.
2. Serious defensive problems: The Redskins’ defense again struggled mightily and set up the Packers for a historic day. Aaron Rodgers passed for 480 yards and four touchdowns (congrats to his fantasy football owners), and backup running back James Starks rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. Never before in the Packers’ storied history had they ever had a 400-yard passer and 100-yard rusher in the same game. The Redskins’ ineffectiveness was disturbing. The fact that they struggled against the Eagles’ foreign system was one thing, but their inability to defend a traditional attack raises great concerns. Yes, they were going against one of the best in Rodgers, but they helped make things easy for the quarterback. His receivers ran free through the secondary and made uncontested catches. Defensive backs and linebackers struggled to keep up with their assignments, and not a single Redskin recorded a pass breakup all game. Run defense was just as problematic. The Packers had gone 44 consecutive games without a running back rushing for 100 yards. But that changed Sunday. The Redskins continue to fail to wrap up on tackles. They’re not clogging running lanes as they normally do. London Fletcher, normally the team’s leader in tackles, couldn’t beat blocks Sunday and managed just two tackles – drastically down from his average of 8.1 a game.
3. No-huddle attack: Part of what made the Packers successful was the decision to go to a no-huddle attack to try to keep the Redskins defense off balance. Early on, the Redskins had success getting to Rodgers. Ryan Kerrigan had two sacks, Josh Wilson had another and so did Brian Orakpo. But it’s a copycat league, and Green Bay then switched to a faster-paced attack that they saw the Eagles torch the Redskins on the week earlier. The Redskins again struggled to get stops, and the Packers often found themselves in manageable situations and proceeded to move the ball with little resistance. The Redskins have to find a way to slow offenses down. Teams will continue to go up-tempo on them again and again until they prove they can stop it. We knew that rookies David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo would have some struggles as they learn the game. But veterans DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have to play better to help compensate for the youth in the secondary.
4. Lack of discipline: The Redskins continue to hurt themselves with penalties, this week committing seven to the tune of 78 yards. Four of those penalties came on special teams, and infractions called on Niles Paul and Nick Sundberg certainly could have been avoided as Sundberg took a swing at a player’s head while running downfield, and Paul head-butted a player after a play. The other two special teams penalties — one on Logan Paulsen and one on E.J. Biggers — eliminated decent returns and put Washington in poor field position. Discipline is the mark of a successful team, and the Redskins have to do a better job in this area if they hope to turn the season around.
5. Chances still alive: At 0-2, the Redskins desperately need a win, and next week they return to FedEx Field, where they host the 1-1 Detroit Lions, led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. Before the season, most people would’ve projected this as a win for the Redskins. But given the way they’ve played the last two weeks, you can’t pick them as a favorite in any game until they show some improvement. The 0-2 start is bad, but the Redskins remain in a manageable situation for at least a little bit longer. A win versus Detroit and then Oakland makes Washington 2-2 entering their bye week, and then they play the Cowboys in Dallas. Given the way things have started in the NFC East — the teams went a combined 0-4 Sunday and got outscored by 40 points — any team really does have a legitimate shot still. Redskins players say that there is no sense of panic despite the 0-2 start. Having fought their way back from 3-6 to win seven straight and make the postseason, they believe that anything remains possible and that they can claw their way back to relevancy.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.
More from The Post:
The Takeaway: Across-the-board issues start with tackling, blocking
● Mike Shanahan speaks to reporters at 3 p.m.