The first half of the Washington Redskins’ season showed clearly that the effort and resources the team poured into obtaining quarterback Robert Griffin III were well spent. Griffin has demonstrated in the first eight games of his rookie season that he is the player the Redskins hoped they were getting when they drafted him in April, one with transcendent skills, a centerpiece they can almost certainly build a championship team around.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, the first half of the season also underscored how far they have to go to assemble a complete team around Griffin. Their lack of playmakers to complement him on offense and their deficiencies on defense were on vivid display in a 27-12 defeat Sunday in Pittsburgh that left them stumbling to the season’s midway point with a record of 3-5.
Last season, without Griffin, they were 3-5 at the same point.
Still, the NFL is, more than ever in these pass-happy times, a quarterback-first league. Teams that don’t have one must get one. The Redskins finally have theirs, and Coach Mike Shanahan chose to focus on that when he was asked after the loss to the Steelers whether he was encouraged by what he sees eight games into the season.
“I’m very encouraged,” Shanahan said. “I’m very excited. When you get a guy, as a quarterback, that can do what he’s done in the first half of the season, where he’s one of the top passers and the top rushers offensively — he’s doing some good things, as you can see.”
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Shanahan added that he is disappointed with the team’s record. He said that, going into the season, he believed the team’s defense would be its strength, but the Redskins have felt the effect of losing six or seven players who would have dressed for games.
But he also said the Redskins are making progress.
“We all know the record defines who you are,” he said. “But if people can’t look at the offense and figure out we’re a different team, then they don’t have a background in football.”
Griffin indeed has arrived as a standout player much sooner than the Redskins or anyone else reasonably could have expected entering his rookie season. He was the league’s sixth-rated passer entering Monday night’s play. He has frustrated opposing defenses with the accuracy of his passing, the speed and agility of his running, and with his improvisational skills. He has shown an ability to lead and a knack for rising to the occasion with games on the line. He has been everything that was advertised upon his arrival, and more.
He didn’t have one of his better games Sunday, but that wasn’t all his own doing. The Redskins had, by Shanahan’s count, 10 dropped passes as part of Griffin’s 16-for-34, 177-yard passing day. With rookie tailback Alfred Morris mostly a non-factor, Griffin had little help on offense.
“You feel good that a quarterback can come into this environment, still have the number of drops and in the fourth quarter you’re still into it with five minutes left,” Shanahan said.
But finding ways to make their offense more than a one-man show will be the task that confronts the Redskins in the season’s second half. Morris has gone from unheralded sixth-round draft choice to one of the league’s more productive runners. The offensive line has held up reasonably well, with many at Redskins Park saying left tackle Trent Williams is having a Pro Bowl year.
But with their anticipated top wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, plagued by a foot injury and tight end Fred Davis out for the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Redskins appear decidedly short on receiving threats. Veteran wideout Santana Moss has played well in his new role as third receiver, but the Redskins need others to emerge.
Griffin said Sunday in Pittsburgh he wasn’t discouraged.
“You’ve got to keep pushing forward,” he said. “None of those guys are going to show up tomorrow if they feel defeated or if they feel like they want to throw the towel in. I would tell them ‘don’t show up if you feel that way.’ I don’t think anybody feels that way.”
Moss acknowledged that Sunday’s defeat was frustrating but predicted that the Redskins will regroup. “It ain’t going to be always peaches and cream,” he said in the locker room Sunday. “You’ve got to fight back and do better next time.”
But the loss in Pittsburgh didn’t have the same, somewhat positive, afterglow produced by a near-miss loss on the road to the New York Giants a week earlier.
The Redskins’ beleaguered secondary allowed 222 passing yards to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the fewest by an opposing quarterback this season. But Roethlisberger completed 14 of his first 18 passes as the Steelers took control with two touchdowns and two field goals on their first four possessions of the game.
Pittsburgh tailback Jonathan Dwyer had the first 100-yard rushing performance against the Redskins this season. The Redskins continue to struggle on defense without injured linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive end Adam Carriker and safety Brandon Meriweather.
The Redskins will have their bye week after they host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. They hope to have Meriweather, Garcon and perhaps right tackle Jammal Brown back after their bye. They play five of their remaining eight games at home.
Griffin has renewed optimism that there are intriguing possibilities for the franchise, and the season’s second half will be, in large part, about his continued development. But it also will be about the Redskins’ attempts to put the right pieces around him.
“I’m always encouraged, because at the end of the day we have a chance to go out there and play,” Moss said Sunday. “We lost last week and people try to pat your back for losing like that. But a loss is a loss, at the end of the day. You’ve got to take it for what it is and just try to build from it. You look at it and see what you did wrong and try to build from it. That’s the only thing you can do.”
More Redskins and NFL coverage :
Game summary: Steelers 27, Redskins 12
Analysis: Redskins’ defense undermines offense
Photos: Scenes from Heinz Field
Couch Slouch: Football cliches a dime a dozen