PHILADELPHIA — The strongest argument in favor of the Washington Redskins sticking with Coach Mike Shanahan is that the roster has been crippled by decisions Shanahan made with other high-ranking team officials. The salary dump that led to the $36 million cap reduction penalty, trading four high-round draft picks to acquire quarterback Robert Griffin III — there was consensus about those moves in the executive offices at Redskins Park.
No matter how much relevant information is offered in support of Shanahan, however, it’s difficult to imagine any NFL coach would be permitted to return for the final year of his contract, let alone receive an extension, if the team he has led for four years continues to play as poorly as the Redskins did in Sunday’s 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Hoping to remain in contention in the NFC East, the Redskins appeared to sleepwalk through most of an alarming performance against the division-leading Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Redskins (3-7) struggled on offense and defense while falling behind by 24 points in the third quarter. But what should be most troubling for Shanahan — and owner Daniel Snyder — is that the Redskins came out flat in a must-win game that could have pulled them closer to the Eagles (6-5). Even in one of the league’s worst divisions, the Redskins cannot expect to salvage their season if they’re listless against a divisional rival.
Although the Redskins rallied in the fourth quarter — Griffin had long touchdown passes to Darrel Young and Aldrick Robinson — Griffin’s interception in the final 40 seconds sealed the victory for Philadelphia and punctuated another shaky outing for the second-year player. Griffin’s poor passing was among Washington’s many problems.
With only six games remaining in Shanahan’s fourth season, it seems fitting to evaluate where things stand on offense, defense and special teams. No matter what happens with Shanahan and his staff after the season, the Redskins still will be invested heavily in Griffin. Let’s start with him.
Often this season, Griffin’s stats have been misleading. He has racked up completions and yards in several games because the Redskins essentially had to abandon the run during second halves while trailing by double digits. That was the story again Sunday.
You had an idea it would be a rough day for Griffin after he overthrew tight end Logan Paulsen in the first quarter on a well-designed play that could have resulted in a big gain. At halftime, Griffin only had four completions and 26 yards passing.
The running game was working — Alfred Morris had 86 yards in the first two quarters — but the Redskins trailed, 17-0. Griffin needed to do more. It wouldn’t have been shocking if Shanahan had benched Griffin after halftime. Griffin didn’t establish a rhythm until the final quarter, and finished with 264 yards passing, 44 yards rushing, two touchdown passes and an awful interception under the circumstances.
Washington, trailing by eight points, drove from its 4-yard line to the Philadelphia 18 with 40 seconds to play. Under pressure on third and one, Griffin threw into the end zone — there were no Redskins receivers in the area — and the Eagles picked it off. The Redskins had another down. Griffin said he tried to throw the ball away. Mistakes like that cannot occur on a potential score-tying drive in the closing seconds.
As written in this space previously, the Redskins’ offense would benefit from upgrading the roster at right tackle, guard and wide receiver opposite Pierre Garcon. Griffin, though, has much work ahead of him to become a polished pocket passer. He possesses the talent and smarts to thrive in any type of offensive system. But based on his uneven performance this season, Griffin clearly is not as advanced in the pocket as necessary for the team to improve.
Despite Griffin’s growing pains and rustiness — for lack of a better word — in the first month of the season while he recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, the Redskins are much better off at quarterback than they were before Shanahan arrived. Of course, Shanahan also brought in Rex Grossman and John Beck. A lot of quarterbacks are better than those guys.
Morris is among the most productive draft picks of Shanahan’s long coaching career. The Redskins’ running game is the best part of the team because of Morris’s pile-moving ability. He carried would-be Eagles tacklers on many runs in the first half. It’s what he does.
Problem is, Morris hasn’t carried the ball enough: He had only four rushes for seven yards after halftime. Despite rushing for 918 yards (he has an outstanding 5.1-yard average) and five touchdowns, Morris is capable of producing much more if the Redskins could take the lead more often.
Clinton Portis was at the end of his career when Shanahan was hired in 2010. Shanahan spent his first two years searching for rushers with know-how and power. In Morris, he got everything he wanted.
Tight end Jordan Reed is another gem. Reed, who suffered a concussion against the Eagles, possesses the talent to become the greatest tight end in Redskins history. Just ask former Redskins Pro Bowler Chris Cooley.
Since training camp, Cooley has raved about Reed’s fluidity in route running and the instincts the rookie displays as a pass catcher. By his third game, Reed emerged as one of Griffin’s favorite targets.
Cooley believes Reed possesses top-of-the game talent. Shanahan once had high hopes for pass-catching tight end Fred Davis, and Davis, whom Shanahan has buried on the roster this season, had his moments. Still, with the fast-rising Reed, the Redskins appear to be in great shape at tight end.
After all this time, the Redskins aren’t close to building a strong 3-4 defense. Jim Haslett has done about as well as any defensive coordinator could in his situation: The Redskins simply aren’t talented enough on defense.
In part because of the cap reduction, the Redskins haven’t adequately addressed their long-standing problems at safety. They must get younger at inside linebacker and need more production from the defensive end position. Then there’s outside linebacker.
Ryan Kerrigan is limited in coverage, which was apparent as he trailed running back LeSean McCoy on a 49-yard pass play in the first quarter that helped the Eagles score their first touchdown. But Kerrigan is a keeper because he does enough things well and is under contract next season. That’s not the case with Brian Orakpo.
Orakpo had 11 / 2 sacks against the Eagles and has 51 / 2 this season. But for most of Sunday’s game, Orakpo wasn’t a factor.
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters easily won their head-to-head battle. It appeared Orakpo, believing he couldn’t overpower Peters, mostly used speed moves. Apparently, that was fine with Peters, who watched Orakpo run way past quarterback Nick Foles on many plays as the Eagles’ lead grew. Orakpo hasn’t proved he deserves a big contract in free agency.
For years, the Redskins used a 4-3 defense and ranked among the league’s top defenses statistically. Shanahan’s change in defensive philosophy hasn’t paid off yet. The Redskins also have suffered a big setback on special teams.
Coordinator Keith Burns played under Shanahan with the Denver Broncos, and Shanahan gave Burns his start in coaching. Shanahan hired Burns to replace longtime Redskins coordinator Danny Smith, who joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason, and the Redskins have been ineffective on returns and coverage. That can’t continue.
Before Sunday’s victory, the Eagles had not won on their home field since Sept. 30 of last year. Luckily for the Eagles, they faced a Redskins team that mostly seemed disinterested. And unless the Redskins get their heads back in the game quickly, Shanahan may have a hard time arguing against change.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.