Heading into Week 15 of the NFL season, the Washington Redskins have yet to identify a single thing they do well — not one play, or even a style of play, that strikes fear in opponents.
As their search for an identity continues, Sunday’s 24-0 shutout by the St. Louis Rams re-opened questions about the identity of their starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Colt McCoy, making his third start for the slumping franchise, injured his neck during a brutal sack late in Sunday’s game, blindsided by a 264-pound defensive end who shot past left tackle Trent Williams like a cannon blast. He played on for nearly five minutes, only to be sacked a sixth time, and was replaced by Robert Griffin III with two minutes remaining and victory hopelessly out of reach.
With McCoy’s diagnosis unclear following a battery of tests, Coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Griffin would start Sunday against the New York Giants if McCoy isn’t medically cleared.
Beyond that, the game plan at quarterback is murky — and intentionally so, at Gruden’s insistence — with the coach declining to say who would get the nod if McCoy is deemed healthy.
“That’s hard to say right now,” Gruden said, adding that he’s awaiting the medical reports. “I want to see how he [McCoy] is doing first. . . . I don’t want to really rush into any decision at this time anyway.”
Asked if he would be confident in Griffin if called on Sunday, Gruden voiced more hope than affirmation. Griffin, who missed five starts after dislocating his left ankle, hasn’t led Washington to a victory in more than a year. Gruden benched him for poor performance Nov. 26 after a third consecutive defeat.
“Hopefully he has taken a step back and taken everything in and just continued to learn the position and learn about concepts we’re trying to run,” Gruden said. “Hopefully he’ll have a little bit more of a confident air about him when he jumps in there and there’s less indecision.”
Gruden went on to say that Kirk Cousins hadn’t played his way out of consideration, either, despite the interceptions that marred his five starts earlier in the season.
“I could see myself playing with Kirk, no doubt about it,” Gruden said. “I think he did some good things when he was in there.”
Gruden benched Cousins, who took over when Griffin dislocated his ankle in Week 2, at halftime against Tennessee in Week 7. McCoy rallied the team to a 19-17 victory and engineered Washington’s only quality win this season, a 20-17 upset of the Cowboys at Dallas.
Instability at quarterback has been a constant since Washington’s 2014 season dawned, undermining the offense and creating strife in the locker room.
It has also been a source of tension between Gruden and the team’s front office, with Gruden all but convinced Griffin can’t succeed as a drop-back passer in the offense he runs and team owner Daniel Snyder and team President and General Manager Bruce Allen not prepared to give up on the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.
Relegated to the second team these last three weeks, Griffin is expected to rejoin the starters when the squad launches into practice Wednesday for the Giants, Gruden indicated.
McCoy told reporters Monday that he wasn’t sure what was wrong with his neck. But if he’s medically cleared and confident he won’t risk further injury, McCoy said in an interview that he expects to start Sunday at New York.
McCoy appeared uncomfortable turning his head to either side in fielding questions from the reporters who surrounded him in the locker room. He offered few details about the pain or nature of the injury, other than to rule out any concern about a potential concussion.
But he was clear about the moment it occurred, on a play that was doomed from the start. Center Kory Lichtensteiger appeared to snap the ball early, catching McCoy and the offensive line by surprise. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn lunged full throttle at McCoy, whose back was turned, and Quinn’s right arm came down like a karate chop on the quarterback’s right shoulder, hitting him at the base of his neck.
“I still played a few more snaps, but I just knew something wasn’t right,” said McCoy.
It was the first shutout of McCoy’s career and the Redskins’ first in three years. And Washington’s futility in all phases — offense, defense and special teams — raised questions about Gruden’s competence.
Gruden spent the balance of his news conference fielding questions about his play-calling and the scrutiny that comes with the job.
Washington ran the ball just 12 times against St. Louis, gaining a season-low 27 yards (2.3 yards per run). The offense converted just 3 of 12 third downs.
“We had nothing good happen in that game,” Gruden said. “We had nothing — no big plays, no sparks, no energy really, unfortunately — that really got us going.”
With Washington’s performance regressing, the team has been showered in boos its past two home games.
Meanwhile, reports of infighting and potential firings appear daily. Asked if the controversy surrounding the team was more than he expected when he took the job in January, Gruden said: “It’s a little bit more than I expected, yes, if that’s the question. I understand that there are stories to be had, and if you look around every corner, you can find a story about somebody negatively if you want to. We try to stay positive and upbeat, and I try not to let the stories get to me or this team.”
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