Is Washington’s NFL season over? At 0-2, it’s certainly on life support. And as bad as that record looks, it pales in comparison to the realization that this team probably does not have the tools to radically improve.
As a refreshing change of pace, let’s not start with Robert Griffin III. Instead, let’s talk about the defense. It’s not good. Washington ranks 32nd in yards allowed, 23rd in passing yards allowed, 32nd in rushing yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.
The secondary was expected to struggle, but the unit as a whole has allowed 50 first-half points in two games. True, Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times in the first quarter in Sunday’s 38-20 loss, but after that, he was pretty much free to rack up a career-high 480 passing yards, 178 of those to wide receiver James Jones, who also had a career day.
And lest you think that’s all on the secondary, James Starks rushed for more than 100 yards, the first time in nearly three seasons a Packer had done so. And Starks isn’t their go-to guy: Starter Eddie Lacy was knocked out by Brandon Meriweather, who later knocked out himself. Again.
Washington defenders also continue to have trouble tackling. They don’t seem to know how to wrap up. They fling themselves at receivers and backs and seem surprised when their opponents are able to dart away. This is not a new problem, and it’s odd that it persists.
Speaking of old problems that persist: penalties. That particular bugaboo seemed to be under control last season, but it reared its head again Sunday, with seven for 78 yards. Some were the usual blocking in the back on special teams — which seems to have become a franchise tradition, like the marching band — and some were due to new rules this season, but no matter. This team looks undisciplined at times, and that is puzzling, given Mike Shanahan’s reputation for, well, discipline.
Now we turn to Griffin. Everyone knew that both the quality and style of his play would be different, especially at the beginning of the season, as he literally works to find his footing. He’s clearly not comfortable in his brace, and he’s also clearly not comfortable in his own skin, not like last season. Without that break-it-loose threat, the offense is vanilla, and Griffin is merely human.
He’s dependent on his arm, and only his arm, for the first time. He is not a bad passer — in fact, he’s a better passer than he was given credit for last season — but this is the area in which his lack of preseason playing time shows itself. His timing is not there; he’s making high throws, and occasionally wild throws. This matters far more this season because there is no Plan B. And the fact that he comes onto the field facing deficits is not helping his comfort in the pocket.
So let’s see: The defense is bad, the offense is bad (yes, the stats may look good, but both the Eagles and Packers let up in the second half). What are the usual excuses? Injuries? Kai Forbath was a loss, no doubt, but overall, the roster was pretty healthy Sunday — except for the loss of Meriweather. Again. The schedule? Yes, it’s tougher this season, although the NFC East once again seems ripe for the plucking. Tougher is what happens when you make the playoffs the previous season. Deal with it.
In fact, dealing with it is the job of the coaching staff. And Washington’s seems paralyzed in the face of this season’s problems. The offense is beyond predictable. The line is collapsing in the backfield to the point that Griffin can barely cock his arm to throw. And only one back is carrying the ball. Sunday, Alfred Morris looked more like the rookie star of a year ago than he did in Week 1 — but he literally was the only back with a carry. That makes the opponent’s job a lot easier. Somehow, he gained 107 yards, although about half came in the second half when the Packers were giving up ground like they were getting a charitable tax write-off.
The defense is not making good adjustments. True, in Week 1 the Eagles were debuting the Chip Kelly Experiment (great band name), but game film of Oregon was available. It shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise.
So 0-2, while perhaps not dire, is daunting. Griffin will improve as the season goes on, barring injury, and perhaps the defense will as well. Right now, however, Washington has gone from the playoff team of 2012 to the unwatchable mess of 2011. Shanahan has his work cut out for him, and he’s running out of time.
For previous Tracee Hamilton columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
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