The Redskins are (3-5) and in a 'must-win' scenario according to Mike Shanahan this Sunday at FedEx Field against the equally and perhaps more desperate (1-6) Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton.
Shanahan made it seem like he believed his squad could be a lot better if not for injuries to the defense, when he met via tele-conference with reporters on Monday.
“We’re down four starters and three backups here. Seven players different than what you thought were going to be on your initial 21. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to improve. But we’ve got some guys playing a couple positions that they haven’t played. We’re going to work as hard as we can to change for the positive.”
Of course, I agree with that point as I have been steadfast in believing the defensive issues have nothing to do with Jim Haslett's coaching abilities. However, I disagree with the notion that the only reason why they are two games under .500 and in dire need of a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, is because of the porous defense and injuries.
They are in this desperate situation quite simply because they were out-executed (maybe not as bad as it appeared) in Pittsburgh and blew any opportunities they had to get back in the game, and because they gave the Super Bowl Champion Giants - a early Christmas present in mid-October.
To be honest, DeAngelo Hall was right when he said the Giants did not beat the Redskins, despite connecting on a 77-yard touchdown bomb to Victor Cruz late. The Redskins blew it, with four turnovers - including three times while driving inside of the New York - 40-yard line. They blew it with a terrible double coverage execution on the Cruz TD. A penalty wiped out a Redskins touchdown, costing them four points - the difference in the game. Horrible 3rd down defense, and at times - ghastly tackling. It was multiple blown opportunities.
Last Sunday in Pittsburgh was a more complete failure in many ways, during a 27-12 loss to the Steelers. The defense was awful, especially in the first 2 1/2 quarters and the offense was dreadful in just about every way. Even Robert Griffin III looked more like a rookie, than the polished Hall of Famer to be that he has looked like many times this year.
Griffin is not immune to mistakes. He overthrew (slightly) Logan Paulsen who was wide open on the Kyle Shanahan special (play action, boot right, tight end throwback to the left side). Maybe Fred Davis could have caught it with better speed than Paulsen, but that's not a guarantee. He also drew an offensive pass interference on a trick play, with the long throw coming from Josh Morgan. He was attempting to break up a potential interception, and while he accomplished that -- he drew a flag and took a hard upper body hit from Ryan Clark.
Griffin also had a few passes that were behind or in poor position to be caught, by receivers and other pass catching targets that clearly forgot their smelling salts, to wake them up out of a pass catching coma.
“I don’t care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long," said a very frustrated Mike Shanahan, who clearly took time to praise his quarterback & hold the targets responsible for the failures.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a game like this, relative to that many opportunities that you didn’t take advantage of when guys were open. I was disappointed,” Mike Shanahan said.
On one series, Evan Royster, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss each had a drop on first, second and third down. That's not good fundamental football, by anybody's definition.
The Redskins also had three false starts (two by Logan Paulsen). The first one was almost a killer as it occurred at the Steelers 3-yard line on the eventual Santana Moss touchdown catch drive. On the first drive of the 2nd half, Niles Paul (another insanely stupid target of the Redskins fan base) had a big 37-yard catch to get the offense going. How did Washington celebrate? Two plays later - they lost two yards on a run to the left side (a problem all day) and then began their horizontal/sideways passing game that often goes nowhere, and Washington was forced to kick a field goal to make it 20-9, instead of possibly 20-13.
They were never close again. They lost momentum, and the next series - Pittsburgh made them pay with a back breaking 11-play, 80 yard drive.
Again, blown opportunity after blown opportunity. The Redskins are beating themselves.
The defensive side of the story, was a little more telling. The first half plus was a nightmare of futility. They pretty much could not stop the Steelers, in any way. They overplayed the quick perimeter passing game of the Steelers from the 2nd play of the game. Reed Doughty tried to jump a quick out/smoke and instead Heath Miller ran right into an open zone, and was not stopped until he was 25 yards down field.
Washington was out-gained 234 - 109, and yielded three conversions out of seven opportunities on third down to the Steelers # 1 rated offense in third down conversions (53% prior to game). Ben Roethlisberger was 16-23, 173 and 2 touchdowns in the first thirty minutes.
The defense was better in the 2nd half, clearly. The Steelers only converted one more third down (1-4), on a key trick play, direct snap to the speedy Chris Rainey, and allowed a touchdown right after that - but clearly the damage was done. Pittsburgh scored their 27 points and while that hasn't been enough to shut down the Redskins every week, it was more than enough on a soggy Sunday.
Overall, it's hard to say that anything on the defensive side was a blown opportunity, but coming into the game - if I would have told you the Steelers would only rack up 355 net yards of offense, and convert (4-13) on third down; you would have taken it and thought win. Overall, while realizing this is not fair - based on the bottom-line numbers, you look at it as a blown opportunity. At least I do.
It sounds like Mike Shanahan does as well, and while that might be denying some element of reality - I think it is more than fair to say - the Redskins were not annihilated in either loss, and if they stop beating themselves - maybe they will get back to the win column.