One year ago to the day, the Redskins were getting ready for their first home playoff game in 13 years. They were fresh off the franchise's biggest win and best regular season in recent memory. They were the "hot" team entering the playoffs and were considered a legitimate threat to go deep.
Even better, all signs pointed to a very bright future. They had finally found their "franchise" quarterback. Robert Griffin III's rookie season was one of the most exciting in NFL history. The front office looked shrewd for pulling off the deal to get him while the coaching staff looked innovative for the way they leveraged his unique skills during his first season. Optimism reached a 20-year high. What followed was the Skins' version of October 1929. Their market crashed.
One year after the franchise was stretching to a 20-year optimistic high, it’s back in the gutter again. How they got here for the most part comes down to what happened on one day in one game, one year ago--The Seattle game.
No single event over the last year changed the fortunes of the franchise like the Seattle game on January 6, 2013. The optimism heading into that early January playoff matchup was genuine and justified and it grew during the early portions of the game.
Up 14-zip in the first quarter, the hottest team in the NFL was on the verge of becoming a trendy Super Bowl pick. The 7-game winning streak to end the season was nice but a playoff beat-down of the bully Seahawks would’ve legitimized them as one of the teams to beat.
Then came the crash. It started with an injury. Then came the decision to keep the injured player in the game. A few hours later, the game was lost, the season was over, and the franchise and its fan base were heading into a deep depression that nobody saw coming.
The circumstances of what happened on that January evening caused the collapse. It started with the injury to Griffin. It continued with the decision to keep him in the game. After the game, things began to get ugly. First, the diagnosis of torn ACL/LCL. Then, the mean-spirited criticism from everywhere of a coach for not saving his quarterback from himself even though the doctors and trainers assured him he was okay and Griffin himself would’ve forced Shanahan to come onto the field and fight him before he would leave the game.
The playoff game produced the physical damage that started the crash. The psychological damage came over the next eight months courtesy of immaturity, selfishness, and vanity.
There was a rehab that came with its own marketing campaign. Griffin was “All In For Week 1” before he was able to walk.
There were passive-aggressive shots from all the key figures. Shanahan talked about Griffin needing to learn to slide. Griffin couldn’t keep his mouth shut and even when he did, he texted and tweeted out alternating vague and direct shots at his head coach that began to turn an idolizing fan base against him.
And then there was Mr. Griffin. There was no reason for him to become a key figure but that didn’t stop him. I can only imagine the Ashburn head-shaking over a parent going public with his own offensive playbook.
With training camp came threats from RG3. "Play me if the doctors clear me" or else.
Chris Cooley said last week on his show that Griffin told him that he didn’t think Mike liked him and couldn’t understand why. Delusionville is a nice place to be when the reasons are obvious and unflattering.
Shanahan missed his opportunity to spare everyone including himself from the carnage that unfolded during a dreadful 3 and 13 season. He was the adult with the authority and he didn’t act like it or use it.
He wimped out. He should’ve rounded up the owner, the GM, and the quarterback and let em all know who the hell was in charge. Beating the Eagles in the opener was the goal; validating the Adidas campaign wasn’t. If Griffin wasn’t interested or able to run the offense they asked him to run, so be it. Start Kirk. If the owner didn’t like it, Mike should’ve told him to fire him.
Instead, Shanahan allowed himself to get run over and then defended himself in a cowardly way. Armed with a phone, he leaked his quarterback and owner under a bus instead of manning up and solving the problem by addressing them eye to eye...man to still-growing men.
January 6, 2013 was a day that began so bright and bullish. Amazingly, one year later, things are bleak and bearish....once again.
Here we go again. Another new beginning with a splashy offseason to hype all that is shiny and new. Gruden, Cowher, the RG3-Briles reunion….it’ll be a show I’m sure. More on that in a moment.
So much for the owner’s declaration last year….”we’re in good hands with Mike and Bruce”. As it turns out, at least two of those hands weren’t used for much good. Mike Shanahan should’ve used one of his hands to massage and stroke his star quarterback into feeling good about his commanding officer. The other one should’ve been used to yank the owner away from his star quarterback. Instead, he used one hand to wave a white flag and the other to call Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano. What an utter S-show this place is.
Back to the shiny and new. It won’t be an easy hire. For starters, this organization is perceived and justifiably so as toxic. It’s not the job most quality NFL men have as #1 on their list. With that said, the money is good and the overall football situation isn’t as bad as many have made it out to be.
It was much worse four years ago. Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato’s final 2009 roster included an incredible 55 players who are no longer in the NFL. That includes players who were on IR and the Practice Squad at the end of that season but still, 55 players on one team no longer playing professional football a mere 4 years later. Wow, that was a true "cupboard is bare" situation. Throw in the miserable cap situation at the end of that year and if it wasn’t clear then, it should be now….they left the place in shambles.
While Shanahan isn’t leaving a roster full of superstars, there is an attractive young nucleus of Griffin, Morris, Garcon, Reed and Williams on offense with at least a couple of legit players/intriguing prospects on defense (see Kerrigan, Cofield, Amerson and Jenkins). There are others like Thomas, Crawford, and Thompson that may prove to be impactful but haven’t had the chance because of injuries and a few more like Hankerson, Riley, Baker, and Bowen that have showed occasional promise.
As far as draft picks, after one more RG3 first-rounder goes to St. Louis this year, they’ve got all of them after that. In terms of cap space, they’ll have more room under the cap than every team in the NFC except Chicago with roughly $28 million to spend if they choose to. Add to that, Shanahan will leave a roster full of team-friendly contracts. Don't underestimate the importance of that to a prosepective new coach. It's a major plus that there won't be any Albert Haynesworth or D-Hall 400-pound contracts sitting on the chest of the new coach when he gets here. For those that have written and spoken about how Shanahan has left the “football” situation in worse shape than Zorn, it’s not even remotely close to true. The toxicity of the place aside, the “football” situation should be viewed as a potential quick fix with just a few solid moves.
It gets old trying to figure out the best course of action for this group but assuming Bruce Allen is staying, I’d like to see him be given the authority to hire a new personnel director and new coach. It would be nice if both were good, got along, and had compatible philosophies on the type of players they desire. Allen could continue to handle contract and cap management along with Eric Schaffer.
As far as the new coach goes, Allen’s top priority should be to find someone capable of molding Griffin into a top-flight NFL quarterback on the field while also nimble enough to deal with everything that comes with a still-maturing Griffin off it. I'd also prefer someone who understands how to manage the clock. This is the one area you could compare Shanahan to Zorn. Both seemed confused on how to do it and apparently too insecure to admit they needed help.
After the seedy drama of the last few weeks, answers to the coach question are around the corner. After that, their typical splashy offseason marketing machine will motor through the months of March, April, and May at warp speed. And then after all of that, the answer to the most important question will have to wait. Maybe it takes a year, perhaps 2 to 3. The most important question when all of the BS smoke of the last month clears is this....do they have a franchise quarterback or not?
An ugly finish to the Shanahan era. The good, bad, and more from the Giant game.
1. The defense. It came to play. Just on the field too much courtesy of a terrible offensive day.
2. Chris Baker & Perry Riley. Both stood out. Baker had 3 tackles-for-loss. They should try and keep him. Riley had 2 TFLs, a sack, and was pretty good in coverage.
3. Pierre Garcon. Best player on the team and the only player on offense that played at a pro level today.
1. The offense. Easily the worst offensive day of the season. How 'bout 66 yards on 30 plays and zero for 9 on 3rd downs in the first half. Inept.
2. Kirk Cousins. There wasn't much there to be had and there were plenty of drops but he was awful at times throwing the football. 1st-round pick.....don't think so.
3. Clock Mgt. Shanahan's inability to manage the most important relationship in the organization, the one with his quarterback, is in my view the single biggest reason for his demise this year. On the field, his lack of understanding how to manage the clock at the end of halves and games was his biggest weakness. After a 14-yd completion to Garcon with 42 seconds left in the half and holding 2 timeouts in his pocket, he chose not to use one. Big mistake. The next snap came with 23 seconds left. Yes they got a field goal but not using that timeout killed any chance of getting more than that. He just doesn't understand the concept of more plays being better than less plays at the end of halves and how to work the clock with spikes and timeouts to create additional snaps. He's been absolutely terrible at this aspect of the game.
4. Punt returns. I've never seen a team let more punts hit the ground than the Redskins. They lost a ton of field position yardage all season long because of it. Also, some of the Giant punts were short with no hang time and the Skins still couldn't get a decent return. Was there one good punt return in 16 games? I can't think of any.
1. Alfred Morris' fumbling towards the end of the season is something to watch next year.
2. Chris Chester was owned by Justin Tuck for a 2nd straight game this year.
3. I want Merriweather back next year. He's easily the most capable safety on the roster if he can stay healthy. I also think he did a good job of changing his play to fit within the rules over the last half of the season.
5. Kai Forbath had a decent finish to the season. He made his last 14 kicks....some of them in terrible weather.
6. Worst season I can ever remember. 3 wins and all 3 of those were nail-biters and could've been losses.
1. Pierre Garcon. The catch on his back was incredible as was his game and his record-setting season. He set the single-season reception record for the franchise; a record that stood for 29 years.
2. Forced turnovers. A nice play by Wilson to force the fumble on Clutts and a nice interception by D-Hall.
3. Kai Forbath. He made 3 kicks and 2 of the snaps were a little off. Nice job by Rocca to get both of the snaps down. Forbath has quietly made 12 straight kicks.
1. Ineffective pass rush when they had to have it. Tony Romo converted two crucial 4th-down plays in the 4th quarter including the game-winning touchdown pass with little pressure from Skins' pass rushers. Bottom line, the guy (Orakpo) that thinks he's a game-changer didn't change anything. Few if any impact plays from Brian Orakpo who appeared to be dominated at times by Tyron Smith.
2. Penalties and offensive miscommunication. The Skins' final offensive play where Moss seemed to lineup on the wrong side of the field forcing a hurried snap and a frenetic Cousins reflected too much of what went wrong today. Receivers not knowing where to line up or lining up illegally was an issue and shouldn't be in week 16. Penalties were killers all day but none more ridiculous than the back to back penalties on 3rd and goal at the 2 (2nd qtr) when the Skins followed up a false start with an illegal shift. The next play was a Skins' timeout. A possible 7 pts. became a self-inflicted 3.
3. Not enough offense. Bottom line, Dallas was allowing 427 yards per game coming in and the Skins didn't even get 300. Other than Garcon & Morris who consistently moved the pile for extra yards, nothing else was that impressive. There were drops by Morris on the first play of the game and Darrell Young in the 3rd qtr and there was the big miss from Cousins to Moss late in the first half that resulted in an interception. They made Dallas' defense look professional for the first time in several weeks.
4. Punt coverage. The worst the league has seen in a long time at 17.2 yards per allowed coming in. They gave up a 62-yarder on the first punt of the day. It would be less painful and maybe more productive if they just went for every 4th-down. With that said, their kickoff coverage was pretty good in this game.
5. Clock mgt. The Redskins took a crushing timeout on defense with 2:16 left, the clock stopped, and the playclock winding down to 3 seconds. First, it was possible Dallas would've been called for delay-of-game....secondly, the Redskins needed that timeout to stop the clock when it was running. It cost them 40 potential seconds of clock when they got the ball back. Shanahan said it was called on the field by a player....who cares. The timeout used on the 4th and 2 earlier in the 4th quarter because of 10-men on the field would've been helpful at the end also. Not saying they shouldn't of called it in that particular situation, but having 10 men on the field for a play that crucial is embarrassing.
1. Cousins' day was average. His miss to Moss that ended in INT was points off the board and he had an opportunity with 1:08 left to get the team in FG range and he didn't get them close. With that said, for the 2nd straight week, it was clear that he is a much better pocket passer right now than RG3.
2. The field was torn up and players were slipping all day long.
3. It was far too early for the Skins to go for 2 when they scored in the 3rd qtr to take the lead.
4. Ryan Kerrigan is better lined up inside than outside.
5. Tony Romo's 2 touchdown passes were all because of his extend-the-play ability. As good as anyone in the league buying time to make a throw.