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Initial Thoughts: Lions 37, Redskins 25

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 37-25 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Don’t let the benching of QB Donovan McNabb divert your attention from the reason the Redskins lost this game. Repeated offensive line breakdowns—the kind that crippled the offense last season—undermined most things Washington tried to do. Detroit’s seven sacks were a reflection of that, but it was also evident in the Redskins’ terrible 13.3-percent (2-of-15) conversion rate on third down. McNabb was battered and disrupted in the pocket all game, and, just as in previous weeks, it rattled him. More on the line in a moment.

***

I know I’m not alone here, but I’m having a hard time with coach Mike Shanahan’s postgame explanation to reporters in Detroit that QB Rex Grossman gave the Redskins a better chance to win than McNabb in the final two minutes. Look, we’ve been talking for weeks now in this space about McNabb’s uneven play and failure to fully grasp the offense. But Grossman was cold and had not faced a defense at regular-season game speed in 10 months; not to mention the raw talent and leadership disparities between McNabb and him. McNabb is your starter, your six-time Pro Bowler. He’s the experienced quarterback with a feel for Detroit’s defense and the Redskins’ first-string offense. Down by six points with 1:45 to go, you have to win or lose with him. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

***

Shanahan told reporters that he believed Grossman could be more effective in the 2-minute offense because Grossman was familiar with it from Houston last season and therefore could play faster without thinking. But if McNabb is not capable of leading the team in the 2-minute offense after being in the scheme since April, coaches get at least some of the blame for that. The coaching staff’s job is to get McNabb prepared. If they knew he was having problems with the 2-minute offense in practice, why not simplify it for him? Could they have pared down the package of plays? McNabb, for what it’s worth, told reporters that he does feel comfortable with the 2-minute offense. There are many more questions that need answers here.

***

McNabb was asked after the game whether he or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calls the plays in the 2-minute offense. His answer to reporters in Detroit was a bit unclear: “The majority of the time you would call your own plays,” he said, “but Kyle had major input in it today of calling different plays, so it kind of varies.”

Getting this cleared up is imperative. McNabb might be incapable of calling his own plays because he’s still grasping terminology. However, if Kyle Shanahan had to call plays for Grossman, then why couldn’t he call them for McNabb? I’m just thinking out loud about the specifics of McNabb’s deficiency. We need to know more about what shortcomings Mike Shanahan perceives hold McNabb back in the 2-minute offense.

***

Grossman over McNabb with the game on the line is a tough sell. But McNabb again this week did not play particularly well. He appeared uneasy in the pocket under so much pressure, just as Jason Campbell did last season. Some of the problems that have plagued him all season—poor mechanics, late and inaccurate passes—did so again today. Part of it is physical and part is mental. McNabb never has been superb under pressure, and you knew coming into this season that he’d be under duress behind an offensive line whose problems were not completely solved. It also shows you the difficulties of plugging players into a new system. McNabb’s ability to pick up the new offense was uncertain after the Redskins’ acquired him, and six months later it still is.

***

One more on McNabb: He maintained his composure in postgame comments to reporters in Detroit, which is exactly what you’d expect from him. However, it’s fair to wonder how this affects his future with the team. Put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself if you want to sign a contract extension with the Redskins. Not only do you take into account the head coach’s decision to bail on you with the game on the line, you consider the beating you’re taking behind this offensive line. What about that would make you think, ‘Where do I sign?’

***

Back to the offensive line. The dropoff in LT Trent Williams’ play from the beginning of the season has drastically affected the unit’s overall quality of play. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch gave him fits all day. Williams appeared to bend over at the waist too frequently, which limited his mobility and sapped his strength. He also ducked his head at times and lost sight of the rush. His regression through the first half of the season is correlated to his knee/toe injury to some degree, and it’s a big reason why the offense has not improved since Week 1.

***

The problems up front went way beyond Williams, though. No one was immune. RT Stephon Heyer was beaten around the edge several times, and the interior linemen (LG Kory Lichtensteiger, C Casey Rabach and RG Artis Hicks) collectively struggled to match the speed and power of DTs Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams. Their failure to establish the line of scrimmage against one of the league’s worst run defenses was a significant detriment.

***

For the first time since RB Clinton Portis got hurt, the Redskins really, really missed him. Not only did they need him as a runner when RB Ryan Torain suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the first half, but Portis would have been a huge help him pass protection. RB Keiland Williams was overpowered by S Amari Spievey, who hit McNabb’s arm on the fourth-quarter interception. Portis is superior at reading defenses and knowing from where the pressure is coming. That’s big when inches and split-seconds make the difference between success and disaster.

***

Where was OLB Brian Orakpo today? He drew a holding penalty and intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt. Other than that, I hardly noticed him. He has produced some big plays in the passing game the last couple of weeks, but there’s no consistent domination. Also, he’s been a liability in the run game at times. He struggles getting off blocks and with his angles at times. The sacks are good, but for a Pro Bowler you want a more complete and consistent game.

***

Even though Lions WR Calvin Johnson caught nine passes on 15 targets, I was surprised they didn’t throw to him more. CB DeAngelo Hall matched up against Johnson on both sides of the field, but the off coverage allowed for some quick throws—including Johnson’s second touchdown. It goes without saying that Johnson is a beast. Overall, the Lions have some quality building blocks. Their days at the bottom of the NFL are numbered.

***

Can’t say much about PR/KR Brandon Banks that hasn’t already been said. He’s a game-changer, and that’s even more important with the Redskins’ punchless offense. He realizes that he can beat anyone to the edge, and he’s right to aim for the corner when he can. The next step in his progression is for teams to stop kicking to him. After a franchise-record 271 return yards today, that day is coming soon.

***

The Redskins enter the bye week at 4-4. In the big picture, it’s about where you’d expect them to be. They’re about a .500 team. However, they’ve gotten here in the most maddening fashion. Gritty wins over some fairly strong teams—Green Bay, Philadelphia, Chicago—have been offset by losses to teams with bad records—Detroit and St. Louis (at the time; the Rams are now 4-4). The defense is improving, but the offensive problems are going to be a story for the rest of the season. Today was a missed opportunity because of the Lions’ record, but they were an even match from a talent standpoint. I’ll have more on the first half of the season over the next week.

…I’m eager to hear your thoughts, specifically on the McNabb situation. Please leave me a comment, shoot me an email or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/redskinsjournal/2010/10/31/initial-thoughts-lions-37-redskins-25/

  • http://twitter.com/prather Justin

    R-Campbell – I always enjoy reading your post-game write-ups. Here are a few sporadic thoughts of my own.

    Graham Gano had a great tackle on a kickoff inside the 30 yard line. It was fun to see such aggressiveness from a kicker.

    The porousness of the offensive line was hard to watch. Sack-fest.

    Last week D. Hall was the difference in the game for the Redskins. This week, Brandon Banks really shined. The Lions were smart to pooch that kickoff late in the fourth quarter.

  • john

    For once they played like the old skins. Offsides on a 4 and 1 which results in a TD. Bad timing penalties, weak off line injured running game, lack of receivers. They still have a lot of holes to fill. They can’t win every close game. So .500 isn’t bad.

  • Jeff

    Without BBanks16, this game may not have even been close. Detroit was relentless on their pass rush and were hitting McNabb seemingly every time he dropped back. Yes, the Redskins defense has done a great job of causing turnovers, but Stafford had all day back there compared to QB5.

    At the end of the game, Shanahan emasculated the (presumed) franchise QB and leader of this team. Unbelievable. Rex F’n Grossman.

    Get out the brown paper bags, Skins fans. That sucked.

  • Matt

    As always great insights…thanks… I actually think Shanahan is being disingenuous about the reason he pulled DMac. He hinted at it in the presser…his gut….he had a feeling and was looking for a spark….I dont know why he didn’t say so, but if McNabb can handle the O under two mins in all our other close games i find it hard to believe he can’t now. Shanny lies or dissembles all the time…doesn’t make him a bad coach…just hard to figure out

  • tom barz

    worst offensive line than LAST year. yes, i said it. and galloway?? come on!!! galloway makes THRASH look COMPETENT!!!

  • tom barz

    OMG

    Seriously look at the offensive personnel:

    Rookie LT.
    Lichtensteiger at LG. (Didn’t play at all in 2009!)
    Rabach
    Hicks (Career Back Up)
    Heyer!!! (or J Brown, banged up, didn’t play in 2009, either!!)

    Moss, Armstrong (27, from SW Texas St! didn’t play in 2009!!), Galloway (39 yrs old! barely played in 2009!!), R Williams (didn’t play in 2009!)

    Torain (didn’t play in 2009!!), K Williams (started 3 games in COLLEGE!!)

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