Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Initial Thoughts: Buccaneers 17, Redskins 16
Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay:
The botched snap/hold on the decisive extra point attempt was such a Redskins play, if you know what I mean. This team just makes sloppy, boneheaded mistakes every week. They come in different forms, but the baseline is the same: They’re what losers do to lose games.
This season, alone, they’ve had a block in the back that negated a kickoff return for a touchdown against Minnesota, Houston’s 34-yard touchdown reception against them on fourth-and-10 with 1:13 to play, blocking breakdowns that resulted in two blocked punts, a missed chip-shot field goal in today’s 1-point loss, and the list goes on. Such lapses are what separate the Redskins from contenders such as New England and Pittsburgh.
The question is how the heck do they reverse the tide? Mike Shanahan obviously doesn’t have a magic touch. These gaffes didn’t just follow Jim Zorn out of town. Changing a culture of losing apparently doesn’t happen easily. This franchise’s low standards and low expectations remain, but it has to be more concrete than that.
Some of it is the result of youth (Perry Riley’s illegal block against Minnesota, Nick Sundberg’s bad snap today), but veterans aren’t immune either. CB Phillip Buchanon lost site of Andre Johnson in one of the decisive moments in the Houston loss. CB DeAngelo Hall admitted tonight that he just flat-out dropped a potential interception return for a touchdown in today’s game. So is it youth? Sorry players overall? Poor coaching? There are no easy answers.
I suppose you start by bringing in more talented players who gradually increase the standard, expecting that to become contagious just like the errors are now. Now I’m just rambling…
I realize there’s going to be a strong backlash against K Graham Gano after he missed field goals from 24 and 34 yards. They are his latest screw-ups in an uneven season. But you can’t call for the Redskins to rebuild with young players and then expect them to be perfect. That’s just part of the building process.
Cutting Gano tomorrow would be a regression to how personnel has been handled in the past—thinking there’s a quick fix out there. The smart move is to give Gano a chance to grow from this experience. As my man Grant Paulsen from 106.7 The Fan pointed out, David Akers was 23 when he missed two field goals in his NFL debut in 1998. The Redskins cut him after that game. Four Pro Bowls later, Akers is still active. He’ll start for Philadelphia tonight.
If you want to build with youth, you’ve got to be willing to endure the growing pains. The same applies to long-snapper Nick Sundberg, linebacker Perry Riley and left tackle Trent Williams.
And for the record, Mike Shanahan said he will not be trying out new kickers on Tuesday. Gano “has been very consistent for us in practice,” he said. “He is young, and I think he has a great future.”
It’s hard not to wonder if the outcome would have been different had the umpire flagged Tampa Bay LT Donald Penn for holding Brian Orakpo around the neck on the decisive 41-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow late in the fourth quarter. The call obviously was missed, and Orakpo’s frustration after the game was justified.
“I’ve been held all season,” Orakpo said. “I don’t understand it. I keep saying, I’ve got to keep fighting through it, keep fighting, but I mean, when you’re getting held like this, it’s ridiculous. They’ve got back judges there for a reason, and for them to tell me that he wasn’t looking at the play, he was looking downfield? We’ve got downfield judges for that. He’s the backfield judge, referee. That’s exactly what he told me.
“It’s very frustrating because that was a huge play that could have turned the game around if I make that play, and I was right there. For someone to hold me around the neck, it’s not fair to the team. It’s not fair to our defense that has been working so hard.”
I agree with Orakpo. It wasn’t fair. The photo speaks for itself. Then again, if Graham Gano makes a 24-yard field goal, maybe Orakpo’s gripe is moot.
But the bright side is that Orakpo has impacted games in decisive moments (I’m thinking of Dallas in Week 1). That’s an auspicious sign for the 24-year-old.
What a difference RB Ryan Torain made in the backfield. You could tell that he’s been with the team since mid-April, as opposed to James Davis, who joined the team in October. Torain (172 yards on 24 carries) has a better feel for hitting cutback lanes in the zone running scheme. He’s better at reading them and setting up defenders with his cutbacks. His downhill, powerful style is a tremendous asset when he’s healthy. Defenses can’t arm-tackle him.
Tampa Bay in the first half proved a much easier matchup for the Redskins’ offensive line than Minnesota or the New York Giants the last two weeks. Washington’s linemen won individual blocking matchups more often this week, and linemen appeared to frequently get to the second level to take on linebackers. That didn’t happen as often against Minnesota and New York’s bigger fronts.
It helped that Tampa Bay’s defense lost backside contain several times. The Bucs have a fast defense, and they vigorously flowed to the ball. The Redskins used that to their advantage with some cutback runs that often isolated Torain on only one or two defenders. That’s when his ability to break tackles shone.
Tampa adjusted in the second half with some zone blitzes that brought the strong safety to the line of scrimmage. They also maintained their backside responsibilities better. Torain had only six carries for 16 yards in the second half.
I was shocked to see so many mistakes today on special teams. Normally that facet is a bright spot, partly because the Redskins have a group of veterans who are regular contributors and partly because special teams coach Danny Smith is one of the best in the business.
But in addition to the missed kicks, LB Chris Wilson, a core special teams contributor, misplayed the squibbed second-half kickoff. It goes back to my first point that the Redskins just find new ways to make the same old sloppy plays. It really is amazing.
I’m eager to re-watch the game and get a better idea of how QB Donovan McNabb played because on first glance I sense he had another forgettable day. The offensive line generally gave him time to throw, as it often did against the Giants last week, but McNabb never really stretched the field. He didn’t get the ball to TE Chris Cooley until the fourth quarter. He bounced a few throws because he either didn’t step into them or he was falling away.
Raise your hand if you get the feeling after 13 games that McNabb is the quarterback that will lead this team back to contender status. That makes none of us.
I find it hard to believe that Mike Shanahan could be on the hot seat at this point. Owner Daniel Snyder has preached patience as recently as Thursday afternoon. Losing five of six will test that patience, but personnel—not the head coach—is the team’s main problem. Shanahan needs time to structure the personnel department the way he wants it, which he’ll do in the offseason. That still falls under the grace period.
And you can’t forget that Snyder is financially committed to Shanahan. They agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal in January. Snyder would be on the hook for that if he were to fire Shanahan, so doing so doesn’t make economic sense, especially with a work stoppage on the horizon. Snyder fired head coach Marty Schottenheimer after one season, but I don’t see it happening this time.
How about the Buccaneers getting to 8-5 with the youngest roster in the NFL (25 years, 216 days)? Tampa Bay took on a true rebuilding process. They got young through the draft (nine picks in 2010) at the expense of wins. They weren’t competitive for a short stretch, but their approach has established a foundation for long-term success. It helps that they have a running game to take pressure off their promising young quarterback. The Redskins would be wise to consider a similar approach.