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STEVE DeSHAZO: Ingredients for a rally missing from this year’s Redskins

Got ‘em right where they want ’em.

History suggests that for the Washington Redskins, 3–6 is the new 10–6. After all, they were in this exact same position last year, ridiculed and left for dead, before reeling off seven straight victories and claiming their first NFC East title since 1999.

If they can do it once, they can do it again. Right?

Well no.

Let’s be clear. The Redskins may barely have a pulse, but they’re not dead—not in the mediocre NFC East, where 8–8 may earn a home playoff game. But if you expect a surge that approaches last season’s renaissance, you’ve probably already mailed your letter to the North Pole.

The 2013 Redskins lack three important qualities that last year’s incarnation exploited: a fully healthy quarterback, a competent defense and the element of surprise.

We’ll start with Robert Griffin III. He’s clearly getting stronger and more confident in his surgically repaired right knee each week, and the Redskins’ offense is ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game (410.5). But neither he nor his coaches want him carrying the ball as often as he did in his spectacular rookie season.

And let’s face it: As a pocket passer, Griffin is a work in progress. He’s been less accurate this season than last. He’s already thrown more interceptions (nine) through nine games than he did in 15 starts last year (six). His passer rating of 83.8 ranks 19th among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 passes; last season that mark was 102.4. He’s still learning to read progressions and opposing defenses, just as you’d expect from a guy with 25 career starts.

Plus, opponents now have a better idea of how to defend him than they did 12 months ago. Knowing he doesn’t have that breakaway speed, rival pass rushers are coming after him with more abandon. They don’t fear long scrambles if he leaves the pocket.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan unveiled a couple of new wrinkles within the past two weeks, but Griffin is more of a conventional quarterback in 2013. His offensive line isn’t built to pass-block, and he has only two reliable receivers (Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed). If opponents can contain Alfred Morris on first and second down, the Redskins become much more predictable (and vulnerable).

Still, that offense is playoff-caliber. It’s the defense that’s the real liability.

One week after making a spirited goal-line stand in a win over San Diego, the Redskins let a backup quarterback carve them up for the second time in less than a month. On Thursday night, Matt Cassel sparked the Vikings back from a 13-point second-half deficit, three weeks after Josh McCown helped Chicago score 41 points at FedEx Field.

Now, the Redskins’ 27th-ranked defense has to face a resurgent Philadelphia team that has scored 76 points in its last two games with Nick Foles at quarterback. (Yes, those are the same Eagles who ran up 26 first-half points on Washington in the season opener). Also upcoming are home games against Super Bowl contenders Kansas City and San Francisco. Even Las Vegas wouldn’t give you odds on running that table.

The only hint of good news is that no one is going to run away with the NFC East. In almost any other division, 3–6 would be a death knell; for the Redskins, it’s a handicap. But this is a team that has yet to string together two straight wins; it can’t afford to think about seven.

A year ago, Mike Shanahan challenged and chastised his team after it fell to 3–6 with a loss to last-place Carolina. This year, the coach doesn’t have to call out his players. Everyone is doing it.

 

 

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

 

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