The Washington Redskins’ season of expectations finally gave way to disappointment, concluding with barely a whimper, Sunday, at FedEx Field.
The result – a 19-10 loss to the New York Giants that knocks Washington out of the playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons – while painful, is hardly unexpected.
The Redskins entered the New Year in control of their playoff destiny, but their 8-6-1 record wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.
What are the culprits behind the disappointing finish? Those are easy to discern: The Redskins were a talent-deficient bunch, who suffered from poor coaching and worse execution.
Sunday’s finale was an expose on everything that has gone wrong for the burgundy and gold. From the get-go, the Redskins played fat and happy, as if their playoff fortunes were already secure.
New York, on the other hand, DID have their post-season spot under lock and key. The Giants promised to play football in week 17 and, to their credit, did just that – letting Eli Manning and most of the offense play for the entirety of the game.
Whether it was smart to risk the health of their star quarterback in a meaningless game is beside the point. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and company seemed unprepared for a scenario in which they would actually have to play competitive football.
It’s not the first time they’ve been caught with their pants down, this season. The rap sheet includes embarrassing losses to Arizona and Carolina (combined record 13-18-1) – winnable games against bad teams if not for Washington’s lack of focus.
The defense has been an issue all year. Coordinator Joe Barry’s unit isn’t exactly bursting with talent, but it feels they’ve been beaten over and over by the same plays, with little sign of improvement. That’s troubling.
Third down, a situation defenses should own, has instead been an oasis of opportunity for Redskins opponents. Here is a 3rd and 4 from the second quarter of Sunday’s game:
As the Giants get set for a third down in the red-zone, wide receiver Sterling Shepard is uncovered as he lines up. Defensive back, Bashaud Breeland, needs to step up but instead backpedals, leaving teammate Greg Toler on an island with two Giants receivers. Shepard breaks outside, where it’s a lay-up for Manning to drop in a strike (Manning fires a bad throw, but Shepard makes a great catch) for a first down.
Losing out on a play due to sheer, physical ability is one thing. Losing due to bad positioning or confused assignments is another.
“Guys don’t always know where they’re supposed to be,” cornerback Josh Norman said, earlier this week, in an interview on the Redskins’ flagship radio station, ESPN 980.
The Redskins will have an extended off-season to address their defensive issues. They can either upgrade the personnel and ride it out Barry, or make him the scapegoat and replace him – maybe with a tougher, Gus Bradley-type.
The decisions facing the offense will be much more difficult. While they were a prolific unit between the 20’s, they’ve proved inconsistent at their most important job: putting points on the board.
Sunday’s ten-point debacle qualifies as a bonafide egg, starting with Kirk Cousins. Whether he was weighed down by the stakes of the game or his impending contract status, Kirk was not sharp, in a game when his team needed him the most.
His trademark accuracy was all over the place. Cousins floated balls when they needed to be rifled, and threw lasers when a lob would have sufficed. After the first interception – the result of a wide receiver falling down – he and Gruden seemed reticent to take downfield shots.
DeSean Jackson was relegated to afterthought-status, catching two passes for just 34 yards. Jamison Crowder, who has been a revelation this season, was similarly-uninvolved, catching 2 for 16.
The duo has been a huge part of the offense, with their field-stretching ability opening things up underneath. It’s puzzling the Redskins didn’t try to get them going, especially with the Giants’ star cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, sitting out the second half of the game.
And, for all their talk about establishing a nasty, run-it-down-your-throat identity on offense, they continued their lackluster ground production. Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson combined for just 15 carries and 38 yards.
Too often, we’ve seen Gruden ditch the run game early, leaving them with no mechanism to keep defenses honest. The bloom is also off the rose for Kelley, who – after coming on gangbusters in the Green Bay game – is looking more and more like a one-week wonder. Kelley (who is dealing with a minor, knee-issue) has averaged just 3 yards-per-carry since his breakout night.
The maddening part is that, like Kelley, we have seen everyone on the roster step up at different times, this season. We know they have the ability. What they don’t seem to have, is any semblance of backbone.
Even the best NFL teams have weak points. What makes them great is the sum of their parts. For the Redskins, at the slightest hint of trouble, the house of cards starts to fold.
I’ve written before, about the prevailing sense of rudderless-ness that seems to be this group’s M.O. They need someone to step up and hold their teammates accountable: whether it’s Gruden, or Cousins, or even Josh Norman. In other words, we’re exactly where we left off, at the end of last season, minus a playoff berth.
That’s the most alarming thing about the 2016 Redskins – that, after seventeen weeks, we haven’t really learned anything new about them.