Friday, December 19, 2014

The Redskins' Struggles: "It Hasn't Just Been One Player"

Mike Jones:
The Redskins (3-11) enter the game against their NFC East rivals having allowed 53 sacks (second most in the NFL). Meanwhile, the visiting Eagles have racked up 47, second most in the league.

And the Eagles (9-5) will catch Washington at one of its lowest points. The team has allowed at least five sacks in each of its past six games — a franchise record and the second-longest streak in league history.

Following a 2013 campaign that saw the Redskins surrender 43 sacks (14th in the NFL), team officials set out this offseason to upgrade the offensive line in free agency and the draft.

They shifted Kory Lichtensteiger from left guard to center and signed Shawn Lauvao early in free agency and penciled him in at left guard. The Redskins tried — and failed — to add a veteran to upgrade the right tackle position. Washington also drafted tackle Morgan Moses and guard Spencer Long in the third round, hoping to groom them so they could insert them as starters at some point this season.

Things haven’t played out as planned. Lichtensteiger has proved solid in his new position, but Lauvao and right guard Chris Chester have struggled. Tyler Polumbus opened the season at right tackle but got benched after seven games. Moses developed slower than anticipated, so second-year backup Tom Compton replaced Polumbus in the lineup, but he too has struggled. (Moses last week suffered a Lisfranc injury and was placed on injured reserve ).

Long hasn’t managed to satisfy coaches enough in practice for them to feel comfortable starting him over Chester. Third-year pro Josh LeRibeus likewise hasn’t managed to overtake Lauvao.

The line’s issues not only have put the Redskins in danger of setting a team mark for sacks allowed but also have been a major reason for a sputtering offense and a six-game losing streak.

The 1998 team allowed 61 sacks en route to a 6-10 finish. This squad is yielding an average of 3.8 sacks per game, but given that the team has given up 36 sacks over the past six weeks, that embarrassing record could fall.

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden acknowledges the protection issues have crippled the offense. But the coach insists the blame can’t fall solely on his linemen.

Mark Bullock:
The offensive line has long been a problem for Washington. It has struggled to maintain pass protection and give its quarterback the extra second or two to make a pass. It hasn’t just been one player either. Everyone on the line, including Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, has played poorly.

Quarterbacks and offensive lines work hand-in-hand on pass protection. The best offensive lines give their quarterback the extra second or two that he needs for a route to develop; while the best quarterbacks anticipate throws and get the ball out of their hands quickly to keep the blocking time to a minimum. It’s rare that teams have both a great quarterback and offensive line, but the Redskins’ problem is that they have neither. Both are making the situation worse for the other, and will continue to do so unless the problem is addressed.

Thomas Boswell:
Griffin’s team has lost the past 10 games in which he has taken the majority of the offensive snaps — a more meaningful measure than the technicality of who “started” that game. In the past two seasons, he has played the most snaps (by far) in 18 games. Washington is 3-15. His quarterback rating has fallen every season and is now so low (25.5, based on ESPN’s QBR formula) it is possible he ultimately will be no better than Heath Shuler. (I know, unbelievable.)

On Sunday against the Giants, playing after McCoy was hurt, coaches called a high-school-level offense to keep him from being overwhelmed. Of his 27 passes, 20 were thrown behind the line of scrimmage or less than five yards downfield. He completed only 2 of 5 passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield. Two passes with 90 yards-after-catch boosted his stats. Despite minuscule demands, he was overwhelmed anyway, sacked seven times, fumbling twice and generating just 10 points. A depressing desperation dink-and-dunk derby.

Afterward he said “fun” six times. Either he’s in denial or keeps up a brave face for the team or wants the state of his game a semi-secret until he improves. I can sympathize with all that.

In fact, now that it is clear Coach Jay Gruden doesn’t believe he’s yet a competent pro quarterback but a helter-skelter “make a play” guy, I feel little but empathy for Griffin.

Brought in to save a franchise, he was begged to play that role. He went along. His first coach let him play compromised, defenseless, with an injured right knee until the joint collapsed, untouched, and required total reconstruction. Two years later, his speed is not back. So it never will be. With his separate-from-everybody gift gone, he was exposed as a player with big skills but only some of those needed in an NFL quarterback.

Like many college stars and Heisman Trophy winners, he was mis-evaluated by miles. Few things are harder than projecting NFL quarterbacks. It’s nobody’s fault. Provided a modified college offense his rookie year, Griffin’s development was frozen. All were fooled, including him.

More information:
» NFL.com Video: RGIII Touchdown Call Reversed
» NFL.com: Jeff Fisher Trolls Redskins During Opening Coin Toss
» London Fletcher: Redskins Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett is "Clueless"

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