Mike Shanahan's Washington Redskins have taken huge strides since their bye week, silencing critics of the coach.
When the Washington Redskins crashed to 3-6, wholesale changes were being demanded by fans. First, it was Jim Haslett who was the problem, then Kyle Shanahan, then Mike Shanahan.
Winning changes everything, however. Since the bye week, the Redskins have won five straight games and just need two more to clinch the division. Suddenly, everything is well in D.C., and the coaching staff looks more confident in their jobs.
That's not to say that improvements can't be made. No one is safe in the NFL for very long, however, so the following slides are dedicated to assessing the future of each member of the Redskins coaching staff.
Shanahan has struck gold with his team in the latter stages of the season.
Mike Shanahan is totally secure. There's no doubting that anymore.
When Robert Griffin III entered the bye week, he promised to be a better quarterback and leader when the team returned. He was then made a team captain, and the Redskins won five straight games—although one victory came with Griffin on the sideline.
Shanahan took a lot of hits when he gave up multiple picks to select Griffin and then took Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. But now, it looks as though he had more foresight than anyone in the NFL.
Redskins fans went with him on the Cousins pick, as it meant that Rex Grossman was now one extra step away from seeing the football field again, but there were still complaints that the pick could've been better spent shoring up the secondary.
Cousins proved himself to be a genuine talent last week after beating the Cleveland Browns, starting talk of trades and potential offseason destinations for the Michigan State product.
However, it's clear that Shanahan had a plan for Cousins this year, which has been carried out perfectly. This alone would make Shanahan's job safe, but the eight wins his team has racked up as well has put it beyond dispute.
The Washington Redskins are Mike Shanahan's team.
Kyle Shanahan's offense has been a perfect fit for Robert Griffin III.
Kyle Shanahan has been something of a polarizing figure in Washington, even more so than his father.
There have been accusations made about his abandonment of the running game as soon as his team falls behind as well as concerns that sometimes his play-calling is a little too cute for its own good.
However, the bye week has had the same galvanizing effect on Shanahan as it has had on his quarterbacks. Shanahan has consistently found ways to score points, regardless of which quarterback is starting.
Alfred Morris has been Shanahan's best friend all season, and the rookie gives him so much more maneuverability with the rest of his offense. Morris is a reliable running back who will eat up yards on the ground and force the defense to respect the run, opening up the passing game as a result.
Shanahan has been a favorite target of Redskins naysayers since arriving in Washington, but he's suddenly being talked about as a potential head coach when his father retires.
It's safe to assume that both Shanahans still have a future in D.C.
Jim Haslett has been much-maligned this year.
Outside of the Shanahan family, no one has taken more shots than Jim Haslett. As the team looked to be slipping into another wasted season, Haslett was a convenient scapegoat for the defensive frailties.
The accusations were not totally unjustified, either. The defense was giving games away and the play-calling looked uncertain and conservative.
Reports surfaced that Raheem Morris had called the plays in the fourth quarter of the game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2, and Haslett looked to be on his way out. (h/t CBS Sports)
His switch to a 3-4 defense has been a point of consternation for Redskins fans since he has been with the team, and this season's setback looked to be the final nail in a disappointing Haslett coffin.
Yet, just as quickly as it regressed, the makeshift unit started to make plays. The group made goal line stands, plucked interceptions out of the air and looked—whisper it—serviceable in coverage.
DeAngelo Hall rediscovered his talent for interceptions and Josh Wilson has been staying with his man and denying the big play. Those two cornerbacks epitomized the "bend-don't-break" tactic forced upon the team by injuries, and Haslett deserves credit for the turnaround.
Like both of the Shanahans, Haslett has been saved by his unit's improvement afterthe bye week. The offense has been putting up points all year, but the defense has been holding them back.
It's no coincidence that the team has won five straight games since the defense has stepped up. Haslett is safe—for another year, anyway.
The general consensus is that Mike Shanahan has an innate ability to take running backs in the late rounds of the draft and slot them into his system with instant results.
However, there is another constant in this success, and his name is Bobby Turner.
Turner has been with Shanahan since his days in Denver, and was partly responsible for developing some guy named Terrell Davis and turning him into a star.
With Alfred Morris, Shanahan and Turner have unearthed another player who can carry the rushing attack and be a consistent performer.
Morris has already drawn comparisons to Davis with his playing style and has eclipsed the Redskins rookie rushing records for carries, touchdowns and rushing yards. That’s a pretty good indication of how well Bobby Turner has done.
A lot of the success is on Morris, of course. He has shown great determination on every carry, getting hard yards and then going straight up the gut again for more.
Turner is safe for as long as Mike Shanahan is with the team. At the current rate of progress, that could be for a while.
Danny Smith has retained his job in the face of heavy criticism.
In a similar manner to Haslett, Danny Smith has been the subject of some ire from fans as the season has gone on.
This was no more prevalent than after the Rams game, where an incredibly bad-tempered fixture gave way to furious anger directed at Haslett, Smith and wide receiver Josh Morgan.
Fans wanted all three of them out immediately, an anger which only increased when it emerged that Haslett and Smith had received contract extensions in the offseason.
The two blocked punts in the two opening games were shocking. Most teams have zero punts blocked throughout the duration of the season, yet the Redskins somehow had two blocked in their opening two games.
It brought back memories of the five blocked field goals from last season, and Smith was the man to blame. If an error occurs once, it’s probably the players’ fault. But if the same errors are occurring consistently then it would have to be the coaches’ fault, right?
Luckily for Smith, kicker Kai Forbath arrived to make everything better, and then Lorenzo Alexander demonstrated that his “One Man Gang” nickname is well-earned by making plays all over the place, on both defense and special teams.
Brandon Banks had taken all of the blame as the return man, so Richard Crawford was given the nod and promptly tore up the field.
The players have defended Smith all season and he certainly seems like a popular member of the coaching staff. Without Forbath and Alexander, however, he could have been looking for a new job.
Chris Foerster should be proud of the way his line has exceeded expectations.
No one expected the offensive line to do much this year, which helped Foerster out a lot. Jammal Brown failed to recover from his hip injury that has plagued him since he arrived, so Tyler Polumbus was starting in his place.
Rookies Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus were considered projects when they were drafted, so they haven’t seen a lot of the field this year. LeRibeus has been inactive every week, which seems like a wasted third-round pick. Maybe he’s getting better every week and will make some plays next year, but for now he represents a missed opportunity.
How much of this drafting was recommended by Foerster is uncertain, but it’s probably safe to assume that he was at least consulted about it, so he can share some of the blame.
In fairness to him, he mentioned in a Q&A with The Washington Times that both Gettis and LeRibeus have “got a long ways to go,” but that also makes the reach for LeRibeus in the third round all the more mystifying.
Leaving aside the questionable drafting, the offensive line has exceeded all expectations this season. Some of that is a result of Griffin’s ability to extend the play with his feet, but they’ve been solid all year, particularly in run support.
Polumbus has been very patchy at right tackle, but Trent Williams on the other side has made up for it. It was always going to be so important for Griffin to get good protection on his blind side this year and Williams has done exactly that.
Watching Williams push Jason Pierre-Paul into the backfield and then pancake him is one of my favorite moments of the year.
In a season full of surprises, the offensive line has been a very pleasant one. If Foerster takes some of the blame for the drafting of LeRibeus, he should get all the credit for the performance of the rest of the unit. He can rest easy at night after the season is over, knowing that he got the best out of what he had to work with.
Matt LaFleaur has got the talent he needed at quarterback.
When Mike Shanahan took two quarterbacks in the draft last April, his sanity was questioned. LaFleur, on the other hand, must have thought it was his birthday.
Griffin and Cousins offered an immediate upgrade on Rex Grossman and John Beck, so LaFleur finally had talent to work with at quarterback.
In an interview with Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan, the coach gave the impression that he was incredibly excited about what they brought to the team, via The Washington Post:
I thought Kirk would’ve been gone long before the fourth round, and when he’s sitting there, and you have a high grade on him, it’s like you can’t lose with that pick, in my opinion. You can never have enough good players, especially at arguably the most important position of all of sports.
This is a nasty game where sometimes things happen, and you have to go with somebody else, so we want to make sure we’re secure at that position.
Any time you give up what we did to get Robert, it’s pretty clear how we feel. But like I said, things happen, and your next guy has to be ready to go… I personally think it’ll be a great thing. You’ve got two guys coming in here and they’ll get the chance to grow together and learn together and study together.
Both of those guys have intangibles off the charts. There’s no doubt in my mind they’ll get along great and really push each other to be better players.
This suggests LaFleur was a strong presence during the draft and also goes to show how much faith Shanahan has in him. Both quarterbacks have repaid LaFleur and Shanahan for their decision, and the Redskins seem to have finally solved a position that has plagued them for more than a decade.
Sean McVay's ability has been shown in the development of Logan Paulsen.
At 26 years old, Sean McVay is four years younger than Chris Cooley, but was raised with football all around him. His grandfather is John McVay, who was the head coach of the New York Giants and general manager of the San Francisco 49ers when Bill Walsh built a dynasty.
Speaking to the Washington Post, McVay remembered growing up with the NFL:
My grandpa was always so willing to share. I was always interested and eager, asking about little nuances of what was going on. It was never pushed on me, but I always had an interest.
I was so young, but I do remember seeing Coach Shanahan and talking about the high-potent offense — Steve Young, Ricky Watters, Jerry Rice. I do remember that. And I remember Kyle [Shanahan] running around, too.
McVay has been unlucky to have his franchise tight end injured for a lot of the season, but the improvement of Logan Paulsen this year reflects well on the young coach. Paulsen has done better than anyone expected and now looks like a reliable member of the team.
He has kept Cooley out of the picture, which again shows his improvement under McVay. Shanahan obviously thinks a lot of his tight ends coach and the results are starting to show.
Ike Hilliard has made the transition from player to coach, but not without some difficulties.
Former Giants receiver Ike Hilliard came on board with the Redskins in January, replacing Keenan McCardell. A player under Jim Haslett in the UFL, Hilliard was the assistant wide receivers coach with the Miami Dolphins prior to his arrival in D.C.
There have been issues with drops this year, to such an extent that the coaching was in question. Seeing receivers drop 10 passes in a game raises some eyebrows, and that’s exactly what happened in Pittsburgh.
From the outside it’s difficult to judge situations like this, as it’s very likely that nothing changed in the coaching and the players stopped dropping passes without any additional instruction. Fortunately, the bye week once again brought a change in attitude.
Pierre Garcon came back strong and the team looked hungrier, resulting in this five-game winning streak and a total of 155 points scored. Receivers like Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson started to make plays, while Josh Morgan quietly became the most reliable receiver on the team.
It’s difficult to argue with that kind of production, so after his first season as a positional coach, Hilliard can be satisfied that he’ll return to Redskins Park next year.
Jacob Burney has been without some key pieces, but his line gets better as the season goes on.
There has been some talk about the Redskins’ defensive line this year—most notably its failure to record many sacks—but this cannot be blamed on Burney. It’s not a coaching issue if players get injured, and any team would miss Adam Carriker if he was suddenly done for the season after two games.
The defensive line has risen to the challenge and managed to bring pressure without Carriker, though. Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen have been impressive in getting to the quarterback, and although the sack totals are down, they don’t tell the whole story.
The play-calling has had to be conservative for a lot of the season in order to cover up the frailties of the secondary, but with the improvement in the backfield has come renewed confidence from Haslett. This has allowed the line to bring more pressure and have greater success through a variety of blitz packages and linebacker help.
The Redskins’ defensive line was looked upon as a high-point of the team before the start of the season. Although they haven’t lived up to that expectation, injuries have disrupted their progress, and it’s difficult to find fault with the coaching because of this.
Bob Slowik moved to coach the linebackers this year.
Bob Slowik has been with the Redskins since Shanahan took over, and before that he worked with Shanahan with the Broncos during the final three years of his tenure. Lou Spanos left to become defensive coordinator at UCLA, so Slowik was moved to coach the linebackers in his place.
Slowik had previously been in charge of the defensive backs, but he was a defensive coordinator for the Broncos and Green Bay Packers as well as being both defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears.
His coaching pedigree was never in doubt, so when Shanahan moved him across to coach the linebackers, there was no alarm. The Redskins have a strong group of linebackers and they’ve proved it once again.
London Fletcher continues to defy age, while Lorenzo Alexander has emerged as a stud during the game against the Minnesota Vikings. Perry Riley has shown real improvement this year and Ryan Kerrigan has performed admirably in the face of a lot of double teams.
Brian Orakpo’s absence has been a blow, but players have come in and got the job done without him. That’s not only the mark of a good football team, that’s the mark of good coaching.
Raheem Morris has had a difficult year working without many of his starters.
Morris took a step down in his career to become the defensive backs coach in Washington after being fired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And he did it on the basis of a verbal commitment, which showed a lot of class.
Morris coaches with fire, and he looked to be getting results from his patchwork secondary before Tanard Jackson was suspended and Brandon Meriweather got injured.
From that point on, it’s been difficult for both Morris and his unit, but again, there has been improvement since the bye and the team no longer surrenders so many yards.
The rumor was that Morris would be taking over Haslett’s job in the offseason, but there has been no talk of that just yet. The likelihood is that the Redskins would lose Morris if Haslett remained on the staff and he would be greatly missed.
The players really respond to him, and as early as training camp it was clear that they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with taking plays off. Morris’ future with the team is uncertain, but it would be a real shame if he were allowed to walk.