Is London Fletcher over the Hill?
The question is, can he?
Fletcher is the iron man of the NFL, having played in 243 consecutive games, starting 202. He is also the intellectual and emotional leader of the defense. Fletcher can be seen every Sunday marshaling his teammates into their proper positions and calling audibles with an understanding of the game that rivals Peyton Manning.
Unfortunately, Fletcher's best days are far behind him.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has given Fletcher a grade of minus-9.9 over the first two weeks. That makes him the second-worst inside linebacker in the NFL, just ahead of Philadelphia Eagle Mychal Kendricks.
Against the run, Fletcher scored a minus-8.9, worst among all inside linebackers. The next lowest is Minnesota's Erin Henderson at minus-4.0. So far this year, Pro Football Focus has Fletcher as by far the worst run-stopping linebacker in the league.
The tape tells a similar tale.
This play occurred around the nine-minute, 50-second mark in the second quarter. James Starks took a handoff running right. Fletcher mirrored his movement.
Fletcher came into the A-gap and had Starks two yards away.
Instead of attacking the ball-carrier, Fletcher hesitated. This allowed Starks to make a move to the outside and get behind his blockers.
As Starks cut upfield, Fletcher's lack of speed and agility showed. He got caught up in the engaged blockers, and Starks turned what should have been a stop into a 13-yard gain.
Fletcher finished the game with only two tackles. Perhaps more telling, James Starks, a backup running back for a pass-heavy team, ran for 132 yards on 20 carries.
It's obvious London Fletcher brings a lot more than just his physical abilities on the field with him. A cerebral player, Fletcher is often able to diagnose a play and position himself or one of his teammates in the correct spot to make a play.
At 38 years old, the problem is that even when he is in the right position, Fletcher is missing plays an average player should be making.
Should London Fletcher be benched if he doesn't improve?
The Redskins have few other options at inside linebacker, with second-year player Keenan Robinson out for the year with a pectoral tear. Eleven-year veteran Nick Barnett was added to provide depth. If Fletcher continues his lackluster play, Barnett may be forced into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
It's hard to imagine London Fletcher's consecutive-start streak ending due to anything other than injury or retirement. He deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt and every opportunity to prove he can still play in the league.
If Fletcher continues to struggle, head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must make the hard decision and put in the best player for the team, regardless of public perception.
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