Washington Redskins: 7 Burning Questions Team Must Answer in Week 10
Standing, or sitting miserably, at 3-5, the Washington Redskins are at a crossroads in their season. They can build off of their victory over the San Diego Chargers, or allow their season to crumble and blow away in a mire of problems no one expected them to have to face.
It is safe to say that the 'Skins have a number of questions to answer before all is truly lost this season.
The rest of the season, however, can wait, because the Redskins face the Minnesota Vikings, who are not nearly as horrid as their 1-7 mark would suggest. They still have Adrian Peterson, and that's enough to win a game or two any day.
Here are some of the questions the Redskins will need to answer this week against the Vikings.
Can RGIII Be the Focal Point on Offense?
If anything has been clear through the first half of the season, it is that Robert Griffin III is still not quite himself. He has shown spotty accuracy, inconsistent arm strength, indecision and a so-so commitment to breaking the pocket to make plays with his legs.
His improvement is evident as the weeks go by, but the strides he has made have not overtaken the mistakes he continues to make.
Aside from the 161 rushing yards amassed between the Dallas and Chicago games, Griffin has not shown the willingness to run, which makes him an easier player to defend. If the Redskins have Griffin throwing 37 times per game, how can they expect to fool defenses with play action?
Griffin has thrown nine touchdowns against nine interceptions, has yet to rush for a touchdown and has more turnovers at the midway point of the season (12) than he had all last season (7).
For the Redskins to win the way they want to, Griffin needs to make better decisions and do more than rely on his arm.
Will the Special Teams Issues Ever Be Resolved?
Why does it feel like this season, the first under special teams coach Keith Burns, seems a lot worse than any under the heavily scrutinized Danny Smith?
The Redskins are the worst in net yards per punt, field-goal percentage, field goals made, average yards per punt return allowed, have given up two punt returns for touchdowns and have seen three field goals and a punt blocked this season.
On top of it all, they can't seem to produce any yards of their own, averaging the second-fewest yards per kick return (19.4) and the eighth-fewest yards per punt return (6.5).
It only seems to be getting worse as the season goes on, and aside from a coaching change, there isn't much that can be done to fix the problem entirely.
And even a coaching change just puts a different name on the list of people to blame.
Where Have All the Playmakers Gone?
Another look at the numbers will show that the Redskins are second in the NFL with five defensive touchdowns, four coming by way of interception and another via fumble recovery. Only the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs have more, and they have just one more fumble recovery.
However, the turnovers haven't come in bunches, nor have the sacks, the big plays on offense, the jaw-dropping runs, catches or anything.
The Redskins have the shortest longest pass play in the NFL. Their long pass for the season is 45 yards, which matches their longest run of the season.
Fred Davis was supposed to be a huge asset in the passing game but hasn't played, let alone factored into the offense. Aldrick Robinson has all of four catches on the season, including the 45-yard long pass play.
The defense, with its pass rush specialists, can't seem to come up with a scheme to generate sacks without jeopardizing the awful pass defense.
Of the NFL's top 15 receivers, Pierre Garcon has the third-lowest yards per catch average with 12.7, and the second-fewest touchdowns with two.
Big plays aren't everything, but they tend to make things easier when there is the constant threat of scoring on any given play.
What Happened to the Offensive Line?
Last season, when Alfred Morris was bursting onto the scene and Robert Griffin III was picking defenses apart with his arm, legs and read-option, the offensive line was seen as one right tackle short of an elite group.
Fast forward to the present, and Washington's offensive line is decidedly lopsided, favoring the strong left side to the inconsistent right.
Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger have been rocks on the left side, particularly compared to the spotty pass blocking from tackle Tyler Polumbus, and up-and-down play from guard Chris Chester.
A lot of it has to do with the inability to run the offense they want through RGIII, but if the line can't adapt to the demand for more pass protection and give Griffin more time to throw, things won't improve down the stretch.
Can the Redskins Defense Win Games?
With 21 seconds left in the game, and following an overturned Danny Woodhead touchdown, the Redskins defense proceeded to stand their ground for three plays and force the Chargers to settle for a field goal and the tie, as opposed to a touchdown and the lead.
It was a defining moment in the game, but it doesn't make the defensive output throughout this season any less pathetic.
Washington's defense is ranked 28th in the NFL and is giving up 31.6 points per game, tallying just 21 sacks and a middling 15 forced turnovers. Aside from the stand against San Diego, the defense has been horrific and somehow manages to make the inept offense look passable.
Don't expect one play to change the direction of an entire season, particularly when you consider that defining moment came at the tail end of a game where they already gave up a 10-point lead.
Will Kyle Shanahan's Play-Calling Improve?
Based on production alone, the Redskins have the sixth-best offense in the NFL, averaging 407.6 yards per game. Based on observation of things like game flow, the Redskins have an inconsistent offense and have not looked anything like a top-10 unit this season.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has consistently abandoned the run in favor of a pass-heavy attack, even with the Redskins still in games as opposed to being blown out as they were early this season.
Against the Chargers, Shanahan finally gave Alfred Morris 20 touches, 25 to be exact, and he responded with just his second 100-yard performance, while helping the Redskins dictate the pace more than they had in previous games.
One week, however, does not solve the problem, and if the Redskins can't count on their offensive wunderkind to call a balanced game, it will be more disappointment in the win column the rest of the way.
Will the Redskins Make the Playoffs?
If the playoffs were to start today, the Redskins would be in the picture but still on the outside looking in. They stood at 3-5 at this time last year and proceeded to go 7-1 in the second half of the season, clinching both a playoff berth and the NFC East crown.
Working in their favor this season is that of their remaining opponents, only Kansas City, San Francisco and Dallas have winning records.
It is hardly out of the realm of possibility for everything to click at this very moment in Washington's season, but the Chiefs are undefeated, and the Niners have won five in a row.
However, given their up-and-down play, they can't look past the 2-6 New York Giants, the 1-7 Minnesota Vikings or the 2-6 Atlanta Falcons. And after Nick Foles tossed seven touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders, you can't overlook the Philadelphia Eagles, either.
So while the Redskins can make the playoffs with another miracle run to finish the season, they most likely won't because they are unbalanced on offense and tissue soft on defense.