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Washington Redskins: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 12

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Washington Redskins: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 12
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Since their limp surrender against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11, much of the talk around the Washington Redskins has concerned the future of head coach Mike Shanahan.

It stands to reason that he would be feeling the heat with his team at 3-7 and almost out of the running in a feeble NFC East race:

NFC East Standings after Week 11
Philadelphia Eagles 6-5
Dallas Cowboys 5-5
New York Giants 4-6
Washington Redskins 3-7

via NFL.com

By the time Shanahan's team takes the field against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will have already squared off.

With the Eagles on a bye, Week 12 is a chance for Washington to close the gap. But the Redskins' hopes of pulling off a major turnaround have been all but extinguished by their performances in the last two weeks.

There is also the issue of facing a San Francisco 49ers team likely smarting after a narrow loss on the road against the New Orleans Saints.

It does not help that the Redskins could be far from full strength by the time they host last season's NFC winners.

 

Injury News

A passing offense that was pitiful in Week 11 received more bad news with the loss of Leonard Hankerson. He suffered a knee injury in Philly along with defensive end Stephen Bowen and defensive back E.J. Biggers, according to The Washington Post's Mike Jones.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Leonard Hankerson's knee injury is a blow to an already struggling passing game.

Hankerson's injury has since been dubbed "significant," according to The Post's Kent Babb. He reports that Hankerson has ligament damage and will miss time, but that Bowen and Biggers are okay.

Hankerson is a loss to the passing game, as the previously inconsistent wideout has emerged as a dependable target on third down.

Along with missing Hankerson, the offense could receive a double blow via the potential absence of rookie Jordan Reed. The dynamic tight end sustained a concussion against the Eagles and Babb states his status will be unclear until later this week.

Reed has become a major part of this offense thanks to his move skills and ability after the catch. Losing Reed and Hankerson could bring a pair of Shanahan doghouse regulars back into the team, as Babb notes:

If Hankerson and Reed are unable to play, Shanahan would likely have to turn back to wide receiver Josh Morgan and tight end Fred Davis, a pair of players who have been phased out of the lineup.

Reed has shown promise throughout the season as a big and athletic target, keeping Davis on the sideline. Davis has appeared in only four games, starting two, and has three catches for 25 yards.

Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said last week that Hankerson has simply outplayed Morgan, a Washington native who signed a free-agent deal with his hometown team last year. Morgan’s reduced role hit its lowest point Sunday in Philadelphia after Shanahan deactivated the 28-year-old in favor of Nick Williams, a punt returner who was promoted last week from the team’s practice squad.

It is surprising how little both Davis and Morgan have been used. Davis might have formed a deadly combination with Reed in multiple-tight end sets.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua Morgan likely faces the last chance to salvage his tenure with the Redskins.

Morgan, meanwhile, has been a major disappointment since he joined the Redskins in 2012. A useful possession receiver, the ex-49er could be helping quarterback Robert Griffin III overcome his accuracy issues.

Maybe the return of two veteran targets will help Griffin and boost one half of the offense. Hopefully then the Redskins could avoid last week's miserable first-half total of 26 yards passing.

One piece of injury news from the 49ers side that might interest the Redskins is the loss of standout guard Mike Iupati. He suffered a sprained MCL in Week 11, according to Eric Branch of The San Francisco Chronicle.

Iupati is the key to San Francisco's run-blocking schemes. The 49ers are certain to lean on their ground attack given how badly their 32nd-ranked passing game, led by failing quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is struggling.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Dominant guard Mike Iupati is a major loss for the 49ers.

The Washington defense must exploit the loss of Iupati. It will be up to nose tackle Barry Cofield and Bowen and to take advantage.

 

What Must Improve

It starts with the passing game, and that starts with the quarterback. Griffin was simply awful for long stretches of the game against the Eagles.

He missed a clutch of wide open receivers, as well as continually holding onto the ball for too long in the pocket. A growing level of inaccuracy from the second-year passer is blighting this offense, as CSN Washington's JP Finaly notes:

Griffin's stat line from the Eagles game shows that the QB missed plenty of throws. He finished 17 for 35 for 264 yards with two touchdowns and the interception that sealed the Redskins loss. 

So on a day RG3 completed less than 50 percent of his passes, is this cause for concern? On the season Griffin is completing about 60 percent of his throws, down from 65 percent last season.

Issues in pass protection cannot be ignored as a major factor in Griffin's woes. He was sacked four times in Philadelphia, but more importantly, subjected to a constant barrage of pressure and hits.

Something else that won't go away it seems, are the apparent issues with the play-calling. In the wake of the debacle in Philadelphia, Griffin claimed the Eagles knew where the Redskins were going to throw, according to The Post's Mike Jones:

"They did a good job of scheming us up," quarterback Robert Griffin said. "They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and that was disheartening. But like I told the guys, regardless of what’s going on out there, we’re the players and we have to make the plays work, and we just weren’t doing that in the first half."

A number of times early in the game, Griffin performed his handoff fakes and looked to make a throw but then had to pull the ball down and either look for another receiver or run the ball.

Other times, Griffin looked for downfield throws, but the Eagles had taken away his deep reads as well.

Despite what initially reads as a direct critique of the Shanahan offense, Griffin was quick to point out that predictability is not a problem:

I don’t think it has become predictable. DeMeco Ryans is a good linebacker and they do good things with him and the other guy – Najee Goode. They allowed DeMeco to play the pass first. A lot of times, we were trying to hit those [play-action] holes behind him and he can run to those holes. I think on the back, they did a good job of running to those holes as well – kind of scheming stuff and knowing what type of hole we’re trying to hit on those three level holes, or whatever you might want to call it. I don’t think we’ve become predictable. I just think they had the right call in the right situation and they lucked into some pretty good recoveries.

The worrying implication from these comments might not concern problems with the scheme itself. The success the Eagles had could speak to the obvious limits of Griffin as a passer.

If defenses now have the template for taking away his primary read, usually a deep crosser, this offense will become too easy to decipher and ultimately stop.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Griffin III has to perform better as a passer.

Speaking of easy to play against, that is exactly what the Washington defense was in Philadelphia. Again, a lack of significant variation appears to be the crux of the matter, via the same article by Jones:

Linebacker London Fletcher said the Eagles didn’t change their offense significantly from the Week 1 meeting, and that they didn’t see anything that surprised them. But he credited the Eagles for knowing how to beat Washington’s schemes.

"For the most part, when we look at what they did on film, the plays they hit us with, they had already shown," Fletcher said. "They believe in their offense and their system and just try to adjust to what we were doing. Defensively, we played a lot of man-to-man, so they ran a lot of man-beaters and crossing routes and things like that to try to free up their guys, so that was part of their game-plan. Tight end delay, tight end screen, running back screen – a lot of things to beat man coverage."

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is hamstrung by a lack of elite talent. But he is also guilty of not being creative enough with the playmakers he does have.

Haslett needs to disguise the pressure in front of his coverage more often. He should start by moving players like rush ends Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan all over formations.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
The Redskins need to move pass-rusher Brian Orakpo around more often.

It would also benefit the Redskins to mix their fronts more, rather than simply switching from base 3-4 to nickel and back again.

Simplicity can work wonders on defense when a team has elite athletes at every level of their unit. This week's opponents are the proof of that.

The San Francisco defense is loaded with players like linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, as well as defensive end Justin Smith, rookie safety Eric Reid and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Without talent like that, Haslett has to get more expansive with his use of personnel and schemes.

It will be a rough waiting period for the Redskins before they host the 49ers. The spotlight that is already on them, given their struggles, has been intensified by the controversy involving an official cursing at left tackle Trent Williams during the Eagles game.

But under-pressure boss Shanahan can't let his team become too distracted by what is going on outside it. The Redskins will have their opportunities to upset the 49ers and must be focused enough to take them.

The defense has to find a way to make its own big plays against an offense that ranks 29th in yards and last in passing.

As for the Washington offense, Griffin must stop looking for excuses and simply show more consistency as a passer. At the very least, he must manage the game well and complement the league's best rushing attack.

Hope is dwindling, but the season is not over yet.

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