Regardless of how they finish up the final five weeks of the season, the Washington Redskins enter the offseason lacking the momentum they anticipated and are facing huge challenges to improve a group that went from playing poorly, to actually becoming a bad team.
Once the Redskins wrap up their disappointing run this season, business will begin with an evaluation of the head coach and his staff.
Should Mike Shanahan be fired? Does he deserve a contract extension? Does he even want to come back for the fifth and final year on his deal?
Despite any adverse belief that may float around, the report by ESPN 980's Chris Russell on the relationship between Robert Griffin III and Shanahan is well worth the note. And regardless of whether or not Shanahan actually deserves more time in Washington, a permanently ruined marriage between coach and quarterback should be addressed immediately, which would ultimately lead Shanahan and his staff through the exit door.
The Redskins' last handful of games this season may determine Shanahan's future in Washington. If the team can't find a way to win at least a couple of games before it's all over, expect to hear a lot more about names like Art Briles, David Shaw and Jay Gruden.
After that—whether it's Shanahan, Briles, Shaw, Gruden or any other intriguing name you want to add to the coaching rumor mill—the Redskins must address their gaping holes along the offensive line. Protecting your franchise quarterback is priority No. 1, and you can't expect consistently effective results from a majority group of backup linemen.
Korey Licthensteiger is a center, Will Montgomery is a backup and the answer to why/how right tackle Tyler Polumbus has started for two seasons for any team will remain one of football's greatest mysteries.
If we still want to give right guard Chris Chester a chance to return to 2012 form—perhaps without being bogged down by Polumbus' play on the right side—that's fair. But he and left tackle Trent Williams need some help. And Griffin requires it.
After that, staying on the offensive side of the ball, the Redskins can't be satisfied with Griffin's receiving arsenal. Aside from Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, the offense has no pass-catching playmakers.
Although Griffin has potential to become the passer that helps to improve his receivers, that kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. Focusing on the position come draft time, or in free agency with guys like Andrew Hawkins, Julian Edelman and Emmanuel Sanders due to hit the market next spring, would serve as a good start.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Upgrading the opposite side of the ball will be just as critical for the Redskins heading into next season.
Through 11 games this season, Washington's defense ranks in the bottom three against the run, in pass coverage and in overall defense, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In addition to embarrassing stats, the Redskins are set to see 13 defensive players hit free agency next March, according to Spotrac, including Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall, London Fletcher, Reed Doughty, E.J. Biggers, Josh Wilson, Chris Baker and Perry Riley, all of who are starters this season.
Fan's arguments for why the Redskins should return to the 4-3 defensive alignment of yesteryear are warranted. But not because the 3-4 scheme is faulty. Rather, because everyone wants to see a defense that can stop something. Anything.
Even as a proponent of the 3-4 defense, there's no doubt this Redskins unit needs to revamp. Granted most of us hate to say it, Fletcher's best days are clearly long gone. Meanwhile, the front-seven's ability to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks has been nearly extinct this season and coverage in the back end has been inconsistent and insufficient outside of DeAngelo Hall.
The 3-4 defense is effective. But the Redskins need the right personnel to operate it efficiently, pertaining to both players and coaches.
Finally, Washington's last-ranked (according to PFF) special teams has been one of the most atrocious excuses for a special teams unit as you'll find, and by far the worst in recent franchise history.
Keith Burns has looked lost and unprepared in his first season as special teams coordinator, and he's a prime example of Shanahan being loyal to a fault when it comes to his coaches and staff.
Despite being a handpicked coach by Shanahan following the departure of Danny Smith after last season, Burns hasn't shown he's capable of lead duties at this point in his career. He has struggled all season from poor performance, to drawing his own penalties, to having players like Niles Paul come out and say he doesn't believe “everybody is completely buying into certain aspects” of what Burns is teaching, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Often times special teams seems to go unnoticed or forgotten in terms of how significant a role it plays as one of the three phases of football. But the Redskins' current unit has been the weakest chink in Washington's armor this season, and they're always a risk to blow a gasket in any game.
It'll be a long list for the Redskins this offseason, all of which could start from the top with coaches, and trickle down to special teams.
A bit startling for a reigning division champion just one year removed.