There is just one game to go before the Washington Redskins get to put their nightmare 2013 season in the rear view. All that is left now is either matching 2009's dismal 4-12 finish, or falling to their worst record since 1994.
Yes, it has been that bad of a season.
Avoiding the low point of a worst finish since Norv Turner's first year in charge will mean beating NFC East rival the New York Giants. Both teams have failed spectacularly to meet expectations this season.
They were fancied by many, including this author, to be leading the division, rather than propping it up. Instead, they have each fielded a feeble defense and a turnover-riddled offense.
It was the Giants who won when the two teams met in Week 13. Big Blue emerged with a 24-17 victory after dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Those problems have to be fixed before the trip to the Big Apple. But the week for the Redskins will still be dominated by the conversation regarding head coach Mike Shanahan's future.
According to CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson, Shanahan, who has lost 40 games in four seasons, still expects to be in charge of the team in 2014:
No, I've told you from Day 1, I love these guys. We've been working extremely hard to put this thing together. We've had a couple of bumps, which we all know, with the salary cap [penalty]. But I'm looking forward to building this team. Like I said, I'll get the chance to sit down with Dan at the end of the season and we'll go from there.
Shanahan's confidence, which is beginning to stretch reality to breaking point, hasn't stopped speculation about potential replacements. One name that won't go away is Baylor's Art Briles, who coached quarterback Robert Griffin III in college.
CSN Washington's Rich Tandler has highlighted the dangerous implications of the narrative endorsing Briles:
Briles coached Robert Griffin III to the Heisman Trophy in 2011 and the debate over Briles as the potential Redskins coach starts there. Some think that Briles has proven that he can get the most out of Griffin, far and away the team’s most important player. Others say that bringing in Briles would make it appear that Griffin is calling the shots at Redskins Park. Even if that was not the case the perception could easily become the reality.
But aside from the obvious questions about just how much power Griffin wields, Tandler notes Briles will still appeal to many connected with the Redskins:
The comparison to Oregon is quite relevant in Washington. Just up the road in Philadelphia the Eagles brought in Ducks coach Chip Kelly after firing Andy Reid following a dismal 4-12 performance in 2012. Now they are second in the NFL in scoring and a win over the Romo-less Cowboys away from the NFC East title. They have made the transformation without a major overhaul of personnel.
Of course, Shanahan isn't the only coach in this game facing an uncertain future. Ageing boss Tom Coughlin could have come to the end of his lengthy tenure in New York.
He has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Although the one time Coughlin's Giants made it, they won a Super Bowl.
The Star-Ledger's A.J. Perez believes Coughlin is in a stronger position than Shanahan:
Like Shanahan, Coughlin has one more year left on his contract. Indications are that he wants to fulfill that contract and Giants ownership appears to be agreeable, possibly with some assistant changes that NJ.com’s Jordan Ranaan laid out.
Shanahan is owed $7 million for the final year of his contract, unless he agrees to a lesser amount in a buyout. Coughlin signed a three-year extension in 2012 for $20 million.
As the coaching carousel gets ready for its latest spin, Shanahan should stay focused on beating Coughlin for the fourth time since 2010. He will have a close eye on the injury status of his best pass-rusher.
The main injury news will concern outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. He suffered a groin injury in Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys.
He leads the team with 10 sacks this season. The pass rush certainly disappeared once he left the game against the Cowboys.
An inactive Orakpo will certainly make Giants quarterback Eli Manning happy. Orakpo has sacked Manning three times in his last two meetings with Big Blue.
If Orakpo is missing in action, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will need to devise some more fire zone pressures to force Manning into mistakes.
Jones' report also notes that veteran Nick Barnett suffered a sprained MCL in Week 16. He will certainly miss out.
Barnett hasn't seen much action on the base defense this season. But his loss will further weaken a diabolically bad special teams.
Guard Brandon Mosley, who made his first career start, suffered a broken right hand in the first quarter. He was subbing for the injured David Diehl (knee).
Running back Andre Brown sustained a concussion in the second half. The injury left the Giants with just one healthy running back: rookie Michael Cox.
Furthermore, reserve tight end Adrien Robinson, who made his season debut after finally recovering from a foot injury, suffered a knee injury on the kickoff.
The injury to Brown is certainly the most significant. According to ESPN's Dan Graziano it could mean the G-men fielding their "sixth" different starting running back this season.
The Washington defense won't mind not seeing Brown and Peyton Hillis. Both are punishing runners who battered the Redskins on long scoring runs in Week 13.
What Must Improve
Getting better pass protection, particularly from the right side of their O-line, has to be the priority for the Redskins. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck had four sacks in the Week 13 matchup.
The versatile veteran simply annihilated tackle Tyler Polumbus and guard Chris Chester. Big Blue defensive coordinator Perry Fewell moved Tuck inside to tackle and let him stunt and twist.
That schematic tweak caused havoc. The Redskins have to be better aware of Tuck's movement this time around.
Defensively, the plan must involve getting more physical against the run. The Washington front was pushed around by the Giants in Week 13 and manhandled by the Cowboys last Sunday.
Running back DeMarco Murray, who averaged 4.4 yards per rush for the Cowboys, had huge holes to attack. The Redskins can't let whoever carries the ball for New York enjoy that level of success.
The key will be attacking the run, instead of reacting to it. That should mean a heavy dose of stunts and run blitzes to get defenders into the backfield.
This is also a rare week when Haslett shouldn't take his finger off the blitz button. Manning often gets better under heavy pressure, but he has been so error-prone this season, it is worth bringing the blitz.
Getting in Manning's face will probably push the New York passer closer to the 30-interception mark.
Finishing 4-12 won't mean much. But beating a fierce divisional rival on the road would be a nice way for Washington to end a very trying season.
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