Washington Redskins Need an Identity Before They Can Compete With NFL Elite

Matthew BrownCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2010

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 17:  Ryan Torain #46 of the Washington Redskins heads up field for a long gain against the Indianapolis Colts at FedExField on October 17, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. The Colts won the game 27-24.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Six weeks ago, no one knew what the Washington Redskins were going to bring to the table. They had a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and a new attitude. After six games of up and down play, we still don't know exactly what the Redskins are trying to accomplish. Unless the team finds a way to assert themselves in any phase of the game, they will sink to the bottom of the talented NFC East.

Whether it be the coaches or the players, someone needs to step up and take control of an on-again, off-again floundering Redskins team.

To open the season, the Redskins faced Dallas' explosive offense and smothering defense. The Redskins offense did very little through the air and less on the ground. The defense benefited from a number of Dallas penalties and mistakes, while managing the only touchdown on a DeAngelo Hall fumble recovery for a score to close the first half.

It looked as though the new-look defense was better than expected given their lack of traditional 3-4 personnel. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo still put up 282 yards and a touchdown, but for an offense that was supposed to be unstoppable, Romo and Co. sputtered for much of the game.

While the Redskins offense didn't look like anything special, the defense looked more than capable of making up for it by keeping opponents out of the end zone and off the board.

Week 2 brought the Houston Texans, fresh off their thorough dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts, to town. It was assumed that the Redskins defense would be put to task by the explosive passing offense and newly added Arian Foster adding a potent ground weapon.

The Redskins proceeded to open the game with a flurry of downfield passes that made their opening day fizzle seem like a fluke. The Washington defense, however, was in fact thoroughly dismantled by the Houston offense.

Foster totaled 69 yards on the ground and 69 yards off of three receptions. Andre Johnson had a 12-catch, 148-yard, one-touchdown field day against a Redskins secondary that couldn't stop anyone. Second receiver Kevin Walter even had 11 catches for 144 yard and a touchdown.

Matt Schaub stole the day with his 497-yard, three-touchdown performance, but Redskins fans won't soon forget the game because of Graham Gano's performance.

In regulation, Gano had a field goal blocked by Texans safety Bernard Pollard—a field goal that would have been the winning margin at the end of the game. In overtime, Gano nailed a 52-yard field goal to apparently win the game, but the Texans pulled a Mike Shanahan on Mike Shanahan and called for timeout just before the ball was snapped.

On his next attempt, Gano hooked it and the Texans proceeded to drive down the field and hit their own game-winning field goal.

Against the Rams, the Redskins were outplayed in every way possible. For the second time in two years, the Redskins allowed a rookie quarterback to get comfortable and ultimately beat them. The Rams, who won just one game last season, looked like the experienced team playing with a controlled fire.

The Redskins, the oldest team in the NFL, were beaten by younger players looking to put the losing seasons of the past behind them. The Redskins looked old against the Rams on all all sides of the ball.

After that baffling performance, the Redskins defense proceeded to hold Philadelphia and Green Bay to 25 total points. Given that the two teams were averaging 24 points per game apiece, that is a significant feat for a Washington defense that has been hung out to dry each and every week by the sputtering offense.

Against both the Eagles and Packers, the offense looked lost. Donovan McNabb was just 8-of-19 for 125 yards against the Eagles. Then against the Packers, he was 26-of-49 for 357 yards. The ground game worked early against the Eagles, but stumbled against the Packers.

Newly appointed starting running back Ryan Torain has looked solid in his short time with Washington, but the blocking hasn't always been there and the play-calling hasn't favored him. At least not until the game against Indianapolis.

Against the Colts, Torain rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns. McNabb threw for 246 yards but also had two critical interceptions. The defense was whipped up and down the field by Peyton Manning and Joseph Addai, but managed to come up with a key fourth-quarter stand that got the ball back for McNabb and the offense with plenty of time on the clock.

That change of possession was short-lived, however, as McNabb was sacked and threw a pair of incomplete passes and gave the ball right back to the Colts.

The Colts were content to run out the clock, but the Redskins used their timeouts to get the ball back one more time with 32 seconds left. On the very first play of the drive, McNabb threw his second interception and the game ended after Manning took a knee on the ensuing drive.

The defense had plenty of chances before that fourth quarter stand to change the game, recovering three fumbles and dropping what seemed like a million interceptions. The offense didn't help by wasting most of those extra possessions, but perhaps Manning wouldn't have thrown a pair of touchdowns if he had been intercepted on the three different occasions his passes went right into the arms of Redskins defenders.

For all the mistakes, the Redskins kept pace with the Colts and lost by only three points in a 27-24 nail-biter. In just that one game, they showed how good they could be and promptly showed exactly why they aren't.

Close games are usually a good thing for a team looking for momentum from week to week, but the Redskins don't look like a team that can consistently close out the close games.

It seems that the Redskins have been good at exploiting at least one of their opponents' respective weaknesses. At the same time, they seem to forget their own weaknesses and pay for it dearly over the course of the game.

Against the Bears, they face a rejuvenated defense and a deceptively potent offense. If history is any indication, the Redskins will likely hold up well against the defense but fail to punch it into the end zone when they really need to. The defense will confound Jay Cutler, but all will be forgotten when Devin Hester shreds the Redskins special teams units.

The Redskins have all the pieces necessary to become whatever type of team they want to be.

Torain can be a workhorse running back. McNabb has shown the ability to carry an offense through the air. The defense can be smothering, with blitzes and disguised coverages. The special teams have the potential to be explosive, but haven't broken through just yet.

There is no reason Washington shouldn't be sitting at 5-1 right now. They deserved to lose to the Rams, as it served as a bit of a wake-up call.

The Redskins still own two division wins, but the Giants and Eagles are just hitting their stride. If Washington isn't careful, they will be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. They're at .500 right now, and their schedule doesn't get any easier over the last 10 games. If they don't establish themselves as a team that can beat you in every phase or even one phase of the game, they're going to lose a lot more of the close affairs they have had to start the season.