NFL Week 9: Washington Redskins Position-By-Position Report Card
Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan are the new Albert Haynesworth and Mike Shanahan. Ryan Torain is injured, Clinton Portis is injured and the defensive unit has allowed more yards than all but one other NFL team. That the Washington Redskins stand at 4-4 is really a minor miracle.
Washington now has a bye week during which to figure out just what should happen next, after a crushing road loss to the Lions in which Shanahan pulled McNabb during the final two minutes. There have been bright spots on this team, to be sure, but a number of areas must improve if the team wants to get serious about an NFC Wild Card berth.
Who is getting the job done, and who has flunked the first half? Here is the Redskins' position-by-position report card at midseason.
Donovan McNabb has never experienced adversity quite like this.
In every season since his rookie year (in which he started only six games), McNabb has thrown for at least 16 touchdowns and 13 or fewer interceptions. If he duplicates his performance so far in the second half of the season, though, he will finish with 14 touchdowns and 16 picks.
McNabb's passer rating for the season so far is 76.0, which would also rate as his worst since 1999. All that said, he has not been that bad, guiding the Redskins on scoring drives at the right times and making the most of a patchwork supporting cast. Shanahan's criticism and open mistrust of McNabb make the situation more tenuous than it needs to be, especially since the backup plan is the utterly undesirable Rex Grossman.
Running Backs: B-
This should almost be an incomplete grade, since Portis has missed the bulk of the season and Torain may be out in Week 10. When the two have made it onto the field, though, the results have been palatable, but never excellent.
Torain and Portis have kept the chains moving and have done well in short yardage, but the rushing attack is missing a key element: the home run threat. Washington has no runs of over 40 yards all season, and has scored only six rushing touchdowns.
Health will be key for this crew going forward, as Portis could return by Week 12 to keep Torain fresh.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
This group has been the key to the Redskins' ability to score enough to win. Santana Moss' revival is headline news, or would be if not for Shanahanamania: Moss is on pace for 96 catches, which would be a career high.
Anthony Armstrong has added a deep threat to the vertical passing game, while the ever-reliable Chris Cooley—upon whom McNabb should rely more in the second half, given his comfort level with tight ends in the past—continues to slave away in the flats.
Offensive Line: C
Part of McNabb's apparent decline is due not to his own skills deteriorating, but to the inferior blocking around which he has had to work all season. Only the Chicago Bears have surrendered more sacks than Washington this year, and the Skins' 4.1-yard rushing average ranks just south of average.
The team must improve, especially on runs to the right side, and it needs to happen fast. If the offensive line keeps playing this way, Shanahan will not need a dumb excuse to get McNabb off the field: He will need a shovel.
Defensive Line: B
The Redskins have a deep talent pool along their three-man front, anchored by Vonnie Holliday and Maake Kemoeatu. The front three need to do more when it comes to tying up offensive linemen and freeing up linebackers to make the tackle on rushing plays, but the scheme has gotten them a consistent pass rush and the opportunity to create serious push in the middle of the trenches.
As good as Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher have been at creating havoc in the backfield on the left side of the defense, Washington opponents are quickly learning: Stack Orakpo's side with chip blockers on pass plays, run away from Orakpo and Fletcher on the ground.
This group has made its share of the big plays that have allowed Washington to keep games close despite its porous run defense. It sure would be nice, though, to see that group tighten things up and make some of those big plays obsolete.
DeAngelo Hall won a game all by himself in Chicago in Week 7, and LaRon Landry is the team's leading tackler. As easy as offenses have found it to gash the Redskins for big gains on the ground, one can only imagine where they would be if not for this stout crew defending the back line.
As long as there has been pro football, there have been superstars who did not practice as hard as other players. As long as there has been Mike Shanahan, that has been a fixture of his teams: Terrell Davis is a perfect example of how Shanahan used to allow quasi-injured veterans to sit out at practice in preparation for the week.
Perhaps irritated by the way the Albert Haynesworth fiasco played out, Shanahan has begun waging a passive-aggressive war on his quarterback, refusing to talk ill of him in public but clearly tugging at whatever credibility the signal-caller may have in the media or the locker room. Shanahan has done a terrible job so far at the helm of the Redskins, with his petulance mitigating his football brilliance.
Overall Grade: Incomplete
The Redskins have another eight games left on their schedule, and have hardly played up to their ability during the first eight. They have to feel good about their 4-4 record as they prepare for a bye week that will feel all too short.
Still, there are serious and legitimate gaps that must be addressed. The communication gap between Shanahan and the players must be bridged, and the defense must learn to play more physically against the running game. The offensive line could save the organization a lot of embarrassment and headache by tightening up protection on McNabb, but the true hinge on which the season will swing will be injury.
Can the Redskins keep productive weapons Moss, Armstrong and Torain on the field? Can Orakpo, Hall and Landry avoid serious injury? Only time will tell.