The Redskins (3-6) will likely need to win five of their next seven games to even have a chance to make the playoffs. The crushing loss to the Vikings, who won just their second game of the season, left Washington two games behind Dallas (5-4) in the NFC East.
If the Redskins finish with a losing record for the third time in four seasons under Shanahan, his future with the team will be questioned by fans, media and possibly owner Daniel Snyder.
No matter how much Shanahan has helped change the culture of the Redskins and built a team that may be on the way up for the long term, most NFL coaches don’t survive with only one winning season in four tries.
Shanahan has done some good things during his tenure. He has helped restore order to the loose ship that previous Redskins coach Jim Zorn presided over.
Shanahan led the Redskins to their first division title since 1999 last year when the Redskins won their last seven games to finish 10-6.
Shanahan has drafted standouts Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Trent Williams, Roy Helu, Jordan Reed, Ryan Kerrigan and signed Pierre Garçon. However, he did not draft an offensive lineman last spring after RGIII’s injury, and only one of the players mentioned above plays defense. That hasn’t left defensive coordinator Jim Haslett enough to work with.
Shanahan’s offensive coordinator (his son Kyle) has abandoned the Redskins’ successful running game at times. Against Denver, Kyle called eight passing plays and just one running play from the time the game was 21-21 until the Broncos led 31-21, with 10 minutes still remaining in the game.
People also forget that despite Mike Shanahan’s reputation for running the ball, in 2010 the Shanahans led an offense that passed an astounding 605 times and rushed just 351 times, a 63-37 ratio. This happened despite the fact that the Redskins had a leaky offensive line and one of the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL.
In 2010, the Redskins called 38 passing plays and 17 rushing plays in a 30-27 loss to Houston. The Redskins were up 27-10 in that game in the third quarter. The Redskins also rushed 13 times and threw 35 passes in a 17-13 loss to Minnesota.
That 6-10 season in 2010 is often blamed on quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was more inaccurate than he had been in the past. But McNabb wasn’t provided with a credible third-down running back and was forced into a look-deep-first throwing system that didn’t fit what he was used to doing in a West Coast offense.
The 5-11 2011 season was also unbalanced, as the Redskins threw the ball 60 percent of the time, despite playing the mediocre Rex Grossman at quarterback.
Last year, Kyle Shanahan aligned the offense with Griffin’s skills, allowing RGIII to keep the defense guessing with designed runs and read-option plays. This opened up the running game for Morris as well as passes downfield. The Redskins rushed the ball 54 percent of the time in 2012.
But Kyle Shanahan still lapses into times when he calls too many passing plays and too many long passing plays. This doesn’t help protect RGIII from injury, nor does it allow the Redskins’ suspect defense get adequate rest between series. It also doesn’t help that Mike Shanahan is reluctant to overrule his son.
While RGIII didn’t play in the preseason and was rusty at the start of the regular season, the rest of the team wasn’t prepared to play. In their first two games against Philadelphia and Green Bay, Washington was outscored 50-7 in the first half.
The Redskins have also failed to show up late in games. In the Redskins’ loss to Denver, Washington gave up 38 unanswered points after leading 21-7. The Redskins lost a 13-point lead against Minnesota, who scored 20 unanswered points to overtake the Redskins, 34-27.
Shanahan’s hard-line approach against players who get into his doghouse, although it shows he means business, may be a bit extreme. The Redskins have one of the top receiving tight ends in the league in Fred Davis, but they haven’t been playing him. Davis admitted to nodding off in team meetings earlier this year, as the Washington Post's Sarah Kogod recently reported.
Davis would immediately become one of the Redskins’ top three receiving threats alongside Garçon and Reed, and the two-tight end sets could have created matchup problems. It might have also given RGIII more time to throw and avoid some of the severe hits he has experienced lately, because tight ends usually run shorter routes than receivers.
If the Redskins are competitive the rest of the season and finish close to .500, a strong case can be made that Shanahan should return. Griffin hasn’t been himself this year, either in decision-making, accuracy or speed although he has played on an elite level for stretches. Shanahan has also been hamstrung by the salary cap penalty the Redskins have had to endure for the last two seasons.
Shanahan has had to deal with high expectations as well. Of the last 10 teams to finish 10-6 the year after having a losing season, only one was able to produce a winning season the year after posting the 10-6 record.
Still, if the Redskins don’t make a run in the second half of the season, the job security of the Shanahans will be—and should be—questioned.
Article also posted at Examiner.com.