Colt McCoy-Inspired Win Can't Mask Washington Redskins' Many Problems

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2014

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 19:  Colt McCoy #16 of the Washington Redskins passes against the Tennessee Titans during third quarter at FedEx Field on October 19, 2014 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Colt McCoy coming off the bench to lead the Washington Redskins to a second win of the 2014 NFL season, 19-17, over the Tennessee Titans, can't mask all of this team's many problems.

A win can't mask the continuing frequency of costly penalties, turnovers and issues on third down and in the red zone. Beating the 2-5 Titans on a last-second Kai Forbath field goal doesn't cover up a running game still in an extended slump. Nor does it hide the increasing frailties of an injury-hit and patchwork secondary.

These are the problems head coach Jay Gruden must fix now. That's before he even gets to untangling a murky quarterback situation that's earned a third protagonist in McCoy.

The presence of so many foibles that could lose any game takes some of the gloss off this victory. Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan summed that up best minutes after Forbath's decisive kick sailed through the uprights:

As Paulsen astutely noted, the win was the only positive from the performance and its implications for the rest of the season:

Grant Paulsen @granthpaulsen

If you care about the process, today was ... Well, we'll worry about that later. The #Redskins just got their 5th win in 23 games. Enjoy it.

While fans have the luxury of not worrying too much about the problems right now, Gruden had better quickly turn his thoughts to fixing his team's major woes. He'll have a longer week to work on things before facing the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys on Monday night in Week 8.

The first thing Gruden and his coaches have to fix is the number of penalties. The Redskins committed seven for 50 yards against the Titans.

What was particularly troubling was how these penalties kept Tennessee drives alive and nearly cost Washington the game. On one first-half drive, a special teams gaffe by rookie Trent Murphy wasted a defensive stand and gave the Titans another chance, as ESPN 980 reporter Chris Russell described:

Chris Russell @Russellmania621

#Redskins get a three and out, but Trent Murphy is off-sides on punt return and it costs #Redskins great field pos and the ball.

Washington actually got away with it on this occasion. Yet the team still failed to heed the warning to play more disciplined football. In the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Chris Baker felt the collar of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, only for his big play to be cancelled out:

Chris Russell @Russellmania621

That's the 2nd time this year (Philly) that Keenan Robinson has been flagged for a penalty wiping out a sack.

This time, the Titans took full advantage of their reprieve. Whitehurst soon found Derek Hagan on a 38-yard scoring strike that gave Tennessee a late 17-16 lead.

That's how close Redskins players came to inflicting another loss upon themselves. This level of self-destruction has become a depressing weekly feature.

So has a secondary guaranteed to surrender big plays in key moments. Both of Whitehurst's touchdown passes were the result of poor play from a rag-tag collection of defensive backs.

The first came from a quick throw to Kendall Wright. The talented wide receiver was somehow able to run through a crowd of would-be tacklers.

Aging safety Ryan Clark was the most culpable member of the group, as ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim pointed out:

John Keim @john_keim

Clark talked early in season about tackles u HAVE to make as a safety. Last two weeks, he's missed 2 such tackles that resulted in TDs

Clark's struggles are merely a symptom of the underlying problem in Washington's secondary. It's a problem of recruitment.

Signing a free safety who's just turned 35 and long since seen his best years was never going to improve a position that has been weak since 2010. But that kind of bargain-basement solution is obvious at every level of this secondary.

It's why E.J. Biggers is playing such a prominent role. He was a desperation, stop-gap signing a year ago, as his poor performances reflected. Biggers has continued to struggle this season and was easily beaten for Hagan's score.

In today's pass-first league, smart teams don't rely on scrapheap signings to play a position as important as third cornerback. The problem is the Redskins' idea to replace Biggers involved a similarly uninspiring move to sign injury-prone veteran Tracy Porter.

The pass defense is now suffering because of that thinking:

John Keim @john_keim

Residual impact of Porter signing continues. Needed him to play nickel. Can't play. Forced 2 use biggers. and he struggles there big time.

General manager Bruce Allen has pinched the pennies and skimped on quality when it comes to defensive back recruitment. Sadly, the Washington defense is now getting exactly what he paid for.

In this context, you have to feel a little sorry for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The gross lack of talent in the secondary puts him in a real bind as a play-caller.

He can't very well opt for more aggressive coverage techniques with players he doesn't trust. Yet at the same time, Haslett can't call a passive scheme and watch his pass defense get picked apart every week.

Establishing the right balance between blitz and coverage, man and zone, as well as press and off-techniques, is something Gruden and Haslett need to figure out fast.

Haslett is finding it tough to compensate for a porous secondary.
Haslett is finding it tough to compensate for a porous secondary.USA TODAY Sports

While it's easy to appreciate Haslett's struggles, no such sympathy can exist for offensive coordinator Sean McVay. His unit continues to experience its own personal nightmares on third downs and in the red zone.

This week, the Redskins converted just three of 11 third downs. Not only that, but the offense saw a quartet of trips inside the Tennessee 20-yard line end in three-pointers from Forbath.

The problem is borne for struggling personnel and dubious play-calling. The latter has become McVay's personal purview, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post:

Mike Jones @ByMikeJones

Looked like McVay is calling the plays. McCoy was motioning for him to get the call in as the OC was reading the card. Gruden watching

However, the 28-year-old former tight ends coach is struggling with his finger on the button. It's beyond baffling that a unit with a pair of tight ends as dynamic as Jordan Reed and Niles Paul can't find more sixes in the red zone.

But what's more troubling is McVay's apparent struggle to use his many weapons in a complementary way. For instance, attention paid to Reed and Paul inside the 20, ought to be a cue to target talented pass-catching backs Roy Helu Jr. or Darrel Young.

Or maybe with less room to throw closer to the goal line, McVay might trust his running game a little more. Of course, that trust can only come from improvements from the ground game in the other areas of the field.

Alfred Morris continues to struggle, and not all of it is down to the erratic run-pass ratio often called by McVay and Gruden. That was proved by how little Morris did with an increased workload against the Titans.

Morris continued to flounder in Week 7.
Morris continued to flounder in Week 7.USA TODAY Sports

He had 18 carries, his highest tally since Week 3. But 54 yards and a measly three-yard average were the only results. This was against a Tennessee rushing D that entered the game ranked 24th.

Morris isn't helped by poor blocking, most obvious on the edges where wafer-thin wide receivers and lightweight tight ends are guilty. But it's also true that the basic scheme, based off the zone stretch, has become predictable.

Defenses are now ready for the overly familiar one-cut perimeter run and know how to snuff it out. It's a time for a refresh of this ground game.

McVay and Gruden should work on crafting more inside counters. They would also be wise to involve Helu's speed a lot more often.

That's a dramatic shift, but the former scheme that once terrorized defenses isn't working anymore.

Gruden has shown he's not afraid to make a bold move or two. He proved that by inserting McCoy as well as benching flop right tackle Tyler Polumbus in favor of Tom Compton.

But he still has a host of deeper problems to fix. Gruden has to eliminate the penalties by establishing a culture of accountability, one where lapses in discipline and failures of execution and efficiency are punished.

At the X's and O's level, he needs scheme to mask talent deficiencies in the secondary. By contrast, he needs to use his personnel in different ways to revive a dormant running game.

These are all big problems and losing habits that won't go away because the team won its first game since Week 2. They will still be there no matter if its McCoy, Kirk Cousins or Robert Griffin III under center.

All statistics via NFL.com.


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