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Rebuilding Washington Redskins Continue to Struggle with Self-Inflicted Wounds

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2015

Washington Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger (78) blocks New York Giants' Jonathan Casillas (54) as quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass during the first half an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Somebody didn't send the Washington Redskins the memo. They aren't talented enough to absorb self-inflicted wounds and still win games.

If they need a reminder over the next 13 weeks of the 2015 NFL season, the Redskins should cast their minds back to their 32-21 defeat to the New York Giants. The rebuilding Redskins gave away their chances to win right from the start, thanks to an all-too-familiar gallery of gaffes.

Penalties, missed assignments, turnovers and squandered chances for big plays. It's like a checklist for the keystone cops.

Sadly, it also seems to be the default setting for Washington this season. The same combination cost them a win in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. It even briefly threatened to do the same against the St. Louis Rams.

The Redskins never had a chance on the road against Big Blue once Jordan Reed was flagged for pass interference on the game's first third down. That flag wasted a huge gain off a brilliantly designed swing pass to running back Chris Thompson.

The cancelled-out gain brought out the punt team. As anyone who has watched Washington this season, and the last three for that matter, knows, that's always bad news.

Washington's special teams continued to practice subversion from within.
Washington's special teams continued to practice subversion from within.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press/Associated Press
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Giants running back Rashad Jennings blocked a punt to earn his team two points. Already, the Redskins had put themselves in a hole.

Things soon got worse. Kirk Cousins threw an interception against the first blitz Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sent his way.

Big Blue sent rush linebacker Devon Kennard and rookie safety Landon Collins off the edges. Behind the blitz, cornerback Prince Amukamara read the deep crossing route as part of Washington's now familiar hi-lo concept.

Still, Cousins gunned an errant pass too far to the inside. It was a reckless throw off a frantic read. In other words, typical of the mistakes that have blighted his pro development.

Equally typical was how Washington's special teams blunders continued, even in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Brian McNally of 106.7 The Fan detailed one scarcely believable calamity:

Brian McNally @bmcnally14

Jeron Johnson - brought here because he's good on special teams - has succumbed to the stink virus. Personal foul on a touchback! For real.

Thanks to tripping over their own feet, the Redskins were staring up at a 12-0 deficit by the time the first quarter was in the books. Commentating for CBS Sports, ex-Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms succinctly and bluntly described how Washington had began the night, per the network's official Twitter feed:

NFLonCBS @NFLonCBS

"Sloppy, terrible start here by Washington." - @PhilSimmsQB

But here's the rub. This year's vintage of the Burgundy and Gold can't overcome sloppy moments and still win.

Instead, this is a team built to play safe, error-free football. It's a complementary approach to the game that demands every unit does its part to ensure steady sailing.

Against the Giants, each phase of the game undermined the other for Washington. Cousins and the passing attack didn't make the big plays that were available.

No. 8 missed Ryan Grant for a significant gain in the first half. He also missed Reed in the end zone. Had he led the gifted tight end, the Redskins would have earned six points instead of settling for three.

Later, Cousins missed a potential score when he again struggled to react to the blitz. Despite New York's middle pressure being the ideal Kryptonite for Washington's five-wide receiver, empty backfield set, ex-Redskins wideout Donte Stallworth still felt Cousins should have made the play:

Donté Stallworth @DonteStallworth

Great red zone call on 3rd & 9 for Washington. Although the Giants blitzed, Cousins has to find a way to put that ball in the back end zone.

If that miss was tough to bear, it was nothing compared to the third-quarter interception Cousins tossed to Uani' Unga. Again, the G-men blitzed, but Cousins had rolled away from pressure.

Instead of protecting the football like the game manager this team needs him to be, Cousins forced one into coverage. The pass was tipped, and Unga snared it.

As NFL Network analyst Brian Billick noted, Cousins resisted the safe choice, the efficient choice:

Brian Billick @CoachBillick

That was a brutal panic throw by Cousins there...its 1st down! Throw the ball out of bounds and line up for 2nd.

Cousins has to know that he's on the field to run an offense designed on the premise of taking what's there or punting the ball away if it's not. That means he needs to throw it away and live to fight another play.

Yet against the Giants, Cousins slipped back into all the bad habits B/R's Chris Simms and Stephen Nelson applauded him for avoiding through the first two games:

Granted, Cousins may have felt extra pressure because of the way Big Blue kept a previously dominant ground game quiet. But even when things become one-dimensional, this offense is supposed to play it safe.

It's supposed to make caution a friend because this season's defense is apparently stout enough to keep games close. But Week 3 mocked the idea the Redskins have a defense good enough to win a game when the offense can't do its part.

Joe Barry's unit was too passive against the Giants. Way too passive.

Not for the first time this season, Barry stuck slavishly to a four-man rush. The problem was his front four barely laid a glove on Eli Manning.

Manning had an easy night in the pocket against Washington's pressure-shy defense.
Manning had an easy night in the pocket against Washington's pressure-shy defense.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

What was really frustrating was how the few times Barry dared to riff the formula, the results were positive. When he called a stunt between defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois, and when safety Trenton Robinson came off the edge, New York's pass attack was temporarily disrupted.

But the disruption needed to be more than temporary. There was certainly no disruption of Giants receivers who enjoyed the freedom of the MetLife Stadium coming out of their breaks.

Injured Redskins safety Duke Ihenacho summed up the issue:

Duke @NachoLyfe

We playin off coverage too soft

It was a problem most obvious on Odell Beckham Jr.'s 30-yard scoring grab in the fourth quarter. A cornerback as naturally aggressive as Bashaud Breeland should never give a receiver that big of a cushion.

Barry's strategy won't ever work until his front-four rotation proves it can generate heavy pressure all by itself. So far at least, the evidence says otherwise.

The reality is nothing will work for the Redskins this season until they learn to avoid self-inflicted wounds. This group isn't talented enough to produce the big plays that render mistakes irrelevant.

Washington has been built to be a workmanlike team this season. It's a smart approach but one currently missing a key ingredient.

Rebuilding teams designed to keep games close can't afford to give yards and plays away. Those gaffes wreck the formula.

Instead, a risk-free offense and safe defense need to be augmented by efficiency. So the 1-2 Redskins must cut out the penalties, manage situations in a smarter way and treat the ball like a sacred treasure.

Getting those things right will be the difference between another lost season or building on the early positives of 2015 and enjoying a major turnaround from last year's 4-12 finish.

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