5 Reasons Jay Gruden Must Be Fired if Washington Redskins Miss the Playoffs

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2017

5 Reasons Jay Gruden Must Be Fired if Washington Redskins Miss the Playoffs

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    Jay Gruden would likely tell you the litany of injuries are to blame for the Washington Redskins' 2017 season going off the rails. There are a lot of injuries, but don't be fooled. Bad coaching is just as much to blame for Washington's slide to 3-4.

    At this rate, the Redskins are set to miss out on the playoffs for the third season in four years under Gruden. Progress this isn't. Something has to give, and it should be replacing the head coach who was an uninspiring hire to begin with back in 2014.

    There are several core reasons why Gruden has to go. Most of them showed up vividly during Week 8's 33-19 loss to their bitter NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys at FedExField.

    Yes, wins are rarely easy to come by in a rivalry this fierce. Sure, the Redskins don't have the best recent record at home to the Cowboys, having lost this game in each of the last four seasons.

    Even so, this year's defeat seemed like a turning point for the Gruden regime, and not the good kind. Whether it was a lack of commitment to the run or an inability to plan for and respond to an opponent's key weapons, the Redskins were thoroughly outfought and out-thought by the Cowboys.

    With games against NFC playoff contendersthe Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saintsup next, Washington's season could soon settle into a depressing pattern.

    Find out why another lost season should mean the end of Gruden's tenure.

Ignoring the Running Game

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    You have to wonder why Gruden was so keen to ditch Matt Jones and insert Rob Kelley as Washington's starting running back. Parting company with Jones made sense since he couldn't hold on to the football, but why push Kelley into the starting lineup only to ignore him?

    Kelley isn't the most dynamic or imaginative runner, but he is a workhorse who needs several carries just to get warmed up. As a tough grinder between the tackles, Kelley is the kind of runner who will get better and wear down a defense as a game progresses.

    Sadly, it's unlikely No. 20 will get many chances to prove those statements true. Kelley had just eight carries against the Cowboys, one week removed from toting the rock a mere seven times during a road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Granted, Kelley hasn't been doing much with his carries, averaging less than 2.5 yards per attempt the past two weeks. Yet, he's hardly likely to establish any rhythm when given so few chances.

    Kelley's lack of touches is symptomatic of how Gruden has treated the running game during his time in Washington. A whole side of pro offense has been an afterthought at best.

    The Redskins rank 21st in rushing attempts this season and 18th in attempts per game. These numbers are coming in a season where Washington has Kelley, Chris Thompson and fourth-round pick Samaje Perine available to run the ball.

    Of course, Gruden would likely point to the slew of injuries up front as an excuse for not running the ball. It's an argument lacking credibility, though, even with left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brandon Scherff and center Spencer Long missing against the Cowboys.

    Backup blockers may find it tougher to create a push, but all O-linemen enjoy life more when a team leans on the run. Doing so would have built confidence across a patchwork front five.

    Washington's struggles in the passing game make Gruden's reticence to run the ball all the more galling.

    The paucity of rushing attempts is just part of a disturbing trend since 2014. The Redskins were 21st in rushing attempts in 2014, 14th in 2015 and 27th last season.

    The fact this team made the playoffs the one time it ranked in the top half of the league for rushing attempts should speak volumes to Gruden about the importance of the run.

    Apparently, the coach just isn't listening.

No Situational Coaching

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    Situational coaching may sound like the kind of hipster buzz phrase that doesn't mean anything. However, it's the common-sense approach to games the most successful sideline generals employ each week.

    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the chief practitioner of situational football, one aspect of which he explained in 2016, per Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston: "There are so many factors in football that it's really hard to find two situations that are the same. Even in some situations that are similar there's usually something in there, the conditions on the field, or the game, or the wind, or something else that adds another variable in there besides just point-differential and time and timeouts."

    While there's been more to the Pats' dynasty than simply playing the situations, the laser-focused attention to detail inherent in this approach is what defines the best head coaches.

    Gruden doesn't belong in the same bracket because he so often doesn't coach for situations. Take this week's carnival of calamity against the Cowboys.

    Fielding a heavily depleted offensive line on a rain-soaked day should have told Gruden to pare down his offense. A close-to-the-vest, conservative game plan was needed to help ease fringe players into the matchup and avoid mistakes in the treacherous weather.

    In short, the injury list and the conditions demanded Gruden shelve his ego. Instead, he ran the ball just 15 times and had quarterback Kirk Cousins air it out 39 times.

    Cousins kept throwing despite the fact Washington's threadbare O-line couldn't keep Cowboys pass-rushers at bay for longer than a millisecond. Washington's quarterback kept on passing even though the rain made every attempt a dangerous test of fate.

    Gruden continued calling a wide-open attack even in a game the Redskins managed to keep close. The most Washington ever trailed by before the end was 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter.

    Paring down the offense would have protected Cousins from mistakes. It would also have kept the Dallas rushing attack off the field and reduced the considerable production of running back Ezekiel Elliott.

    This isn't the first time this season Gruden has ignored the situation in favor of having the Redskins execute concepts that look great on the chalkboard but make little practical sense in reality.

    Think back to Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams. The Redskins were running the ball impressively and, believe it or not, were actually sticking with it, at least to a point.

    Having run deep into the red zone, Gruden had the Redskins throw three straight passes, including two fades from the goal line. All three fell incomplete, forcing Washington to settle for a field goal.

    The situation dictated the Redskins continue running the ball until the Rams stopped it, something they seemed patently incapable of doing on the day. Washington eventually won the game, but it became a lot closer than it needed to be because Gruden once again ignored the value of situational football.

No Focus on a Team's Biggest Threats

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    A common theme through seven games this season has been seeing the Redskins defense getting gashed by threats it should know all about. Name the team, and it's a fair bet its most notable offensive player has enjoyed a big day against the Burgundy and Gold.

    There is just no direction from Gruden aimed at making sure his team has specific plans to take away an opponent's primary playmakers. Letting obvious threats run wild is a clear sign of poor planning and dismal coaching.

    Take Zach Ertz and his two performances against the Redskins in 2017. The gifted tight end is the fulcrum of the Eagles' passing game, the one receiving threat quarterback Carson Wentz relies on for big plays and trusts in clutch situations.

    Despite knowing all about Ertz, the Redskins let him run free to catch eight passes for 93 yards in Week 1. He also hauled in five receptions for 89 yards in Week 7.

    This season is far from the first time Ertz has dominated against Gruden's Redskins. He caught 10 passes for 112 yards in Week 14 last season. One year earlier, Ertz made 13 catches for 122 yards in a Week 16 game.

    It's not as if Ertz is the only principal threat to boss around the Redskins this season. Travis Kelce, the focal point of the Kansas City Chiefs' air attack, tallied seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown during a loss in Week 4.

    Of course, coaches know how to scheme to get their best players open. It's also true defenses with specific plans to stop playmakers this talented don't yield these numbers.

    Sadly, the Redskins too often go into games without a specific plan for stopping an opponent's best players. Worst still, there is rarely a commitment to game-planning for these players.

    Think back to Week 1 last season when shutdown cornerback Josh Norman, who cost this team a pretty penny, wasn't matched up exclusively on Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown.

    The Redskins tried to defend their decision to put their No. 2 cornerback, Bashaud Breeland, on Brown, who caught eight passes for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    Their justification rang hollow, especially when Conor Orr of the league's official website cited statistics from Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus: "According to a tweet from Pro Football Focus analyst Sam Monson on Monday, Brown caught eight of the nine passes thrown his way while Breeland was in coverage for 113 yards and two scores. On the plays he happened to be lined up on Norman? No catches and two passes defensed by Norman."

    This wasn't just a one-off, either. Norman also wasn't trailing Dez Bryant against the Cowboys this week. Ironically, numbers from Pro Football Focus showed Norman was successful against Bryant, despite a meager number of snaps covering the wideout.

    It's easy to question the purpose of an elite cornerback if he's not allowed to prove his skills against the best receivers.

    There is always a balance between the attention a defense will play to specific threats without breaking down the structure of its scheme. Yet, it's only the most talented units that can play the same game each week and thrive. The rest have to adapt on the fly.

    Gruden's Redskins have never had the defensive talent to just play their scheme and still wreck offenses. Instead, they have to get specific with their game plans and take away what an opponent does best.

    Four seasons in, fans are still waiting for Gruden and his staff to make this kind of necessary commitment.

Choice of Defensive Coordinators

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    A big part of the reason the Redskins routinely find themselves exploited by the obvious has to be Gruden's choice of defensive coordinators. They have been uninspiring, to say the least.

    When he took over in 2014 Gruden opted to keep Jim Haslett, the man hired by Mike Shanahan to install a 3-4 scheme back in 2010. While Haslett was never quite as bad as he was sometimes portrayed, he also wasn't particularly good, either.

    On his watch, the Redskins never ranked higher than 21st in points allowed or 13th in yards surrendered, according to statistics from Pro Football Reference. Those numbers gave Gruden the ideal excuse to sweep a brush a make wholesale changes to the defensive staff.

    Instead, Haslett stayed for another dismal year during which the Redskins ranked 29th in points against and 20th in yards allowed. Change had to come now, but it was hardly an exciting one when it did.

    Gruden's answer was to tab Joe Barry to be his defensive coordinator. Barry's resume included overseeing two last-ranked units with the Detroit Lions, including during the franchise's 0-16 season in 2008.

    The checkered history didn't stop Gruden from talking up the hire at the time, per Zac Boyer of the Washington Times: "He's walking into a situation here where we're going to have some adversity, and I know he can handle it. He's a tough guy, committed guy, a loyal guy, and I think he's good fit for us."

    The fact Barry was hired during an offseason when Wade Phillips and Vic Fangio were available and on the team's radar made the decision look even more dubious. Hiring Barry proved a missed opportunity when his defenses ranked 28th in yards two years running.

    Sadly, when it came time for another change, Gruden again spurned the chance to make a statement. His answer was to promote from within, giving the job to Greg Manusky.

    Like Barry, Manusky signaled his arrival with a lot of tough talk, per Liz Clarke of the Washington Post"We might not win a game. But we'll sure beat the crap out of a lot of people!"

    It defies belief any coach would actually say "we might not win a game" and expect to stay credible. While Manusky's tough talk may endear him to many in football's excessively macho culture, it also masks the fact there's little substance behind the bravado.

    Beating people up is one thing, but how about some sensible scheming designed to take away what a team does best? Maybe then Manusky's defense wouldn't have let Elliott stomp his way to 150 yards on 33 carries in Week 8.

    There was no focused attempt to stymie the dangerous Dallas running game. Why not vary the splits of the defensive line to mess with the blocking schemes? Or how about employing over or under shifts to target a weak blocker?

    Despite having more talent at his disposal than any Redskins D-coordinator in the last seven years, Manusky is looking no better than the rest. There isn't a clear identity to this defense, a way to travel backed up by fluid planning.

    When successive coordinators are failing, the problem has to start a level above. Gruden must answer for his failure to find the right solutions on this side of the ball.

Not Seizing the Chance to Boss an NFC East in Transition

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    Perhaps the biggest indictment of Gruden's mediocre tenure is his failure to build a team capable of dominating an NFC East division embroiled in a state of extended transition in recent seasons.

    Think about the opportunity Gruden's Redskins had to boss this division. He took over in 2014, the dog-end of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia. It's taken the Eagles three seasons, a new head coach and a new quarterback to get to where they are now, while the Redskins have stood still.

    Meanwhile, the New York Giants have been hit and miss during Gruden's time in charge. Big Blue are in the throes of another implosion.

    Then there are the Cowboys, who have transitioned from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott under center and leaked defensive talent yet still seem better equipped to make the playoffs than these Redskins.

    It defies a belief a franchise with more stability under center the last three yearsas well as a core of veteran talent led by Williams, tight end Jordan Reed and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan—has been left behind in a division in this much flux.

    In fairness, Gruden didn't exactly inherit an ideal situation when he took over from Shanahan in 2014. He found a failing quarterback in Robert Griffin III, one whose self-destructive play was holding the team back, despite his recent attempts to retell history, per 106.7 The Fan's Grant and Danny Show (h/t ESPN.com's John Keim).

    Gruden also had to deal with changes in the front office. Scot McCloughan was given the keys to the kingdom in 2015, but contrary to popular belief, not every decision he made helped this team get better before he was fired this year.

    Ultimately, though, the buck is always going to stop with the head coach in Washington, particularly as long as Daniel Snyder owns the team. Gruden hasn't had it easy, but while he can't control what goes on above him, he should have done a lot better with the things he can control.

    Instead, his choices on game days, the one time the head coach gets to determine the fate of a franchise, have consistently done more to harm the Redskins than help them progress.

    The winds of change are picking up speed around Gruden. He can't be allowed to carry on if this team misses the playoffs again.