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2013 ‘Skins: Fatally Miscast And Poorly Led

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PHILADELPHIA PA - NOVEMBER 17: Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan , foreground, works on his plays in the 3rd quarter as the quarterbacks ,Kirk Cousins (12), left, Robert Griffin III (10), center and Rex Grossman sit in the background as the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Washington Redskins 24 - 16 in Philadelphia PA, November 17, 2013
PHILADELPHIA PA - NOVEMBER 17: Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan , foreground, works on his plays in the 3rd quarter as the quarterbacks ,Kirk Cousins (12), left, Robert Griffin III (10), center and Rex Grossman sit in the background as the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Washington Redskins 24 - 16 in Philadelphia PA, November 17, 2013

Sometimes they play nicely. A board game, sport, TV show or the land of make-believe can be the impetus for the amity. Whatever it is, when they are on the same page it is a thing of beauty. There is laughter, joy, an unmistakable energy and tranquility (for weary parents). They are comrades and friends.

In these moments their relationship is symbiotic. They are siblings.

The peace is fragile. A joke taken too far, the perception of unscrupulous play or a desire for the same “thing” (whatever the hell it is – a game, stuffed animal, random trinket) at the same time and instantly negative forces overwhelm the situation. Voices rise, vicious accusations are hurled, fists are raised and foreign objects (brooms, play swords, sticks or any wayward projectile) are brandished. 

In these moments their relationship is toxic; but they are still siblings – no more or no less.

Teammates can be just as mercurial as siblings – particularly football players. Football is a violent, 11-piece orchestra on each side of the ball. To produce pleasant music, so to speak, members must know their specific role and execute in concert with 10 other “siblings”. When all are performing as one, it is beautiful to observe – the ’85 Bears on defense or the ’07 Patriots on offense, for instance. Like brothers from the same mother, though, the slightest disharmony can create utter chaos.    

D.C. football fans are nodding their heads. The dichotomy between the ‘Skins of Washington in the second half of 2012 and the team’s performances through the first 10 games of 2013 has been dramatic. The players (or “siblings”) are virtually identical and the coaching staff is largely unchanged - but the product is remote-chucking frustrating.  

Last season the ‘Skins clicked. They had the bell cow, the irresistible force behind center on offense – Robert Griffin III – and a father-time cheating graybeard – London Fletcher – leading the defense (in pre-game speeches and, more importantly, on-field play). The rest of the cast tucked nicely into known, executable roles.

This year, the team can’t get out of its own way. There have been no physical confrontations, arguments, finger pointing, nuggies or wedgies to date, but the “children” aren’t playing well together in the sandbox. The last two weeks the ‘Skins have out-gained their opponent, had more rushing yards, more total yards, more first downs and led in time of possession. Normally such statistical measures result in wins, but after losing to Minnesota and Philadelphia, the ‘Skins are anomalies in all the wrong ways.

The maddening inconsistency isn’t week to week; it’s quarter to quarter. Much like a group of unpredictable toddlers with insufficient naps, the team is apparently incapable of putting together 60 minutes of football – good or bad.  In both Eagles games they were dominated in the first half and mounted frenetic rallies that came up a score short. They started fast against Green Bay and Denver only to be completely overwhelmed. The first three quarters against San Diego were sound but a leaky final quarter necessitated an overtime score to salvage a win. And then there’s that meltdown in Minnesota. I said my peace about that last week.

Scoreboard and record aside, you can see the consternation. It’s pouring from the team’s non-verbal communications. On offense Robert Griffin III looks frustrated at times, almost disinterested and resigned in others. He has games where he seems committed to a sustainable amount of running (see the 84 yards he gained against Chicago), others where he seems run-averse (seven yards rushing versus Denver) and still others where he reverts to X-Games daredevil mode (Minnesota). The offensive line is inexplicably uneven. TE Fred Davis is on ice. RB Roy Helu is under-utilized. Outside of Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, no receiver has a known role or performs consistently. If Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan or Aldrick Robinson become weekly contributors, I’ll figure the Mayans weren’t wrong, just a year off.

The kids on the defensive playground haven’t been any better. The pass rush has had its moments but mostly unreliable. The defensive line has an allergy to the opponent’s backfield. The secondary has waffled between pedestrian and glaring liability. I’m convinced defensive coordinator Jim Haslett decided to coach from the booth so he could pour stiff drinks during the game. Everyone, let’s raise a glass and toast a dead-coordinator coaching. Cheers, Jim.

Here’s the ground truth delivered harshly by the first 10 games of the season: the ‘Skins are fatally miscast. They are just having one of those years. They are not as good as last season’s 7-0 ending or as bad as this season’s 3-7 record. Nonetheless, 3-7 they are and back to a familiar position: dead last in the NFC East. With six long weeks and games remaining, it could get very ugly. A coaching change, in my opinion, is all but inevitable. If a team is outscored 20-0 down the stretch by the Vikings, takes 10 days off and then sleepwalks to 24-0 deficit against a mediocre divisional foe with the entire season on the line, there is an emotional virus infecting the roster. Mike Shanahan has lost his audience. It is his responsibility to prepare the team strategically and emotionally and to combine the parts into a greater whole. He has failed on all accounts. And considering the inconsistency and listlessness is season-long, it’s hard not to wonder if his gross mishandling of RGIII’s knee injury last year was the point when the leader – Shanahan – betrayed the trust of his best player and the team.

Hey, most spats between siblings/teammates are the fault of the combatants; sometimes, though, poor parenting, or in this case coaching, is the culprit.