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‘Skins Season Smelling of Death

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Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

This summer I wrote a piece on the departure of ‘Skins linebacker and special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander. Here’s an excerpt: “At some point next season a returner is going to break a long run and leave ‘Skins fans mumbling, where have you gone, Lorenzo Alexander, a nation turns it lowly eyes you — all credit and apologies to Paul Simon and Joe DiMaggio, of course.” Needless to say, “At some point next season” was ultimately defined as Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys. Awesome. Could I be so prophetic about lottery tickets? Poker hands? NFL spreads?

Now at 1-4 and on the cusp of yet another lost season, the Washington Redskins are at a crossroads. Can they rally and salvage a decent season, maybe even get into the playoff discussion? Or are they destined for a catastrophic meltdown that cues up yet another reboot under Dan Snyder’s reign of terror?

To answer those questions, I’m going to apply fantasy football thinking to real football. Dangerous, I know. It puts my, ah-hem, stellar reputation on the line. Anyway, there goes caution into hurricane-force winds…

When preparing for fantasy drafts I discern between similarly valued players by applying a sniff test to their respective teams. Do I get the sense that football’s cosmic forces are smiling on a particular squad, or not? Crescendos in the NFL are typically brief and decrescendos occur abruptly. I’m skeptical of players on teams that may have exhausted the run of a particular core (Texans, Giants, Steelers and Atlanta?), have apparent fractures in the locker room (Jets and Bucs) or are coming off unexpected spikes in performance (Washington). That said, I’m the guy that picked Doug Martin in the first round. Of course he’d be great if it was physically possible for a running back to get 50 touches every game. 

To apply the sniff test to the floundering ‘Skins, I’ll revisit the primary questions facing the team entering the 2013 season: will Robert Griffin III resemble last year’s version and will the team be more like the squad that started the season 3-6 or the one that finished 7-0. Well, Griffin has looked progressively better each week and was finally 2012-mobile in flashes against the Cowboys last Sunday, but he’s clearly not the same player. His legs are coming back, but his inaccuracy remains a mystery. For every precision throw this season he’s uncorked a Billy Kilmer-like duck to no one in particular. More concerning is that his in-play progression appears to be primary-read, then scramble. He isn’t comfortable in the pocket whatsoever and looks spastic while mentally rifling through the decision tree. If he can’t drop back, plant and throw to his primary target, he’s beaten as a pocket quarterback.

Optimists view: this is a product of all the missed reps this summer. Pessimists view: he doesn’t possess the anticipatory traits of the game’s best pocket assassins. Regardless, he’s not going to become Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the next two months, and that increases the prospects for more struggles and fluttering passes to nowhere in 2013.

As for the second question, the ‘Skins will be lucky to be 3-6 after nine games; the odds of seven consecutive wins is similar to the odds of me upsetting the literary world and winning a Pulitzer Prize. It’s hard to find a certain win remaining on the schedule much less seven. Consider this: the effort against Dallas was the two-week prep product. Yes, it was on the road, but the obnoxious Cowboys Stadium, the symbol of Jerry Jones’ ego and physical compensation for other possible very personal inferiorities, isn’t exactly an inhospitable NFL destination. What’s more, RGIII seemed resigned to throw caution to the wind and run more with the season essentially on the line.

Ultimately, the extra prep time and more desperate approach from the team’s best player resulted in just another disappointing loss. The defeat had different causal factors — an amateurish effort from the special teams as opposed to a poor effort from the defense or offense (the ailment during the first four games). In 2012 the ‘Skins found ways to win down the stretch — a hallmark of good teams. Thus far in 2013, the team is finding ways to manufacture losses. That is what bad teams do, and (sniff, sniff) it really stinks.

In isolation, the consequence is just a bad year; however, what is happening with the 2013 ‘Skins traces its roots to the unforgivable errors in handling RGIII’s knee injury last year — to disconnect the two is to miss the larger issue infecting this team. The penance associated with RGIII’s health mismanagement has manifested itself in the franchise quarterback’s understandable unwillingness to risk life and limb (the driving force behind the ‘Skins’ late-season run last year), has sapped the emotion from the team and has put the current coaching regime firmly on the hot seat.  The 1-4 start is a really big and no apparent 7-0 run is pending to bail out team Shanahan … again.