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Three's Company And A Trend: ‘Skins Continue To Lose

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What on earth is happening in Washington, D.C.? Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
What on earth is happening in Washington, D.C.? Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The Washington Redskins’ 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions can be condensed into just three plays. The state of the team is certainly more complicated than that (see the outrage section later a few paragraphs below), but as for Sunday’s game, it takes but three data points to tell the story/nightmare of the week.

The Pick

With nine minutes remaining in the second quarter and from Detroit’s 19-yard-line, ‘Skins QB Robert Griffin III rolled right and threw an ill-advised pass before being unceremoniously dumped out of bounds. The pass, intended for Pierre Garcon, was intercepted.

In the first two weeks of the season, RGIII endured a relentless critique of his apparent unwillingness to break containment and make plays outside of the pocket and the beyond context of the offense. Well, unfortunately, he placated the critics in this instance. Any venture inside an opponent’s 20-yard line must result in points; that’s what good teams do. RGIII’s dubious decision ensured the ‘Skins would not.

When considered within the context of the moment, his desperation pass was far worse. The play occurred on first-and-10, with the ‘Skins trailing 14-7 and still searching for the first offensive points in the first half this season. You just cannot make that throw when second down awaits and points are in your grasp. In that moment, RGIII must throw that ball out of bounds. Instead of living for second down, he died on first.   

The Fumble

Fast forward to the second half. With the game tied at 17 with roughly 13 minutes remaining, RGIII ripped off his most impressive run of the season (by far), slicing through the middle of the Detroit defense for a 21-yard gain. At the end of the run he dove, without contact, headfirst to the Detroit 29. The ground dislodged the ball and the Lions fell on the fumble.

The ‘Skins left more points on the field.

The athletic flash by RGIII was encouraging, but for whatever reason — RGIII’s stubbornness, his injury or the coaches’ incompetence — it’s clear he has no clue how to slide like a baseball player. A simple hook slide in that situation kills the play, the ‘Skins get a fresh set of downs, the crowd explodes, and the ‘Skins are playing downhill. Instead, a small but neglected detail flipped the script. Shame on somebody … everybody. RGIII, meet Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper, meet RGIII. Bryce, teach RGIII how to slide. Thanks … in advance.

The Drop

Despite an uneven performance, the ‘Skins had the ball at midfield down only three points with nine minutes remaining. RGIII dropped back and hurled a deep touchdown into the waiting hands of Aldrick Robinson. In a flash, D.C. was partying like it was 2012 again. RGIII had made a special play and Robinson found a way to get behind the defense (even though he only seems to run fly patterns) for a season-saving, go-ahead score.

Only upon further review, Robinson didn’t secure the catch. The pass was incomplete and the ‘Skins would punt three plays later. Detroit would score a touchdown on the subsequent possession and the 0-3 pity party was on. 

Expressions Of Outrage

Great. Fine. Three measly plays separated victory and defeat, far fewer than the first two weeks. Had the outcome on any of the three been different, the ‘Skins would likely be exhaling after a hard-fought win. Call it progress if you want. I suppose an optimist’s view of the ‘Skins could identify gradual improvement, even if it is occurring at a pre-global warming glacial pace. I share no such opinion. My glass is half empty, it is partly cloudy and not partly sunny, and I stomped all over my rose-colored glasses at halftime of the Eagles game.

Yes, the final score was close, the ‘Skins were better on third down, the offense scored in the first half, and the game appeared to be competitive throughout. The raw truth is Detroit kept the ‘Skins in the game like an older brother who wants to beat but not necessarily demoralize a younger sibling. Of Washington’s 20 points, seven were scored on a defensive touchdown, three were essentially the result of gifted field position after Detroit launched the second half kickoff out of bounds, and another field goal was courtesy of a prevent defense (the one defensive scheme Washington’s offense has consistently dominated).

The secondary was marginally better, but still yielded 385 passing yards to Matthew Stafford. The defense made Joique Bell look like John Riggins on the ground and Marshall Faulk in the passing game. RGIII looked slightly more nimble and decisive, but the offense lacked rhythm all day. Griffin had a couple read-option keepers, but they were more “show me” in nature than a recurring component of the game plan. After much talk of RGIII leaning on his legs this week, he did more to reaffirm his commitment to being like Aaron Rodgers, a guy that can run but only does so when forced, as opposed to the transcendent dual threat he was last year. Cue “Taps,” the read-option in D.C. is officially dead.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing long-term, but it offers a bleak outlook for 2013. One of the hopes entering the year was that a healthier supporting cast would allow the offense to remain explosive without a heavy reliance on RGIII. Three weeks in it is clear the supporting cast has little interest sharing the lead role. Alfred Morris is running hard and Garcon has been superb, but the rest of RGIII’s merry men have been little more than passive participants. 

At 0-3 it might not be time to panic, but it is at least time to get angry, to scream and yell on the sidelines, to challenge underperforming teammates and to throw down the gauntlet in postgame interviews. Right? Hello? Anyone? Washington? Washington?

It appears — much like the underachieving Nationals through the spring and early summer — no one is listening. The loss to the Lions was taken in stride by the polite, burgundy and gold clad men running around in the grass. It should have created instability in the capital of the free world.  I don’t know what I was looking for exactly, but it was more than just a dutiful answering of the postgame questions and a cliché-ridden “on to Oakland” theme. An NFL team coming off a division title and with so many hopes for this season shouldn’t be so casual about its very public demise.

I attribute the laissez-faire attitude to the curse of the seven-game winning streak. You know the one that led to the improbable division title last year? Yes, it’s officially a curse. First it earned the ‘Skins a home playoff game, a disastrous event that ended with RGIII’s knee in tatters. It has also created an obvious perception in the locker room that no game really matters that much or, in this case, that three games are a death nail. And, really, they aren’t — not when a seven game win-streak is just around the corner.

The problem, one that’s lost on this crop of ‘Skins, is that NFL teams don’t rattle off seven games in a row as a matter of course. Some do, but this ‘Skins cast isn’t that good — not even close. Eventually it will dawn on this ever-patient group that last year’s run in November and December was more endangered NFL species than the norm. Whenever that light goes on and the fighting spirit is ignited, it’s likely to be too late (if it isn’t already). There’s a sound of gentle running water echoing throughout Washington, D.C. Don’t be fooled by the tranquility; it’s another season slipping away. 

On to Oakland…