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Who The Heck Are These Redskins?

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Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Do you ever have one of those weird moments when you see a family member or friend and they don’t seem familiar? Maybe you haven’t seen them in a while or their hair or waistline has altered the visual presentation. Whatever it is, as they flash before your eyes, your mind has trouble processing. It creates a few awkward moments when someone you’re sure you know well is more of a stranger than a friend.

What’s that? You have no idea what I’m talking about? Fine, I’m bizarre and a little unstable. Whatever you think of my “moments,” the analogy is valid. I’m currently having one with the Washington Redskins. I know this team well; they are like family. Yet for the second week in a row, the images and performances on my T.V. screen support a comprehensive alien abduction. 

The simple response is that I’m overreacting. I expected a 0-2 start, after all. I predicted the opening week loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and Week 2 defeat by the Green Bay Packers (no really, I did; it’s in print). What I didn’t expect was back-to-back, largely non-competitive performances. The offense is a shell of itself. The secondary has actually gotten worse. Ahh, there’s plenty to say. Let’s just get to it.

Game Highlights & Lowlights

Okay, I’ll offer a couple of obligatory takeaways before getting to the good stuff.

The negatives were numerous. The team lacked an offensive pulse early, and the secondary was historically bad. 26-7 at halftime last week was horrible; 24-0 at halftime this week leaves me searching for an appropriate adjective. 

Brandon Meriweather’s Washington career continues to be star-crossed and mythical. In just over a quarter of play, he delivered and sustained a game-ending concussion.

The fourth down decision-making — whether to go for it or attempt a field goal — looked amateurish. Late in the second quarter down 24-0, Shanahan elected to bypass a 46-yard field goal and go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Green Bay 29. The pass was intercepted. Fast-forward to the second half and, still down 24-0, he attempted a 50-yard field goal with a backup kicker. You explain it. I’m at a loss.

Positives were hard to find. I think RGIII looked a little more comfortable. The running game got something done. The ball security improved. The front-seven pressured Aaron Rodgers early. And the team was 3-for-3 on challenges. Again, I’m reaching.

No End To The BS

Mike Shanahan, Robert Griffin III … we’re not buying it anymore. The politically soaked post-game commentary has already fallen on deaf ears. RGIII’s availability reached a gradual and triumphant crescendo leading up to Week 1. He was cleared to practice, then to participate in 11-on-11 drills and finally for game action. Shanahan expressed no reservations after Dr. James Andrews gave RGIII his medical stamp of approval, and for added emphasis RGIII, has declared himself completely healthy.

After the Week 1 and 2 train wrecks, both Shanahan and RGIII have been nonchalant, evasive and philosophical. They talked about improving across the board, have refused to point fingers and deny that there’s anything physically wrong with RGIII or measurably different with the offense. The rhetoric is, frankly, insulting to anyone with an elementary education in NFL football.

Here’s the truth: it’s a thick helping of BS. It’s easy to fool the crowd during the summer and through the preseason when a veil can strategically shroud team activities. What you cannot mask with fancy words is game performance. RGIII is, without question, far below 100 percent. Through the first two games of last season, he had 20 rushing attempts for 124 yards and two touchdowns. In the first two games this season, he’s rushed nine times for 25 yards. More importantly — because everyone acknowledged he would need to run less this season — he’s no threat in the running game. And when he’s no threat, the offensive scheme disintegrates.

Further, post-injury, the Shanahan’s were adamant that the read-option actually improves RGIII’s chances to remain healthy. If they really believed that, or perhaps more directly, if the quarterback was aligned and convinced of the same theory, then why aren’t they running the read-option? If RGIII’s had a designed run this season, I must have been in the men’s room or grabbing another beer because I haven’t seen it.   

The reality is a penance is being paid for last season’s mishandling of RGIII’s injury. He’s nowhere near top form — whatever that now means in his post-second ACL surgery career — and he won’t be for some time. That creates a set of challenges for the 2013 ‘Skins that could prove insurmountable; and there’s no way for the head coach and quarterback to talk their way around it.

Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics

RGIII is on pace to complete 63 percent of his passes and to throw for 40 touchdowns and an amazing 5,192 yards. Last year he threw for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 66 percent. As a team, the ‘Skins averaged 27 points and 383 yards per game last year; through two weeks this season, they are scoring 23.5 points and racking up 422 yards per game. 

The stats aren’t that much different but the results sure are. The 2012 ‘Skins were better in reality than fantasy. So far in 2013, the ‘Skins are a decent fantasy football play but a disaster on the only scoreboard that counts. Here’s another stat that tells you all you need to know: opponents 50, ‘Skins 7. That’s the combined Week 1 and 2 score at halftime — the 7 points were scored by the defense.  

The Hangover

There’s something up. Everyone is saying the right things, there’s no panic and Kyle Shanahan and RGIII are hamming it up on the sidelines; but there’s a stink in the room. There’s a lack of urgency and emotion that’s disturbing. Does anyone know these games count? Does anyone care? The ‘Skins remind me of the Washington Nationals. The Nats dismissed early season struggles and waited patiently for the season to come to them. Well, with a dozen or so games remaining, they need Cincinnati to collapse to even make the postseason. Admittedly, it may take only nine games (or even less) to win the NFC East, but there’s a fine line between remaining poised and being emotionally disconnected.

Washington’s season ended with a resounding and painful thud last January. While RGIII made it back for Week 1, my hunch is the remaining emotional scars outweigh the physical ones. Going 0-2 isn’t a death sentence, but it makes next week’s game at home against the Detroit Lions a must-win. That’s a terrible term to use in Week 3, but it is what is. At the moment, the ‘Skins are just too cool for their britches. Either that or they aren’t past the emotional hurdle of the great sins committed last January. Whatever it is, their head might not be throbbing but mine sure is.

Philosophical Exercise

The second half was a philosophical exercise … again. Once upon a time, Cardinals head coach Dennis Green famously said the Bears were “who we thought they were.” The ‘Skins are the antithesis. Who is this team?  What’s their identity? I don’t know — and they don’t either. The benchmark of the offense last year was the read-option and RGIII’s unsolvable dual threat. The read-option is absent and the quarterback is one-dimensional. He is Thor without his hammer, Captain American without his shield and Batman without his crime-fighting toys. I know it. You know it. The opponents know it. The result is 2012’s fifth-ranked offense remains in search of any first half points.

Back to the hangover section. I sense lingering issues between the organization, the head coach and the quarterback. The message remains united, for now, but a loss against Detroit next week and all bets are off. A 0-3 start would threaten what I think is a tenuous calm. All are company men for now. With a loss and at the cusp of a terribly disappointing season, the conversation could meander into uncomfortable places either overtly or, more likely considering the cast, indirectly.

On to Detroit … with trepidation…