Keeping Tabs on Washington's Team

Despite RGIII, 'Skins Still Struggle

Shanahan needs to show progress in year three

By Ryan Wilson
|  Monday, Sep 24, 2012  |  Updated 9:58 AM EDT
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Despite RGIII, 'Skins Still Struggle

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Does Redskins coach Mike Shanahan have a target on his back?

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It may not seem like much, hours after falling to the Bengals in the home opener, and a week after losing to the Rams on a combination of shoddy officiating and ill-timed lapses in judgment, but there is some good news: The Redskins have their franchise quarterback. The price was substantial, both in terms of draft picks and years spent getting to this point.

But now that Washington has Robert Griffin III, there's the issue of actually winning football games. Everything looked to be going according to plan when the Redskins went to New Orleans and blew the doors off what turned out to be a dreadful New Orleans team. Two weeks later, Washington sits at 1-2 and unless something changes, this could be another one of those seasons even if RGIII is better than advertised.

On defense, the loss of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker can't be understated, but as the Washington Post's Keith McMillan wrote Monday morning, Rob Jackson was more that serviceable as Orakpo's replacement, and the run defense without Carriker was solid, allowing the Bengals just 3.3 yards per carry.

The silver lining to all this: depth. Great teams, the ones that annual contend for the playoffs, don't have 22 Pro Bowlers with roster spots 23-53 populated by stiffs. These teams understand something that owner Dan Snyder never could for most of his tenure: Winning teams need depth. Star players can only help you when they're healthy. How their backups perform could ultimately be the difference between 6-10 and a top-10 pick or 10-6 and a trip to the postseason.

Then there's everything else, the dark cloud hovering over FedEx Field. As NBCWashington's Adam Vingan points out Sunday after the Redskins' 38-31 loss to the Bengals, there's still plenty to work on. While the run defense may be fine, the pass defense is not. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns, with A.J. Green accounting for 183 of those yards.

“Like I’ve told you from Day One, in order to win, especially with a young quarterback, you have to have a great defense and a great running game,” Coach Mike Shanahan said afterward. “That’s where it starts. There’s not a team in National Football League history that’s won without a great running game. . . . So we’re going to have to buckle up a bit, and we’ll come back.”

That's not entirely true. The 2010 Packers and some of those early century Patriots teams immediately come to mind. But nitpicking aside, Shanahan's onto something: without a consistent effort from the defense, the season's going nowhere. The running game will be fine, but by itself, averaging 150-200 yards a week on the ground in today's NFL doesn't guarantee you success.

Shanahan is in his third year in Washington and it's fair to assume if 2012 resembles 2010 and 2011 when the Skins won six and five games, respectively, his job could be on the line. With RGIII in the mix there are no more excuses. Washington needs to start winning.

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