Under fire all week for questionable playcalling in an 18-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan responded with his most balanced effort to date.
With the ground game sputtering against the NFL’s worst run defense, Shanahan turned to his third option in Ryan Torain. The move didn’t disappoint as Torain -- an afterthought in the pecking order at running back -- rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown.
The Redskins’ 40 rushing attempts were the most by the team in a single game since 2009. They sacked Sam Bradford seven times and held the Rams to 172 yards of total offense to improve to 3-1 on the season. Furthermore, the 17-10 win combined with the Cowboys loss to Detroit means Washington is first place in the NFC East heading into its bye week.
Time for Shanahan to breathe a sigh of relief, right?
Not so fast.
The Redskins had this game in hand from the start, yet in typical fashion found a way to let St Louis back into it with a pair of turnovers from a sputtering Rex Grossman. As many times as Shanahan went to the run, he still put the game in Grossman’s hands, having him throw on the first play following a Rams touchdown with under six minutes remaining.
The call backfired as Grossman threw an interception deep in his own territory to give St. Louis a chance at tying the game. Luckily the defense sacked Bradford on back-to-back plays to avoid another collapse on the road.
Santana Moss said after the game that “progress is winning.” He’s right of course -- it just would have been better if they had done it a little more convincingly on Sunday.
Maybe Shanahan is under the impression he’s still in Houston with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson at his disposal, but this is Washington, where Grossman is at the controls. Shanahan doesn’t have the luxury to think outside the box with a quarterback who shouldn’t be called upon to do much beyond manage the game.
Of course Shanahan isn't entirely at fault. The offense’s execution in key situations has been poor to say the least. Moss tipped a third down pass right into the hands of a defender and the offense converted just one of their four third down attempts in the fourth quarter.
The inability to extend drives combined with the turnovers prevented Washington from burying what was an anemic Rams team. The failure to finish is a recurring theme for the Redskins, and Sunday’s game was eerily similar to countless others they’ve treated us to over the years.
Again it’s not fair to heap all the blame at Shanahan’s feet, but it would help if he could recognize the hand he’s been dealt each week.
On Sunday, he’d been blessed with a breakout performance by Torain who was carrying the ball for 7.1 yards per attempt. However, the running back wasn’t on the field for two third-and-3s in the fourth quarter and didn’t get the call on Grossman’s second interception, even though the Redskins averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down.
Had Shanahan been calling plays for an established offense, it'd be OK to hand him a free pass for his aggressiveness. But thus far in his brief tenure with the team, he hasn’t accomplished enough to escape criticism. In fact, he’s done very little to alleviate concerns that this sort of thing won’t happen every week.
Until he does, the same issues aren’t likely to go away and against better teams, they’ll prove more costly.