PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
That Week 9 loss to the Panthers somehow looks worse now, and perhaps that's why Coach Mike Shanahan was so frustrated in the minutes and hours after last Sunday's game. While on their bye, the Redskins watched the Giants get blown out by the Bengals, and a hapless Eagles bunch lose convincingly at home to the Cowboys.
A quick glance at the NFC East standings:
Giants (6-4 overall, 2-2 division)
Cowboys (4-5, 2-1)
Eagles (3-6, 1-1)
Redskins (3-6, 0-1)
If there's an upside it's this: Despite Shanahan's ill-timed moment of candor, the 'Skins' season is in front of them. Yeah, it would've helped to win some of those eminently winnable games during the first two months of the season, but unless Dan Snyder owns a time machine it'll have to serve as a learning experience.
Going forward, Washington has five division games and how they fare in those matchups will determine their fate. The playoffs are a long shot (but not impossible), but the Giants have shown the last two weeks that they can be exposed, which means that the NFC East is again up for grabs.
There are a few problems, however. For starters, Washington's defense is still among the worst in the league. And the offense has gone from multi-faceted and hard-to-stop to ineffective and aimless. So while they've caught some breaks in the division it's not clear they'll be able to do anything with the opportunity.
On Friday, ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck questioned Washington's college-inspired offense and Robert Griffin III's place in it.
“We’ve gotten to the point where you have to wonder about the direction of the offense,” Hasselbeck told the Washington Post's Mark Maske. “They have all these atypical NFL concepts. They like to repeat concepts. But when you do that, you’re not stretching the field. You’re not making the defense defend the entire field. One of the reasons it works in college is because the first guy gets open. But when the first guy is not open in the NFL, you have to be able to get to the next guy.”
Therein lies the problem. There is no "next guy" for the Redskins. Pierre Garcon has been hampered with a foot injury for most of the year, Fred Davis is on injured reserve with an Achilles tear, and that leaves a hodgepodge of role players (Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson) and veterans on the downside of good careers (Santana Moss, Chris Cooley).
Hasselbeck suggests that a more conventional offense might better suit RGIII in the long run.
“I came away thinking it’s good to have some of this stuff (in the offense) because sometimes people can’t defend it," he told Maske. "But you look around the league, you see [Miami rookie quarterback Ryan] Tannehill thriving in a conventional offense. You see [Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew] Luck thriving in a conventional offense. And [Griffin] certainly has conventional-offense skills. I wonder if maybe they’re taking too many steps down the path of something where I’m not sure if it works. I think you have to be careful when you adopt something and make it the main course of what you’re doing.”
We can't imagine the Shanahan's mixing things up now, halfway through the season. The Baylor-flavored offense has shown promise (all those drops by would-be pass-catchers would hinder any offensive scheme, no matter how perfectly imagined), and ultimately, the Redskins' defense will have to show up too. That makes for a lot of ifs, but that's what happens when you're sitting at 3-6 with no margin for error.