Keeping Tabs on Washington's Team

'Skins Have To Improve On 3rd Downs

An inconsistent defense and rookie QB exacerbate matters

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins rushes before taking hard hit against the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at FedExField on October 7, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. Robert Griffin III left the game after the hit. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    At 2-3, the Redskins are just a game out of first place in the division -- but there are plenty of issues facing the team.

    1) The defense hasn't been good, 2) their rookie franchise quarterback is coming off a concussion, and 3) the third-down offense continues to sputter.

    The first point has a lot to do with losing two of their best players -- Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker -- to injury. The latter two points are a function of a relatively young group led by a quarterback who has been an NFL starter for a grand total of five weeks.

    We know: It's a process and these things generally take time. But here's the deal. Coach Mike Shanahan doesn't have time.

    The 'Skins mortgaged their future when they sent the Rams their 2012 first and second-rounders and two future first rounders for the right to trade up for RGIII. Technically, yes, Washington is rebuilding. But they're also in Year 3 of the Shanahan era. The man who was supposed to fix the Redskins won six games in 2010 and five games last season. So, yeah, something has to change and preferably now.

    Which brings us back the offense.

    Griffin has been cleared to practice, which is good news. But here's the bottom line for whomever ends up under center against the Vikings this Sunday: If you want to win football games you have to convert on third down.

    And sure, this is almost as obvious as saying "the team that scores more points will win," but Shanahan's an offensive guy with an impressive track record. He also has some explosive players at his disposal.

    Kicker Billy Cundiff was the scapegoat in the Week 5 loss to the Falcons but he was 1-for-2 on field-goal attempts. Washington lost 24-17. The bigger concern is that the 'Skins were 1-for-9 on third down and only had the ball for 22:59. In general, converting 11 percent of your third-down chances and possessing the ball for 38 percent of the game equates to losing football.

    “Obviously, it’s an area that we have to get better at," Shanahan told the Washington Post. "You take a combination of killing those drives, being 1-for-9 on third-down and 0-for-2 in the red zone, it’s truly hard to win a football game.

    "Saying that, there were a number of positives with the way we ran the football. We make a couple of those third downs, just three or four, and keep drives going, you have a chance to have a dominating day. Still had an opportunity to win, even with those crazy stats as they were. But to beat a good football team, we have to play better than that as a whole.”

    Until Griffin suffered the concussion, Shanahan had talked about the endless possibilities of schemes and playcalling. Now both player and coach will have to be more conservative as RGIII figures out what he can and can't get away with against NFL defenders.

    Meanwhile, Minnesota is one of the biggest surprises of the young season. They're 4-1 and are tied atop the NFC North with Chicago, and much of that has to do with their defense. FootballOutsider.com's ranks them ninth in the league, one spot ahead of … the Falcons. The Vikings are also second against the run, which could put even more pressure on a 'Skins offense that suddenly becomes one-dimensional.