Who's Redskins' QB? It shouldn't matter

October, 16, 2011
10/16/11
7:54
PM ET
Rex GrossmanWin McNamee/Getty ImagesRex Grossman was benched in favor of John Beck after his fourth interception against Philadelphia.

LANDOVER, Md. -- They were calling for John Beck at FedEx Field after Rex Grossman's second interception of the day. It took until his fourth for Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to actually change quarterbacks, and when asked why he did it when he did it, Shanahan said, "We needed a spark."

By that point, though, it was too late. The Philadelphia Eagles had built a 20-3 halftime lead with the help of Grossman's first two interceptions, and the Redskins aren't a big-comeback type of offense. Their defense did a whale of a job holding the Eagles scoreless in the second half of Philadelphia's 20-13 victory and allowing Redskins fans to hope. But the Redskins' offense is built on running the ball and controlling the clock. It is built for close games and games in which they hold halftime leads. When they need their quarterback to bring them from way behind and win them a game, the Redskins are in trouble, because they don't have a quarterback who can do it.

And that's the crucial thing to remember as we embark upon this week of Beck-Grossman debate and speculation: Beck may be better than Grossman, Grossman may be better than Beck and which is which may change on a week-by-week basis. But the fact is, if the Redskins' quarterback situation has become a key aspect of what's going on with the team, they've entered a danger zone.

"We had Trent Williams go down with a high ankle sprain," Shanahan began, in answer to the third postgame question about quarterback. "Chris Cooley fractured the index finger on his left hand and he is going to have that operated on. Kory Lichtensteiger, ACL/MCL ... we're not really sure right now, but he's quite sore and it doesn't look good. So I have to take a look at the film in a little bit more detail and figure out what direction we're going to go in a lot of different positions."

Shanahan knows his team, and he believes that the group around the quarterback is more important than the identity of the quarterback. The key elements behind the 3-1 record the Redskins brought into this game were the run game, offensive line play and defense. They don't have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and they know it. So Shanahan has designed an offense that, ideally, limits the need for the quarterback to make the kind of big, risky downfield plays that lead to game-altering mistakes.

On Sunday, with left guard Lichtensteiger, left tackle Williams and tight end Cooley out of the game early, the Redskins were unable to run their offense the way they wanted to run it. That, plus the Eagles' early lead, put Grossman in a position to have to make throws downfield, and the Redskins aren't equipped to play that way. If you really want to break it down, Beck might be the better bet at this point because it seems he can make plays with his feet, and that adds an element that Grossman doesn't bring. But to lock in on the quarterback situation at this point is to ignore the larger issues facing the Redskins. If their line is banged up and they can't run the ball, it's not going to matter which quarterback they pick.

"That's all on the coach, whatever happens on the offensive side," safety LaRon Landry said in answer to a question about the quarterback situation. "We just take care of the defensive side."

Which is clearly the more important side -- the side that will determine how many games these Redskins end up winning. The job of this year's Redskins offense is to not mess up, and when it finds itself in a big early hole it has no chance but to play a riskier game than it's designed to play.

"The situation of the game," Grossman explained, "called for us to pass more."

When that happens, the Redskins are not the offense they want to be. No matter how earnestly their quarterbacks prepare or play or hope.

"When I went in, my mindset was, 'A couple of scores,'" Beck said. "If we could put together a couple of scores, we could be in the game. I feel like I played the whole game, and in the end we didn't win."

And I'm sure some will suggest that, if Beck had played the whole game, they might have won. But I think to do so is to forget what these Redskins are. They're not a team that relies on its quarterback to make plays and win them the game. They're a team that relies on all of its other, more stable elements to keep the game under control. If they can't do that -- and they didn't Sunday -- then it's not going to matter who their quarterback is. Not this year.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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