- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Do not assume that just because the Redskins were 3-6 and won seven straight that they will emerge from this horrid start to have great success. It wasn’t that they lost 38-20 to Green Bay, it’s that the Packers could have done a lot more. Of the Redskins' first six losses a year ago, they really only were out of one game -- the loss in Pittsburgh. And even after that one they came away with a feeling of missed opportunity because of all the dropped passes. It was hard to imagine a seven-game win streak; it was not difficult to envision a stronger finish just because of how the offense was playing. Now? Neither side of the ball is providing any real help.
Is this a coaching issue? It’s the same staff that guided them to seven straight wins and earned praise for never panicking. Did they forget how to prepare? I don’t think so. But do they deserve blame? Of course. When you’re 0-2 and look terrible -- think back to the early Marty Schottenheimer days -- everyone deserves heat. Calling plays are one thing; coaching is as much about getting players to buy into what you want them to do. From there, it’s about making plays. There were times, for example, that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers read the coverage wrong. He still made plays. Dropping passes that are slightly off; missing tackles; dumb penalties ... those don't qualify as "making plays."
But with the amount of penalties, undisciplined ones at that, it’s going to be easy to paint this as a frustrated team that needs better coaching from Mike Shanahan on down. Have at it. I won't disagree and neither will, or should, they. Some of the issues go away if Robert Griffin III gets going. The trickle-down effect of his play is tremendous. Great players, which is what he was last year, cover up many sins. But good luck covering up all their sins thus far with one player turning himself around. The Redskins need Griffin -- and he must work through his rust, and regain trust in himself to be the player he was a year ago -- but this is way more than just about him.
Receiver Josh Morgan has a pass skip off his hands on a crucial fourth down (he would not have made the first) that leads to an interception. Somehow Perry Riley is alone with speedy receiver Randall Cobb on a fourth-and-3 -- one safety, Bacarri Rambo, rotated to the right flat to cover a receiver and the other safety, Brandon Meriweather, ran to his left to double Jordy Nelson. So the Packers' most dangerous receiver was left with a linebacker. Who blew it? Does it matter? There are other examples. The point is made. It keeps happening.
Sunday’s game against Detroit becomes the biggest of the season. This team can’t afford to start 0-2 at home, particularly against two teams you feel you were better than (on paper, at least). This is far from a gimme: the Redskins have problems with big defensive tackles; the Lions have them. They struggle against offensive playmakers. The Lions have them.
They did get to Rodgers in the first quarter with three sacks, helped on one by the coverage. And then? The Packers went to more three-step drops. “Rodgers even told me himself they weren’t dropping back anymore. I was like, You gotta be kidding me,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
Don’t be surprised if more teams go that route. If a team is struggling to tackle in the back end or missing assignments, then why not test that ability? They are not playing disciplined football. You know the Redskins can apply some pressure, but can they tackle consistently? They didn’t Sunday, that’s for sure. By the way, five different Packers had gains of at least 27 yards -- and four had gains of at least 32. That’s unbelievable. So is 480 yards passing.
You know why I like rookie tight end Jordan Reed? He’s one of the few receiving targets who made a catch on a pass that wasn’t perfect. On his 3-yard touchdown reception, the ball was behind him. On his 4-yard catch in the fourth quarter, he had to reach up high. Too many others are dropping those passes. Yes, Griffin isn't as accurate right now as he needs to be; not even close. He also needs players to help him out; Reed did. He should play more.
Third downs have been a killer, particularly in the first half. In the last two games the Redskins are 1-for-9 on third downs in the opening two quarters. Only one of those has been for under five yards. It’s a tough way to live. They were 1-for-5 Sunday, which is why they managed zero first-half points despite averaging 6.5 yards per play. Oh, and of their 24 drives this season, 17 have started at their 20 or worse. Meanwhile, the opponents have combined to convert 9-of-17 third down chances in the first half.
You knew it would be tough with two rookies playing key roles in the secondary. Both safety Bacarri Rambo and corner David Amerson will be given time to grow and there will be bumps. For Amerson Sunday, it was a blown assignment. He thought he was in one coverage, but did not realize they had checked to something else. Rather than stick with receiver James Jones running down field, he bumped and released him. Jones was free for a 57-yard gain. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett gets defensive when talking about his rookies. That’s fine; he’s protective. This isn’t about whether or not they can play. Time will decide that. But they do have a lot to learn. That's not second guessing; that's reality. Sadly, it's not as simple as these two players improving and everything else goes away. This is a collective effort -- and that's what's scary.