Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Monday, December 23, 2013
Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 16

By John Keim

A review of four hot issues after the Washington Redskins' 24-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

Job security: Obviously Mike Shanahan's job is the one most discussed and his status obviously would impact that of his coaching staff. It’s not uncommon for some coaches to return if a new coach is hired; many are under contract for next season and it can ease any transition. The Redskins have 26 players on their active roster or on injured reserve who were drafted by this regime (plus undrafted free agents such as Logan Paulsen and Nick Williams, who have only played here). They, too, are playing for their jobs and some are paranoid about their future; they have never been through a coaching change and don’t know how it would impact them. The Redskins’ roster will undergo major changes regardless of who’s coaching next season -- upgrades are needed in many areas. Add to it a regime change, with different schemes and beliefs, and there will be even more. You can’t change over everyone, but it does lead to anxious times for everyone, not just the head coach. That's the result of a 24-39 record in four years.

Kirk Cousins
Questions remain surrounding the job security of both QB Kirk Cousins and coach Mike Shanahan.
Quarterback watch: If Kirk Cousins had driven the Redskins down the field to win the game, imagine what would have been said in Washington on Monday. He would have been hailed a hero and the talk of his trade value would have escalated. Or, for some, perhaps it would have meant there’s more competition at this position than first realized. But that didn’t happen; the Redskins gained only 23 yards in the fourth quarter and the offense failed to get a first down on their final series. It’s not as if Cousins played poorly, but it is why you need to see players for an extended time before reaching a conclusion. They need to be in all sorts of situations -- under pressure from the rush, facing various schemes. There are things Cousins does well, such as make decisive throws; he does a better job at this point than Robert Griffin III of not staring down receivers. But interceptions remain an issue; will that always be the case or will it improve with experience? He needs a chance to grow, just like any young quarterback. I’ve said this before, but I would not be in a rush to trade him. There could be some team that loves him enough right now to make a strong offer (second round) and it then wouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It also will depend on if there’s a new coach here and what they think of Cousins.

Run game: Dallas was intent on taking away running back Alfred Morris, often aligning in what the Redskins call a Navajo front, with three defensive linemen over the interior of the Redskins’ front, with the linebackers focusing on taking away the outside. It messes with the blocking combinations up front, but the Redskins anticipated this look. At times, one of the Cowboys’ linemen would shoot in behind the play for penetration, something that has happened quite a bit this year. So Morris had to gut out a 24-carry, 88-yard day. It wasn’t pretty, but the Redskins did stick with the run. Morris gained 2 yards or fewer on eight of his first 13 carries and 11 of 24 overall. The execution improved in the third quarter as the Redskins used more power runs with guard Chris Chester pulling; Morris ran 10 times for 52 yards in the third quarter. One area Morris must absolutely improve in: catching the ball. He’ll never be Reggie Bush, but he needs to have consistent hands. It limits the offense at times, and that has to change.

Special teams: Washington’s special teams have been dreadful all season and it likely cost them two wins against Dallas. Yes, in the first game the officials missed at least one call that would have resulted in a turnover in favor of the Redskins. And maybe there were missed calls on the blocks -- good teams still overcome those issues over the long haul, and sometimes even on the plays in question. When you have one guy with a shot at making a tackle, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Too often that’s what happens and it’s what happened Sunday when, on Micheal Spurlock’s 62-yard punt return in the first quarter, only Niles Paul had a shot at making a tackle. He should have made it and stopped him for maybe 2 yards. Instead, he failed and Spurlock took off. Few care more than Paul, but he absolutely needs to make that play. It led to Dallas’ first touchdown; perhaps the Cowboys score on this possession anyway, but it once again left the Redskins in a hole. I’ve said it before, but these special teams were not put together well from the top on down. And even if coaching is an issue, that’s no excuse for not making a tackle when it’s in front of you. It leads to this: an NFL-worst 18.46 yards allowed per punt return. They are 10th against kickoffs. The problem is, they cost them games but never did anything to help. The way this group was put together felt too haphazard. Doesn't happen that way. Games are too close in this league to consistently have one of the three phases of the game lose every single week.