It's shocking that the Redskins lost by 15 points on a night when the defense: held Dallas to 213 yards; held receiver Dez Bryant to 36 yards receiving; held Tony Romo to a 72.9 passer rating. The defense deserves credit. But when you're playing poorly, losses like this happen. Or when you're a bad team. After five games there's no reason to think the Redskins are anything but a bad team. They play like bad teams do, with all the mistakes being made at the wrong times. Anything can still happen, but at least last season they could point to a handful of early games that showed what they could do. What game can they point to this season as proof that they are on the verge of ... anything?
The offense managed 433 total yards and converted 8-of-16 third downs. But they couldn't convert in the red zone and they turned the ball over twice (once when Robert Griffin III was hit and fumbled; he threw an interception in part because the receiver, Santana Moss, slipped after the ball was released. Just a fact. Griffin had other areas you can knock.). It wasn't good enough.
I don't know if Keith Burns is a good special teams coach or not. The Redskins had a guy in Danny Smith who was, like it or not, considered one of the best in the NFL. Yet they made mistakes under Smith, too. So is it now all Burns' fault? The problem for Burns is that, unlike Smith, he did not have a reputation to soften the blow of bad games. He needs to prove himself as a coach. Fair or not, he hasn't done it so far. Sunday, he lost Logan Paulsen on all his special teams units (Fred Davis had to play some; Josh Morgan was in kick coverage in addition to returning kicks and punts). Burns lost Bryan Kehl to an injury. He lost his long snapper. It didn't help.
But there's just no defending special teams this year. They've been bad in all phases. But the Redskins have now surrendered two long returns, one for a touchdown; had a punt blocked and have done little in the return game. Who knew Richard Crawford's injury this summer would hurt so much in the return game?
I always go back to the 2000 season when the Redskins won six of their first eight games with high-profile talent (the Deion Sanders year, in case you forgot). But they finished 8-8 and their coach, Norv Turner, was fired. When fullback Larry Centers was asked about the chemistry, he essentially said you find out about how strong it is when you get punched in the mouth. The Redskins have been drilled in the mouth. They seem to have a strong locker room. But how they respond will impact the next several years. It'll help define Mike Shanahan's tenure in Washington.
I'm just as confused as the Redskins are on the non-fumble in which Jerome Murphy blocked a Dallas player into the ball. The officials said Murphy pushed him into the ball. “I thought you could do it,” Murphy said. “That's how we're coached up to do it. If you see someone close to the ball you want to line him up to the ball so you can hit him.” Said Shanahan, “You can block somebody into the football if they're engaged.” It was not a call that could be challenged. It would have given the Redskins the ball at the Dallas 24. So, yeah, it would have helped. But the Redskins had plenty of other chances. "So many things we can make an excuse for," Darrel Young said. "Controversial call. Move on from it.”
Alas, more special teams. And I'll just let Young have the floor: “It's embarrassing for us as a blocking unit. It's not on the returner if he has 10 guys in his face. ... It just sucks man. ... If I have to give a grade on special teams it was an F today. I'm one of the core guys and I played terrible. We lost on special teams. ... This week in practice special teams has to be different. We do the little things right. I guess we're just not executing. Teams aren't outscheming us, they're just outplaying us.” So there you go.
Griffin showed more of his old nimbleness and speed, running nine times for 77 yards. But he completed just 19 of 39 passes for 246 yards. If he throws more than 30 passes in a game, this offense is in trouble. It's just not their strength. But he also was under too much pressure and as the pressure increased his throws were more off-target. He needs to be better in the red zone, that's for sure. He is not helping them win games like he did last season. But I saw too many guys losing battles, on the line and at receiver, as well. Griffin needs more help than he did a year ago. I also think Griffin and the coaches will see he left yards out there in the pass game, whether because of overthrows or not seeing an open target.
Dallas lost starting running back DeMarco Murray and their best defensive player in end DeMarcus Ware, both in the first half. It didn't matter. They found a way to win despite something going against them. The blocks we saw on those long returns? I haven't seen those out of the Redskins this year. No big lanes. Nothing. I did see a big lane for Alfred Morris on his touchdown run, yet another example of how his patience forces defenses to overflow to where he's running. Some other runs were missed because blocks couldn't be sustained, whether on linebacker Sean Lee or, in Reed's case, on the backside linebacker. The latter turned one potential solid run into a 3-yarder.
The mistakes in this game, which were plentiful, came after two weeks to prepare.