- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Do they still have a shot at the playoffs? Mathematically, of course they do. This is the NFC East after all. And Dallas losing Sunday night does help Washington, but Philadelphia did win and the Redskins now must do something they haven’t done all season: beat a decent team on the road. And Matt Flynn isn’t walking through Philly’s doors any time soon. It’s one thing to point to another team’s demise as a reason you still have a chance. It’s better -- and much more important -- to point to your own play as a reason. The latter is something the Redskins can’t do. Not after blowing a double-digit lead to a bad team missing numerous starters. That loss stung them as much as any all season because it was so eye-opening. They still haven’t shown the ability to play well in consecutive games. Heck, they’re a Mike McCoy common-sense play call at the 1-yard line from being 2-7. The Redskins need to play a complete game first. Yeah, the division stinks; it’s why no one can quit on the season. But the bottom line right now is that the Redskins are a bad team in a bad division. That hardly translates into optimism. At some point your play has to provide hope and optimism.
Can they beat the Eagles? Offensively the Redskins are in a much better spot than when they faced Philadelphia in the season opener. Robert Griffin III is more of a threat running the ball and his passing the past two games has been solid. Jordan Reed was not a factor in the first game, either. Yes, the defense is stopping the run better since that game, but it's not shutting teams down because of it -- just making them one-dimensional. And that one dimension (passing) keeps hurting them. It’s also something the Eagles have done well lately, especially out of play-action. Philadelphia has, amazingly, lost 10 straight at home (and is 0-4 this season). Of course the Eagles are beatable. They also suffered injuries Sunday, including left tackle Jason Peters. But they’ll enter playing much better ball than Washington. Of the two teams, they’re the ones who can point to their own mediocre play and the division and say, "There’s a chance."
Where’s the pass rush? They haven’t closed out games in part because they’re not getting to the passer when provided double-digit leads. There are plenty of reasons -- teams throwing quickly; extra attention paid to certain rushers. But the Redskins aren’t the only team that has faced these situations. They just haven’t overcome them; it’s not on one guy, either. It’s on the entire front. Against Minnesota, it was also on zone coverage that did little to buy the rush an extra second to get home. Works hand in hand. And this isn’t about recording sacks, it’s about making quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Where’s the reason for hope? Since Week 3, the Redskins have averaged 5.04 yards per carry, tied with Miami for best in the NFL. And they lead the league in rushing yards per game at 168.43. Everything they do starts with being able to run the ball. They also have a receiver in Pierre Garcon who has caught a combined 14 passes for 292 yards the past two games. They have Reed who has 44 catches. They have a quarterback who is feeling much better these days and it shows. But they need to produce more consistently in the red zone (see: Minnesota). If you were told before the season that they would be running this well, and would be healthy, and Garcon would be having a great year, there’s no way you’d think, "3-6." But this team hasn’t yet mastered the art of the so-called “little things” of the game, something that playoff teams do.
Is Mike Shanahan on the hot seat? If the Redskins keep playing the way they have been and finish with another double-digit loss season, their third in four years, then what coach could escape the hot seat? No one should. And right now, you absolutely have to question everything because something isn’t working here. The culture is better; the record needs to be as well. But this is where I’ll preach patience: Let the season play out. A coaching change has major ramifications and, as we’ve seen, these sorts of moves haven’t paid off for owner Dan Snyder. Last season is proof that “you never know” what will happen. Yes, it will be tough to duplicate that because the signs they’ve shown thus far do not add up to a hot finish. First, though, the Redskins must start playing well -- it’s not about the playoffs at this point; it’s about finishing strong and looking like a well-coached team. That’s always a good way to avoid a hot seat.