The Washington Redskins loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers offered plenty of winding paths for armchair quarterbacks (guilty!) to stray down this week. Which to select: the no-show on defense? The dropped passes? The inability of a veteran player to keep his cool when the blame for the lopsided score rested on his team’s shoulders, not the official’s?
With key rookies playing so well, the Redskins really should have a better record than 3-5. Much of this comes back to the question we posed early in the season at the District Sports Page: can the defense keep pace with the offense?
An AP article on ESPN talked about how, on Monday, Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan referenced the injury card when discussing the defense, which has been, to shamelessly borrow a Halloween-appropriate word, ghoulish:
“Shanahan said he thought the defense was going to be the strength of the team, but it’s not the same unit he expected because of injuries to starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Brandon Meriweather and some backups, as well as Tanard Jackson’s season-long suspension for failing a drug test.
‘”That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to improve in the second half of the season,’ Shanahan said.”
Injuries are a legitimate factor in the struggles of the Redskins’ defense. But the Steelers weren’t immune from defensive injuries either, and that didn’t stop them Sunday from being effective against one of the NFL’s most potent offenses. Ironically, Mike Tomlin is citing his defense and special teams as the reason the Steelers are only 4-3, according to this ESPN article.
Fretting over injuries is a great way to end up at 3-13, not .500 or possible playoff contention. That’s one of the most fascinating aspects of the New England Patriots’ dominance in the past decade. The personnel may change, but Bill Belichick knows how to adapt for success. If Redskins fans want the inebriation of a dominant franchise, that’s a useful lesson to learn now rather than later.
The play calling also has to get smarter. Not necessarily better (they have a lot of points), but smarter. The decision to have RGIII play wide receiver on one down has already received its due disgust. But the Redskins’ impressive fourth-down conversions, which finally stalled Sunday, beg the question: if the Redskins pick the right plays to call on fourth down, why can’t they do that on third down? They’re 29th in the league in third down conversion percentage, and third in fourth down conversion percentage. They’ve only missed one. And their fourth-down attempts are not a small sample size.
Then there’s the whole dropped passes situation. As someone who’s unlikely to catch even car keys when they’re tossed at me from a few feet away, I get that catching a pass isn’t as easy as A.J. Green makes it look, especially with a Pittsburgh defense breathing down on you. But it’s also a pretty crucial part of the job description. And to back up this football principle, I reference not ESPN, but Gisele Bundchen’s infamous statement after her husband lost the Super Bowl this year: “My husband cannot ******* throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times.”
And to end on a more fashionable note, the Redskins can take comfort in one thing from Sunday: bottom line, nothing was as wrong as the Steelers’ uniforms.