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The Skins Won’t Make the Playoffs, but Fans Can Still Be Optimistic

Robert Griffin III is the silver lining in a disappointing season.

Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Keith Allison.

It’s only been nine games, but to some it feels like the season is already over. At least for a day, that’s what Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan would have had us believe.

Sure, Shanahan changed his tune on that stance, quickly, and we’re all supposed to believe the Skins are still focused on making the playoffs this year. In reality, for a team with a 3-6 record, the playoffs ain’t happening.

With the Skins on a bye this week, it’s a good time to look at this team and this season. Unlike in years past, the anchor for this team is an awful defense. Washington’s coaches attempt to blame the defensive woes on injuries, and certainly losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the year hurt the team. But those two players would not prevent all of the defensive incompetence the Redskins routinely show.

Week after week, the Skins D gets torched by opposing offenses. The defense does poorly against the run and even worse against the pass. Going into the season, the Skins brain trust knew they had a weak secondary to defend the pass, and the idea was that a staunch pass rush would compensate for the backfield deficiencies. That idea has been about as successful as Bing.

Last week, the Skins defense allowed the 1-6 Carolina Panthers to drive 99 yards for a touchdown. Ninety-nine yards! It is impossible in the game of football to have a drive longer than 99 yards. Maybe that could be the slogan for the Redskins defense: Against us, anything is possible.

At some point, Shanahan and Washington’s (insert important-title-in-name-only here) Bruce Allen need to reconsider the defensive scheme. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has not delivered in his time in Washington. If anything, Haslett deconstructed what was a capable defensive unit playing a 4-3 scheme and rebuilt that into an incompetent and bumbling squad playing the 3-4.

And enough about injuries; every team in the league deals with injuries. Successful teams do not use the mishaps as a crutch.

Haslett has coached enough games, in DC and elsewhere, for the fans to know he is not the person for the job. In the offseason, the Skins hired Raheem Morris to serve as defensive backs coach. Morris also has experience as a defensive coordinator and a head coach. Though it is Morris’s secondary that has been the weakest link on a bad defense, I think it is time for the Skins to allow the younger, more energetic Morris to take over the defense.

Haslett can return to the retread NFL coaching bin where he hung out before the Shanahans brought him to Washington. Morris can’t do any worse.

What’s worse for the Redskins defense: There is little hope in sight. After a series of bogus penalties inflicted upon Washington’s salary cap number, the usually flamboyant free agent signings of owner Dan Snyder will have to wait another year. Combine the lack of free-agency cash with all of the traded draft picks used to obtain quarterback Robert Griffin III, and Skins fans can expect few reinforcements coming to the defensive side of the ball.

But there is a silver lining for Redskins fans—and his name is RG3.

Sure, the Redskins defense is abysmal. And too many wide receivers have dropped too many passes. And yeah, maybe the Skins can’t sign any marquee free agents because of a sham of a league ruling, and okay we know we won’t have a first-round draft pick for the next two years.

Even with all of that information, there is still room for optimism. Having a franchise quarterback can cure a lot of things. Outside of the two most recent losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers, RG3 has kept the Redskins in every game. The kid has the talent and heart to lead this team. The payoff may not come for a few years, but it is hard to watch and listen to Griffin without envisioning playoff games in his future.

But as good as RG3 is now and may become in the future, he still needs a quality team around him for the Skins to ever deliver on his promise.

Long before Peyton and Eli Manning, there was Archie Manning. Considered an all-time great in college at Ole Miss, Archie was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and breathed life into a lifeless franchise. In more than a decade in New Orleans, Archie was a fan favorite, but the team never accomplished much because Archie had no tools around him.

The suggestion here is not that RG3 will have a similar career arc as Archie, but to show a cautionary tale of promise wasted. For decades, the Redskins searched for the right player behind center. Now they’ve found him. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to waste.

Find JP Finlay on Twitter @jpfinlay.
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