Article by guest contributor Joey Billhimer
From the looks of the season’s first half, Washington Redskins players and fans alike may be in for another long season. After going through a “rebuilding” phase last season, Mike Shanahan and his team of two years looked to be somewhat straightened out. Over the summer, trades were made to remove two of Washington’s biggest problems on and off the field: Donavan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth. Even with the pair gone, critics had had their doubts about the relatively young team. Going against all nay-sayers, Rex Grossman predicted that the Redskins would win the division, a long shot on any experts playoff picks. But, Rex and the ‘Skins bolted off to a 3-1 start, and fans had something to look forward to heading into the bye week atop a difficult NFC East.
Since the Redskins impressive start to a difficult schedule, they have dropped four straight, starting with a loss to a one win team in the Philadelphia Eagles, and are currently sitting at 3-5. In the heartbreaking loss, Rex Grossman re-adopted the nickname he had been given in Chicago, ‘Train-Rex’, and threw four interceptions. After his third, fans erupted in “We want Beck” chants, getting their wishes granted in the fourth quarter when journeyman John Beck stepped under center. Although his numbers weren’t out of the ordinary, coach Shanahan decided to start Beck in favor of Grossman. Since that game, Beck has started against Carolina, Buffalo, and San Francisco. He has thrown for 858 yard on 132 attempts, completing a below average 60.6 % of his passes. Some aren’t pleased at all with Becks performance, but Mike Shanahan insists that it will take a few games for him to “develop”. Even if Beck does have the potential to develop into a decent NFL quarterback, Bruce Allen and the front office will most likely be choosing between a wide varieties of signal-callers in the 2012 draft.
Rex Grossman wasn’t the only player who had a rough day in the Eagles loss. Starting left guard, Kory Lichtensteiger and tight-end Chris Cooley were both lost due to season-ending injuries. Lichtensteiger torn his ACL, MCL, and meniscus in what his teammates called a dirty play. Stepping in for the 6’2, 292 pound beast was center Will Montgomery, the beginning of a complete Offensive-line shift. The new line was a complete letdown in Week 8, allowing a franchise record nine sacks on John Beck. It was once again shifted before the Week 9 match- up against the San Francisco 49ers, which only allowed one sack. Another big loss was fan favorite Chris Cooley, whose finger injury landed him on the IR, along with on-going knee problems. Fans might have seen the last of Cooley, who hinted at his press conference that he may not return, even though he would do anything to remain in the ‘Burgundy and Gold’. Also, leading rusher Tim Hightower was lost to a season ending knee injuries, when it “buckled”,
early in the third quarter against Carolina.
Buried deep beneath the Redskins early season struggles are some of the positives. The biggest surprise is the re-birth of Fred Davis. The 4 year tight-end out of USC finally got the starting nod when Chris Cooley was injured last year, but didn’t see as much action as he had hoped for. This year, he is the team leader in receptions with nearly 600 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Another pleasant surprise is rookie Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue, who made the switch from defensive end to linebacker, a move that was questioned, yet has thus-far been a success. Kerrigan and fellow linebacker Brian Orakapo have been a nuisance for opposing
quarterbacks. Nicknamed ‘Kerrakapo’, the fierce duo have combined for 66 tackles and 8.5 sacks. If these are the numbers they can produce in their first year together, there is a bright future ahead for hard-hitting pair.
Another huge concern for the Redskins is the offensive play-calling by Kyle Shanahan. Through the first half of the season, his work has been a question in the locker room, caused by his changed mind-set. Just when the ‘Skins seemed to get a pass game going in the early season, Shanahan opted to a shaky running back situation. After losing the leading rusher Tim Hightower to a season ending leg injury, you would think that he would try to work around his QB’s arm. Instead, he depended on the running game. Then, in the Week 8 game against the Bills when the young, in-experienced receivers couldn’t make plays, he only allowed 12 rushes for a pathetic 26 yards. He didn’t make that mistake against San Francisco, allowing his backs to run 32 times for 138 yards. In the past few years, management has not been able to find a consistent offensive play caller, and the answer does not lie in Kyle Shanahan.
At the halfway mark of the season, the Redskins are 3-5, three games back from the 6-2 Giants. There is still plenty of time for the Redskins to make some tiny changes in their roster, and once again become a contender in this close division. Simple mistakes like turnovers and blocking can be easily fixed. It’s the problems at offense that will take time. Also, new play-calling is a must if Washington wants to fulfill backup Rex Grossman’s promise. No matter what way you look at it, mid-season change is needed and with-in reach. If not, the Redskins might be involuntarily joining the NFL’s newest campaign, “Suck for Luck”.