First, the good news.
Despite abysmal opening halves in two consecutive games, an 0-2 record, and some defects that seem to be too systemic to fix quickly, the Washington Redskins are exactly one game out of first place in the NFC East.
But there are obviously major problems.
The Redskins have looked completely overmatched in the first two quarters of their games against the Eagles and Packers. In a league built upon a foundation of parity, Washington has been outscored by an aggregate 57-7 in the first half in 2013. Their blowout loss to Green Bay this past Sunday took place amidst a week of NFL action that included 11 games decided by one score, and 13 decided by ten points or fewer.
Bucking that trend of competitiveness, the Washington Redskins trailed the Packers 31-0 in the third quarter before finally mustering some points - and it would've been 38-0 if not for a fortuitous Green Bay fumble that bounced into a pylon just before halftime.
Not only are the Redskins losing, but they're doing so in ways that are downright disheartening.
The numbers are damning and, by now, all-too-familiar: Washington has surrendered a staggering 1,023 yards, last in the NFL. The Redskins' 71 points allowed is the second-worst total in the league. Washington is also second-to-worst in first downs allowed, 30th in net yardage per pass attempt, and dead last in rush defense.
Last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers was 26/31 for 334 yards and three touchdowns at halftime. Granted, the Packers have an outstanding offense, but consider that Brandon Starks, filling in for the concussed Eddie Lacy, rushed for 132 yards. Starks' performance was the first time in three years any Packer had gone over the century mark.
Sunday's game against the Lions may not be a "must-win," but it's something within hailing distance of that. The Redskins have only one more pre-bye game after Detroit, and that's a road trip to the surprisingly frisky Oakland Raiders. Despite Washington's post-break winning streak last year, going into the bye winless in 2013 seems like a disastrous path.
The media and fan scrutiny alone would be burdensome. The second-guessing over Robert Griffin, III has already begun. Honestly, I think that whatever the Redskins decided to do would put them in something close to a no-win situation. If they keep him off the field and the Redskins are 0-2, people would be outraged. If they keep him off the field and Cousins does well, that creates a quarterback controversy. If they put him on the field and he racks up decent numbers (albeit with deep deficits), but the Redskins lose, a vocal minority either clamor for RGIII to run more or clamor for Cousins.
We've gotten the latter scenario, of course. And both points are misguided in my view.
The RGIII decision is one you make in July. Not now. And, once you make it, you have to commit to it.
Whether you agree with the ultimate outcome or not, the organization has made that commitment.
Shanahan and Son took some heat last year for letting Griffin absorb so much punishment by design, and probably rightfully so. I don't have any philosophical problem with diminishing that aspect of his play for now, possibly even holding off until 2014 to reinstate the full array of read-option plays. And, as long as Griffin continues to be productive throwing the ball, there's no reason even to contemplate a quarterback change (although it would be nice if some of that productivity came prior to the game being out-of-reach).
The guy is the franchise player. If he can walk, he will play.
Come to think of it, we literally learned that lesson last year, if I recall correctly.
But all of that might be entirely beside the point when it comes to discussing the team's true weaknesses. Despite the offensive struggles in the early going, most of the pressure to improve has to be on the Washington defense.
Aside from the numerical woes I quoted earlier, the Redskins have a banged-up secondary that isn't close to being a top-level unit, even when healthy. The Packers game featured several noticeable coverage snafus. Their tackling over the first two weeks has been so bad as to border on collaboration.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Jim Haslett take the immediate fall if the Skins do go winless prior to their bye week.
Now, staring 0-3 in the face, Washington has to figure out how to stop the most gifted receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson. When James Jones - a very good NFL receiver, but no Megatron - sets a personal best for single-game receiving yardage in two quarters, the mind boggles at what devastation Johnson might perpetrate against the Redskins.
It seems unlikely that Washington's defensive backfield will suddenly transform into an elite unit in a week, but fans can hope (expect?) that the tackling of the defense as a whole will (should? must?) improve. A more pressing point, though, is that the offense has to play well from the opening snap of the first possession, not the opening snap of the third quarter.
The nature of sports, particularly in a world with an insatiable news cycle, is to overstate any adversity (or triumph). All hyperbole aside, however, this team is at an early crossroads. It's not time to panic yet, but, come 4:30 or so on Sunday, that may not still be the case.