Grasping at Straws

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With time running out to salvage the season, Tom Garrett lists a few reasons not to give up on the Redskins quite yet.

The mountain of evidence that the Redskins just aren't very good piles higher with each passing Sunday.  I've talked before about the team's defensive struggles in particular.  Last weekend against the Lions, Washington surrendered 441 yards, which was the best mark they've had so far this season.  When opponents are openly mocking your coverage schemes, that's not a great sign.

In all, Washington has given up nearly 1,500 yards in three games.  The Redskins are nothing if not balanced, though: Washington is the only team in the NFL that is ranked in the bottom four in rush defense and pass defense.  The Redskins are 31st out of 32 teams in both categories, in addition to being dead last in total defense.

However, if I'm crafting a reputation here for being level-headed, I might as well present a few reasons to look on the bright side before those remaining points of optimism likewise vanish:

1. The Giants are even worse: You think the Redskins are bad?  Good gravy, look at the Giants.  On second thought, don't look at them.  Avert your gaze at all costs.  The G-Men have given up 115 points already this year, the only team keeping Washington out of the basement in points allowed.  New York is coming off of a 38-0 beating at the hands of the previously winless Carolina Panthers and must now travel to undefeated Kansas City.  What's more, the Giants' offense has also sputtered of late, gaining a total of just 150 yards in that shutout loss to the Panthers.  The Jets amassed more penalty yardage in their win over Buffalo than the Giants had in offensive yards against Carolina.  Schadenfreude does not a season make, but it's at least a little comforting that there's a rival to whom we can point and say, "At least we're not that bad"  (Of course, make no mistake: The Giants use the Redskins for the same purpose).

2. The NFC is ridiculously wide-open: Of the six NFC playoff teams from 2012, only one (the 3-0 Seahawks) have a winning record in 2013.  What's more, only five teams in the entire conference have winning records at all - Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans.  If the season ended today, the last team in the NFC playoffs would be the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles!  And their only win was against . . . well, never mind.  Anyway, it's entirely reasonable to think that a mere two-game winning streak against the Raiders and Cowboys would get Washington right back into playoff and divisional-title contention.

3. Robert Griffin is a half-full glass: Accept the fact that Robert Griffin, III probably won't have the same explosiveness running the ball until perhaps next season.  RGIII can still run well when he needs to, and his passing numbers are solid.  The thing we have to keep in mind is that HE BLEW OUT HIS KNEE FOR THE SECOND TIME EIGHT MONTHS AGO!  His recovery, even if incomplete, has been borderline-miraculous.  Had it not been for Adrian Peterson's freakish bounce-back a year earlier, we would all be marveling at how well Griffin is doing, not wringing our hands over why he doesn't run the ball as much anymore, or feverishly clamoring for Kirk Cousins to play.

That's the entirety of the good news.

With all of that said, the Raiders game is now as close to a must-win as a team can have this early in the season.  Falling to 0-4 against a mediocre-at-best squad right before a bye would turn up the heat exponentially.  It would be the team's first 0-4 start since 2001, when Marty Schottenheimer (whose son was a coordinator!) began 0-5 before an 8-3 finish got the Skins back to .500 by season's end.

That wasn't enough to keep Marty from being dismissed after one year as Washington's head coach.

Along similar lines, I think there are coaches "coaching for their jobs" this week.  Specifically, I think another loss, especially one in which the defense looks as shaky as it has in the first three games, spells doom for Jim Haslett.  He'll be the fall guy for the team's troubles.

It would be difficult under those circumstances to make the argument that at least a coordinator shouldn't get fired.  And, although some aren't pleased with Kyle Shanahan's playcalling (especially the lack of touches for Alfred Morris last week), the defense has undeniably been far worse.

Beyond that, I said before the year that I thought this was an eight- or nine-win team.  I think that's still within reach, although even that possibility is slipping through the Redskins' grasp quickly.  But Washington should be able to grind out an 8-8 or 9-7 finish if it can win out against the other teams from the suddenly weak NFC East.  I think 9-7 would be a best-case scenario at this particular moment.

That may seem disappointing, but the point to remember is that an eight- or nine-win team will have a real shot to make the playoffs this year.

Like a lot of you, I'm close to writing this team off.  But I won't do it just yet.  Circumstances are such that the Redskins are still in the thick of it at 0-3.

Stay tuned, though.  Washington will be in for a long, tumultuous two weeks if the Oakland game doesn't end with the Redskins on top.

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