I've been struggling all day trying to figure out what to write about the Washington Redskins that's new or contributes to the furthering of the coverage of what's become of their season. Spent a good portion of my two-hour drive home from Philadelphia thinking about this, to tell you the truth, and what I've come up with is... not much.
The issues that showed up in Sunday's shutout loss to the Bills are not new, nor are they completely surprising. I did pick the Redskins to win the game (er... um... just missed!) because I felt like it was a matchup they could theoretically exploit. The Bills had never won one of the Toronto games, and their defense appeared to be the kind of defense against which the Redskins would work their ball-control, run-first offense. What I underestimated was the extent to which the Redskins are shorthanded on offense and how the injuries -- especially those on the offensive line -- have basically eradicated their ability to run that ball-control, run-first offense against probably any defense in the NFL right now.
When I spoke with Mike Shanahan in training camp, we talked about a lot of things, and during that discussion I asked him to guess which topic was the one on which I got the most Redskins-related questions. "Quarterback," he said without hesitating, and when I told him he was correct he went on to explain that quarterback was basically the least of his concerns on offense. He believed that Rex Grossman and John Beck were each perfectly capable of running his offense as long as the group he assembled around them took care of their business. He was more concerned about making sure the offensive line and the run game and the receivers were as good as they needed to be.
Well, through the first four games, they were. The line was outstanding. The run game fell in line. Tim Hightower was as advertised, if not as a pure runner then surely as an asset in the passing game. Grossman could look shaky, but he was getting the job done, and most importantly, he wasn't being counted on to win games by himself. That was the plan, and it was working.
Then, Kory Lichtensteiger and Trent Williams got injured, forcing a shakeup on the line and exposing the Redskins' lack of depth there. Then, Hightower, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss got injured, depriving the offense of three key blocking assets. And now, with Beck at quarterback, we see what has become of the offense now that the group around the signal-caller is not as strong as it needs to be. Beck couldn't do a thing Sunday, and a large part of the reason for that was because he had no time to do anything. The Redskins aren't blocking anyone right now, even a little bit, and everything works off of that. Get on the defense all you want, but the fact is they're being asked to do way too much. The offense needs to possess and control and move the ball at least a little bit in order for the Redskins to have a chance, and right now it doesn't because it can't.
Can it get better? Sure. Williams eventually will be back, and Moss further down the road. There remains talent in the running back corps that could be deployed if they could get out in front in one of these games. And as is the case whenever change comes to any offensive line, things will get better the longer the new guys play next to each other. I don't see the Redskins losing the rest of their games, as some are suggesting it appears they will. I believe they can improve on offense, if only because this has to be rock bottom right now, doesn't it?
This isn't about Beck or Grossman or what kind of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is. Right now, the problem with the Redskins is that they don't have enough good players on offense. Some of the reason for that is the injuries, and some is the fact that they weren't ultra-deep or ultra-talented on that side of the ball to begin with. They prioritized defense last offseason and I believe they intend to prioritize offense in the next one. But the result of all of this right now is that, as an overall offense, they're just not very good. This is what worried Mike Shanahan far more in training camp than quarterback did, and it appears his concerns were accurately directed.