Redskins must determine if injuries alone led to downfall

The end to the Washington Redskins’ playoff hopes was accompanied by the usual assortment of questions, highlighted by a two-word query: What if? As in, what if the Redskins had stayed healthy, especially on offense?

The Redskins, officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, now must determine if health was the only reason for their second-half slide. They certainly were decimated on offense. Of their top 22 players on the Week 1 depth chart, only nine played in Saturday’s loss to Tennessee. The rest were hurt. The Redskins have 21 players on injured reserve, and a few more could join them this week.

It leads to serious issues, and it led to a team trying to keep its meager postseason hopes alive by starting its fourth quarterback, one who wasn’t here a month ago. Five players have started at left guard and four at right guard. The Redskins lost their top two quarterbacks in a two-week span, though Josh Johnson’s play the past two weeks provided a spark. It took a toll on the offense. Scouts from other teams wondered how the Redskins were staying in games, given their injuries.

But the Redskins must decide if it was just the injuries that led to their downfall. Coach Jay Gruden does not appear to be on a hot seat, though nothing is official, and as he said recently, as a coach, “You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine, and then you’re not fine.” He has two years remaining on his contract, and firing him would require a $10 million buyout in addition to whatever members of his staff are owed.

Team president Bruce Allen, completing his ninth season and seventh without a playoff berth, will be scrutinized, but there hasn’t been much smoke, let alone a fire, about his possible exit. All of this can change, and owner Dan Snyder could make changes. It might just be on defense with coordinator Greg Manusky. His group was far healthier than the offense, but it regressed for whatever reason -- whether because of players or scheme. Safety D.J. Swearinger certainly believes it was about the scheme: He ripped Manusky to the media after Saturday’s loss. Gruden said Sunday that he’ll likely meet with Swearinger on Monday and determine if disciplinary action is warranted.

“I don’t know why he feels that way, but I don’t think Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne and Mason Foster and the rest of the guys feel the same way,” Gruden said.

At one point, the Redskins were 6-3 and held a two-game lead in the NFC East. They’ve lost five of their past six. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a leg injury that put his career in jeopardy; Colt McCoy broke his leg two weeks later.

“It’s very disappointing, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “You look at where we were at 6-3, we had a lot of things going positively. I felt like we were still underachieving, especially on offense. Alex was just starting to get his rhythm a little bit, get a lot more familiar with the players and what we were doing and getting better and better. Then he goes down, and obviously Colt goes down, and we had issues with the guards and tight ends and everybody else. It is a tough pill to swallow because I know we have a very talented team here, and I feel like I didn’t get enough out of them to get us in a position to advance to the playoffs."

The only players who have started every game on offense are running back Adrian Peterson, center Chase Roullier and right tackle Morgan Moses. In their first nine games, the Redskins averaged 337.4 yards and 19.56 points per game. Since then, they’ve averaged 278.2 yards and 17.5 points, but they haven’t topped 16 points in the past four games.

Saturday summed up the Redskins' season: a gritty effort that wasn’t enough. That’s why it was as subdued a locker room as the Redskins have had in a long time. Gruden even paused for a moment as he considered the players’ effort, appearing to get emotional in the news conference -- something that has not happened in the past. Nobody directed anger at Johnson for his fourth-quarter interception that ended a shot at a tying field goal late in the game. Instead, afterward in the locker room, linebacker Ryan Anderson walked over to him and said, “I appreciate you, 8,” referring to his jersey number. Johnson won over players; he just couldn’t produce enough with a makeshift attack.

“This group is different from any other group I’ve been around,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. “Guys on defense continue to fight on every play. ... I just wish we can continue to stay together ... we really grew together and really became a true team.”

It adds to the frustration of the season for Washington. But Gruden said he still could have coaxed more out of them.

"We could have done better,” Gruden said. “We had the skill on defense to be a very good defense. Offensively, we had enough people in here to be productive. We left some plays out on the field and a few bad calls here and there. That's ultimately on me. They saw us compete [Saturday]. We had every opportunity to win that game and a different call here by me or what have you, maybe something a little bit different, maybe I could’ve gotten a little more out of them.”