Reaching the half-way point of the NFL season, Washington, whilst maintaining a healthy position in the standings, is showing ill-health on the injury report. Christian Burt goes Skin Deep with some lingering optimism for a post-season in D.C.
This half-time story of the 2018 Washington Redskins can, and should, start with a positive. For if there is one cast iron fact in a city of fake news: the Redskins are 5-3 and currently sit atop the NFC East.
Let us not, however, call for the marching band and hail any sort of victory just yet.
The loss on Sunday was a bad one. For the second time this season (the first being New Orleans), Washington had no answer to an opponent with a high tempo offense, as the Atlanta Falcons so wilfully exposed.
The loss itself was bad in practically every department, with even the vastly improved Redskins interior D-Line getting gashed in the run. Far more sour and devastating, however, was the confirmed news this week of the season ending torn pec injury of the outstandingly aggressive guard Brandon Scherff.
The absence of Scherff as the key part of the unit to create rushing opportunities and gaps for the evergreen RB Adrian Peterson has the potential to eliminate what has been the key factor in Washington’s positive record thus far.
When Peterson rushes for around the one hundred yard mark, the Redskins have won the football game. They’ve indeed hailed victory five times in this manner as the passing game has been consistently mediocre at best.
In addition to Scherff, Washington also lost another starting guard for the season in Shawn Lauvao. Morgan Moses remains day to day, which leaves the much vaunted Redskins O-Line with only Chase Roullier as healthy from the five starters as Trent Williams is recovering from thumb surgery and will continue to be a much missed absentee for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Panic gets you nowhere
The immediate aftermath from the Falcons debacle was a ramping up of the criticism of Alex Smith.
No doubt this was borne out of a rational fear. The argument for doom & gloom is that with a much changed and less cohesive O-Line, they’ll be limited space created for Peterson to head downfield on first down.
The argument will be played out as thus: the season will spiral downwards given the overreliance on the running game of a 33 year old and a passing game which evidenced over the first 8 games seems to indicate limited cohesion between head coach, quarterback and the receivers.
I’m not subscribing to that downbeat scenario just yet, particularly as I thought Alex played pretty well vs. Atlanta in a game where literally nothing went well for Washington.
Yes, we are aware that Washington went safe with the free agency signature of Alex Smith. In some ways, and I don’t particularly state this as a negative, Smith has always been about what he doesn’t do (lose the ball cheaply) rather than standout QB greatness.
It feels like I’m going against the grain of the fan base, but in the current injury ravaged situation that the Redskins find themselves in, the known play of Smith is a positive for a team that essentially needs to match its opening eight game 5-3 record to make the play-offs.
How might they do that?
My main focus would be to not deviate or abandon the running game. Trent Williams is likely returning within a maximum of 3 games (my bet by the way is that Trent suits up vs. the Cowboys) and that’ll be a huge boost.
In Bill Callahan, Washington has just about the best equipped offensive line guru in the NFL to prepare any new guys along that line.
Two of the immediate SOS guys, Jonathan Cooper and Austin Howard are not on paper bad pick-ups with 13 and 16 games in 2017 for Dallas and Baltimore respectively. It’ll be a challenge, but I believe a guy like Callahan can keep the Redskins competitive with this veteran help. Not being on a roster doesn’t equate to a bad football player and both Cooper and Howard have not had bad careers in the NFL.
Away from the offensive side of the ball, the Redskins will be hoping that the Falcons game won’t be repeated against another high octane team in Tampa Bay.
In general, the play from the WSH defence has provided hope for both the immediate season and future days with that youthful interior Alabama Wall of Jon Allen and Daron Payne, together with sack leader Matt Ioannidis. It’s been dominant against the likes of the elite threats of Barkley, McCaffrey and Elliott, but had a much less satisfactory day vs the Falcons.
The backfield and ILBs also had a game to forget on Sunday, but there is enough talent with Josh Norman, D.J Swearinger and Zach Brown to reason that Washington can indeed register 5 wins.
The Final Analysis
Stating the obvious perhaps, but if the Redskins record was at 3-5 or .500, I’d suggest that any hopes of entering the post season would be firmly placed in a range starting at extremely slim and ending at nigh impossible given the current injury woes.
There is hope, however, that Smith now 8 games into a slow burning Washington career can start to showcase his proven ability to extend plays and call upon all that experience that comes with nearly fifteen years as an NFL QB.
A sooner rather than later return of offensive weapons slot WR Jamison Crowder and the outstanding, but too often unavailable, RB Chris Thompson on third down would also greatly aid Smith. This is even more vital given that the main speed threat for Washington, Paul Richardson, is now also out for the season.
Just before posting this blog, a fact came my way on Twitter – Alex Smith when with Kansas City was 1-5 in 2015. The Chiefs went on to win 10 straight and make the play offs, and this was without Jamaal Charles. Legitimate hope springs eternal that the Skins can grind five out.