Washington Redskins  

 

Exit Interview: Offensive issues root of the Redskins' woes

Mel Evans / Associated Press
Mike Shanahan will have to solve his team's offensive struggles if the Redskins hope to compete next season.

With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of each team's past season and spin it forward.

2011 in a Nutshell: Rexy wasn't so sexy, and neither was the tale of the 2011 Redskins. Washington went 5-11, which was proceeded by back-to-back 6-10 and 4-12 campaigns. Everyone wanted Jim Zorn run out of town, and the nutshell-sized story of the Shanahan Redskins has a simple logline: Man takes over bad team, and said team is still bad ... 11-21 bad.

What Went Right: Jim Haslett's defense kept this team in games more often than not. The defense finished 16th in the league. That might not sound overly impressive, but consider the fact that the Washington offense constantly gave the ball away (35 turnovers, 30th in the NFL), and couldn't throw the ball deep to save its life. Haslett's unit was often asked to keep the Redskins afloat. The pass defense limited its exposure well, failing as often as it succeeded, finishing 12th overall despite a robust 41 sacks from the pass rush.

There's talent there with linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who combined for 16.5 sacks in 2011. London Fletcher might be 165 years old, but he registered 166 tackles this past season. That guy plays all over the field, and the half step he's lost is counterbalanced by a football IQ and attitude that is off the charts. Another guy who quietly had an outstanding season was Josh Wilson. He only allowed 36 completions despite being thrown at a whopping 85 times. That 42.4 completion percentage was only two points higher than Darrelle Revis'. True story. And don't forget about LaRon Landry, who still can play when he's healthy.

When Grossman and the offense had some semblance of a vertical attack, like in the tough road win at Seattle, the Redskins had a shot. Truth is, Shanahan's offense did a good job sustaining long drives, especially when his running-back-by-committee approach was working. Washington marched on 33 10-play drives, which tied for second in the NFL behind only the dynamic Saints offense.

What Went Not So Right: The Redskins' issue was how hard they had to work to score, as they had the worst vertical passing attack in the league. Talk about ugly: When throwing the ball over 20 yards, Washington quarterbacks had a 25.4 passer rating. This is not a limited medical study performed on a dozen cockroaches, either. We're talking 66 pass attempts. They were downright terrible.

As was their quarterback play come midseason. In the six-game losing streak that deep-sixed their season, Redskins quarterbacks threw four touchdowns to 11 interceptions for a 65.8 passer rating. The offensive line stunk up the joint as well, allowing 23 sacks during that time. Not to mention, that group was hit hard by injury. The wide receivers were strictly average, with the best player (Santana Moss) also being one of the many walking wounded in Washington. Jabar Gaffney and Fred Davis had nice seasons, but the Redskins sorely need a stud No. 1 WR.

While Roy Helu had a fine rookie season, and even caught 49 balls, one wonders if the ground attack would've been more consistent if Shanahan decided on one guy instead of juggling Helu, Ryan Torain, Evan Royster, Tim Hightower, and "Who knows?" from one week to the next (even though much of that was caused by injury). Remember: Although he had a multiple productive running backs in Denver, the Broncos weren't rotating from week to week. Back then it was season to season.

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Offseason Crystal Ball: The front office is looking to upgrade the offense across the board, particularly at quarterback. Can Washington do it all in one fell swoop?

Getting Matt Flynn to come play at FedEx Field sounds great, but most consider him headed to Miami. DeSean Jackson would give the Redskins a vertical threat, but perhaps making a play for Vincent Jackson would be the safer move. Then there's the idea of fortifying the interior line. Free agent center Chris Myers has played in a scheme similar to Washington's, and he played for both Kyle Shanahan in Houston and Mike Shanahan in Denver. Scott Wells played out his contract in Green Bay, and is also on the market.

So is there anyone else worth mentioning?

Yes, Peyton Manning should be available. And yes, he is a huge upgrade over Grossman, John Beck, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Jeff George, Gus Frerotte, Heath Shuler, Mark Rypien and every other Redskins QB of the past two decades. But why would Manning, who is soon to be 36 and has a nerve issue in his neck, want to play behind an O-line that allowed 41 sacks last season? Secondly, where are the ancillary parts that would give Manning a chance to win another Lombardi Trophy? I love Jabar Gaffney, too, but come on. As mentioned, the 'Skins have no prime-time players on the outside. Seattle, or perhaps even Kansas City, has a better shot at landing Manning if winning is more important to him than the money. (FYI: The Redskins have over $40 million in cap space.)

As far as retaining their own guys, the Redskins probably will franchise Davis, while making sure Fletcher stays in the burgundy and gold. Defensive end Adam Carriker, Hightower and Landry are all free agents.

Team Needs and Draft: If quarterback is not addressed in free agency, then the Redskins have to do something with the sixth pick. The problem is, that pick is not high enough to get Baylor's Robert Griffin III, and it's probably too valuable to take a kid like Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. As discussed, the wideout spot needs help sorely. So if the Redskins somehow sign Flynn, then this pick becomes all about wide receiver. Help in the secondary and offensive line surely would be a plus, as well as depth in the front seven, but quarterback and wide receiver are the prime concerns.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Elliot_Harrison.

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