In the winter of 2010, the Redskins and Browns made bold moves, giving gobs of money and total control to Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, respectively. Shanahan would have final say over Washington's roster moves as coach. Holmgren took over the entire organization as team president in Cleveland, putting together a coaching staff and front office.
These were splashy moves, meant to invigorate long-suffering franchises. Two of the greatest offensive minds, nearing the end of their careers, would finally find a quarterback of the future for these starved fans, and begin piling up the yards and points after playing stale offensive football for so long.
And what do you know, the results in both Washington and Cleveland -- through the first season and a half of their tenures -- have been almost exactly the same. Shanahan is 9-16; Holmgren is 8-17. Both are sitting in last place.
Shanahan to stick with Grossman
Both are still muddling through their quarterback situations, both have abysmal offenses with marginal talent and the future is decidedly murky. Both made critical hires of less experienced coaches they were close with: Mike's son Kyle Shanahan as Washington's offensive coordinator and Pat Shurmur, nephew of longtime Holmgren defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, as Cleveland's coach (but also, in essence, its offensive coordinator, play-caller and quarterback mentor). Both teams passed on what looks like it could be a banner class for rookie quarterbacks to instead address defense high in the 2011 draft.
Both teams could be looking at some staff changes come January, and, one has to wonder, at this stage of their careers, how long either man sticks around. These rebuilding projects, once they turn for the worst, rarely last the full five years. Redskins fans need only think back to Joe Gibbs's comeback to see how abruptly things can end. It's hard to project any offensive gains for either team this season, and without major improvement next year, I'm thinking one of these two could be moving on.
The Redskins are averaging 15.1 points a game (and people complained about Jim Zorn's offense), and while Shanahan staked his reputation on the QB combo of Rex Grossman and John Beck, you might not find anyone else in the league who would want either starting games for them. It's gone about as poorly as many figured it might. As a team, the Redskins have a 68 quarterback rating, behind only the Curtis Painter-led Colts and the Blaine Gabbert-led Jaguars. Washington quarterbacks have combined for eight passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions (tied for most in the NFL).
Since its Week 5 bye, Washington is 0-5, scoring four, yes, four, total touchdowns (two runs by Beck, and two passes by Beck), this despite not exactly facing elite foes (Philadelphia, Carolina, Buffalo, San Francisco and Miami). The Redskins have scored one touchdown in the past three games -- a garbage time pass by Beck in the loss to the 49ers and against a prevent defense to boot.
The cupboard is bare at all skill positions. This team isn't a draft away. It's several drafts and free-agent classes from fielding a competitive offense. And, like the Browns, those three early-season wins will likely be more than enough to make sure Andrew Luck doesn't fall in their lap as the top overall pick.
A year ago, the Browns had Peyton Hillis and a plucky Colt McCoy, but now you have to wonder if either will be back in that role in 2012. Cleveland also lacks receivers and tight ends. The Browns lead the league in dropped passes. They could use new ideas on offense -- it's hard to figure Shurmur wears as many hats next year.
The Browns have two touchdowns in their past four games and, just like the Redskins, they were in garbage time. Cleveland has lost five of its past six games -- the lone win being a 6-3 victory at home over a Charlie Whitehurst-led Seattle squad -- and the Browns have surpassed 17 points just once this season, against the winless Colts.
It would likely take a massive trade, with years of first-round picks, to pry away Luck from the Colts -- and there's no reason to believe Indy won't lock that up -- so these franchises will again be at a crossroads this offseason. And if the road to respectability gets bumpier and murkier over the next 12 months, I can't help but wonder if someone is looking for the escape hatch by next winter. Both men are coaching largely for legacy now, and as the real-time failures begin to further obscure their past successes, at this stage of their lives and careers, it might not make the most sense to stick around for the long haul.
Odds and ends
» Consider this: During the first 16 weeks of the 2010 season (a span of 14 games played), when Matt Cassel was working with Charlie Weis, the QB ranked fifth in the NFL with a 99 passer rating, 27 touchdowns and five picks. Then word leaked of Weis' imminent departure to Florida, prior to Week 17. Since that point (a span of 10 games, including Week 17 of last season, and every start in 2011), Cassel has a rating of 70.4 (20th in the NFL in that span), completing just 57 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and 11 INTs. Add in the playoff loss to Baltimore (Cassel was 9 of 18 for 70 yards with three interceptions) and the picture gets even dimmer. Sounds like Cassel could miss the rest of the season with a hand injury. Could be some big decisions looming in Kansas City, on the roster and in the coaching ranks.
Cards should be Skelton's crew
» I'm not saying Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are getting old, but watching them every week, they aren't making the kind of game-changing plays we've come to expect. Both are having very quiet years by their standards, and well off the kind of highlight-reel pace they set a year ago. The key sack, the forced fumble, the interception, the defensive touchdown -- it hasn't been there with any regularity. Both Pittsburgh's and Baltimore's defenses have been starved for turnovers at times. Maybe they finish with a flurry -- Reed certainly did a year ago -- and you find yourself waiting for them to make an indelible play in many games, especially late in them, but it hasn't happened. Reed has one sack, one forced fumble and two picks, while Polamalu has one sack, and no forced fumbles or interceptions.
» The Eagles are done, and some of the whispers you heard about Nnamdi Asomugha in the past are cropping up in scouting circles again. He doesn't shadow the other team's top receiver, he hasn't been a part of any winning programs, he's not a big INT guy, his reputation maybe exceeded some of the production. His offsides penalty late in Sunday's loss negated a would-be punt and extended what turned out to be a game-winning drive, with the Eagles unable to stop Fitzgerald much of the day. The Eagles' fourth-quarter meltdowns are becoming legendary now.