There is trouble brewing in Washington, and it doesn't involve the Senate or the White House.
Redskins Nation, your team is in dire need of being rebuilt. Yes, I know owner Daniel Snyder hired coach Mike Shanahan in the offseason to cure all that ails the 'Skins, but so far this year the foundation for being rebuilt looks unstable without an eye towards the future. The only positive move made in 2010 was the return to their classic yellow pants, yet the players performing in them look horrible.
This indictment of the Redskins isn't just about Albert Haynesworth and his suspension from the team. Enough trees in the Pacific Northwest have given up their lives to everyone sharing their opinion on the Redskins' $100 million man. We don't need another column discussing a situation that should have been handled before camp started.
There is an old cliché in football -- or any sports for that matter -- which is: "You are either coaching it, or allowing it to happen." What is happening with Haynesworth has been allowed. Washington's failure to, as Deputy Barney Fife would always tell Sheriff Andy Taylor, "Nip it! Nip it! Nip it!" in the bud has caused this dissension that has run rampant throughout the team.
Haynesworth is just one mess the Redskins are dealing with right now. Their inability to show any significant progress this year under new management has to be a huge concern to Snyder and the fan base. In fact, the Redskins are in worse shape than they were last year under Jim Zorn. At least last year the 'Skins could play a little defense, which is clearly not the case this season. In fact, in every statistical category -- with the exception of third-down conversions -- last year's defense was significantly better. The statistic that jumps off the page from 2009 to now is the 'Skins allowing 5.0 yards per rush this year, up a full yard from a year ago. And everyone thought the move from the 4-3 to 3-4 was going to be a good thing.
I wrote last Monday that the Redskins needs to rebuild, not just repair. They need to stop this nonsensical approach thinking they are one or two players away from competing for a championship and just admit they need to rebuild. They also need to make some adjustments to how they acquire players and actually beef up the scouting department.
I realize the Redskins hired Bruce Allen as their general manager before hiring the head coach. After hiring Allen, they pretended he was main man in charge of hiring Shanahan and they would share the duties of running the football team.
How dumb do they think we all are?
Everyone in the league -- and I mean everyone -- knows Shanahan wants control of all the football decisions and that Allen works on the coach's orders. This is not a debatable fact. There is no chance that Allen would walk into Shanahan's office and tell him which player to play, how he wants to handle Haynesworth or who he just acquired via trade or off the waiver wire. Besides, Allen's background centers on contract negations, not player procurement and I know this firsthand from working together in Oakland. In spite of all the fancy titles and perceived "shared" responsibility, we all know Shanahan is running the show.
So the next question to ask is: Why, if Shanahan is a great coach, do the 'Skins look so bad this year, and instead of showing improvement as the year progresses, do they actually get worse? The answer lies within their inability to evaluate their own team. They made countless mistakes by counting on certain veteran players to perform, then to compound their personnel mistakes, they also made a huge error in judgment believing they had the personnel to run a successful 3-4 defense.
The hardest thing to do in pro football is to evaluate your own players fairly and objectively as they relate to the rest of the league. The Redskins allowed former Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson to make the final roster this summer when he was clearly not the same player and allowed former Pro Bowl wide receiver Joey Galloway to make their team when he had little to offer, too. Their offensive line is still a huge mess, they don't have any playmakers on offense and their defense has holes on every level.
The Redskins thought, when they traded for Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb, that he would provide the leadership, toughness and big-play ability the team would need to create some wins. However, since his benching before the two-minute drill in Detroit, the 'Skins are 1-4. All that's been done is McNabb receiving a "pay as he goes" extension.
McNabb is not the leader they thought he'd be, not the worker they hoped he was, and clearly he is not the consistent playmaker they believed he'd be. McNabb is never going to be a 60-percent completion passer, or ever be consistent again -- period -- therefore he must have an outstanding supporting cast, something the Skins offense is lacking.
What can Shanahan do to fix the problem in Washington? I always thought Shanahan was a great coach, but needed a strong personnel man around to challenge him, to assist him and to find talent. When he had his most successful teams in Denver, he had Neal Dahlen, a former 49ers personnel guy, helping him find those hidden gems along with John Elway's father, Jack.
Week 13 matchups to watch
Want to know what matchup you should be watching when your favorite team takes the field this week? Gil Brandt has the answer as he breaks down all the action. More ...
But now he relies mostly on his coaches to help procure talent, believing they know best what the team will need. I realize the 'Skins have a scouting department, but most of their scouts in either the college or pro departments are scared to ruffle feathers, scared to tell what they believe, instead being intimidated by Shanahan. This is not just a Redskins problem, but a universal problem in the league. But since Shanahan does need help in personnel, this problem affects Washington more than most other teams.
Instead of overspending in free agency on players, the Redskins should sink some serious money into building a state-of-the-art personnel department -- with scouts who are willing to scream their convictions loudly without being accused of disloyalty. Additionally, they should think divergently to create a new way of procuring players, much like the St. Louis Cardinals did in the 1960's when they decided to invade Latin America for baseball talent.
Shanahan needs to bring in someone he trusts (I am not writing this as a candidate but rather someone who has studied Shanahan from afar and has actually volunteered for him in Denver - I know his weaknesses), someone who can help him find talent while the coaches coach. To catch the Eagles or Giants, waiting for draft picks is too time consuming, and he can't rely on signing, aging, declining players. He has to beef up the scouting area, he must find more talented players and give his new man the same leeway he allowed Dahlen and Elway.
Before Shanahan leaves on vacation to his favorite resort in Cabo San Lucas this offseason he has to be realistic about his team continuing down the 3-4 defensive path. He must understand that his best players don't blossom in the 3-4 and, in spite of all the versatility the 3-4 offers in coverage, it becomes a liability with players who don't fit the scheme. Shanahan must be realistic about which players he is counting on next year and must demand that his team gains an influx of youthful talent.
And most of all, he must nip nip nip all problems in the bud, and not let things linger.
The script: My first 15
- I love this quote from Peyton Manning after Thursday night's 30-28 win over the Titans: "People say hang in there. I was never out of there -- wherever there is -- I'm there. And I'm always gonna be there working." The Colts' win means they control their own destiny with an AFC South showdown with Jacksonville next week. The Colts can run the table with Oakland and Tennessee remaining after that, therefore next week will be another "hate" game with playoff implications.
- The Jets have only scored touchdowns against one winning team, week two against the Patriots, having not scored against Baltimore, Green Bay or New England last week. But the Jets are not getting solid play from any member of their front seven. Where is Bart Scott? Where is Calvin Pace? Not on the stat sheet, which means their opposing quarterback rating has gone from 51 last year to 81 this year. And teams are gaining almost two yards more a completion from a year ago.
- The fact that Miami is practicing at the Giants' facility is not a big deal, but what is interesting is that they are coming to the New York area early to acclimate themselves to the weather and watch "Lombardi" on Broadway. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is from New York, and this game will carry significant meaning for him, therefore Miami had better play well. With Bill Parcells no longer in the building to protect the coaches, I get the sense this is a must-win for Tony Sparano and his staff.
- The Patriots' offense uses multiple formations and personnel groups to allow Tom Brady to know the coverage before he takes the snap. But the Bears won't play chess with the Patriots, as they will just run their zone coverage and rely on the speed of their defense to make plays. The field and weather will hinder both offenses and slow down the game.
- I am sure Vikings quarterback Brett Favre will do whatever is possible to play this week, but can he finish the game? With his shoulder injury, I strongly doubt he can take a hit and keep on ticking -- if he is able to even play.
- The Giants have been able to not turn the ball over in the past two weeks, winning both games. However, playing the Vikings this week, they have to be careful with the ball and Eli Manning must play his best game. Manning normally plays well on the road, and if the Giants give him protection I expect him to have a huge game.
- Speaking of Polamalu, last week Joe Flacco was wrong to not change the protection into a Sam strong safety blitz and has no one but himself to blame for not redirecting the protection. A quarterback must throw the ball to the side he isn't protected, not away from protection. Why? Because of what happened on the Polamalu sack that allowed Pittsburgh to win the game.
- The 'Skins host the Bucs this week, and both teams are going in different directions. The Bucs are a young team with a good-looking quarterback, while Washington is an older team that doesn't admit they need to rebuild (See above). The Bucs chose to go young, and it seems to have paid off. This might be a lesson for the Redskins to learn.
Half the story says it all
Who gains the lead at halftime is vital and, normally, teams that are strong in this area, in terms of halftime points scored vs. halftime points allowed are playoff teams. Need proof? Of the 15 teams in the NFL with a positive first-half differential, only one (the Cleveland Browns) is not a serious playoff contender.
See you at the game...
If you are in Pittsburgh, stop over and say hello. Looks like I will need the hot chocolate. Have a great weekend.