January 26, 1992 – I was 4 years old and my mom brought me down to her family's house to watch the Washington Redskins play in Super Bowl XXVI against the Buffalo Bills. My whole family was excited. They were certain the Redskins were going to win, but they bickered over every dumb play and watched with the nervous equivalent of reckless abandonment. My uncle sat on the right side of the room yelling at the idiot miscues. My aunt was being optimistic telling him that Mark Rypien would settle down and get in a zone. I was enamored by how important all of it seemed.
The Redskins went on to defeat the Bills 37-24. My uncle was a nervous wreck until the final play even though it was clear the game was already over. My aunt was ecstatic from the moment the Redskins got their final possession of the game to run the clock down. The rest of my family celebrated together. Me, growing into a Skins fan myself, could not believe just how much better this win felt to everyone than any other. My uncle—right on time—explained to me why a Super Bowl was so much more important. "It's the final game of the year. The best team wins. You get to brag until next year that your team is the champion." The word "champion" explained all of it to me, being that I was also a wrestling and boxing fan.
Just like that, I was locked for sure. It was certain to me at that point that I would always root for the Redskins. I "liked" them enough at that point that I wore t-shirts and watched with my family anyways. But with 3 championships in 9 years, there was a certainty about the team.
Fast-forward just shy of 23 years, and the Redskins have gone from a celebrated powerhouse to a snowball of jokes. Every offseason, there is/was a major signing or pair of signings which was "sure to put the team over the threshold" and make the Skins contenders. Every season, we watched as those signings didn't pan out and then fell right back into obscurity.
Things were supposed to change when Joe Gibbs came back, hopefully ending the highest coach-turnover rate in the NFL since the Redskins won the Super Bowl and Daniel Snyder bought the team. Gibbs' teams did some okay things. The Redskins had one of the most promising players in the history of the NFL in Sean Taylor. When Taylor was murdered in his own home, the team had a miraculous turnaround on the season and got into the playoffs, but fell flat, emotionally drained, in the fourth quarter of a playoff game in Seattle against the Seahawks. Gibbs retired a second time and fans were left wondering, "what next?"
Next was a bigger circus than what we had ever experienced before. Seattle's quarterback's coach was hired, presumably, to be the Redskins' next offensive coordinator. But when nobody took the job as head coach for fear of already having an offensive coordinator picked out for them, the Redskins were forced to appoint Jim Zorn as the head coach. Taking on a struggling Jason Campbell who had never had a consistent scheme or offensive coordinator, Zorn got off to a fast start his first season. But then injuries piled on as Clinton Portis fell with a concussion after having one of the best starts in NFL history. Others fell and the lack of a run game magnified the flaws of Campbell at quarterback.
The struggles continued into the next season as everyone wondered if anything could go right. The Redskins even pulled Sherman Lewis out of calling numbers at a bingo hall to call plays for Jim Zorn's struggling offense. Vinny Cerrato was fired from his position of General Manager mid-season and Bruce Allen was hired to replace him immediately. Rumors were abundant with who the next head coach would be, but seemingly the entire world was certain that Mike Shanahan was the next guy.
Those rumors turned out to be true as Shanahan was almost immediately hired to take over as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Mike gave Campbell his word he'd be the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, and in a heartbeat, Shanahan did the unheard of and traded within the division for Philadelphia Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb. The defense was horrible immediately. The offense wasn't far behind from falling apart as injuries mounted and players realized they were not a fit for Mike Shanahan's scheme. Then came the year of Rex Grossman and John Beck. Then came the first-of-it's-kind trade for the right to draft Robert Griffin III at QB out of Baylor.
Robert Griffin III gave Redskins fans what Mike Shanahan could not even give them… hope. Perhaps the fans put too much pressure onto Robert Griffin's shoulders, but RGIII was asked constantly about being coined a savior and he always seemed as if that was a burden he was willing to try to shoulder. He was confident he could attempt to help the Redskins rebound. And from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field as a starting quarterback in a meaningful game, he wowed. Electrified. Owned the burden and seemed to be conquering it.
Then every Redskins fans' worst nightmare was realized when RGIII was injured in a late-season game after some of his most exciting performances in Baltimore. All of those rookie-season records, team records, and league records that RGIII had acquired, were all suddenly insignificant. But then it was ruled a sprain and he wouldn't miss a lot of time. But they brought him back and he did not look as though he was the same player. Then in the playoffs, after having won the division for the first time in 13 seasons, Robert Griffin III went down vs. the old foe Seattle Seahawks. The whole offseason, during any availability, Mike Shanahan was asked about his decision to leave RGIII in the game. He blamed Robert and the medical staff. Robert blamed Shanahan. This was all just a hint of things to come.
Robert was "all-in for week 1"… and everyone from the top down had signed off on it being a sure thing. Even Mike Shanahan. Mike could have sat Robert until he was 100%. He chose not to. Structurally, there were no problems, but strengthening was an issue. But the player was not mentally ready. Everyone could see it. Mike Shanahan chose not to make the decision to leave Robert on the sideline to heal. They wanted to teach him on the fly. The Redskins struggled. Then came rumors. Then came leaks. Then came what all can agree was Mike Shanahan's attempt to assassinate the character of each and every individual in the organization, except for his son.
Shanahan was fired. In comes Jay Gruden. In stays Jim Haslett. Robert Griffin III is fully healthy and returning with a happiness that did not exist at the end of 2012 or at all in 2013. DeSean Jackson was acquired through free agency in addition to Andre Roberts. The offense is supposed to flourish with all of these changes.
It is now week 13, heading into week 14. The Redskins are 3-9. In week 2 against the Jaguars, RGIII went down with a dislocated ankle. In came Kirk Cousins, who all but destroyed any trade value he may have had left with untimely interceptions, pressing with plenty of time left, and overall just horrible accuracy on some of the easiest throws to be made. Colt McCoy was inserted into the lineup and finished the game vs. the Titans, and helped secure the lead and victory in large part to Pierre Garcon's ability after the catch. Colt McCoy then started the game vs. Dallas and thanks to the best performance the defense has had all year, the Redskins came away with the upset victory.
Robert Griffin III was healthy again, and came back to play the Vikings in week 9, when two late leads were squandered by the inability of the defense to play sound in critical moments of the game. While Griffin was not spectacular, the performance was not horrible considering he was coming back from injury and managed to connect on passes to 7 different receivers. Again, Griffin managed to enter the fourth quarter with a 20-14 lead, and then managed to get a response TD in the fourth quarter. The defense crumbled immediately after to lose the game.
Following the bye week, the Redskins hosted the Buccaneers and the defense was, again, abysmal. That's not to say the offense did not play a part in the loss, but RGIII was not the only problem. Yes, he held onto the football too long—a recurring theme throughout his career—but he also did not get help from his teammates on his two interceptions. Both were drops by the intended receiver. An issue with the defense also assisted Tampa Bay in the victory, but I will touch on this issue in a moment.
Following the loss to Tampa Bay, the Redskins went on a road trip to San Francisco to take on the struggling 49ers. It was, without question, the worst game of Griffin's career. But it was also not the team effort you would expect of any NFL franchise. And while it was not a brilliant game by RGIII or anyone else for that matter, the Redskins did manage another lead in the fourth quarter that was immediately squandered by the defense.
Then came the change from RGIII to Colt McCoy heading into the Redskins game at Indianapolis against the Colts. The talk all week was that McCoy gave the team a better chance to win against the Colts, that players could be evaluated more appropriately with Colt in there as the more capable quarterback, and that the same mistakes that Griffin had been making would not be a factor.
Immediately it was clear that the same mistakes were going to keep happening. It was also clear that there was no better chance to win vs. the Colts. There was no chance at all. Colt did make plays eventually, but there was also a lot left on the field and he was incapable of making easy plays because the offensive line continued to struggle as they have since the start of the 2013 season. Robert Griffin III may very well be a problem. A problem. But this is a team where problems extend from the inability of receivers to separate or catch; coaches dialing up the correct plays in the right situations; players committing stupid penalties or playing with no urgency; defenders taking poor angles or whiffing on tackles; defenders not playing their responsibility in zone or when rushing the passer/collapsing the pocket. The issues go beyond just the players, but also to the coaches.
Robert Griffin III is not a pocket quarterback. Not yet, at least. Perhaps he never becomes one. Maybe he needs a fair shake with full health and focus solely on his offense. Maybe he needs another camp with his receivers down in Texas like he did prior to his rookie season. No matter the case, it should not be coaches forcing a round peg into a square hole. Griffin has a very specific skill set and a team built to run the football and make plays off of the run. Work to the ability of your players.
But my focus is more on the defense. For almost 5 whole seasons, Jim Haslett has failed miserably at putting his players in position to win football games. Outside of a few bright performances against Dallas, the Redskins have struggled mightily. Sure, they have never been able to address safety, even though they brought in Ryan Clark to shore up the back end a bit and provide a "sure" tackler and a veteran leader. There is no communication in the secondary. DeAngelo Hall is out for the year, and that has hurt this team in unimaginable ways, no matter how popular it is to hate on Hall (unjustifiably), he factually is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The pass rush is nonexistent at times, and when it is there, there is no consistency, in large part because the offense has been unable to stay on the field and build a lead.
But back to the communication. Every week there is an error where the opposing offense sends their best receiver in motion and he gets lined up on Perry Riley in an obvious mismatch. Riley is not a bad player, but his weaknesses have been magnified and amplified by Jim Haslett's inability to adjust to the entire league running the same look, motion, and play, leaving Riley to get embarrassed and look as though he is responsible for every major mishap on the defense. There is no communication when corners try to play over the top and a safety bites on an underneath route. Or when a corner jumps on an underneath route thinking he can leave his man to the safety who has also bit on the underneath route. The corners have struggled in zone coverage, because they are press-man corners who Jim Haslett insists on having play 7 yards off of their man every play.
The Redskins coaches put good players in bad positions. They do not teach their players how to communicate with one another, obviously both on and off of the field. While Robert Griffin III may have had no right to call out the entire team (if you believe that's what he did), his point was accurate. Nobody is playing up to their potential, and a large part of that falls on everyone being put in the wrong position. Yes, players still have to know innately how to play to their responsibility. A coach should not have to drill week after week how to get to a specific depth or stance or how to read what their teammates are doing while also reading what their assignment is doing, but the fact that these mistakes keep happening week after week suggest it is more than just miscommunication between player and player. There is a clear miscommunication or disconnect between player and coach.
If players have to be held accountable, coaches have to be held accountable also. The general manager and owner have to be accountable. Will that ever happen?
Hail to the Redskins.