The Washington Times - October 17, 2011, 12:14AM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

We knew we’d learn a lot about the 2011 Redskins on Sunday afternoon, and the truth hurts. Instead of meeting this grand opportunity with their best effort, all of their flaws were exposed: Quarterback play, lack of established offensive line depth and lack of playmaking receivers, in particular.  

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Before we get to the quarterback situation, let’s look at the big picture. Instead of defending their home field and burying the Eagles by surging four games ahead of them in the loss column, the Redskins sit in second place in the NFC East a half game behind the Giants. Now they’re 1-2 against divisional opponents, which is an important tiebreaker.

And they’re entering a stretch of the schedule that appeared relatively easy at the beginning of the season but now will be difficult. The 1-5 Panthers are going to be a tough out on the road next week. Same with Buffalo. San Francisco got to 5-1 on Sunday by beating a quality Detroit team on the road. The Redskins might be underdogs in all three of those games, and it looks like they’ll have to play them with a patchwork offensive line. (More on that in a bit.) What a grimmer outlook than 12 hours ago. At this juncture, it’s difficult to find many more wins on the Redskins’ schedule.

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On to the quarterbacks. John Beck should start against Carolina next week because Rex Grossman has proven through five games that he is the same turnover-prone passer he has been throughout his entire career. He now has nine interceptions and two lost fumbles.

Go back two weeks to the Monday after the St. Louis game. Coach Mike Shanahan said about quarterbacks: “You have to have a guy who … knows when he does make mistakes that he’s going to keep on getting better and kind of keep on pushing himself.” Well, Grossman isn’t getting better. Shanahan harps on improving each week, playing better and better football as the season progresses. Grossman is the antithesis of that.

He’s repeating the same mistakes he’s made since Chicago—throwing into coverage, underthrowing open receivers, not seeing defenders—especially when the pocket breaks down. He’s better when he can stand in. Kyle Shanahan’s scheme consistently gets receivers open, and Kyle dictates strict progressions that Grossman has to follow. But Rex’s decision making is unreliable when he’s on the move trying to make a play. In addition to his four interceptions on Sunday, he had two more that could have been picked off. Sunday was a worst-case scenario. Grossman isn’t always that bad, but he’s not going to take off and reach a new level of production. This is who he is.

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Rex’s take on the coaches’ decision to bench him: “From a competitive standpoint, there’s…a lot of times when things aren’t going well. Then all of a sudden things go into place and everything starts to get better and you start to click.”

That’s the competitor in him talking. It was obvious to everyone in the stadium, though, that things weren’t going to suddenly reverse course. Mike Shanahan had to make the move to Beck.

I credit Shanahan for waiting until Grossman’s fourth interception to do it. He could have justified doing it at halftime or after the third interception, but he learned from the clumsy manner in which he benched Donovan McNabb last year. He realized the magnitude of the decision and made darn sure it was the right move. He genuinely believed in Grossman, and he was right to give him the benefit of the doubt until Grossman made it easy for him with the fourth pick.

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Grossman during his postgame media session offered unsolicited explanations of all four of his interceptions. He’s been through such adversity before, and he’s a class act.

You can read for yourself and see that he cited TE Fred Davis’ role in two of the picks. I didn’t get the sense Grossman was making excuses or throwing Davis under the bus, so to speak. He was just offering his explanations.

On the first interception, I can see why Grossman would feel OK about throwing a jump ball for Davis. We constantly hear about Davis’ freak athleticism, yet Eagles S Kurt Coleman outjumped him. That has to be tough for Grossman to swallow.

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Grossman was so bad on Sunday that it’s easy to look at Beck as the savior. But let’s not forget how bad Beck was in the preseason finale. He missed some reads and made some inaccurate throws against Tampa Bay’s second-string defense. Shanahan must decide whether Beck has sufficiently improved since that game. And considering Beck has practiced exclusively with the scout team since then, the answer probably is closer to no than yes. Then again, if Shanahan decides Rex isn’t getting any better and can’t be trusted, his decision is easy.

Ultimately, it goes back to the matter of Beck’s upside, a point we hammered during the quarterback competition in the preseason. It’s fair to assume that Beck’s decision making would improve as he amasses regular-season playing experience against defenses that are using their full playbooks. He’s not going to be perfect, and maybe his improvement over time won’t be substantial, but the Redskins still have a winning record and are in the thick of the NFC East race. There’s plenty of time to benefit from his learning curve, even with bumps along the way.

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It probably isn’t fair to judge Beck on how he played in the fourth quarter considering he hasn’t practiced with the first team since the preseason. He made a few great throws—a 23-yarder to WR Santana Moss to convert third down, a 15-yarder to WR Donté Stallworth on fourth-and-9 and the 32-yarder to WR Terrence Austin on the next play come to mind—and missed others.

Beck lamented his low throw to WR Jabar Gaffney on first-and-10 from the Philly 44, his third throw of the game. “There were some things that I showed a little bit of rust here and there on some things—being in and out of the huddle,” he said. “Just some things that [with] some more opportunities, those will go away.”

Mike Shanahan will have to take all of that into account.

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Shanahan said he’ll “make a decision Wednesday” about next Sunday’s starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made up his mind on Monday. He’ll have re-watched the entire game by then.

Shanahan announced Grossman would start the season on the Monday before the Giants game, but he wanted to wait until that Wednesday, a source with knowledge of the situation said back then. But the NFL Network reported the choice on Monday and Shanahan was forced to go ahead and make it official.

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The difference between Grossman’s and Beck’s arm strength seemed significant after Beck came in. It just seemed like Beck had a cannon compared to Rex. I guess I kinda forgot the difference after a while. Also, Beck’s ability to remain mechanically sound while moving in the pocket was noticeable. It helped him convert some of those long throws.

Beck’s superior mobility should work in his favor during Shanahan’s decision-making process, especially considering the offensive line injuries. The line surrendered pressure with C Erik Cook and LT Sean Locklear in there, and Beck can extend some of those plays better than Grossman can.

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Speaking of the offensive line, losing LG Kory Lichtensteiger for the season is a real shame, especially if he was injured on a “dirty play” by Philly DE Darryl Tapp, as LT Trent Williams alleged.

The Steiger was much more comfortable at left guard a season removed from his switch from center. He and Williams were picking up stunts better, and he was a vital part of the Redskins’ screen game. And from a selfish perspective, Lichtensteiger had gotten more comfortable with reporters, offering helpful insight in breaking down one of the most important aspects of the team. Here’s wishing him a speedy recovery.

His injury forced two changes along the line because coaches obviously don’t feel comfortable with Erik Cook as a guard. That’s even more disruptive to continuity. Will Montgomery was having a fine season at center, and now he has to learn a new position. At first glance, Cook had a rough game. He injured his calf before kickoff, and that affected his play. He was pushed back several times in the run game.

Depending on how long Williams’ high ankle sprain keeps him out, we’ll have to see if the coaching staff moves RT Jammal Brown from right tackle to left. For now, veteran Sean Locklear takes Williams’ place.

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Washington’s inability to run the ball effectively (3.0 yards per carry) against Philadelphia’s 30th-ranked run defense is a major concern. The Redskins’ passing game needs effective play action to thrive because it doesn’t have established elite receivers. I’ll know more after re-watching the game this week, but injuries definitely were a factor. Also, Philadelphia’s speed up front was a problem.

Consider this: against the Giants, Dallas and Philly this season, the Redskins have averaged 2.9 yards on 62 rushing attempts. Can’t win the division with that production.

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SS LaRon Landry believes the Redskins’ defense lacked sufficient intensity early in the game. He couldn’t say why because he couldn’t speak for every player. He believes the tone changed at halftime, but by then it was too late because the offense had flopped. Still, it’s a bit disturbing that the Redskins came out so flat. This game was hyped as much as an early October game can be. Players knew its importance.

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Philly RB LeSean McCoy (126 yards, TD) validated Mike Shanahan’s claim that he’s one of the top two backs in the NFL. McCoy consistently made defenders miss (ILB Rocky McIntosh stands out in my mind) with his quick feet.

“He’s slippery,” DE Adam Carriker said. “I don’t know how else to define it. … It’s like you can never get a direct hit on him. You can never get squared up on him.”

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Eagles QB Michael Vick was way too comfortable in the pocket in the first half. “We felt we had the advantage up front, so we didn’t need to blitz a lot, bring the heat a lot,” Carriker said. “But we definitely didn’t get to him like we should have.

“They were rolling the pocket. They were doing a lot of quick throws. Me, personally, I felt like I beat the lineman but the ball was gone. It was frustrating.”

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TE Chris Cooley’s fractured hand is expected to keep him out six weeks, according to 106.7 The Fan. If you’re searching for a silver lining, maybe it’s that his left knee will have more time to heal during this hiatus. The Redskins will miss his versatility, although it’s not as if he was making a major impact in the passing game.

…that’s it for me. My question to you is there any way you could be convinced that Rex Grossman should start against Carolina? Let me know by leaving me a comment, sending me an email at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hitting me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.