Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. It’s gotta be quick because I have a flight to catch, so let’s roll:
The Redskins are reeling and the season is unraveling. I don’t mean to overreact or be overdramatic, but that’s how I see it. It doesn’t mean they can’t turn it around or that the season is lost, but the outlook on this night is bleak. Carolina exposed the Redskins’ lack of playmakers on offense and a defense that lacks top-end speed at a lot of positions.
Eight days ago this team was in first place. Now? The offense can’t sustain any positive production. Good plays are fleeting. There are a few different causes, including injuries, poor execution and a lack of playmakers. The offense hasn’t kept possession long enough the last two games, which leaves the Redskins’ defense on the field too long, which allows opposing offenses to make adjustments and, ultimately, enough plays to win.
QB John Beck played OK in his first start. He made some excellent throws and also some questionable decisions. Sounds like Rex, right? We need to see more, see whether he’ll improve.
The Redskins didn’t roll Beck out as much as I expected they would, but that certainly isn’t why they lost. Beck’s timing and rhythm with receivers were off on some plays, which was to be expected in his first start. I noted that he occasionally looked jittery in the pocket, and I’ll look for that when I re-watch the game. That’s the type of thing that he can correct, but he’s got to do it in a hurry.
There are some positives on which he can build. Beck deftly placed his touchdown pass to TE Fred Davis away from the defender. He had perfect touch on a first-down pass to TE Logan Paulsen in the third quarter. He and Mike Shanahan will be pleased with those when they watch the tape.
Beck’s mobility also was an asset. His touchdown run is an obvious example. He made something out of a broken play. It was a decent first start.
On the other hand, look at the other sideline and see what a super-talented franchise-quarterback prospect can do for a team that finished with one victory a year ago. The No. 1 reason the Redskins have one playoff win since 1999 is their lack of an elite quarterback. Cam Newton, on the other hand, was sensational Sunday. He has Carolina’s rebuilding project on the right track.
Most importantly, he protected the ball. More on that in a moment. But he’s accurate when he has time to throw. He can turn broken plays into positive ones. He’s a dual threat. In other words, a playmaker.
Part of it is the scheme that Panthers coordinator Rod Chudzinski has installed this season (at least that’s what receiver Steve Smith said last week) but Newton is a rising star. He makes the players around him better. The Redskins need a quarterback that can do that.
If you’re the coach of an NFL team, who would you rather play right now, the Redskins or Panthers? It’s an easy choice because Carolina has dangerous playmakers that the Redskins’ don’t. For me, this entire season is coming down to that word: playmaker.
Panthers receiver Steve Smith is supremely talented. He’s fast, he uses his body well and he has good hands. He held on to a 33-yard catch near the sideline in the third quarter even though Redskins CB Josh Wilson was close in coverage and made a play on the ball.
Meanwhile, TE Fred Davis and WR Anthony Armstrong dropped consecutive passes. WR Jabar Gaffney didn’t come down with the ball on a go-route near the end of the first half, and he fumbled on the next play. Those plays add up, and the Redskins too often are on the negative side of the balance sheet.
Cam Newton entered the game with an NFL-worst nine interceptions. The Redskins, however, couldn’t coax one out of him and lost the turnover battle.
“Today he made plays where he didn’t force [the ball] into windows,” LB London Fletcher said. “Guys were open. He made plays for them. He’s a good player, a lot better than you would expect a guy to be at such a young age and with no offseason workouts.”
CB Kevin Barnes said the Redskins tried to disguise coverages—as every team does in every game—but Newton was good enough.
I’m eager to re-watch OLB Brian Orakpo’s first-half sack of Newton and see whether he might have been able to force a fumble there. This 3-4 defense is designed to take the ball away, and the Redskins improved in that regard last season, but they still need more.
As for Orakpo not forcing a fumble there, he said: “He’s a big dude, man. I’m very surprised it didn’t come out.
The Redskins’ offensive strategy of pounding the run is the one I expected them to rely on all season. They know their quarterbacks are unproven and inconsistent, so take the game out of their hands and have them just manage it, so to speak. It also applied well to this particular game because of the patchwork offensive line.
That game plan was moderately effective against the Panthers. Sporadic breakdowns, however, prevented them from sustaining momentum. Take the Redskins’ first drive, for example. They moved 40 yards in five plays to a first-and-10 at the Carolina 40. But then Beck threw a ball into coverage that probably should have been picked off. Then TE Fred Davis committed a false start. Then they had a pass batted down at the line. Then RT Jammal Brown was beaten for a sack/fumble. The Redskins just can’t put it together for long enough stretches.
Here’s a refrain we’ve heard many times this season: “Whether it was just a guy here or a guy there, it was one of those cases where 10 guys were doing their job and one guy wasn’t,” LG Will Montgomery said. “Everybody took a couple turns at it.”
Maybe at some point it will click. Or maybe it’s indicative of insufficient talent. Coaches harp on consistency, but the Redskins’ offense is about as inconsistent as it gets.
The Redskins’ run-first approach helped them stay in manageable third-down situations, but they converted only two of seven third or fourth downs with 4 or fewer yards to go. That’s a sign of poor execution.
Losing WR Santana Moss (broken hand) and RB Tim Hightower (left knee) is going to severely test the Redskins’ depth. There’s a reason those two are starters, but the Redskins might be OK without them.
Moss’ exceptional route running will be missed. The Redskins need more receivers who win their matchups with cornerbacks and get separation. Moss produces at a high level because he consistently does that. We’re about to learn whether unproven receivers such Terrence Austin and Niles Paul can, too.
Regarding Hightower, running back is one of the few positions at which the Redskins are deep enough to withstand an injury. Ryan Torain has proven to be a capable fill-in for Hightower, but Hightower is the superior pass blocker. The Redskins could expand Roy Helu’s role, as well. Losing LT Trent Williams and LG Kory Lichtensteiger are more impactful injuries than those to Moss and Hightower.
Carolina’s zone-read running plays with Cam Newton in the shotgun gave the Redskins’ some problems.
“You see quarterbacks in college do it all the time,” S Reed Doughty said. “It’s all about responsibility, and that’s what makes it hard. You can’t just hustle to the football. There’s a pitch, there’s a quarterback there’s a running back. It just makes for more one-on-one tackling. You have to read better.”
…OK, the taxi is waiting. Feel free to leave a comment, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.