Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins were dismantled by the Buffalo Bills, 23-0, on Sunday:
It was crystal clear to anyone who watched the second half of Washington’s four preseason games that offensive line depth was a major problem. Individual technique breakdowns were rampant, and it became obvious that the Redskins didn’t have the personnel to withstand injuries to their starters.
So now the Redskins are realizing their nightmare scenario. How else to describe one of the worst offensive line performances in team history? A Redskins franchise-record-tying nine sacks against a Bills defense that entered with a total – a total!! – of four in six games this season!!
I’ll re-watch the game before I draw conclusions about which players were the main culprits. But when insufficient depth is crippling the season, it falls on the person responsible for assembling the roster.
Ultimately, Mike Shanahan decided to keep Will Montgomery as his backup guard, despite evidence from last season that he struggles in wider spaces at that position. Montgomery during the first four games played exceptionally well at center, a position for which he is best suited. His current transition to left guard has not gone well.
I don’t mean to single out Montgomery because of all the backups playing now, he actually had a good thing going at center. It’s not his fault he’s out of position. But his situation is a perfect example of the personnel problems currently facing the line and, by extension, the entire offense. Kory Lichtensteiger’s injury caused major dropoffs at two positions instead of one. That’s not having the right personnel.
QB John Beck made a great point after the game when discussing the injuries up front. “All the good teams find a way to continue to do well,” he said. And it’s true. Philadelphia was down to its third-string left tackle against the Redskins three games ago, yet OLB Brian Orakpo didn’t have a sack. The Bills had backups at left tackle and left guard on Sunday and still rushed for 138 yards.
Did Shanahan think he could just coach up guys like C Erik Cook and LT Sean Locklear? Did he think his schemes would mask any talent dropoff? How else to explain it after the biggest free agent class in NFL history? Were there no other options?
Whether it’s arrogance at work or blind optimism or whatever, the end result is the disaster we saw on Sunday afternoon.
QB John Beck didn’t play well. The question is how much of that was due to the constant pressure and how much was unforced error. After a while it seemed to affect his thinking. He appeared to sense pressure, and it hindered his ability to stand in and stay mechanically sound.
The Redskins are going to continue having games like this until they find a quarterback that everyone believes in, one who makes the players around him better. Aaron Rogers and Ben Roethlisberger get hit a lot, but they extend plays, make good decisions and accurate throws that lead to big gains. They’re poised against pressure and know how to beat it.
Will John Beck eventually be able to do that once he amasses more experience? It’s difficult to say at this point. His body of work still isn’t big enough, but the early returns aren’t reassuring.
You know the season is falling apart when a guy like WR Anthony Armstrong declines to speak to reporters after the game. It’s easy for players to get in front of cameras and microphones when they’re the big story or when the team is playing well. Everyone wants a part of that action. But these are bleak times when you find out about character. In contrast, SS LaRon Landry took responsibility for the breakdown on the Bills’ second touchdown. That’s accountability. That’s leadership.
From my biased perspective, speaking to reporters in bad times is a sign of leadership. Media obligations are part of playing in the NFL. It’s a responsibility. I won’t be convinced otherwise.
Armstrong is one of my favorite guys in the locker room. He’s almost always generous with his time, and he’s affable, smart and funny. I understood his frustration after the game. He started but finished with zero catches. That’s another good example of where this team is right now.
To his credit, Armstrong eventually reconsidered and did answer a few questions.
When I re-watch the game, I expect to see the defensive line frequently being blocked one-on-one. There were too many holes for Bills RB Fred Jackson. Missed tackles and poor gap responsibility also were a factor.
All things considered, though, the Redskins’ defense held a very good Buffalo offense to only 23 points without any help from the offense. They were on the field for almost 35 minutes, a trend in recent weeks. They’re playing with no margin for error because the offense stinks right now, and a team can’t win like that.
ILB London Fletcher was an absolute stud. I thought his game against Carolina last week was the worst I’d ever seen him play. He responded with 20 – twenty!! – tackles, an interception and two quarterback hits despite a bum hamstring. Competitive desire burns inside him like no one else. When his name is mentioned for the Hall of Fame one day, and it should at least be mentioned, this game should be at the top of his resume.
Now, he did lose his cool on the sideline, and the FOX cameras caught him calling out SS LaRon Landry. There are a few ways you can look at that situation. Fletcher, a defensive captain, is holding his guys accountable. Or maybe he was out of line to make it so public. Ultimately I’ll buy players’ and coaches’ explanation that football is an emotional game and things like that happen. Those two have been teammates for five years now, and I doubt the situation lingers.
It was very cool coming north of the border for this one. Toronto is a world class city, and you could tell many locals were enthused about the Bills’ visit. The crowd seemed a bit touristy outside the stadium before the game, but I also didn’t make my way through adjacent parking lots to get a large sample size. Inside, the Bills gave their fans much to cheer about, and the atmosphere was quite good.
One of my lasting memories will be the crowd belting out the words to “O Canada” before the game. I know that’s typical at hockey games, but we football scribes hardly see that. Again, very cool.
Question of the upcoming week: “Hey, Trent Williams, how’s that right ankle?”