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Initial Thoughts: Eagles 34, Redskins 10

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Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 34-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

By my count, the Redskins have locked up the sixth-overall pick in next April’s draft. They tied with Jacksonville at 5-11 but have a tiebreaker advantage because their schedule was weaker. Jacksonville’s opponents won a total of 128 games; Redskins’ opponents won a total of 122.

So where does that leave Washington’s chances of drafting a top quarterback? It’s difficult to say. Many analysts expect Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin to be taken by the time the Redskins pick sixth. Indianapolis and Cleveland have quarterback needs and pick ahead of Washington. But it doesn’t matter what analysts or NFL scouts think. What matters is coach Mike Shanahan’s evaluation.

I remain convinced that Shanahan will not draft a quarterback just to take one. But if he identifies one he believes can get the Redskins to the Super Bowl and, by extension, solidify his Hall of Fame legacy, he’ll go after him. That’s Shanahan’s history – he traded up in the first round to draft Jay Cutler in 2006.

It’ll be fun over the next few months to hear analysts’ and scouts’ opinions about which quarterbacks would fit into Shanahan’s system. Look for an emphasis on protecting the ball, maintaining vision downfield against the pass rush and mobility to extend plays.

Of course, Shanahan will have the opportunity to add a quarterback in free agency prior to the draft, so the outlook is subject to change as the offseason progresses. Peyton Manning could become available if Indianapolis opts not to exercise his $28 million roster bonus in early March. I’m not convinced the Manning-Shanahan pairing would work, but that’s for another day.

***

Teams with double-digit losses in consecutive seasons usually make changes. I don’t know if or how that will apply to the Redskins this week. But look at how they performed in certain phases of the game this season and one can speculate where they might occur.

Special teams struggled again on Sunday. The blocked field goal was the Redskins’ fifth of the season. They also had a PAT blocked against Seattle. Shanahan chafed about that after the game.

“A new guy (Tyler Polumbus) in there at the right guard position, but we still got to do better,” Shanahan said. “A lot of teams have new people, but that really hurt us this year.”

Shanahan was asked if he’s ever seen five blocked field goals in a season.

“No, I’ve never seen it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen three.”

I don’t know if that means anything for longtime special teams coach Danny Smith. Sunday’s block occurred when Polumbus was bowled over by the overloaded defensive front. “I’ve just got to stay low and make sure that guy doesn’t get through,” Polumbus said. Should Smith be blamed for that? That’s up to Shanahan.

Smith is a hard-working, energetic coach who has gotten the most out of his players for years. Respected special-teamers such as Lorenzo Alexander say they love playing for him because of his work ethic and how meticulously he studies opponents. Personally, I like Smith. He’s engaging, funny and entertaining.

Coaches are judged on performance, though, and special teams weren’t always a strength. In addition to kick protection problems – many of which were resulted from individual technique breakdowns – Brandon Banks finished the season without a return touchdown. The Redskins entered Week 17 ranked 21st in punt return average and 28th in kickoff return average. Both coverage units ranked in the top 8, but how much of the credit goes to P Sav Rocca and K Graham Gano for their respective hang times?

Just something to think about moving forward.

***

WR Santana Moss completed a forgettable season on a sour note. He dropped a potential touchdown in the first quarter and then cost the Redskins points before halftime by taking off his helmet to argue a non-call, which is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It turned second-and-goal from the 4 into second-and-goal from the 19.

“I would have wanted to finish stronger and do a little more, so I’m not happy with it,” Moss said. “But I know how to accept what comes with what we do because it’s not always going to be the way you wrote it or the way you want it. If every year you had the best year that you wanted, you’d be invisible. So I just look at it like, hey, it’s something I can really take and say these are my flaws, this is something I want to work on. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

One reason I wonder about Moss’ future in Washington is the dropoff in his yards-after-the-catch average. In the three seasons from 2008 through 2010, Moss averaged 5.42, 5.46 and 5.37 yards after the catch, respectively. Entering Sunday’s game, he was averaging only 4.09. The Redskins expect more from their X and slot receivers.

Back in August, Moss signed a three-year contract that ESPN reported was worth $15 million, including $6 million guaranteed. He’ll turn 33 on June 1.

***

Mike Shanahan kept ILB Rocky McIntosh and RT Jammal Brown inactive for Sunday’s game. McIntosh’s one-year deal with the Redskins is up, and he’s doesn’t appear to be in their plans. The Redskins are committed to developing Perry Riley, who impressed coaches with his athleticism in starting the final eight games of the season.

Brown was listed on the injury report this week with a hip problem, but he told reporters after the game he was healthy. That hip problem has lingered for years, though, and he’ll be 31 on Mar. 30. The Redskins’ want athletic linemen who can run, and Brown’s hip and groin injuries have been problematic in that regard. Leaving him off Sunday’s active roster could be an indication of Shanahan’s offseason intentions.

***

The disparity between the quality of playmakers on the Redskins’ and Eagles’ roster is staggering, but you knew that already. Still, it helps to know where the bar is set entering the offseason. The Redskins have to add a lot of talent to avoid a fifth straight last-place finish next season.

Just look at how WR DeSean Jackson beat FS Oshiomogho Atogwe and CB Josh Wilson on a post for a 62-yard touchdown.

“He did a better job than me of adjusting to the throw,” Atogwe said. “I read it and I saw it, and he was just able to get to before I did. I make plays like that, so I’m a little disappointed about it. I’ll learn from it and play it better next time.”

***

RB Evan Royster diagnoses running lanes well. He lacks the top end speed to be an elite back, but he can be effective.

He also knows he has to maintain better balance. He slipped on several runs against the Eagles. On his 28-yarder, he broke three tackles and made another guy miss, but ultimately he went down without being touched.

“I knew I had a chance, and I got a little excited,” Royster said. “Right when I went to put my foot in the ground to go, I slipped. I just tried to accelerate a little too hard and got a little too much forward lean and just slipped.”

The Redskins at least have established some backfield depth with Helu and Royster. They’ll still target a clear No. 1 back, but that depth is one of the positives from this season.

***

I admire offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s competitive nature in this video. He should have a chip on his shoulder, and he should be confident. If you’re not competitive, you’re not going to last in the NFL. All players and coaches will tell you that.

…that’s it for tonight. Here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous 2012. Cheers.

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