- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A six-game losing streak in the NFL can be like getting caught in a tornado. There’s no telling what might get carried off in the whirlwind — the quarterback, the coach, a coordinator, even a blocking sled.

To their credit, the Washington Redskins have emerged from their Six Weeks from Hell relatively intact. An overtime loss to Dallas — their sixth straight — has been followed by wins over Seattle and the New York Giants and woulda-coulda-shoulda defeats to the New York Jets and New England, stabilizing a potentially disastrous situation.

Rex Grossman has been restored as the QB (for now) and is playing about as well as he ever does. Mike Shanahan no longer has the word “embattled” attached to his name. And with two winnable games remaining (Minnesota here, Philadelphia there), the team has a chance to build on its recent success and better position itself for the future. Who would have imagined that on Nov. 20, when the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey was booting a field goal in OT to drop the Redskins to 3-7?

Losing is never fun, but it can often be educational — and Shanahan and his players would seem to have learned much from their misery. They have learned that the world doesn’t have to end just because Trent Williams, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley and LaRon Landry (to name four) are missing from the lineup. They have learned that John Beck probably wasn’t, as Shanny always insisted, the best quarterback prospect in the 2007 draft.

They have learned that, even with an injury list longer than Santa’s beard, they still can compete with everybody in their division, because the NFC East simply isn’t that good.

These are all valuable lessons, lessons that should help the Redskins down the road. The club might be younger this season than it has been in a while, but it needs to add more youth if it wants to build anything lasting. It needs to have two more drafts just like the last one, with several extra picks and lots of fresh blood flowing into the organization. Only then will the Redskins be able to hang, week in and week out, with the better teams in the NFL.

Not that they have faced many this season. In fact, the Redskins haven’t beaten a club that has a winning record. The Giants (twice), Seahawks and Arizona are 7-7, and the Rams are 2-12 (with the 2-12 Vikings and 6-8 Eagles left on Washington’s schedule). A year ago, when the Redskins finished 6-10, they managed to beat both NFC finalists (Green Bay and Chicago) and the NFC East champs (Philly). So don’t get too carried away with their late surge. They’ve yet rack up a true signature win.

(Shanahan, for instance, referred to the Jets, Patriots and Giants on Sunday as “three excellent football teams.” Actually, only the Pats, at 11-3, fit that description, and they are very flawed defensively. As for the Jets and Giants, they might not even make playoffs. How does that qualify as “excellent”?)

While the Redskins have been regaining their self-respect the past few weeks, they’ve also been dropping in the draft order. Ordinarily, of course, there isn’t much downside to winning, but the Redskins aren’t your ordinary team. They have spent the past two decades searching for a franchise quarterback. And when you’re in the market for one of those, it never hurts to be picking as high as possible.

The fear is that the Redskins might not be able to get the QB they want — or one they can live with, at least — if they drift out of the top 10. Plenty of clubs, after all, need a passer, and the most touted prospects figure to be in great demand. This could lead to a scenario in which Shanahan and Bruce Allen gut their 2012 draft, and perhaps even some of their 2013 draft, to move up in the first round and take Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley or some other golden arm.

If the kid becomes a star, nobody will second-guess them. But if he becomes something less than that, moving up could be tremendously damaging to the Redskins‘ rebuilding efforts. You’d hope Shanahan wouldn’t be so overcome by Quarterback Fever that he’d overpay ridiculously to get his guy.

In 2006, when he was in Denver, it cost him only a third-rounder to jump from 15 to 11 and grab Jay Cutler (in the same draft that saw Vince Young go third and Matt Leinart 10th). A pretty reasonable price. But in ‘06 he was coming off a 13-3 season (and loss in the AFC title game). He couldn’t have been much more secure as a coach. There might be a little greater sense of urgency — if not desperation — now.