PHILADELPHIA — The disparity between the Washington Redskins and their NFC East division counterparts became painfully clear - for the umpteenth time this season - in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 34-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, one of the fastest and most explosive players in the NFL, ran past double coverage to catch a 62-yard touchdown pass that quarterback Michael Vick zinged with a simple flick of his wrist.
The Redskins, as their 5-11 record shows, lack players capable of consistently making such game-changing plays, the ones that make you say, "Wow!" for the right reasons. For as much as head coach and top personnel decision-maker Mike Shanahan believes in his schemes, he knows top players are essential to running them effectively.
Shanahan, then, is determined over the next several months to find top talent and add it to his program.
"What you want is playmakers," Shanahan said recently. "You want guys who are going to make plays. That's what separates the teams - guys who can go out there and make a play. The great teams do it consistently. If you don't have enough of those, then there's not a chance to win the Super Bowl."
The Redskins, of course, don't. How else to describe a team that has won only 11 of 32 games in Shanahan's two seasons? For the record, Jim Zorn - Shanahan's predecessor - was fired after winning 12 games in two seasons.
But the four-win unit Shanahan inherited from Zorn in January 2010 was the oldest roster in the NFL. Shanahan has devoted resources to getting younger players and overhauling the defense from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. Even though the record hasn't improved, he believes there has been significant progress in those areas.
Before Zorn's ill-fated final 2009 campaign, players' ages averaged 28.02 years. At the start of this season, it was down to 26.62. And the defense entered Sunday's finale ranked 17th in the 32-team NFL in yards allowed per play. That was up from 26th last season.
"I see a big difference than two years ago," Shanahan said. "We have a much younger football team. We have a lot more depth at a lot of different positions. I feel good with the type of players that we do have. We still need to improve from where we're at right now. Our record obviously dictates that, but I feel good about the football team and the direction we're headed."
The most pressing needs are on offense. Washington entered Sunday's finale averaging only 5.21 yards per play, 21st in the league.
The quarterback position remains a problem. Rex Grossman's interception on Sunday increased his season turnover total to 25 - no one had more giveaways entering the NFL's final weekend. Grossman turned over the ball at least once in each of his 13 starts this season.
"I've done a lot of good things this year," he said. "We've done a lot of great things this year. Just the consistency level, the percentage of bad plays, need to go down."
The Redskins have several options at quarterback. Shanahan will spend the next two weeks reviewing each pass Grossman threw this season. His evaluation will establish the status quo, and then he'll set out to find someone better.
Shanahan has spent time every day scouting college quarterbacks since midseason, he acknowledged last week. The crop of free agents is expected to be thin, so drafting a quarterback could be the most promising approach.
The list of needs extends way beyond that, though. Despite late-season 100-yard games by rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster, coaches believe significant room for improvement exists at that position.
The Redskins also lack playmaking receivers of Jackson's caliber, and they could stand to fortify an offensive line that was beset by injuries, particularly at right tackle.
"I'd like to always work to get 11 Pro Bowlers, but you're not going to do that, so you hope you can add as much talent as you can," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Mike's son. "And when you do that, I feel very confident with the guys that we do have. We just want to upgrade some spots."
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