- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mike Shanahan told it to everyone who would listen after he became the Washington Redskins‘ coach in January 2010. Returning the franchise to respectability would not happen overnight, he said. Those words have appeared in every local newspaper and on every local airwave many times since.

And while Shanahan avoided using the word “rebuilding,” the obvious age and lack of talent on the Redskins roster crystallized the magnitude of Shanahan’s task. It required more than just some fresh paint and pretty pictures to hang on the wall. No, Shanahan needed a bulldozer and sledgehammer for a full-scale demolition and remodeling.

Fast-forward 34 months, though, and the project remains far from complete. The Redskins reached their bye this week with a record of 3-6, the same mark as this point last season. Shanahan used “overnight” as a figure of speech, but with a 14-27 record as Redskins coach and another December of irrelevance ahead, it’s fair to wonder when the sun is supposed to come up.

“We started over again — offense, defense,” Shanahan said. “We’ve tried to do it through the draft and free agency, get a lot younger, get the right players, and I see some tremendous strides. Hopefully, it’s not only me. Hopefully, it’s Dan, as well.”

Shanahan, of course, referred to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. It was an unusual occurrence Monday, but these are dire times. Shanahan’s vision for this season has not become reality, and, as the one who has assembled the roster, any scrutiny ascends the organizational hierarchy to Shanahan’s perch.

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) scrambles during fourth quarter action at FedEx Field, Landover, Md., Nov. 4, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) scrambles during fourth quarter action ... more >

He drafted Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III in April, trading three first round draft picks and a second-rounder to do so. He expected to add Griffin to an offense retooled in the offseason with young playmakers and a defense he believed was capable of finishing among the top five in the NFL a year after he overhauled it.

A mix of injuries and underachievement on defense, though, has outweighed — at least in the standings — Griffin’s promising rookie season. Instead of a strong defense helping a struggling rookie quarterback, the reverse has been true. The Redskins‘ offense ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per play, while the defense ranks 29th.

Shanahan attributes the defensive breakdowns to injuries.

“It’s not what we were a year ago,” he said. “But these guys are gaining some experience. I think we’ve got a chance to get a couple guys back, and some of the other guys that have been playing, I think are getting better. So it gives you a chance.”

The Redskins lost two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral muscle) and starting left defensive end Adam Carriker (torn quadriceps tendon) for the season in Week 2. First-string strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who signed as a free agent in March, has not played because he sprained his left knee in the second preseason game and then reinjured it during a freak pregame collision in Week 4.

Amid the injuries, other front-line defensive players, ones Shanahan acquired, are not performing at the level they did in 2011.

Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has only one sack in the past five games, and that was of a Pittsburgh Steelers receiver attempting to throw on a trick play.

Kerrigan contributes stopping the run and covering tight ends, but an impotent pass rush is killing the Redskins‘ defense. Kerrigan sometimes faces double teams and extra attention from blockers in Orakpo’s absence, but he concedes he must improve getting off one-on-one blocks to disrupt quarterbacks’ timing.

Defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, free agents Shanahan signed in 2011, are major positive factors on a run defense that ranks 14th in yards surrendered per carry. But they admittedly are not pushing the pocket consistently enough in passing situations.

That has not helped a secondary that has surrendered eight passes of more than 40 yards, tied for most in the NFL. Cornerbacks Josh Wilson, whom Shanahan signed as a free agent last season, and DeAngelo Hall, whom Shanahan inherited, have repeatedly been victimized.

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