PITTSBURGH — We knew there would be days like this for Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. Gray days. Rainy days. Days when the opposition ran around in throwback uniforms that made them look like bumblebees. Even days when they were victimized by a running back named Rainey.
OK, maybe not the last two. But definitely the others.
Anyway, Sunday's game, a 27-12 stomping at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, was the first of those days — and it won't be the last. It's just the nature of the beast. There are so many working parts on a football team, so many parts that, on a given afternoon, might malfunction.
On this given afternoon, pretty much the entire Redskins defense seemed to be on the fritz. So did the hands of the Redskins' receivers. In the damp conditions, even Griffin's usual laserlike accuracy was a bit off. And so Mike Shanahan's club finishes the first half of the season with a 3-5 record — a season that, looking at the schedule, only figures to get harder.
By late October, certain patterns tend to emerge for a team. For the Redskins, the patterns are these: One, their defense can't stop anybody — not for very long, at least. And two, when they compound this felony by letting the opponent control the ball, it can get real ugly real fast. RG3 and his multiple dimensions, after all, are their biggest strength right now.
At Heinz Field, this whole worst-case scenario was played out. The Washington 'D' gave up drives of 76 yards for a touchdown and 42 for a field goal before Griffin had so much as attempted a pass. After that, Kyle Shanahan kept opening his box of tricks, trying to reverse the flow of the game, but couldn't get the Big Bang he was looking for. A long throwback to Logan Paulsen, alone down the sideline, just missed connections. An end-around pass from Joshua Morgan to Griffin fell incomplete. A flea flicker — RG3 to Evan Royster to RG3 to Paulsen — produced only a 6-yard gain.
"Almost nothing worked," Griffin said.
All the drops, 10 by Mike Shanahan's unsparing count, didn't help, either. Sure it was cold and drizzly and the ball was wet, but too often, his receivers seemed more preoccupied with running — that is, with yards after catch — than with making the grab in the first place.
"You can't have that many drops," Shanny said. "You've gotta make those plays, especially against this type of defense. It's been a long time since I've had a game like this."
To which Chris Cooley, re-signed just a few days earlier, said, "You can't let [drops] compound like that. You have to refocus. It's a matter of guys looking at one another and saying, 'One play at a time.' You have to get over it quick."
But the Redskins never did get over it. Leonard Hankerson dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter (one that, fortunately for him, didn't keep his club from scoring), and Aldrick Robinson dropped one in the fourth quarter (one that, unfortunately for him, forced his club to settle for three points instead of seven).
Still, you had the feeling that, even if the Redskins' receivers had a better grip on things, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. could have scored more if they'd needed to. Frustration ran so high on the Washington side that DeAngelo Hall was ejected in the final minutes for mouthing off to an official after getting hit with a 15-yard penalty for overzealousness.
As Lorenzo Alexander put it, "Obviously, we have the talent to compete against anybody [as they showed the week before against the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champs]. So to come out and get your butt flat-out whipped it's embarrassing."
Let's face it, the last thing you want to do against an established team like the Steelers, especially on the road, is dig a 20-6 hole for yourself in the first half. This is particularly true on a day when the elements are a factor — increasingly so as the afternoon wears on. It just makes it that much harder to come back.
With Griffin under center, the Redskins are almost never out of a game. But the Steelers contained the rookie QB as well as anyone has, keeping him in the pocket and not giving him too many chances to be creative. He managed a mere 8 rushing yards on six carries and, thanks in part to his receivers' butter fingers, only had one completion to a wideout that was longer than 16 yards (a 21-yarder to Morgan).
How exactly did the Steelers accomplish this? "They were doing everything they could to disrupt the quarterback option," guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. "A lot of pinching and stunts, stuff we hadn't seen them do the last time we played them [in the 2011 preseason]. At times it worked, and at times we did what we were supposed to do and ran the ball well."
That's kind of the story of the 2012 Redskins. At times function at a fairly high level and at times they don't. This was one of the times they didn't. And so, halfway through Mike Shanahan's third season, they remain a work in progress.
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