Talent. The word gets thrown around in Washington Redskinsland almost as much as Robert Griffin III does (depending the defense's orneriness). "There's so much talent in this locker room," a player will say. Or: "This is the most talented team I've ever played on." And so on and so forth.
You heard the word again after Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Lorenzo Alexander, mortified by the defeat, began a sentence with: "Obviously, we have the talent to compete against anybody "
It's such an empty word, talent. After all, everybody in the league has talent. We know this because of all the one-possession games that are played. On the same day the Redskin were getting hammered at Heinz Field, the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns were winning by a point, the Indianapolis Colts were pulling one out in overtime and the margins in two other games were six points or less. (And most weeks, there are even more white knucklers than that.)
In the NFL, it's more a question of: How much talent do you have, and how often does it play to its abilities? After the Redskins' performance against the Steelers, their fans are right to wonder about both those things. It was an effort that fairly screamed: The other guys were ready to play and we weren't.
The Pittsburgh offense scored on its first four possessions — touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal. Washington receivers, meanwhile, dropped so many passes you would have thought the ball was coated with K-Y Jelly, not just slippery from the rain.
For the second week in a row, the Redskins had a chance to show they belonged with the Big Boys, with the flagship franchises that win Super Bowls, and once again they fell short. In this case, woefully short.
The loss left them 3-5 and in last place in the NFC East. But this is a different kind of 3-5, because the Redskins are 3-5 despite getting Pro Bowl-quality quarterbacking from Griffin, the kind of proficiency they haven't seen since 1999, when Brad Johnson took them to their last division title. I ask you: If their QB is playing this well and they're still 3-5, how great can their talent be?
Sure, they've had some bad breaks. They've lost Brian Orakpo and Fred Davis for the season and Pierre Garcon for who knows how long. But they've also had some good breaks. Finding Alfred Morris, the league's third-leading rusher, in the sixth round of the draft certainly was a good break. Heck, so was the St. Louis Rams' willingness to part with the second pick so the Redskins could select RG3 in the first place.
Besides, this is football. Injuries happen. The better-built teams survive them because they have more depth, more impact players, more ways to beat you. Clearly, the Redskins are still lacking in those areas. They have too many physical breakdowns (e.g. dropped passes, missed tackles). They have too many mental breakdowns (e.g. the bomb with 1:33 left that cost them the Giants game). They have too many emotional breakdowns (e.g. Josh Morgan's 15-yard penalty on the final series in St. Louis and DeAngelo Hall's eruption in the late going Sunday).
Talent isn't just the ability to run 40 yards in 4-whatever seconds or to lift 200 pounds X number of times. Football I.Q. also enters into it — not letting a receiver get behind you when you're trying to protect a lead, not losing your composure at any time. The Redskins continue to have a self-destructive bent that, frankly, is disturbing. I mean, Mike Shanahan has been the coach for 21/2 seasons; he should have weeded it out by now.
The club's talent is so lacking that, against the Steelers, it sent Griffin out for a pass. This is the same Griffin who, in addition to completing 66.8 percent his throws, has rushed for nearly 500 yards. Does anybody know whether the kid can drop kick? That might be next.
Instead of having his franchise quarterback run a go route, Kyle Shanahan might want to get the ball in the hands of Santana Moss more often. He's the only receiver with much familiarity with the end zone (having scored five of the wideouts' eight touchdowns). Granted, he's 33, and the Redskins are trying to develop Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, but he's still the most dangerous weapon the passing game has.
Beyond that bit of advice, here's some hope for you: The opposing quarterbacks in the second half of the schedule aren't nearly as scary. So far, the Redskins have gone up against six QBs ranked in the top 12 in passer rating: Matt Ryan (3), Ben Roethlisberger (4), Josh Freeman (8), Drew Brees (10), Eli Manning (11) and Andy Dalton (12). In their last eight games, they'll face only one ranked higher than 17th (Manning again).
Their besieged secondary can use a little relief like that. The Redskins will really have turned a corner, though, when we no longer describe their secondary as "besieged."
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