Most games are lost on the playing field, but occasionally you’ll see one that’s lost in the boardroom. The Redskins’ 20-17 defeat at Carolina on Sunday is a classic example of the latter. Indeed, it stands as a monument to the dubious decision-making that has marked the Dan Snyder Era.
The owner and his minions spent the offseason neglecting their offensive line, so intent were they to assemble a killer defense. They spent big money to retain DeAngelo Hall. They spent even bigger money to reel in prize free agent Albert Haynesworth. Then they used their first-round draft pick on Brian Orakpo.
Swell, Dan-o, just swell. But here’s the thing: Attention also needed to be paid to Jason Campbell’s bodyguards, some of whom are getting along in years and two of whom, Randy Thomas and Chris Samuels, are coming off surgery. Prudence required a suitable Plan B at right guard and left tackle - not because the two veterans would get hurt but because it was uncomfortably within the realm of possibility.
This dereliction of duty has cost the Redskins dearly this season. Their Plan B at right guard, second-year man Chad Rinehart, lasted all of two games - the first two of his NFL life - before he was returned to the inactive list. Starting in his stead against the Panthers was newcomer Mike Williams, who has spent almost his entire career at tackle and basically had to “learn [the guard position] in about three days” last week, he said.
The Plan B at left tackle, meanwhile, D’Anthony Batiste, has logged a mere four starts as an NFLer - all at guard. This is who was defending Campbell’s hind flank Sunday after Samuels exited early with a stinger. The results were painfully predictable. In the next dozen snaps, Campbell was the victim of three sacks, the first resulting in a fumble the Redskins were fortunate to recover.
With Samuels incapacitated, everything changed. A line that was already being held together with athletic tape because of Thomas’ injury became borderline nonfunctional. So much so that Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley was kept in to block most of the afternoon - to help Batiste on one side and young Stephon Heyer on the other - and didn’t catch a pass for the first time since he was a rookie in 2004.
“With Batiste in there,” Jim Zorn said, “I didn’t want to put him in the position where there were long-developing [pass] plays. I felt I had to get the ball out of there. Sometimes we protected Jason; sometimes we didn’t.”
The only reason the Redskins were able to score 17 points - the only reason this was a game at all - was that they were handed the ball on the Carolina 13 (fumble) and 1 (interception) and managed to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. They certainly couldn’t have done it all by themselves, not with their line in such disarray.
It would have been nice to hear Batiste’s side of the story, but he declined to comment, citing the need to “look at the film” before issuing any statements. What an organization. The defensive coordinator goes Marcel Marceau on us Thursday, and the emergency left tackle clams up Sunday. (And on top of all this, I’ll just remind you, Robert Henson has stopped tweeting.)
Perhaps Batiste thought - at the tender age of, uh, 28 - that the media was going to pepper him, Muhammad Ali-like, with a barrage of accusatory questions. But he’s hardly to blame for what happened at Bank of America Stadium, for the blowing of a 15-point lead to the previously winless Panthers. D’Anthony is a symptom, not a cause, of the team’s problems, a byproduct of the misguided management that continues to cripple the franchise.
You’re not going anywhere in the NFL with veritable novices at two line positions - with a right guard who had to speed-read the playbook to get ready for the game and a left tackle who, developmentally, is still at Square One. It’s an invitation to disaster. Heck, it’s an invitation to having your quarterback wheeled off on a gurney. You just can’t allow yourself to get in that situation.
But the Redskins have - through sheer neglect and a warped sense of priorities. Sure, Haynesworth was a sexy signing, but it came at the expense of, among other things, better depth on the O-line. Granted, no club can totally prepare itself for every eventuality. There are always going to be places on the roster that are a bit thin, places where management is just crossing its fingers and hoping for the best.
But one of those places should never be the offensive line; it’s too darn important. If you don’t have a workable line, the offense ceases to function - as we were reminded again Sunday. Zorn had to radically alter his game plan against the Panthers, and Jason Campbell and Co. wound up gaining only 198 yards, their fewest since the Z-Man became coach.
“It changed the whole dynamic of our offense,” Campbell said.
It also, he was convinced, changed the whole dynamic of the Carolina defense. “You could see how they were teeing off” once Samuels went out, he said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
Not only was it the difference in the game, it’s the difference between the Redskins and the better-run franchises in the NFL. Football, as they say, is a collision sport, which also makes it a what-if sport - as in, “What if this guy goes down?” or “What if that guy doesn’t come all the way back from his injury?”
At Redskin Park, they never seem to spend nearly enough time asking, “What if?”