- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Benching Robert Griffin III didn’t work, at least not in terms of beating Indianapolis.

Can Jay Gruden bench the whole secondary? Can he demote defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and promote any assistant not named Raheem Morris? Hired for his know-how on offense, can Gruden find anyone to play or coach competently on the other side of the ball?

If he’s counting on help from the front office, it’s unlikely to arrive. But he has enough to worry about as is.

President and general manager Bruce Allen has gotten very little right in Washington; who’s to say he didn’t whiff on Gruden, too?

Like a jalopy that should be junked but remains on the road, different parts of this team keep breaking down. Changing the starter might’ve led to a smooth ride against Indy if not for the massive leaks that sprung up and allowed Andrew Luck to disassemble the secondary in a 49-27 rout.

In the previous game, against San Francisco, Washington’s defense held up pretty good. But the offense never got in gear and the team sputtered to another loss. Colt McCoy was given the keys Sunday and the performance was just as bad early, though it showed significant improvement in the second half.

The slow start was unfortunate, wasting excellent field position set up by turnovers on Indy’s first two possessions. Washington began those drives on the Colts’ 15- and 45-yard lines and mustered just three points. Indy scored touchdowns on three of its next four drives to open a 21-3 lead.

Touchdowns on three of Indy’s five possessions after intermission — plus a defensive touchdown for good measure — made the blowout official.

Washington’s defense would’ve been challenged at full strength, as Indy boasts the NFL’s top offense in yards per game and passing yards per game, and is fourth in points per game. Trying to defend Luck with an injury-depleted group of mostly inexperienced defensive backs wasn’t a fair fight.

But it’s not that Luck passed for 370 yards and five touchdowns. It’s the ease in which he amassed those totals.

His targets were catching the ball, but the DBs must’ve been scared of catching a disease. Why else were receivers left all alone?

Considering how wide open tight end Coby Fleener was on a 30-yard TD reception — and on another that might’ve been a 52-yarder if he didn’t drop it — you would think he was highly contagious. On another play, from Indy’s 5, Fleener had nothing but turf ahead and no defenders nearby when Luck overthrew him by a hair.

Gruden acknowledged the youth in his defensive backfield, which entered Sunday without injured cornerback DeAngelo Hall and nickel back E.J. Biggers, and saw safety Brandon Meriweather exit with a toe injury. But inexperience can’t be the sole explanation for so many receivers running free and clear.

Communication, execution and schemes must be factors, too.

Washington is kind of a feast or famine defense,” wideout Reggie Wayne told The Indianapolis Star after the game. “They try to confuse you, but if you can get a bead on them, there’s going to be somebody running open. And you saw that today.

“And coming into this game, they were banged up in the secondary. So we stayed three-wide and four-wide on purpose. We wanted to see how much the new guys had.”

Apparently, not much.

That could be the team’s biggest problem. Not who calls the signals on offense but who calls the shots on personnel. At first glance, Washington has glaring weaknesses in almost every area except punting.

Too bad Tress Way can’t get in formation and boot Allen.

RG3 apologists were in full “I-told-you-so” mode Sunday, almost gleeful when the offense looked equally putrid with McCoy under center. He found his rhythm later and reached a level of competence that has eluded Griffin so far, but this season is about more than the starting quarterback.

It’s about players and coaches at every position. It’s about trying to evaluate who’s worth keeping and who’s simply worthless.

Another losing season is ensured, the team’s ninth in 13 years. Another campaign is likely to end with double-digit losses, the fifth in six seasons. Another regime is trying to sort through another mess.

RG3 might be elsewhere next year. Here’s hoping that’s true for Haslett and certainly Allen. Gruden has a five-year contract, so he might not mind being one-and-done.

In any case, this soap opera will continue as a poor substitute for a strong football organization.

Here’s a thought that could help: Can the owner bench himself?

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