- - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

If I didn’t know better Monday night, I might have thought I was looking at Donovan McNabb running the Washington Redskins’ no-huddle offense for Mike Shanahan.

No-huddle was no good for the Redskins in their 26-15 Monday night loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins rushed his team to the line in no-huddle near the end of the first quarter at FedEx Field on second down and eight with the ball on Washington’s 27-yard line, and the quick throw to Vernon Davis resulted in the interception by Kurt Coleman, which led to a 23-yard field goal by Graham Gano.

Then, after the game, Redskins coach Jay Gruden talked about the futility of his team’s no-huddle offense.

“It’s tough,” Gruden said. “We’re out there, we’re trying to pick up the pace and go no huddle. And then we call a running play and it’s right at them and it didn’t work out too good.”

The question, though, wasn’t about the no-huddle offense or the pace. It was about Jordan Reed’s injured shoulder and whether Gruden considered taking the All-World tight end out of the game before Reed benched himself with a punch to the helmet of Coleman that led to his ejection.

Jay Gruden volunteered the shot at his no-huddle offense on his own.

Was it a shot? It sure sounded like one. It sure sounded like Gruden thought the decision to run the ball in no-huddle there by offensive coordinator Sean McVay wasn’t the best idea. Like he said, “It didn’t work out too good.”

We know if it was up to Gruden, there would be two quarterbacks in the backfield with no running back. And what happened Monday night isn’t likely going to sell the head coach on running the ball even more — the type of offense Washington needs to control the ball and keep their debilitating defense off the field as much as possible.

“We miss-targeted a couple of runs for whatever reason,” Gruden told reporters in the post-game press conference. “So not a lot of good looks for Rob (Kelley) unfortunately. Chris (Thompson) had I think a couple of carries, got a couple of decent looks. Rob had nothing. So we’ve got to look at our running game and try to figure out ways to get him more involved. That’s part of the issue.”

Gruden took the kid gloves off later in the press conference when he answered a question about their offensive struggles Monday night with, “Part of it was that the running game was atrocious.”

Look for Cousins to be slinging it Saturday in Chicago — obviously a must win for Washington (7-6-1) for any shot at the playoffs.

There may be no reason to panic about the offense, which has produced yardage, if not points, for much of this season. The Redskins rank third in the league in total yards per game, averaging 406.6 yards, though they are 10th in the NFL in points per game, averaging 24.6. What happened Monday night may simply be a case of a good Carolina defense finding its game for one night in an inconsistent season.

But what is troublesome is Washington’s inability to adapt to it and have an answer during the course of the game. What is troublesome is that Washington had no answer from the time the coin was tossed (Gruden again deferring intelligence by winning the toss and putting his defense on the field once again to start the game and stake the Panthers to a 3-0 lead) to the end, when, on the final Redskins’ possession with a little more than a minute left, as his offense took baby steps down the field, Jamison Crowder fumbled after a five-yard Cousins pass, and the few Redskins fans that hadn’t already left FedEx Field by then headed for the exits.

All game. No answer.

“We were outcoached today,” Gruden admitting to the obvious. “There’s no question about that. And I think they played better than us today. So we have to give credit to the Carolina Panthers. It’s my responsibility to get these guys ready to play. We weren’t as ready as I would have liked to have been. We didn’t execute like I would have liked to have seen. That falls on my shoulders.”

When their answer was no huddle, it was no good.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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