It has been one year since the Washington Redskins were staring at a 3-6 record, Mike Shanahan was talking about seeing who would be on the football team long term, and sounding like he was resigned to being out of contention. Shanahan, at the time, was 14-27 in Washington.
Washington then reeled off seven straight wins to reach the postseason and revitalize the franchise. Then, Robert Griffin III tore his knee ligaments (in a game where it looked like he should have been out before that point already injured).
Fast forward one year. Washington is again 3-6, and again staring at a stretch of games that will define the season. People who thought the defense would improve and the offense would return look like idiots. Rally or wilt? Here’s what Washington is facing in the next four weeks:
- At Philadelphia, in a rematch of the game that got this season off to a rough start. Lose this one, and it is probably over in terms of playoff contention in the NFC East, even in a weak division, because the Eagles would own the tiebreaker and a 2.5 game lead;
- vs. San Francisco, a home game against one of the best teams in the NFC;
- vs. the Giants, and if either New York or Washington want to climb from a slow start, one needs to sweep the series;
- vs. Kansas City, the only undefeated team left in the league, at least until they visit Denver Sunday Night.
A crucial road game that they almost certainly must win, followed by three home games. Washington needs to beat the Giants and at least split against San Francisco and Kansas City at home to have a puncher’s chance to be in the NFC East #4 seed mix.
What if they don’t surge for a second year in a row? It will be four years in Washington for Shanahan, and three with a losing record. A loss on Sunday would drop them out at 3-7. We saw the fallout in January with knee injury and the criticism. Then, when Shanahan was cautious with bringing Griffin III along slowly, his quarterback bristled.
Where is the relationship at right now? That could be the key determinant in how much patience Daniel Snyder will have with the coach. The offense started slowly when Griffin returned from the knee injury, so the pro-Shanahan argument has to be that he needs a mulligan for the start of this year due to injury, and that 2014 promises to be more like the end of 2012.
Of course, the biggest issue with the second half of Shanahan’s coaching career–when he has commanded greater control of organizations– has been defense, the men he has chosen as his coordinators, and his personnel. Including this year, four of the last five teams coached by Shanahan have been in the bottom six in the league in yards allowed on defense. The last time a Shanahan-run team has finished in the top 20 (hardly a high standard) in points allowed was all the way back in 2006. It’s little wonder that his teams have made one playoff appearance during that time.
Let’s say they finish with a losing record, and the defense is again near the bottom of the league. Jim Haslett has been the coordinator in Washington for the entire Shanahan tenure. He will take the fall. The only question is whether the owner wants Shanahan making the next call on who gets to try to produce a competent defense.
Just like last year, Washington can make all that moot . . . but only if they win on Sunday to begin a run.