Being negative is a defense mechanism.
There are things to like about the Washington Redskins. Intriguing second year players, the continued growth of their youth, the shiny new free agent acquisitions. That palpable feeling of joy once the air starts to turn crisp and football is being played. It’s hard to stay unhyped and low key, even if you’re the most negative of Nancies. But some fans manage to build that wall, to keep from getting exciting, to use the past experiences to stomp down that indelible hope that creeps into each new season.
It’s not that they want the team to lose. That’d be dumb, why root for a team that you want to lose? It’s that they expect to lose, and would rather be pleasantly surprised when they win or exceed expectations. They hope to win, but guard themselves against what they feel is the inevitable. If they win, great. If they lose, well of course they did.
The Washington Redskins lost last night, and not one bit of it felt surprising. They didn’t even lose in a new, amusing way. This was a team that looked exactly like the team that got embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers, only a year older and with a ton of new expectations that they promptly went about not living up to.
It’s as if nothing changed whatsoever. The Redskins looked like a team that had done precisely nothing to improve, which, when you think about the real big problems on the team from a year ago, they really hadn’t.
The Redskins returned their entire starting offensive line from 2015, apparently assuming that the reasons the run game had been garbage juice was because they’d been without LG Shawn Lauvao for most of the season. They did nothing to address the biggest liability on the line, C Kory Lichtensteiger. Kory had a decent first half of 2014 at center, regressed then spent much of 2015 injured. He then was allowed to come back in the playoffs after Bill Callahan spent an entire season trying to groom Josh LeRibeus into a center, despite the fact that he could neither snap the ball, or remember the snap count. They didn’t address the position in free agency, or in the draft, instead choosing to try and convert Spencer Long (who’s an average guard at best) to center. They also re-signed Josh LeRibeus and had him take snaps at center. When that didn’t work, they tried a 25th hour trade for a center who was about to be cut by the Patriots, who couldn’t beat out an undrafted free agent. The trade was called off when Bryan Stork couldn’t pass a physical.
Bryan Stork would’ve started week 1 at center.
Despite all the proclamations of an improved run game, it looked like a mirror image of last year. The Redskins let veteran running back Alfred Morris walk in free agency, and cut fullback Darrel Young. They did nothing to upgrade their line. They tattooed Matt Jones in at starter, in spite of injury and fumble issues, and then didn’t even address the position in the draft until round 7 when they took Keith Marshall, a talented but injury prone running back out of Georgia. Marshall, naturally, is on IR right now. They didn’t add a veteran back, and instead bulked up at the receiving positions; they spent a 1st round pick on a wide receiver, signed veteran TE Vernon Davis, cut blocking TE Logan Paulsen, and added a bunch of tall undrafted wide receivers. Robert Kelley had a solid preseason, but barely saw the field on Monday, much less the ball.
The Redskins ran the ball 11 times, and their best hope for improvement is a 31 year old player who is currently a free agent.
They counted on OLB Junior Gallette to help with the pass rush while neglecting a week defensive line. Gallette got hurt and they panicked. They re-signed Kedric Golston to be a nose tackle after cutting Terrance Knighton, despite Golston never being a productive defensive end, much less a nose tackle. They let Stephen Paea go a season after giving him decent money, and didn’t draft a d-linemen until round 5. They’re paying Josh Norman $15 million a year to not shadow top receivers and giving him no pass rush, while taking valuable snaps away from Preston Smith (who got close several times but has to learn to finish) to put Trent Murphy on the field. Trent Murphy wouldn’t make most team’s roster, but he’s on the field over the younger player with more potential.
Now they turn to Cullen Jenkins, a 35 year old, to try and actually manufacture a pass rush or ability to stop the run game.
Kirk Cousins showed the frustrating lack of arm strength and accuracy that had fans questioning how he possibly leap frogged his way to the starting job last year. He did not look like a $20 million quarterback, but like the same guy who started in Week 1 versus the Dolphins. His mechanics were out of whack, the stage looked to bright for him, and his desire to get rid of the ball quickly at all cost led to turnovers. Despite having a full offseason as the starter, Cousins was out of sync with his team; in the first half, he and DeSean Jackson weren’t on the same page and he nearly threw an interception on a run pass option. Later, he correctly identified an overload blitz by the Steelers, correctly audibled to the right play…and then instructed Matt Jones to run to the wrong side, against his blockers and into the gaping maw of the defense, which was the whole reason he audibled in the first place.
He locked in on Jordan Reed and rarely came off his primary receiver, things that looked to be behind him late in 2015, but seem to be raging back in 2016. His passes lacked zip, and the poise he exhibited seemed to disappear. The Steelers dropped 8 into coverage and rushed 3, and Cousins was neutered; they neutralized the Redskins passing game, forcing Cousins to hold the ball and get shaky in the pocket, knowing he wasn’t a threat to run. And since the Redskins had no run game (and didn’t even attempt to establish one), it left the game squarely on the shoulders of a QB who could not and did not handle that pressure. Which did not stop the Redskins from having Cousins drop back to pass 43 times.
The same lack of in game adjustments (Norman not being allowed to trail Antonio Brown, the Steelers literally running the same play over and over for big yards), odd game planning (leaving Breeland one on one with Antonio Brown, Reed and Jackson disappearing for long stretches), the lack of balls and lack of solid judgment (passing up a 4th and 1, then going for it on 4th and 6) stupid penalties (including four by veteran offensive linemen and one by a running back somehow), and the same bewildered post game excuse making.
The Redskins had an entire offseason to prepare for this game. Even Mike Shanahan went 3 out of 4 in opening games. Jay Gruden is now 0-3 in Week 1. Kirk Cousins is 0-26 against teams with a winning record. They didn’t just look outplayed; the looked out of their league. The Steelers didn’t take them seriously, and the Redskins did nothing to make them pay for it.
This Redskins team has all the hallmarks of every bad team that accidentally makes the playoffs one year and falls off a cliff the next. There are teams that make the playoffs and then take great strides to take the next step, and then there are the teams who think they’ve got it all figured out, and think they can roll into the next season with the same bag of tricks and walk to a playoff berth. That’s not the case. The division is better this year. The schedule is harder. There are no “cupcake” teams to pad the record against. The expectations are higher and the spotlight is more intense, and the Redskins team that walked into a FedEx Field on Monday Night Football sure looked like a team that was more concerned with playing ping pong and cards in the locker room and giving purple nurples to the coach in the cafeteria than the actual business of, ya know, winning football games.
The Redskins spent the offseason acting like they had it figured out, and then they got curbstomped and embarrassed. That isn’t a sign of a new culture; it’s the old one, given a new paint job and presented as new. There was nothing surprising about the Redskins losing last night, in the fashion they lost. And that is the most infuriating thing in the world.