Well, the verdict is nearly in. It's far from official, and even less of a surprise to anyone who has even casually followed the Redskins this season:


We're not a good football team.


In fact, we're pretty bad.


And we're getting worse.


This pessimistic outlook goes completely against my grain, but the facts are nearly indisputable. After a 3-1 first quarter that gave rise to all kinds of now-absurd speculation, the B&G have, in order, lost to


1) A reeling Eagles squad at home 20-13. The 1-4 "Dream Team" outgained us by nearly 140 yards and held the ball almost twice as long as they righted the ship on their way out of the NFCE cellar.
2) The toddling Panthers (!?!) 33-20. Though we were only outgained by 50 yards this time, and held the ball only 11 minutes less, once again a team with only one win, led by a true rookie QB, beat us.
3) A solid but unspectacular Bills team 23-0. Yup. Blanked. Shut-out. Goose-egged. For the first time ever in Mike Shanahan's long and storied career.
4) A rising, overachieving 49'ers unit led by their highly caffeinated, super-testosterone-charged head coach, 19-11. Again at home. And it wasn't even as close as the final score indicated.

This 4 game tailspin should and probably will end soon; two of our next three games are eminently winnable, whether we do so or not. Starting in Week 13 though, we face an extremely tough 3 game stretch against, in order, the Jets, the Patriots and the Giants. In the last half of the season we play only 4 games in which we should be favored and should win if we play the way we have been. Of those four we figure to lose at least one - that's just how it is in today's ultra-parity NFL. Discounting any big upsets in the other matchups, that means we may very well finish these last 8 games with a 3-5 record. Again. Meaning another 6-10 season. Again.

Yay.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought we were re-building here? Onward and upward, that whole bit. I might not know the definition of progress word for word, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't include back to back 6-10 seasons. I know it hasn't happened yet, but it is highly probable that it will. It might even be 5-11 or worse, who knows? In fairness I realize it could also be much better than I anticipate, but I'd lay odds it won't. When the dust settles I see us exactly where we were one year ago. And that, as I said earlier, is not progress. It's being stuck in the same old same old.

So who's to blame for all this? If we're not really building or re-building anything, where does the buck stop? With such a wide range of dysfunction and disarray, it's not an easy task assigning blame in this situation. After all, there are so many targets to choose from; where does one begin? Let's start here...


Quarterback: It's been sooo long since anyone wearing the best colors in sports could confidently, consistently lead an offense down the field that it's not even remotely funny. If you discount Brad Johnson, who wasn't here long enough to truly establish himself in the line of succession from Sammy to Sonny to Billy and so on, the last decent signal-caller we had was Mark Rypien, who not coincidentally led us to our last Super Bowl victory way way WAY back in 1992. Ryp wasn't the most accurate guy out there, but he threw a nice deep ball and had no problem making quick, sure decisions in the pocket. In short, he was a leader and a winner.


Rex Grossman and John Beck, on the other hand, er, not so much.


I watched a game today where I saw more checkdowns than a month of entire Pop Warner league gamescombined would normally produce. Some of that can of course be put on the receivers not getting separation, but c'mon -- how many times can you miss guys who are relatively wide open to dump off the ball to your safety valve RB? Or throw to an underneath route far from the sticks on a 3rd down? At the midway point this season our passing offense sits squarely in the middle of the pack, 16th out of 32 at 228 yards per game. Those numbers are slightly skewed by the fact that we have played from behind in most if not all of our last four games, not to mention in the win over the Cardinals. On offense the 'Skins have thrown just over 37 times a game this season, 9th highest in the NFL, but with only 6.7 yards per completion we rank in the bottom 3rd of the league, and our QBR of 69.2 is next to last.


Nothing about those numbers in any way suggests we have a competent, confident field general directing traffic behind center. But what else is new (at least in the last 20 years) when it comes to the 'Skins? We need a good QB in the worst way. Whether we get one after this rapidly plummeting season is anybody's guess, but until it happens we have little shot at doing anything in the postseason. Quarterback, however, is only the most glaring weakness. It is not nearly the only one. Which brings me to:


The Wide Receivers: Outside of Fred "Sleepy" Davis, an inconsistent at best Jabar Gaffney and Santana Moss (before he was injured that is), the entire 2011 crop of Redskins pass-catchers might as well be on IR for all the impact they've made on the field. The recently jettisoned Donte Stallworth reminded me only too much of so many high-priced, over the hill FA pickups of years past. His effort was also eerily reminiscent of all those washed up acquisitions - slim or none. Leonard Hankerson has shown promise, but his fellow rookie Niles Paul has been nearly as much of an Invisible Man as the one famously penned by Ralph Ellison. The same goes for Anthony Armstrong...and please don't get me started on Terence Austin. I love the UCLA Bruins nearly as much as I do the 'Skins, but the last two Westwood products to come to DC, Austin and S Chris Horton, have done so badly in Burgundy & Gold that I'm almost finding myself looking across town these days and contemplating how I'd look in Cardinal and Gold. As in USC Cardinal and Gold. .


Almost.


This cast of characters usually can't catch a cold, but on those rare occasions when they do, the odds are good that they'll cough up the ball two or three seconds later. Not exactly comforting. Also not exactly a lethal juggernaut comprised of world-class speed, sponge-like hands and breathtaking run-after-catch moves. Definitely nothing like the Smurfs or the Fun Bunch in their respective heydays (sigh). Not for the first time I find myself wondering and waiting and worrying about when, if ever, we see receivers the equal of Monk, Clark, Sanders, Brown and even the aging but still potent Henry Ellard - targets that never let a defense let down it's guard for even a single play, lest they pay the highest price for doing so...(second sigh) I watch other teams play and see play after play made by a leaping, twisting, impossibly elevated WR, and I ask why the Redskins can't seem to stock their rosters with players of comparable ability.


I dunno. We just never do...

Our WR's can't get off of jams at the line of scrimmage, they can't outrun defenders on go routes or skinny posts, they can't seem to find the holes in 2 deep or any other kind of zone...come to think of it, they can't really do much of a doggone thing. And that's a problem, because it means opposing defenses can safely walk 8 or even 9 men up to within 5-6 yards of the LOS without any worries about a deep ball ending up in the hands of somebody who torched the corner and got behind the deep safety for a quick, dramatic, easy six. Because that will never happen with this crop of wideouts. At least not any more than one wins the lottery.


This complete absence of anything resembling a deep threat means all those defenders in the box have little problem shutting down our ZBS running game; outside of the occasional stretch play we run the ball the way former President Bill Clinton controlled his adulterous sexual urges - which is to say not at all. That means that one of the strengths of this strengthless team, the running back core, is rendered totally ineffective nearly every time they take the field. Doesn't matter who's back there 7 yards deep - Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain, Roy Helu or even Darrel Young just for laughs - the guy taking the handoff is going to gain 2.5 yards or less a pathetic 7 times out of 10. And that's a generous estimate, believe me.


It also wouldn't matter if we had the Hogs in their prime blocking for them, though we clearly don't. The current edition of the O-line is one part underachieving, one part over-the-hill journeymen and one part quality starters. And it shows. Halfway through this season the Redskins have rushed for a paltry 719 yards, Only the Giants, Seahawks, Browns and Titans have done worse. Our pitiful 3.9 yards per carry average is worse than all but six teams. Even the pass-happy Detroit Lions have toted the rock more than we have. Say what you will about injuries, a makeshift O-line, etc etc, at the end of the day the 'Skins can't consistently run the ball. And we all know what that means:


Teams that can't run the ball can't sustain drives. They can't control the clock. They can't salt away games they are leading. And come December, when games are that much more important as teams sprint for the few postseason berths available, their offenses are forced to pass in usually inclement weather - not a solid recipe for success.


Well, it's not like our Head Coach is an offensive guru who is synonymous with taking no-name linemen and unwanted running backs and blowing up with them; he's not exactly a guy who once fielded one of the most devastating rushing offenses in all of football year in and year out with a minimum of raw talent -


Oh wait...he is. Or was.


PART 2 COMING SOON


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