Reporting David Elfin
All the fuss over Rex vs. Beck obscures the larger truth that befell the Redskins during last Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia. Their offensive line suddenly came unglued.
After starting the same quintet for each of the first five games, line coach Chris Foerster watched in horror as left guard Kory Lichtensteiger went down with a season-ending torn ACL in the first quarter and left tackle Trent Williams followed with a high ankle sprain in the second quarter that will likely sideline him well into November.
Sean Locklear, who had spent most of his NFL career at right tackle and had yet to play a snap for Washington, replaced Williams. Will Montgomery slid over from center and stepped in for Lichtensteiger while Erik Cook, a seventh-round draft choice in 2010 who had yet to play a regular season down, assumed the snapping duties.
Foerster, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and coach Mike Shanahan could move right tackle Jammal Brown to the left side where he was chosen for two Pro Bowls while with New Orleans, but that would disrupt the chemistry that he has formed with right guard Chris Chester. And Montgomery, for all of his versatility, hasn’t started at left guard since December 2007.
Ranked a humdrum 17th in offense and in rushing, recent history says that the Redskins figure to have serious troubles in those areas for the rest of the season.
Consider this: Washington went 5-11 in 2006 but i 9-7 in 2007. What didn’t change much was the O-line.
In 2006, the team plummeted from the playoffs to the basement but with right tackle Jon Jansen’s one missed start the lone absence on the line, Washington was 13th in offense and fourth in rushing.
Jansen was lost for the year in the 2007 opener and right guard Randy Thomas followed suit two weeks later, but veterans Todd Wade and Jason Fabini stepped in with reasonable effectiveness. The only other change up front came when Stephon Heyer replaced Wade in Week 12. Washington was 15th on offense, 12th in rushing.
The Redskins got hot in 2008 after Jansen won his job back from Heyer in Week 4 but finished cold once Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels was injured. Washington (8-8) slipped to 19th in offense was eighth in rushing.
The past two years were a mess. Thomas (Week 2) and Samuels (Week 5) suffered career-ending injuries early in 2009. The Redskins lost 10 of their last 12 games and finished 22nd on offense and 27th in rushing.
Last season, Washington didn’t keep a line together for more than three straight games. Not coincidentally, those were the October contests in which the Redskins beat Super Bowl champion Green Bay and NFC North winner Chicago and nearly toppled AFC South perennial kingpin Indianapolis. They went 4-9 otherwise and ranked 18th on offense and 30th in rushing.
Which brings us back to today. A game after churning out 196 yards on the ground at St. Louis, the Redskins ran for just 42 yards against the Eagles. While running back Ryan Torain didn’t seem to have the same burst in his first start of 2010 as he had off the bench against the Rams, the changes up front surely played a major role in the ground game’s downfall.
Suddenly, Brown is the only member of the line that was starting this time last season. Montgomery was a backup. Cook was on the practice squad. Chester and Locklear didn’t don the burgundy and gold until this August. That’s scary for a unit for which knowing what the guy next to you is going to do are paramount.
Offenses can overcome a lack of continuity on the line with superior talent at the skill positions, particularly at quarterback. Whether Grossman remains the starter or Beck gets his chance, neither is good enough to win games on his own. So turning Washington’s 3-1 surprising start into a solid finish is even more critically in the hands of its sixth-ranked defense.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.