Reporting David Elfin
The Redskins’ three October games had pretty clear themes. Last week was about Mike Shanahan’s return to Denver. The previous week’s hot topic was DeAngelo Hall’s rematch with Jay Cutler. And Washington’s first game last month was against archrival Dallas.
But as the November schedule begins against San Diego in Landover on Sunday, the drama quotient has collapsed just as the Redskins did over the final 26 minutes against the Broncos.
When the Chargers last visited back in 2005, the game marked the return of coach Norv Turner, whom Redskins owner Dan Snyder had dismissed with Washington still in the playoff hunt five years earlier. However, Turner was fired by San Diego after last season and replacement Mike McCoy is about as unknown as they come.
Other than quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, who are longtime mainstays, the most familiar name among the Chargers’ offensive starters is left guard Chad Rinehart, who was cut by Shanahan in 2010 after playing in just four games during his first two seasons.
San Diego’s defensive starters are equally obscure other than rookie inside linebacker Manti Te’o of fake girlfriend fame, former Baltimore outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and All-Pro free safety Eric Weddle.
Former Redskin and Terp Nick Novak is having a fine season as the Chargers’ member of the ex-Redskins kickers club that also includes Carolina’s Graham Gano, Cleveland’s Billy Cundiff, Detroit’s David Akers and Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, all of whom are having better seasons than Washington incumbent Kai Forbath.
The Chargers have beaten division leaders Indianapolis and Dallas, but they have also lost to Oakland which Washington beat by 10 points on the road. San Diego is 4-3 but has yet to play AFC North leader Cincinnati nor any of its four games with AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City who are a combined 16-1. Sayonara, Chargers.
Of course, as the coaches and players on losing teams repeat like a mantra, it’s not about the opponent. And the 2-5 Redskins just aren’t very good.
Other than its (first half defense/second half offense) survival of Chicago, Washington has been ahead for less than 40 minutes during its seven games. The September spankings by Philadelphia and Green Bay inflated the Redskins’ passing stats because they went into throw it on every down mode early.
Alfred Morris is having a strong season, leading the top 20 running backs with 5.2 yards per carry. However, none of the others who haven’t missed a game or two have fewer carries than Morris’ 108. Receiver Pierre Garcon (47 catches) and rookie tight end Jordan Reed (34) are also playing well as is left tackle Trent Williams, but coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense remains generally out of sync with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s production way off from his spectacular 2012 debut.
Washington’s defense makes big plays (20 sacks, 13 takeaways, five touchdowns — three from Hall) and has come up big on third downs. However, no team has more trouble stopping the run and the pass than coordinator Jim Haslett’s Redskins.
Speaking of teams, Washington’s special teams are the least special in the league. The Redskins can’t punt, kick field goals, return kickoffs or punts or cover punts. New special teams coach Keith Burns’ units are only good at covering kickoffs.
All of this has happened even though Washington has all of its starters back from last year’s NFC East champions – other than free safety Maideu Williams who wasn’t re-signed — and has only lost seven starts to suspensions (five) or injuries (two).
The Redskins’ seven foes so far are a combined 26-23, not counting their games against Washington. After the Chargers, they face just two teams with winning records, the unbeaten Chiefs and 6-2 San Francisco, from among a group of nine opponents who are a collective 32-37.
As they reach mid-season, the Redskins can point to two other threads to keep hope alive. The first, of course, is the fact that this same group rallied from a 3-6 start last year to win its final seven games and the NFC East title. The second is that the division is so bad that they’re just 2.5 games out of first place with the rematches with 4-4 Dallas and 3-5 Philadelphia and both contests with the 2-6 Giants still ahead.
That doesn’t compare to being superb on at least one side of the ball or even on special teams, but as October becomes November that’s all that Shanahan and Co. have got.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.