For six weeks, the Washington Redskins enjoyed Camp Med. Too bad it was a midsummer night’s dream.
Reality came in the regular-season opener in the form of a bruising, humiliating loss. From quarterback Kirk Cousins looking lost to an offensive line that was awful, to coach Jay Gruden not believing Pittsburgh Steelers fans would crowd FedEx Field, the Redskins totally underestimated their readiness.
Washington turned several golden chances into a measly 6-0 lead before Pittsburgh just blew past them for a 38-16 victory on Monday. Why, the great Washington offense touted as the great cure for all things that ail you, including depression, managed only one free topping for fans.
The Redskins weren’t ready. The offensive line took turns making bad plays and penalties, especially tackle Trent Williams. The running game was spotty, but given poor blocking didn’t have much of a chance. Cousins was given enough time to throw, but was slow finding targets.
Maybe now Gruden will understand starters need more than a token appearance in the preseason. They needed to be hardened and ready for a potential Super Bowl team on opening night. No matter players could get hurt. Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season on a practice field. Players can’t be kept in a bubble. Forget ping pong tables and shuffleboard in the locker room to create camaraderie. Winning is fun. That’s what’s important.
“We thought we were ready to compete,” Gruden said. “Overall, they out-coached us, outplayed us.”
This loss was as much on Gruden and staff as it was on players for failing to realize their lack of readiness. While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivered some unbelievable downfield throws, the Redskins’ defense failed to consistently pressure him.
Maybe the turning point was Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan muffing a fumble recovery on the Steelers’ 13-yard line early that might have led to a 13-0 lead. Instead, Pittsburgh went down the field to lead 7-6. But then, that was early and there were plenty of plays for Washington to regain momentum. Instead, the Redskins looked lost.
The play calling was too conservative and pass happy. Too many throws in front of the first down markers. There were 43 passes versus 12 runs – a ratio that is quite telling of Gruden’s passion to always throw, though a blowout forces it. But, it’s hard to win that way unless Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback.
The defense looked tired in the first quarter. That comes from poor preparation. The Steelers just leaned on the Redskins and steadily dominated. Washington went nearly 50 minutes (including halftime) with only one offensive snap. That sucks the momentum from the offense and wears out the defense. Redskins fans know that because the great Joe Gibbs’ Super Bowls won titles that way.
There’s something about Monday Night Football that drains the life from the Redskins. But it did once more teach Washington that spending summertime mostly practicing against itself is a fool’s gold approach. Even Gruden admitted after the loss that he’ll consider playing starters more next preseason.
Then again, it’s only one loss and an expected one given Washington entered an underdog. As long as another loss doesn’t follow against Dallas on Sunday for an 0-2 start at home, this nightmare will be quickly forgotten. Otherwise, it’s just beginning.
“This isn’t unfamiliar territory,” said Cousins of rebounding off a bad loss.
Indeed, it isn’t.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.