Coach Jay Gruden faces his toughest career challenge. Either the Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants on Sunday or a countdown clock on a coaching change may begin.
Norv Turner didn’t last a full season after winning the NFC East. Marty Schottenheimer’s fate was decided after an 0-3 start. Jim Zorn was essentially fired after beginning 2-4. Only Joe Gibbs survived an 0-5 start. Naturally, he later won three Super Bowls.
Dan Snyder has played the part of good owner for 20 months since hiring general manager Scot McCloughan and allowed football people to do their thing without interference. But Snyder has tasted success with a GM and will be even more impatient for postseason success.
If the Redskins are 0-3, then 5-11 suddenly seems in play. Already, players are second-guessing coaches and arguing with fans on Twitter. It won’t take much for an implosion. And for a team that seemed so boring at season’s start, things will suddenly get very interesting.
The question on Gruden is whether he can turn the Redskins into a long-term contender. After a 4-12 debut in 2014, Gruden was 5-7 last year before the Redskins swept through the final month. But come the playoffs, Washington was easily ousted by Green Bay.
Now the Redskins are 0-2 and looking awful. Even worse for Gruden, he has been ripe for second guessing. Oh, it’s not his fault quarterback Kirk Cousins overthrew three potential touchdowns plus an end zone pick. But it is Gruden’s fault that the red zone offense has been horrible, the running game absent and Cousins looking rusty. If only there was a way to get more opportunities over the preseason? Like playing in four games instead of two.
Meanwhile, Gruden’s defensive coordinator Joe Barry has looked like a one-armed man in a punching contest. He can only throw one way and opponents see it coming. For all the acclaim of offensive line coach Bill Callahan, the unit has struggled in run blocking since last year.
Gruden isn’t helping himself with poor clock management and red zone play calling, though.
Player discipline seems lacking, too. Everyone likes a nice boss, but Gruden can’t be a nice guy. He has to be the hard case.
If Gruden wants to turn around this season and his fate, he has to become more Bill Parcells than Mr. Bill. Everything has to be rethought, which isn’t easy during the NFL grind. But the running game needs to become more prominent. The defense has to mix up coverages better. Cousins must clear his head and once more find third options.
The Redskins can rebound to a respectable season. Gruden and Cousins can remain in 2017. But there’s no further grace period. Winning needs to start now against New York or the season is lost.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.