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Redskins try to stop near-historic franchise freefall

Doug Farrar
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"We were off to a 3-1 start, and now we're 3-7, and I had pneumonia, and this whole thing just sucks." -- Rex Grossman

SEATTLE, Wash. -- And with that, the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback (for now) summed up his own season, as well as that of his team's. For the first time since 1998 (the fifth year of the Norv Turner era), Redskins have lost six straight games, and there seems to be no way to put an end to the collapse. Injuries, questionable coaching, and iffy-at-best play from two below-average contestants in a very strange quarterback derby have combined to make the 2011 more of a referendum about the present and future of head coach Mike Shanahan than anything relating to the NFC East title Grossman famously promised at the beginning of the season.

"We're trying to get our rhythm back," Shanahan told the Seattle media on a conference call this week. "After our first four games we had a rhythm going and we were playing pretty consistently in the top 10. All of a sudden your lineup changes a little bit, and we haven't been consistent since then. But last weekend, we scored 24 [points] against a pretty good defensive team [Dallas Cowboys]. We made a few plays we hadn't been making, so it was nice to get going in the right direction."

That 27-24 overtime loss to the Cowboys continued a franchise freefall that has seen no signs of stopping. Injuries to several key offensive players (Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Tim Hightower) and a churn-and-burn approach to the offensive line by medical necessity has left Washington's offense hardly resembling the supposedly explosive attack promised by Shanahan once upon a time. Grossman, back in Shanahan's good graces after losing his starting job in a four-pick nightmare against the Philadelphia Eagles in mid-October, is just trying to get back on the good foot.

"I thought I was playing well the first four weeks," Grossman said when asked what happened.  "We were 3-1.  I could have played better in the fourth quarter of the Dallas game (week 3 loss).  But we played the Giants, the Cardinals, the Cowboys and then the Rams and in those four games, I felt like I played well.  I had several interceptions that were tipped balls or things like that so the number count started to get high and then when you add a bad game with four picks in a pivotal division game (vs. Philadelphia in week 5), they took me out midway through the game and they were kind of happy with how John Beck came in and played the remainder of that game, and they went with him.  It was frustrating but I had confidence coming back from what I did previously in the year. 

"But any time you get taken out and you have about a month or three weeks to kind of just dwell on your situation, it kind of fires you up when you get another chance to get back in there.  I don't really know how to put it in words other than just it gives you more motivation and time to think about your situation once you've been fighting for five weeks and you take three and a half, four weeks off and when you get back in there, you want to play well."

Beck was the main man through three games in late October and early November, and the Redskins scored just 31 points in those three losses. The thought became — at least in the media and through the fanbase — that while Grossman might lose a game for you with his various inconsistencies, he might help you win with the higher promise of explosive plays. That's what almost happened against the Cowboys last week, and it's what might happen this week if Grossman can get past the huge man-playing cornerbacks and furious pass rush of the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.

"They're really sound with their coverages," Grossman said of Seattle's defense. "That's the main thing that I look at.  They're rarely out of position and they read routes well so they drop into their zones, reading the route concepts.  They do a really good job of just playing sound football.  They're well-coached and they can test everything by playing man-to-man coverage or in their zone coverages, they don't just drop to random areas.  They do a good job of reading what we're trying to do."

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For Shanahan, it's more about the big picture — yes, the Seahawks present a defensive test, but how does he right a ship that has gone so far off course? "Yeah, we're trying to get our rhythm back," Shanahan said this week. "After our first four games we had a rhythm going and we were playing pretty consistent in the top 10 and all the sudden your lineup changes a little bit and we haven't been consistent since then. But last weekend, we scored 24 [points] against a pretty good defensive team [Dallas Cowboys]. We made a few plays we hadn't been making, so it was nice to get going in the right direction."

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As the season began, Shanahan famously made the comment that he was staking his reputation on Messrs. Beck and Grossman. That reputation has taken a hit with every consecutive Redskins loss; does Shanahan still feel that these two quarterbacks can lead the franchise in the long term?

"Without question. It's not just the quarterback, it's the supporting cast. There's only one way a quarterback is successful and that's when your team is playing well together. I've got a lot of confidence in both quarterbacks and they will play well if we get a little bit more experienced with the supporting cast. Even though we had some young guys last week, I thought they stepped up and made some plays."

After two seasons, it's fair to say that the expectations surrounding Mike Shanahan's arrival in D.C. was centered around more than just stepping up and making some plays. Rex Grossman may have recovered from the pneumonia that sidelined him during the abbreviated John Beck era, but if Shanahan can't cure what ails this team, a new doctor may be in the house sooner than later.

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