Shanahan not making any excuses
The focus turned more than a year ago toward the draft, especially when it came to one position: quarterback. So there's the first sign of growth. Nobody questions the Redskins' future at the NFL's most important position any longer.
However, the NFL is a bottom line business. And the bottom line is that the Redskins have the same record after eight games as they did in 2011. Is it different? Yes, because the offense clearly is headed in the right direction. For many games, it's not just headed in the right direction, it's already there.
But is it also the same? Yes. Just like last year the Redskins appear to have one side of the ball fixed -- or close to it -- while the other side struggles. "We all know the record defines who you are," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "[But] if people can't take a look at our offense and see it's a completely different team, they don't have a background in football. You take a look at our defense, and you know we're not the same team we were a year ago."
That the Redskins are not. After finishing 13th a year ago, the defense ranks 29th in the NFL at 406.4 yards allowed a game. That includes an NFL-worst 314.2 yards a game passing.
The Redskins are missing defensive starters, linebacker Brian Orakpo and end Adam Carriker, both of whom are out for the season. But the slide did not begin with their absence. Over the past 16 games, the Redskins have allowed 25 or more points 11 times and fewer than 17 only once. They allowed an average of 3.6 pass plays for 20 yards or more a game in 2011; it's even worse this year at 3.9 a game.
So the struggles aren't just recent, nor are they limited to Sunday's 27-12 loss to Pittsburgh. Shanahan blames injuries for some of the struggles. In addition to Orakpo and Carriker, the Redskins haven't had safety Brandon Meriweather, who has missed every game with a knee injury. They also lost safety Tanard Jackson to an indefinite drug suspension. Would they have helped? Meriweather is working on his third team in the past 15 months; Jackson was talented but unreliable.
"It's hard to look at it right now because we're not the same team we were a year ago," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean we won't improve in the second half of the season."
Eight of the 11 starters Sunday were in those same spots a year ago, while an eighth, end Jarvis Jenkins, was a 2011 second-round pick.
"Going into the third year, you have a good feel for players and schemes and things along those lines," Shanahan said.
But despite mentioning injuries, Shanahan said it's not an excuse for the poor performance.
"Everybody has injuries," Shanahan said. "What you're trying to do is do what you need to do to win. But if you're asking me realistically why we're nowhere near the top five, I'm giving you a reason. We still have to find a way to win. It's disappointing we're not closing games where we've been ahead in the fourth quarter. If we did, we'd be 5-3 at a minimum."
Every team that has a losing record can point to scenarios that could have left it with a different record. But the bottom line is those teams don't get it done. And that leads to this statement about Sunday's game vs. Carolina:
"Everybody knows that it's a must-win game when you're 3-5 [before] the bye week if you want to have any chance at the playoffs," Shanahan said. "Everybody understands at the midway point you have to play your best football or you'll be eliminated awful quick."