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Faced with a 'must win,' Redskins falter

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Faced with a 'must win,' Redskins falter

In summary: All week, Redskins players and coaches described Sunday’s game as a possible turning point in the season.

Well, after a humbling 21-13 loss to the last place Panthers, the 2012 campaign certainly turned. Just not in the direction Coach Mike Shanahan or his players would have hoped.

As a result, the Redskins enter the bye week 3-6, struggling on both sides of the ball and in serious jeopardy of seeing things spiral out of control in the second half.

“A must-win is a game that gives you a chance to play for a playoff spot,” Shanahan said. “At the midway point, when you’re 3-5, it’s going to be a must-win to get in the hunt. When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who is going to be on your football team for years to come.” 

“Now, we have a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at,” Shanahan continued. “Now, we find out what kind of character we have and [which] guys keep on fighting the rest of the season.”

Indeed, Shanahan has much to evaluate following a defeat that ranks among the more disappointing of his two-and-a-half-season tenure in Washington. 

The Robert Griffin III-led offense moved the ball but failed to finish drives and was limited to 13 or fewer points for the second week in a row. The unit averaged 29.7 points per game after the first six games.

The defense didn’t fare much better.

They were burned by an officials’ inadvertent whistle early, then got torched by Cam Newton, who rushed and passed for a touchdown. The dual-threat quarterback hadn’t thrown and run for a touchdown in the same game in four weeks.

“It kind of sucks because now we have to sit on this loss for two weeks,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said, referring to the upcoming week off. “It hurts [because] at 3-6, you’re kind of on the outside looking in.” 

Turning point: Trailing 14-6 late in the third quarter, the Redskins got the break they needed – or so they though. Brad Nortman’s punt traveled only 14 yards and the Redskins got the ball at their own 40-yard line. 

But instead of climbing back into the game, they sputtered. Kory Lichtensteiger was whistled for ineligible player downfield, then Griffin was sacked by Charles Johnson. Griffin was sacked four times for a total of 29 yards lost. 

On the ensuing third and 20 from the Panthers’ 46, Griffin threw incomplete and the Redskins were forced to punt. 

Offensive play of the game: The Panthers led 7-3 late in the second quarter, Newton was nursing a bleeding thumb on his throwing hand and the visitors were facing a third and 10 when the Carolina quarterback tossed a 19-yard pass to Steve Smith, who was blanketed by cornerback Josh Wilson. 

Smith, however, leaped up over Wilson and made a spectacular catch in the end zone for a critical touchdown. The play was reviewed, but Smith was ruled to have gotten his left hand under the ball as he landed.

Defensive play of the game: The Redskins were behind 7-3 in the second quarter when they put together a 17-play drive that came down to a fourth and goal at the Panthers’ two-yard line. 

Griffin bootlegged to the right and followed his blockers. But Johnson (who else?) sought out the Redskins’ rookie and tackled him well short of the goal line.

Special teams play of the game: Kai Forbath’s 47-yard field goal in the first quarter was the first of two field goals for the Redskins’ kicker. The first-year player is now 8 for 8 since replacing Billy Cundiff four weeks ago and has consistently been one of the few bright spots in recent weeks.

Quote of the day: Panthers’ running back DeAngelo Williams on the Redskins’ homecoming celebration before the game: “I'm looking at the game day [program] and it says homecoming. I'm thinking to myself, ‘This is the national football league. Are you serious? Homecoming? Homecoming.' It’s not you tried to hide it. You blatantly put it on the front of the [program]. You want to talk about somebody fired up today. I was pissed. The whole team was. That was definitely motivating.”

Quote of the day, Part II: Griffin: “The media will say the record is what you are, but I just don’t feel like our record is what we are."

Injury report: Wide receiver Santana Moss sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter collision with cornerback Josh Norman. …Griffin had X-rays on his ribs after the game but told CSN Washington there were no broken bones.

Game ball: Newton gets it. The struggling Panthers’ quarterback completed 13 of 23 pass attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 37 yards on eight carries and a score.

By the numbers: The Redskins were whistled for a season-high 13 penalties for 97 yards. Many came at the worst possible moments, including: Lichtensteiger’s ineligible downfield, London Fletcher’s roughing the passer and two pass interference infractions on Wilson. Each of Wilson’s penalties came on Carolina scoring drives.

“That’s what gnaws at you,” Shanahan said, “when you stop yourselves.”  

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

After five straight defeats, the Eagles decided enough was enough and beat the Redskins on their home field in Week 1. In a bizarre turn of scheduling, Washington will face Philadelphia for the second time this season before playing any other NFC East opponent. 

For the Redskins, that means the time for a win is now. Behind the arm of Carson Wentz, the Eagles have streaked out to a 5-1 record, not to mention 2-0 in the division. Jay Gruden's squad sits at 3-2 and 0-1 in the division. Another loss to the Eagles, even though it's still early in the year, would put a major dent in the Redskins hopes of a NFC East title. 

"It’s a big game. The NFC East, they’re in the lead. They’re 5-1 and we’re 3-2. I mean, just do the math," Gruden explained this week. "If you look at 3-3 and 6-1 and we’ve lost twice to them, that’s a big difference. 4-2 and 5-2 and we’re right there in the thick of things as far as the NFC East is concerned."

MORE: TEN TIMES PHILADELPHIA FANS WERE THE WORST

The coach knows the stakes. Redskins fans certainly do, too. All the coverage starts at 7:30 on NBC Sports Washington with Redskins Kickoff, and here are three storylines to watch for the game:

  1. Blount force - In the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, the Redskins defense did a fine job of stopping the Eagles rush attack. Zach Brown and the 'Skins held Philly to just 58 yards rushing. In that game, LeGarrette Blount rushed 14 times for only 46 yards, averaging less than 3.5 yards-per-carry. Well, Blount and the Eagles run game looks mighty different now. In their last four games, Blount is averaging more than 6 yards-per-carry and posted more than 330 yards. Known for his strength between the tackles, Blount will present a problem for the Burgundy and Gold playing their first game without rookie star defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. The challenge will be real, and D-coordinator Greg Manusky knows it: "He does a great job of making people miss at the hole, in the hole. So we have got to make sure we get in his face and be able to get him down. He is a big-body guy." 
  2. No wiggle room - For the most part, the Redskins defense did a solid job against Carson Wentz in the first matchup against the Eagles. Unfortunately, with a mobile QB like the 6-foot-5, 240 lb. Wentz, a few broken plays can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the game. Think back to early in Week 1, the Redskins forced Wentz from the pocket and as he scrambled, he kept his eyes downfield and connected with WR Nelson Agholor for a long touchdown. On that play, two different 'Skins defenders nearly brought Wentz down in the backfield. But they didn't. And the 'Skins secondary did a good job in coverage for more than eight seconds. In that ninth second, however, Wentz struck. He's been doing it each game since, as he's emerged as an NFL MVP candidate with more than 1,300 pass yards to go with 13 TDs against just 3 INTs through six games. His ability to escape trouble must be incredibly frustrating for defenders, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson explained his passer's skill, saying, "He is strong in the pocket and usually the first guy, an arm-tackle guy, can’t bring him down. He usually sheds that block and can escape."
  3. 8 or more - Throughout the 2016 season, the Redskins frustrated their fans by getting out to slow starts. In 2017, the opposite has been true. In four straight games, Kirk Cousins and the 'Skins offense have scored a first quarter touchdown and taken early leads. In the second half, however, the offense has stagnated. While the Redskins average about 23 points-per-game, the team is only scoring about 8 points-per-game in the second half. Against a Philly team capable of scoring every time they touch the ball, Washington will likely have to score more in the second half to get a victory.

News & Notes

  • This will mark the Redskins 70th game on Monday Night Football, and their ninth MNF matchup against Philadelphia.
  • Kirk Cousins enters the game 3rd in NFL history in completion percentage (65.9) among players with at least 1,500 career attempts.
  • With 100 yards receiving, Chris Thompson could break a tie with Dick James, Craig McEwen and Larry Brown (two each) for the most career 100-yard receiving games by a Redskins running back in records dating back to 1960.
  • A win would snap a four game losing streak on Monday Night Football for the Redskins and give the Redskins their first Monday win since a 20-17 overtime win at Dallas on Oct. 27, 2014.
  • The Redskins rank first in the NFL and the NFC in fewest penalty yards (204).

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Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Those who doubted the wisdom of the Redskins drafting a guard with the fifth overall pick in 2015 (yes, I was one of them) should be preparing to eat their words.

On draft day and during the two and a half years since then, there has been plenty of talk that the Redskins would regret taking Brandon Scherff, who played tackle in college but seemed destined to play guard in the NFL, so early. Not that anyone thought that Scherff would be a bad NFL player but given that they left DL Leonard Williams and edge rusher Vic Beasley on the board, he needed to develop into an All-Pro caliber guard to justify such a high pick.

Well, don’t look now but Scherff is making his way towards becoming one of the best guards in the game. Not just Pro Bowl good; he checked that box last year. Scherff could become the first Redskins position player to be named a first-team All-Pro since Darrell Green and Jim Lachey earned the honors in 1991.

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Asked about Scherff’s play this year, Jay Gruden was effusive in his praise.

He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.

You can listen to Gruden’s full comments on Scherff in the video above.

Gruden is not exactly an unbiased observer. But other, more neutral analysts also have been heaping praise on Scherff.

An article on Pro Football Focus said that Scherff had an “elite” game against the 49ers, not allowing any pass rush pressures and dominating as a run blocker.

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Two other analysts clipped some plays from the 49ers game to illustrate just how well he was playing.

This one from Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network shows one play, the 49-yard screen pass to Chris Thompson on which Scherff threw a key block.

I’m not sure what the scouting credentials Brandon Thorn has but he did put together a nice collection of clips of Scherff making quality blocks both in space and in the interior vs. the 49ers.

Will Scherff earn All-Pro honors? That could depend on how well the team does. While the All-Pro teams are supposed to be individual honors, it’s tough for an offensive lineman to get many votes if he’s not on a winning team, especially one like Scherff who would be trying to break into the club for the first time.

But the Redskins are not really worried about All-Pro votes. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing and he gets no such consideration it will be fine with them.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.