“Everything we want is still in our grasp,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said afterSunday’s 27-10 loss to the Patriots.
“It’s just one game,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry reassured players as they trudged off the field in Foxboro.
And they’re right. Getting blown out by Tom Brady and the defending champions, as unsightly as it was at times, didn’t end the competitive portion of the Redskins’ season, nor did it count for more than one ‘L’ on their record.
It did, however, narrow the Redskins' margin for error. They’re now 3-5 at the midway point of the season, with Drew Brees and the Saints (4-5) coming to Landover on Sunday.
“If we don’t play better, then nothing is in our grasp,” Gruden said Monday afternoon, asked about his message to the team this week. “We’ve got to make sure that we turn up the heat a little bit, challenge these guys, try to get more out of them as coaches. Hopefully, we play better because we are right in the thick of things, as far as the division is concerned.”
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If you’re ready for a few paragraphs of unbridled optimism, here’s a heaping dose of it.
Assuming 8-8 or 9-7 will be good enough to take the decidedly mediocre NFC East then, yeah, a playoff berth is certainly within the Redskins’ grasp.
In fact, the second half of their schedule seems quite favorable when compared to their division rivals’ remaining slates.
Of the Redskins’ eight remaining games, only two of them are against opponents with winning records (at Carolina and vs. the New York Giants). The combined records of their opponents are 31-34.
The Giants (5-4), meantime, face four teams with winning records down the stretch, including three division leaders (vs. New England, vs. Carolina and at Minnesota). The combined records of their opponents are 37-19.
The Eagles (4-4), on the other hand, face three teams with winning records, including two division leaders (at New England and vs. Arizona). The combined records of their opponents are 33-32.
(For the purposes of this discussion, I’m leaving out the 2-6 Cowboys. They’re done.)
Now for a dose of reality.
For the Redskins to have any hope, they’ve got to engineer a midseason turnaround in a number of critical areas. Among them:
- They’ve got to fix the ground attack. Much has been made about the running game’s struggles over the past month, but there has been little change in the bottom line. Overall, the Redskins have averaged only 43 yards per game over the past four contests. That’s not just bad, it’s historically bad.
- They’ve also got to stop the run better, too. Like a lot better. Including the 161 yards gained by LaGarrette Blount and the Patriots, the Redskins have allowed a whopping 187 yards on average the past four games. Their record is 1-3 in those contests. That’s no coincidence.
- They also need more production overall from the Kirk Cousins-led offense. Through eight games, they’re averaging just 19.8 points per game. Only Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and San Francisco are averaging fewer—all of whom are .500 or worse.
- And, finally, they’ve got to find a way to eke out a win (or two) on the road—a feat they’ve mustered just once in the Gruden Era. They face road tests at the Panthers, Bears, Eagles and Cowboys down the stretch.
That’s it. Just those four not-so-insignificant things.
Sound like a long shot? It probably is. Almost as long as the Redskins’ odds of actually making the playoffs. But there’s a chance. And right now that’s what Gruden and his players are clinging to.