Monday, November 01, 2010

Week Eight: Gross(man) Misconduct

Washington 25, Detroit 37

Since taking over a 4-12 franchise, coach Mike Shanahan has enjoyed virtual carte blanche in reshaping the 2010 Redskins. Whether it was in shaping the roster (adios, Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle- El), rubber stamping the schemes (hello, 3-4 defense), or choosing his starters, Shanahan's powers have been unlimited and immune to the criticism that his predecessor routinely faced.

But on Sunday, Shanahan pulled a move so bizarre, so
unprecedented, that it defied all conventional strains of football logic. Even more, it guaranteed a loss to the one-win Detroit Lions, dropping Washington to a modest 4-4 record. In legal terms, it wasn't just wrong to do--misconduct--but it rose to the level of gross misconduct: so outrageous that it shocked the conscience.

Here's the scene: with just under two minutes left, the Redskins had the ball at their own 25 with plenty of timeouts. On the previous two drives, Donovan McNabb and the offense turned the ball over and failed to convert a fourth down. Nonetheless the Redskins were down just six points. Shanahan sends in Rex Grossman, not DJ McNabb, to orchestrate a winning drive. On the first play, Grossman is blindsided and coughs up a fumble that is easily returned for a touchdown. The game is essentially over.

Naturally, the first question asked of Coach Shanahan in the post game conference was why he benched a healthy McNabb. Shanahan's explanation was straight from the Andy Reid Short Answer 101 course: he thought that Rex knew the two minute offense better, that Rex gave them the best chance to win, and that his gut told him to do so. That was it.

Gastroenterology aside, this explanation is pure nonsense. Rex Grossman may have more experience in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense due to his work with the Texans, but he has zero regular season snaps and didn't outplay new-to-the-scheme McNabb in training camp to even be considered the starter.
Grossman's knowledge doesn't trump in-game experience; he hadn't seen the Detroit defense coming at him, except when a play happened to go out of bounds where he was standing with a clipboard and orange Gatorade. Yet he was called upon to walk in, cold, with 1:45 left and win a game.

Has there ever been a time when a coach replaced a healthy starter this way? This isn't baseball, where a hot closing pitcher can be called up in the bottom of the 8th. Even if it did exist in the NFL, Grossman isn't such a specialist. If he were that good, he wouldn't have bounced from Chicago to Houston to Washington.

In short: if Grossman's the answer, you're probably asking the wrong question.

To be fair, it is true that McNabb's performance wasn't great against the Lions. He was out of sync with receivers on some occasions, he awkwardly tripped twice on snaps, and he did little to improve the Redskins' next-to-worst third down conversion percentage. Under his leadership the team is horrific in red zone scoring and touchdown efficiency. And one can deduce that the reason the Washington defense allows so many yards per game is because they tire from being forced on the field by the ineffective offense.

But let's be real: the blame for the Detroit loss falls on many shoulders, not just McNabb's. The offensive line couldn't protect for the pass, couldn't provide for the run. Snap after snap, Detroit was able to get pressure on McNabb, sometimes without blitzing. The FOX broadcast reported that of his 36 dropbacks, there were five sacks, eleven hits, and ten hurries. That leaves just ten passes where McNabb wasn't having to save his hide from
Ndamukong Suh and company. Because the Redskins couldn't run, they faced an average third down of more than ten yards.

If Shanahan wants to truly evaluate McNabb's performance, how about he look at the two dropped two-point conversions by Fred Davis? If he wants to look for scapegoats, why not mention coach Jim Haslett, DeAngelo Hall and the secondary, who apparently decided to let Detroit's best receiver, Calvin Johnson, punk them all day? The "best chance to win" wouldn't have been necessary if Philip Daniels doesn't jump offsides on a field goal or Reed Doughty doesn't negate a kickoff return with a penalty.

Even worse, Shanahan's decision sends a powerfully negative message to his supposed franchise quarterback: I can singularly blame you for the failures of my offensive line, receivers, defensive backs, and assistant coaches. Sure, coach confidently said that McNabb is his starter after the bye week; but his action suggests that McNabb may be on thinner ice than even he realized. And that's just unconscionable.

OFFENSE: C-. Something's very wrong when your longest, non-QB rush of the day is eight yards. And don't look now, but Chris Cooley is quietly having a mediocre season of dropped passes. The o-line should have been made to walk home from Detroit..
DEFENSE: C+. Orakpo and the defense didn't put much heat on a rusty Matt Stafford, which let Calvin Johnson have a career day. Yet they still gave the offense a chance to win.
Sp. TEAMS: B+ Brandon Banks is smelling like a rookie steal. Twenty more pounds on him and he might be able to break more tackles.
COACHING: C. The coaches had little answer for the front four of Detroit, didn't adjust coverage on Johnson, and sent in the backup to win the game. Sadly, they still did better than Zorn's crew from a year ago.

Talk about odd: in my Madden Redskins franchise, I cleaned house of much of the current roster after winning the Super Bowl. (I went 16-1, thank you very much.) I made sure to keep Brandon Banks on the roster for season two, and though he's only a 55-rated wide receiver he's a 95+ speed rating. And just this week I finally got him to score a kickoff touchdown. On Sunday, the real Banks was dominant and finally returned a kick for six. Well done, sir.

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