Redskins need to prove resilience
Offseason moves left team’s chemistry in questionable state
Trouble, again. The Washington Redskins seem to enjoy early-season plight. They lost their season opener last week for the fifth straight year, and they haven’t had a good start since 2011, when they won their first two games and went into October with a 3-1 record (and then lost 10 of 12).
Even though the past two seasons have ended with winning records, coach Jay Gruden is linked to danger, too. In 2015, Washington began 2-4, trailed Tampa Bay 24-0 in the seventh game, but rallied for a victory and eventually won the NFC East. A year ago, Gruden’s squad was 0-2 and had to beat the New York Giants on the road to save its season.
So this latest flirtation with danger is mild, at least now. But the threat of catastrophe grows when you consider all the factors. At 0-1, Washington travels to Los Angeles on Sunday to face the Rams and new coach Sean McVay, who knows his former team well. The Rams are coming off a 46-9 victory over Indianapolis.
If Washington can’t handle the five-hour flight, the threehour time change and a foe playing with renewed zeal, what’s next on the schedule? Games against Super Bowl contenders Oakland and Kansas City. Both are prime time affairs, for which Washington is known to reserve its worst performances.
There’s no such thing as a must-win Week 2 game, but this is close. It’s usually a bad idea to engage in premature schedule surfing and forecast a team’s record because attrition rules the NFL. But the more you get to know this Washington team, the harder it is to imagine another recovery from September shame. If it loses to the Rams, Washington will be as close to an inevitable 0-4 start as it gets in this sport. And if that happens, seek shelter for the remainder of the season.
During his three-plus seasons, Gruden has had a knack for inspiring resilience in iffy situations. It will be a greater challenge this time. It’s not simply that the competition seems better. The larger concern is that Washington, with a defense full of new starters and an offense struggling to adjust after losing some key veterans, isn’t as experienced at handling trauma.
The past two seasons were far from great, but the reason Washington had some success while rebuilding was that it was blessed with a crew of fed-up veterans and aspiring young talent. The combination worked, somehow. The Redskins had a large core of leaders who knew how to deal with the backlash of losing while keeping an edge about improving and changing
REDSKINS (0-1) AT RAMS (1-0)
Rams by 2½ 4:25 p.m. Fox 1 p.m., WXGI (950)
The Rams were the only NFL team to average under 300 yards of offense last season. Based on last week’s victory against Indy, that could change under new coach Sean McVay. The 46 points by the Rams were the third most in a head coach’s debut since 1933.
— questionable: WR Josh Doctson (hamstring); — questionable: CB Kayvon Webster (shoulder).
“This isn’t what I had in mind when you said, ‘Come to the coast. We’ll hang out. Watch a ballgame. Have a little fun,’ ” Redskins coach Jay Gruden says after the game to former Redskins offensive coordinator McVay. the team’s bad reputation. The young players fell in line with that approach, and they also weren’t burdened by setbacks because they were naïve and focused on growth. As a result, you saw a team that played through its faults.
The current group? It has much to prove in this area. It was necessary to lop some veterans off the top of the roster, manage the cap, stay young and improve the overall talent. If Washington remains committed to the process, it should eventually realize the benefits of its offseason tactics. But first, it must survive the adjustment.
The loss of some veteran leadership — examples: Chris Baker, Pierre Garcon and even DeAngelo Hall, whose impact is limited while he’s on the physically-unable-to-perform list — has a trickle-down effect. Young players who were free to just perform now must be agendasetting leaders (think Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder). New players such as D.J. Swearinger have strong voices, but lack the credibility of having history with the team. And then there are a lot of new potential impact players still trying to find their way: Terrelle Pryor, Jonathan Allen, etc.
The team lacks the chemistry and shared experiences to be presumed the latest of Gruden’s resilient squads. But it needs to find a sprinkle of that quality as soon as possible.
“Maybe you get beat, and people take it personal like I hope they are,” Gruden said. “I hope they do take it personal, and they bounce back in a big way. It’s a sign of a mentally tough football team. That’s what I want to see because I didn’t predict we’d go 16-0, but we do want to take care of home games, and we’re not happy we lost the first one. But we know we have 15 more to play, and it’s important for us to handle the ebbs and flows of pro football.”
The previous Redskins teams coached by Jay Gruden showed a bounce-back ability. Gruden’s 2017 edition will be tested for that quality on Sunday.