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Fatal Flaw: Coaching, Not Injury, Costs Redskins

Law Murray |
January 7, 2013 | 2:34 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's judgment failed him Sunday. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's judgment failed him Sunday. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 127 yards, including a go-ahead 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins 24-14 in Sunday's NFC Wild Card game, eliminating the Redskins from the postseason.

Many will attribute the Redskins' loss to the knee injury suffered by rookie QB Robert Griffin III. To that, I'll make three points.

1: The Seahawks won the game. Don't get it twisted.

2: Injuries alone don't cause teams to lose; performance and coaching must be held accountable.

3: Based on the second point, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan cost his team Sunday with his handling of RG III.

I should probably introduce my "Team Injury Theory" now. This theory crosses over to all sports, as I originally applied it to basketball when point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL. Injuries affect individual players' performances, but in a team game, it should not be the reason a team loses. When an injury occurs, there are four (4) factors that determine a team's ability to compete: a) Regulars stepping up, b) depth filling in, c) leadership keeping the locker room together, and d) coaches continuing to strategize to win.

In the Redskins' case, that would be: a) Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris, b) Redskins backup rookie QB Kirk Cousins, c) Guys like inside linebacker London Fletcher and the Redskins defense not panicking, and d) Shanahan putting his team in the best position to win, even if a some flexibility is needed.

The Redskins had a one-point lead in the fourth quarter when Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson was sacked on third down, forcing a three-and-out punt. Morris was running well. The Redskins beat the Seahawks last year in Seattle with Rex Grossman starting at QB. If Shanahan didn't prepare Cousins to play Sunday, that's an example of bad preparation. And bad preparation is bad coaching.

I can fully understand why one would downplay the USA Today report that suggested Shanahan wasn't on the same page as world renowned surgeon James Andrews regarding Griffin's sprained knee. After all, Griffin missed his time while Cousins started in Cleveland, coming back to knock off the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys to secure the NFC East.

Of course, Griffin was nowhere near the player in those two late-season games as he was prior to injury. He gained a season-low four yards rushing in Philadelphia while throwing his fifth interception of the season (the only INT by the Eagles defense in their last 10 games). On Sunday Night Football against the Cowboys, Griffin's running improved (63 yards, one TD) but he completed a season-low nine passes (out of 18 attempts) for 100 yards and no scores. The injury arguably cost Griffin the Rookie of the Year, but the Redskins got to play a home playoff game.

A big part of that was another outstanding rookie, Morris. The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic had 20+ rushing attempts in each of the Redskins' final seven regular season games, all wins. The workload culminated on Sunday Night Football, as Morris gained a career-high 200 yards and three TDs on 33 carries.

Sure enough, Griffin and Morris owned the Seahawks in the first quarter. Morris ran for 49 yards on eight carries, and the Redskins' two first quarter drives ended with TD passes.

But Griffin clearly appeared to aggravate his knee prior to his second TD pass. And while I've joked that Griffin was showing off his future viability as a 30-something-year-old QB, Shanahan had to have gone into the locker room at FedEx Field and saw that Grffin wasn't the same player after his lame-duck INT in the second quarter.

I understand that Griffin wanted to play. Of course, players want to play! But coaches need to coach. And the reality is, some coaches slide responsibility when possible. We saw questionable coaching decisions from all four losers on Wild Card weekend.

Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden couldn't find a way to get WR A.J. Green the ball in the first half, as QB Andy Dalton failed to generate any points before halftime. Green didn't even have a target at halftime, while TE Jermaine Gresham stunk up the field.

Down 21 in the fourth quarter with 10:52 left and on their own 17 facing 4th-and-2, Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier chose to punt instead of give RB Adrian Peterson (or anyone else) a chance to pick up two yards.

And as much as we appreciate #ChuckStrong, let's not forget that Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was the playcaller during the Colts' 11-5 season. His absence was felt when the Colts tied a season-low for points scored in his absence Sunday in Baltimore, as backup playcaller/QB coach Clyde Christensen chose to kick a field goal on 4th-and-4 at the Ravens' 8-yard line to answer the Ravens' third-quarter TD. The Colts never reached the red zone again, something head coach Chuck Pagano probably regrets in hindsight but could have prevented with foresight.

Coaches will kick the field goal to reduce the margin of defeat, or punt instead of going for it on fourth down to avoid being blamed for a failed play. What we had here with Shanahan was a coach who had a built-in excuse to play RG III before the game (saying he was cleared when he really wasn't), during the game (saying Griffin was hurt but not injured), and after the game (Cousins failed to convert two fourth downs).

In a sports city that has had to endure Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg's elbow and Wizards PG John Wall's knee injury amidst the worst season in franchise history, Washington has to pray its starting QB will be fine going into the 2013 season. If he is not, it will go down as the worst mistake in Shanahan's coaching career.

Reach Staff Writer Law Murray via email or follow him on Twitter.



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