In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The Redskins picked an appropriate weekend to turn in their most frightening performance of the season (so far). A Halloween eve loss to the Buffalo Bills on a neutral field in Canada where the Bills had never won before.

23-0 Buffalo!!!  And, it could have been worse. Had it not been for a London Fletcher INT in the endzone, some clutch punting by Sav Rocca, and botched field goal attempt by Rian Lindell it would have been an even bigger blowout.

And, it was a historic defeat, too.  Mike Shanahan’s first ever shutout loss in 267 games as a head coach. The Skins have now dropped three straight to sit at 3 – 4 in the NFC East.  They’re tied with the Eagles and Dallas behind the 5-2 Giants, but clearly not a team on par with anyone in their division.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At this juncture of his Redskins career, Mike Shanahan is 9 -14.  Both Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier were 10 -13 through 23 games in DC, and both were riding 3 game losing streaks just like Shanny.  And, even more frightening is the fact that Zorn and Spurrier would only win two more games from this point;  ending their Redskins coaching careers at 12 and 20.  And, don’t think that history can’t repeat itself.  It’s not impossible for Shanahan to match that level of futility before the 2011 season ends. In fact, it’s frighteningly easy.

A quick glance at the remaining 9 games shows a schedule full of potential and virtually guaranteed losses.  I can’t picture John Beck (or Rex Grossman, for that matter) beating the Eagles, Patriots, Jets, Giants, or even the Niners next Sunday.  They can probably beat the winless Dolphins on November 13th at Miami, but the Skins have a recent track record of giving the hapless hope (please see:  2010 losses to the Rams, Vikings, and Lions).  Shanahan could also have a decent shot against Dallas at FedEx Field in 3 weeks depending on which Tony Romo shows up.  And, maybe they can beat the Vikings at home in December, but Christian Ponder is still an unknown quantity as an NFL quarterback,  and the Skins did lose at home last November to a Brett Favre-led Vikings team that was in turmoil having literally just fired Brad Childress. Thanksgiving weekend at Seattle is a toss-up which could simply hinge on jet lag.

Soooooooo… I wouldn’t bank on more than 4 wins the rest of the way and that’s gonna require some serious improvement in both the passing and running games just to eeeeekkk-out a 7-9 season.  Hardly an improvement over 2010.

The problem is NOT that the Skins lost to Buffalo.  It’s that they were never even in the game.  The play-by-play recap is a mindnumbing series of Beck-Incomplete followed by Beck-Sacked, with a Torain run for little or no gain sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s not all the fault of John Beck either.  Nine sacks indicate that he was left a sitting duck by his offensive line.  A line that wasn’t much help for a running game that saw Ryan Torain carry 8 times for an anemic 14 yards.  An injured Tim Hightower could have delivered those same results.

The fault here lies with Shanahan who tried to sell us on the idea that John Beck and Rex Grossman are frontline NFL QB’s.  Even Shanahan himself is no longer sold on Rex, so the eggs are in Beck’s basket now.  Shanahan has called Beck a “streaky passer” and right now it’s all a bad streak.  There was no deep passing game to speak of against the Bills.  Just a series of overthrown balls into tight single- or double-coverage.  Sure, the one interception on the long pass intended for Donte’ Stallworth was a case of bad luck, but the Bills had that play well covered and likely would have broken it up anyway.  Even the shorter passing game evolved into the Beck to Davis show, and Buffalo figured that early enough to keep a lid on things and even rack-up an INT to open the fourth quarter.  (And, adding salt to the wound, Fred Davis sprained his ankle and could miss some action.)

Speaking of the fourth quarter, Fox Sports’ analyst Troy Aikman made an excellent point on the Skins lack of urgency.  Down 20 points and rapidly running out of time, they eschewed the no-huddle until the final 3:19 when the odds of coming up with 3 TD’s and a pair of two-point conversions was improbable, at best.  Shanahan told the assembled news media at his Monday availability at Redskins Park, “I thought we ran it [the 2-minute offense] almost the whole second half if you take a look at our play calls.”  Frankly, the Skins did operate from the shotgun much of the second half, but the “no-huddle” was a no-show until it was a non-factor in the outcome.

I wrote prior to the season on how Shanahan and his ‘system’ were eerily reminiscent of Spurrier and his ‘system’.

Here’s my final thoughts from ArmchairQuarterBlog back in early August:

So, how does Shanahan avoid becoming Spurrier II (or Zorn)?

First, he hopes that either Beck or Grossman emerges as a leader and does it quickly. Then he hopes that a running attack and a line with less “name” talent than nine years ago gels into a unit that can control the ball and actually find the end zone four or five times a game. But, it might come down to Shanahan simply proving that he, in fact, is a better coach than Spurrier was at the NFL-level. He’ll certainly prove it if he wins with his current crop of players, an unproven lot to say the least.

The most realistic goal for Shanahan in 2011 is to show that the Redskins are evolving from the team that always “wins the off-season” into the team that “wins when it really matters.”

So far, neither Beck nor Grossman nor the line nor the running backs are getting it done (injuries to guys like Trent Williams are certainly playing a part here).  And, thanks to a guy named John Elway, Mike Shanahan has a pair of Super Bowl rings and they might have to suffice as proof of being a better pro coach than Spurrier (at least until 2012).  

2012 assumes, of course, that rumors of Miami’s interest in Bill Cowher don’t pique Dan Snyder’s interest and lead to a change in coaching regimes here instead of South Florida.  Danny might not even blink at the suggestion of Cowher returning to coaching.  There’s been no rumor mill on this topic.  But, then again, Snyder has managed to keep his coaching searches well under wraps.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, can honestly say they saw the return of Gibbs or the decision to hire Zorn coming. So, I’m just saying that a 2-7 finish and the fear of losing one of Dan’s favorites to another club could… ya know where I’m leaning… but, I don’t want to trigger a coaching controversy here.

As of October 31, this is what Shanahan has to say about the 2011 Skins: “We’ve got some young players that are playing [that] I think have a big upside at a number of positions. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve got a lot of belief in these guys that they’ll play well [and] hopefully much better than we played yesterday.”

Trouble is, Mike… The clock is running… There’s only a little more than half a season left… And December’s schedule is a vacuum that could suck the hope out of anything.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:

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