There’s been one thing Redskins have been able to count on each week this season: a critical breakdown on special teams.
In Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Cowboys, the miscue arrived in the opening minutes and it put the Redskins in an early hole.
Michael Spurlock, signed off the street on Wednesday, returned Washington's first punt 62 yards to the three-yard line. Two plays later, DeMarco Murray plowed into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
On the season, the Redskins have allowed a league worst 646 yards on punt returns. Their 18.5 yards per return average, in fact, is nearly four yards more than what the 31st ranked Giants are yielding. Had Spurlock scored, it would have been the fourth punt return for a touchdown allowed by the Redskins this season.
How about this for some perspective: If you take the top-5 punt coverage units (Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, San Diego and Detroit) and add up all the yards they’ve allowed this season (516), you still don’t even come close to the Redskins’ total.
To put things into further perspective: the Seahawks have allowed 25 punt return yards all season—621 less than the Redskins.
The missed opportunities on Spurlock’s return felt so familiar. First, coverage team ace Reed Doughty was eliminated by a block he didn’t see coming. Trenton Robinson, meantime, was the first Redskin down the field, but he got blocked in the back. And lastly, another special teams ace, Niles Paul, whiffed on the speedy Spurlock.
Spurlock told reporters after the game that he had been putting up a Christmas tree at home when the Cowboys called to offer him an opportunity to replace the injured Dwayne Harris, who returned a punt for a touchdown in the teams' previous meeting, a 31-16 Cowboys' win in October.
“Getting ready for Christmas, spending time with the family, and then all of a sudden you get a call,” Spurlock said. “It’s a blessing from God. …[Dallas’] special teams unit has done a great job all season, and the other 10 guys, they did their job and made my job easy.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he believed Robinson had been in position to make the tackle but was shoved from behind. But he also acknowledged that the tackle still should have been made long before the three-yard line.
“Either way, we could have had some other players make the play if [Robinson] misses,” Shanahan said. “Those things are going to happen in a game. You don’t want to leave those plays in the official’s hands.”
Whether it’s a poor scheme, the wrong personnel, an overmatched coordinator or some combination of all three, you can be sure major changes will be made this offseason.