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Should Mike Shanahan stay or go?

Should Mike Shanahan stay or go?

If you are reading this post you probably know that Mike Shanahan is very much in danger of being fired soon after tomorrow’s game against the Giants. The conventional wisdom is that his departure is inevitable.

But is it the right move for owner Daniel Snyder to make?

There certainly are people who want Shanahan back to coach next year including most of the players. There may be some who would rather see a change at the top but no player has gone on the record saying that they would prefer that. In fact, there aren’t even any anonymous sources in the locker room who would rather see Shanahan and company move on. Many have cited the need for continuity as the main argument in favor of Shanahan staying on.

His four years in Washington have not been without accomplishment. After taking over a franchise in disarray with Vinny Cerrato and Jim Zorn in charge, he restored order. He drafted cornerstone tackle Trent Williams, found running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round, signed receiver Pierre Garçon and made a bold trade for Robert Griffin III that may have solved the Redskins’ decades-old problem at the most important position on the field. Along with Bruce Allen he navigated the team through a two-year salary cap penalty without blowing up the cap in future seasons. Of course the signature accomplishment was the NFC East title the team won in 2012.

But if you go by the adage that you are what your record says you are, you have to say that the Shanahan Redskins have not been successful. They go into what could be the final game of that era with a record of 24-40, counting the playoff loss to the Seahawks last January.

Yes, they did have to deal with the cap penalty, as Shanahan has mentioned repeatedly and both Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett noted during their press conferences this week. But they managed to win the NFC East in the first year of it. And in their second year they were remarkably injury free for most of the season, suffering no major injuries while they were in realistic playoff contention. The presence of all of their starters on the field should have mitigated the cap penalty to some extent.

Shanahan was supposed to rid the franchise of the off-field drama that has plagued the team for years. But it has not stopped. We had the theatrics of Albert Haynesworth and his conditioning test, refusal to play nose tackle and eventual four-game suspension to end the season.

To be fair, Shanahan inherited the Albert problem. But he traded for Donovan McNabb himself, giving up picks in the second and fourth rounds for the Eagles’ QB. It never was a good fit and troubles bubbled to the surface when McNabb was pulled out in the late going of a midseason game in Detroit because, as Shanahan explained later, he didn’t have the “cardiovascular endurance” to keep up with the two-minute drill. McNabb was dealt after one season for a sixth-rounder.

You probably don’t need your memory refreshed about the saga of Griffin and his offseason recovering from his knee injury and the recent leaks that have made the Sunday morning pregame shows must-see TV.

Bottom line, so much for no drama.

But how well has Shanahan done actually coaching the team?

That calls for a very subjective answer. One rap against Shanahan’s coaching that is unfair is that his teams have drawn too many penalty flags. In his four years in Washington, the Redskins have been in the top half of the league in terms of penalty yards just once. They have ranked 28th, 17th, 4th, and 18th. Their worst year was 2012, when they had the most success in the wins column.

But you can question the timing of some of the penalties. One of the most notable came in the second game of 2012 when Josh Morgan lost his cool in the closing minute, costing the Redskins 15 yards and pushing them out of field goal range in a game they lost by three.

Are infractions like that the coach’s fault or does the blame lie with the player? Certainly the player deserves some of it but has the head coach created an atmosphere where such mistakes are tolerated? Earlier this month against the Giants, three veteran players committed dumb penalties. In his news conference the next day, Shanahan gave Santana Moss (arguing with an official), Pierre Garçon (kicking a ball on the ground), and DeAngelo Hall (personal foul for retaliating) passes for their penalties (see item 4 in this post).

At a key point last Sunday against the Cowboys, the 15th game of the fourth season under Shanahan, the Redskins committed two sloppy, dumb penalties and then had to burn a timeout. That turned a golden opportunity for a touchdown into a field goal in a game the Redskins lost by one. Is a sequence like that a hallmark of a well-coached team?

Going into this season, the Redskins were 13-16 in games decided by seven points or less. That’s not particularly good but it’s not awful. But in 2013 they have gone 2-6 in such games.

Close games are one thing and can be a matter of getting the right bounce of the ball, but the Redskins are getting blown out with alarming frequency. This year they have lost games by 18, 15, 24, 21, and 35 points. In 2010, Shanahan’s first year here, they lost just two games by 15 or more points. With Rex Grossman and John Beck at QB in 2011 they lost three such games. Is this a sign of a program moving in the right direction?

They have been outscored by 130 points this year. Jim Zorn was fired after a four-win season during which the team was outscored by 70.

Did the Redskins face some headwinds this year? Certainly there was that cap penalty and the injury to Griffin, who was able to be the RG3 of 2012 only here and there. They didn’t have a first-round draft pick due to the Griffin trade. Under such circumstances, a slide back towards the middle of the pack would have been understandable.

But a total collapse? No. Not when you have 21 of 22 starters back from your 2012 division champion. Not in a very weak division. Not when you had to make only a handful of changes to your lineup before Thanksgiving due to injury. Not when your offense has the ball in the late going with a chance to tie or win the game in five of your last seven games (the Redskins went 0-5 in those situations).

Even given the on-field failure, Snyder might have been inclined to let Shanahan finish the final year of his contract. But it’s hard to see how things can continue after a string of media reports that have damaged the coach’s relationship with Griffin beyond repair. Even if Shanahan is not responsible for the leaks as many suspect, he has done little to refute the substance of them.

If Snyder does do the expected and ends the Shanahan era sometime early next week, it will be difficult to apply the popular impatient and impulsive label to the move. The case against Mike Shanahan continuing to coach the team is just too strong.

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Redskins vs Cardinals Preview: 5 things to know with Jordan Reed out

Redskins vs Cardinals Preview: 5 things to know with Jordan Reed out

The Redskins moved the ball well against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but continued red zone woes again sent Washington home with a loss. While the late November schedule proved brutal for the 'Skins, playing two games in five days, now the Redskins come to Arizona for an early December game with fresh legs and ample rest. Played indoors at University of Phoenix Stadium, weather will not be a factor for the 4 p.m. EST kick, but all the action starts on CSN with Redskins Kickoff at 3 p.m. Here are five storylines to watch:

  1. Keep it moving - Kirk Cousins showed he likes to get hot in the second half of the season during 2015. The quarterback's play late last year won the 'Skins the NFC East, and while a division title is out of reach with the Cowboys already at 11 wins, Cousins again looks to be on a heater. In three games since the bye, Cousins has thrown for more than 1,000 yards to go with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. The No. 1 story for the 'Skins is Cousins, and if he keeps his hot streak going, Washington should find itself in position to win in Arizona.
  2. Missing in action - This will be the final game of a four-game suspension for left tackle Trent Williams, and the Washington offensive line has performed admirably in his absence. Arguably more important this week will be the absence of tight end Jordan Reed, who suffered a serious shoulder injury in Dallas. What's wild about Reed - he came back to play in the second half against the Cowboys - and score two touchdowns - while playing with a separated shoulder. Reed did not practice this week, and Jay Gruden said his range of motion in the shoulder is just too limited to go against the Cardinals. 
  3. Consider the source - The Redskins offense might be the most potent group in this game, but Washington would be foolish to sleep on the Cardinals. Arizona was widely considered a Super Bowl contender coming into the season, and though they are in the midst of a disappointing year at 4-6-1, a win against the Skins could get the Cards back on the playoff track. Arizona running back David Johnson is the 3rd leading rusher in the NFL with 921 yards on the ground, not to mention an additional 613 yards receiving. Gruden on Johnson, "He is probably the best all-around back there is in the National Football League right now as far as being able to move outside, be a great route runner but also run between the tackles and run outside with his speed. So it’s going to be a matchup problem." Defensively, the Redskins ranks 25th in the NFL at stopping the run. Watch out for David Johnson.
  4. Problems don't just go away - Look at just about any metric on the Redskins offense, and the results are impressive: No. 2 in yards-per-game, No. 2 in yards-per-play, No. 2 in pass yards-per-game. But for all the yards, the 'Skins don't score at a corresponding clip as they rank 9th in the NFL in points. The culprit? Red zone troubles. "There are so many good things we’re doing on offense to put a damper on what they’re doing offensively with the red zone. It’s hard to do, but it’s something that is a glaring weakness of this football team right now," Gruden said of his team. The best road to wins for the Redskins is by scoring, ideally at least 30 points, and that will require some success inside the 20s.
  5. The harder they fall - If the Arizona offense has an Achilles heel, it's their offensive line. Carson Palmer has been sacked 16 times in the Cards last four games, and the 'Skins need to focus on bringing Palmer down. Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy - who will be playing in his hometown - have been the leaders at getting sacks for Joe Barry's defense, and Preston Smith could be in line for another big game. Getting to Carson Palmer should be among the defense's top priorities, as that can slow Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards pass game.

Numbers & Notes:

  • DeSean Jackson's 67-yard reception in Dallas was a season long and his longest since a 77-yard touchdown vs. Buffalo in Week 15 of the 2015 season.
  • Kirk Cousins' 3,540 passing yards in 2016 now rank 10th-most in a single season in team history, and he still has five games left to play.
  • The Redskins offense ranks first in the NFL in percentage of fewest 3-and-out drives at 9.5 percent.
  • If Pierre Garçon can gain 137 receiving yards on Sunday, he will pass Michael Westbrook for 10th-most career receiving yards in team history.
  • With nine sacks, Ryan Kerrigan is one sack away from becoming the fifth member of the Redskins (Dexter Manley, 4; Charles Mann, 4; Andre Carter, 2; Brian Orakpo, 2) to post multiple 10-sack seasons since the NFL adopted sacks as an official statistic in 1982.

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

As the Cowboys take their long week off after consecutive Thursday games the Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and other wild card contenders are in action. Here is Tandler’s weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL.

—The Giants are on a six-game winning streak and while that’s not easy to do against any level of competition it needs to be pointed out that their slate was squishy-soft with the last five wins coming against teams that currently have losing records. Now things get real with a trip to play the Steelers and a home date against the Cowboys. I’m not really sure how good the Giants are but if they split these two games I’ll be more impressed with them than I am now.

—The 5-6 Eagles travel to play the Bengals, who are just about out of contention for a sixth straight playoff appearance at 3-7-1. In fact, the Eagles might be just about out of it, too. Their big problem is 3-6 conference record, which puts them behind several other wild card contenders in this tiebreaker. It’s important because that is the second tiebreaker behind head to head. It’s better for the Redskins if the Bengals win but it probably won’t matter much. The consensus in Philadelphia seems to be that the Eagles are a rebuilding team that got off to a hot start, kindling some unrealistic hopes and expectations for the rest of 2016.

—The team is the hottest pursuit of the Redskins is the Buccaneers, who travel to San Diego to play a game that starts at the same time as Washington-Arizona. The Chargers are 5-6 but they are buried in last in the tough AFC West. This game is a coin flip. Redskins fans should root for the Chargers. If the Bucs lose, the Redskins would still hold the second wild card at the end of the day even if they should lose to the Cardinals.

—The 5-6 Saints are on the fringes of the wild card picture. They host the Lions, who are leading the NFC North by a game and a half over the Vikings and two games over the Packers. It’s probably best if the Lions win, which would just about eliminate the Saints. Still, there is a scenario where the Lions go into a minor tailspin, lose the division to either the Packers or Vikings but have a good enough record to take the second wild card. So like with most games within the NFC until the dust settles some more, there is some upside and some downside no matter which team wins.

—That scenario where the Lions fade from the division lead become a whole lot less likely if the Texans can go to Green Bay and beat the Packers. This is an interconference game so it’s an easy call to pull for Houston.

—Seattle, with a three-game lead in the NFC West, hosts the Panthers, who are on the outer fringe of the wild card race at 4-7. Another loss likely would ensure that Carolina won’t be able to defend its NFC title. This isn’t a pivotal game but probably better if the Seahawks win to end it for the wounded but potentially dangerous Panthers.

—My one loss last week was the Seahawks giving 5.5 on the road to the Bucs. I won with the Saints over the Rams and the Falcons over the Cardinals. This week I’m giving the Seahawks another go, giving 7 to the Panthers, and I’m taking the Patriots -13.5 against the Rams (the loss of Gronk doesn’t do much to equalize these teams) and the Saints giving 6 to the Lions.

MORE REDSKINS: Betting on the Redskins' playoff chances