While there are a lot of reasons why the Redskins lost week one, and as the head coach Mike Shanahan can be held accountable for many of them, one of the most egregious errors was how the Redskins handled the safety position. Defensive coaches Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris need to be held accountable as well, but Mike Shanahan is in charge of personnel decisions and he built this roster. Unfortunately he built it without considering the possibility that Brandon Meriweather wouldn’t be ready to play for him. To me that is simply unacceptable and something that should be worked on being rectified as I’m writing this (though there is no indication they are).
The idea that Brandon Meriweather would be ready for week one, and play 16 games is laughable. At this point Meriweather is making Laron Landry look like Cal Ripken Jr. in 18 regular season or playoff games, Meriweather has played about 40 snaps, and in 8 preseason games Meriweather has amassed about two halves worth, so almost a full game). This guy was limited all throughout training camp and was sore right after his one preseason game, yet the team didn’t even make an effort to bring in a fallback plan.
There are any number of veteran safeties the Redskins could have brought in at any point of training camp to have for depth, and nearly all of them would have signed for league minimum.
I understand the Redskins maybe not doing so when Phillip Thomas was an option, but he went down early in preseason giving them plenty of time to bring a guy in. Even if the Redskins weren’t high on those veteran options who were sitting out there, plenty of more options became available on cut down day(s). Some of these were additional veteran guys, some were 1st or 2nd year guys, many from each group would have been a better use of a roster spot than Jose Gumbs.
Gumbs did some nice things late in preseason games, but that didn’t mean he was worth a roster spot. He has practice squad eligibility and was basically a lock to clear waivers. If the Redskins didn’t feel he was capable of replacing Meriweather, which clearly they didn’t since he was inactive week one, then he shouldn’t have make the 53 man roster. Even a veteran who was signed the week before would have been more capable of being active Monday night and contributing. This was a gross miscalculation by the Shanahan and the Redskins and it cost them dearly.
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Shanahan and company double-downed on their mistake by being short-handed at safety, by starting neither one of the two back-ups, Reed Doughty or Jordan Pugh, but 4th corner E.J. Biggers. Now the other day I mentioned that I thought the Redskins could use Biggers as an emergency safety since it looked like they were only rolling with three guys week one. Instead Biggers plays about 97% of the snaps in the game and is routinely torched both in run defense and pass defense. Doughty played all of 7 snaps (worth noting he had two tackles in those snaps), and Pugh didn’t see the field.
Now I get the Redskins wanted more speed on the field to help deal with the Eagles playmakers, though that probably should have been Pugh’s job since that is the role he had last year when platooning with Doughty. Instead the Redskins went with Biggers who hadn’t played the safety position since high school, and by all accounts really didn’t practice it much since then. There is no way you can put Biggers out there cold, versus a dynamic offense like the Eagles and expect positive things to come from it. Sure Pugh might have had some issues tackling, and Doughty some issues in coverage, but a platoon of them would have been a far better option for the Redskins.
Having a veteran option for the mix, or platooning Doughty/Pugh might not have changed the outcome of the game for the Redskins, but it probably couldn’t have hurt. Instead the Redskins had a pair of safeties making their first every start at the position in the NFL level, and both simply looked lost. A veteran safety or Doughty may have been able to help Rambo get in better position at times as well and not make as many mistakes. This decision by the Redskins brass just didn’t make any sense and it clearly cost them Monday night.
Perhaps the most troubling thing is so far there haven’t been any reports of the Redskins aiming to fix this, by bringing in some veteran safety options. The Redskins next two games they face some big time passing offenses, including perhaps the best quarterback in the league (Aaron Rodgers) this week and the best wide receiver in the league (Calvin Johnson) the following week. If Meriweather can’t go, or is less than 100% (which is highly likely) the Redskins will again be relying on an unfavorable situation to stop them.