Defensive Dysfunction: How Mike Shanahan Can Fix His Achillies Heel

| November 16, 2012 | 2 Comments

The Redskins are in a super weird position right now. The team seems like they’re teetering on the edge of disaster, with lots of in-fighting between the coaches. The plus side is that the player seem to be a relatively good spirits, or to at least be putting on good appearances. With the kind of organization disarray it seems like we have, it’s actually refreshing to see the player’s haven’t given up on the season and are still going to work; that much we can say has changed since Mike Shanahan took over in 2010.

 

But an underplayed part of how this team is built, as an organization, is how differently the offense and defensive staffs seem to gel. In the front office, Bruce Allen isn’t the personnel guy, but I don’t think he’s ever pretended to be. He’s the contract guy, the guy that works trade and does PR. And that’s fine; he knows it’s not his strong suit, so he leaves the personnel decisions to Director of Player Personnel Morocco Brown and Director of Pro Personnel Scott Campbell, both of whom have some solid buzz that they can step up and become general managers themselves (even though ultimately, Mike Shanahan is the decision maker.)

 

And for all intents and purposes, our offensive coaching staff is as solid as they can be. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is being buzzed about as a potential head coach candidate—while the Redskins want to keep him here, it seems like if Shanahan got the right offer, he’d be more than inclined to step up. There’s been some bumps in the development of Robert Griffin III here and there, but ultimately we’ve seen an exciting, innovative offense that takes advantage of it’s quarterback.

 

Bobby Turner is still the running back’s whisperer, a guy who can seemingly coach anybody. Ike Hilliard doesn’t have much of a track record, but considering he lost his best receiver, he’s done a solid job of developing the talent he has to work with. Chris Foerester hasn’t gotten enough credit for developing Trent Williams into an emerging elite talent, and he’s helped shaped Will Montgomery and Chris Chester (two guys who were largely liabilities in 2011) into top performing offensive lineman. Sean McVay helped transform Fred Davis into a Pro Bowl caliber tight-end in 2011, and now Logan Paulsen even looks like a good tight end prospect (which is to say nothing of John Embree getting production out of the tight ends a year earlier) and was thought to be one of the brighter offensive minds in Tampa Bay. As was Matt LeFleur the quarterback coach, who was thought to be the next Kyle Shanahan when he was on staff in Houston.

 

The Redskins have a solid core of veteran coaches and young offensive minds, and they all seem to be working towards one goal. There’s no jockeying for position, no trying to steal a job from someone else. They have one goal; win. They have some work to do themselves as far as penalties go, but the offense, players and coaches, on the whole, look like a much more confident, competent group.

 

The defense, however, is a complete mess.

 

Yes, the injuries hurt. But every team deals with injuries. This is goes deeper than injuries, or the personnel not being ideal. This is complete, organization chaos on the defensive staff.

 

Jim Haslett was hired as defensive coordinator on January 13, 2010. In the preceding three years, Haslett not hired one of his own coaches. Bob Slowik is a long time defensive assistant of Mike Shanahan’s. Jacob Burney is the same. Lou Spanos was actually hired as linebackers coach the same day as Haslett was, which shows how much input Haslett had on that call. Raheem Morris wasn’t hired by Jim Haslett, nor was Bobby Slowik (Bob Slowik’s son).

 

Haslett has not had a hand in hiring a single defensive coach. And that fact has started to show itself on game day, when the three levels of the defense often seem completely separate from one another, as if there’s not one, singular voice guiding the course of the defense. Sometimes it seems like the coaches don’t even talk to one another.

 

We already know that last year, Haslett went off the record and openly campaigned to fire Bob Slowik. To show how much Shanahan respects Jim Haslett, after Bob Slowik had effectively coached himself out of a job and was basically on his way out , after hiring Raheem Morris to basically replace him, instead of firing him, Shanahan moved Slowik to linebacker’s coach. Bob Slowik has never coached linebackers in his career, but Shanny still moved him to linebackers coach.

 

Bob Slowik was notorious for being political in the Denver Broncos organization. And now, he may be actively campaigning to be the defensive coordinator next year. Meanwhile, Raheem Morris is thought to be the guy who may the defensive coordinator next year. The problem with that? The defensive coaches don’t want him to be the d-coordinator and want to go outside the organization. Jim Haslett is a lame duck and the defense is a mess.

 

And the main problem with all of the above? It’s all focused on next year instead of this year.

 

The mantra of football is that all you can do is take it a game at a time. That was particularly frustrating about Mike Shanahan’s post game comments after losing to the Carolina Panthers; it wasn’t that it wasn’t necessarily true at the time (even though the NFC East is falling apart at the seams and that’s not the case now). It was that it was an emotional response that unilaterally declared the season over. That they eye was towards the future, not towards winning now.

 

For most of the players, it seems that message was not received. They, for the most part, want to keep playing. They still want to win. It’s hard not to win when your quarterback is throwing themselves into harm’s way to get a first down in a game that’s already lost.

 

For the defensive coaches, however, that message seems to be received loud and clear. They’re not gameplanning for Sunday; they’re gameplanning for next year. They’re bickering amongst themselves about who gets a job next year, while their defense completely crumbles around them. That’s not a talent issue, that’s a coaching issue.

 

It’s hard to figure out how Mike Shanahan built a core of solid offensive talent, all working towards one goal and one purpose, and a defensive staff that seems to be in meltdown mode in the middle of a season that is not over, at all. The division is, somehow, miraculously, wide open, as if some other worldly entity has finally opened the door.

 

I have faith that the offensive coaches can adjust and get better. But defensively?

 

This defense is a mess and will continue to be a mess. At least for this season. At least with all these guys more concerned with what their job is next year than what their job is now. Which is to, you know, win football games and prepare their players and put them in position to make plays.

 

If Jim Haslett really is going to be gone next year— and it looks like we’ll drag this mess out at least until the end of the season— then it doesn’t matter who the new defensive coordinator is. One thing is clear; Mike Shanahan must allow his defensive coordinator to build his own staff.

 

Mike does not have a mind for defense. His defenses have always been his Achillies heel, best left in the hands of more capable minds. If Raheem Morris is going to be our new defensive coordinator, then fine; I like Raheem, and thing he’s got a great defensive mind, and a passion and intensity that can rub off on players.

 

But let him run his defense. If he’s not comfortable with the 3-4, allow him to run the 4-3 defense—our personnel seems to be somewhere in between and could make the transition. Let him hire his own coaches, guys he’s comfortable with and can communicate with, to bring one voice and one defensive direction to the meeting rooms, instead of the dissenting opinions of selfish individuals more worried about their job prospects than improving the prospects of this team.

 

If it’s not Morris, than so be it. The above still applies. If the Redskins defense is ever going to reach it’s potential, Mike Shanahan has to relinquish control over that side of the ball. And by that, I mean relinquish it completely, in a way that he almost certainly can’t or won’t. He has to let go of the decision making on what defensive players to bring in and sign, he has to let go of the scouting of defensive players. He has to leave it in the hands of his coordinators and the scouting department and then sign off on the final decision and contract.

 

To err is to be human. But it’s what great men do after they err that makes them great men. Do you keep making the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result, or do you make a sharp change, and change that could damage you personally and that could backfire, but who’s benefits outweigh it’s potential risk.

 

It’s too bad I already used “Enough is Enough and It’s Time For A Change” as the title for an article. But perhaps it’s time for Shanahan to adopt that mantra as well.

 

I don’t care if it’s Raheem Morris, or Ron Riviera, or Romeo Crennel, or Keith Butler or Mike Pettine or if Mike just loses his mind and hires Rex Ryan. Something has got to change is Mike’s track record with defense is going to get fixed.

 

It is unlikely, but change, in this case, seems necessary.

Filed in: BLOG, uncategorized
×
0 comments

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Should Mike Shanahan be fired? HTTR 24-7 – Defensive Dysfunction: How Mike Shanahan Can Fix His Achillies Heel Makes you feel bad for Haslett in a way. [...]

  2. [...] HTTR 24-7 – Defensive Dysfunction: How Mike Shanahan Can Fix His Achillies Heel Bobby Turner is still the running back’s whisperer, a guy who can seemingly coach anybody. Ike Hilliard doesn’t have much of a track record, but considering he lost his best receiver, he’s done a solid job of developing the talent he has to work with. Chris Foerester hasn’t gotten enough credit for developing Trent Williams into an emerging elite talent, and he’s helped shaped Will Montgomery and Chris Chester (two guys who were largely liabilities in 2011) into top performing offensive lineman. [...]

%d bloggers like this: