Shanahan: Redskins can do 'something special'
Mike Shanahan thinks his Washington Redskins, warts and all, have a chance to do ''something special.'' The 3-1 start has given the coach a bit of a swagger - and not much tolerance for those who would challenge his son's play-calling or his quarterback's ongoing knack for committing turnovers.
The Redskins remain in a tie for first in the NFC East headed into their bye week following a much-closer-than-should-have-been 17-10 win over the winless St. Louis Rams. Washington also has a one-point win over Arizona and a two-point loss to Dallas - showing just how tenuous week-to-week life in the NFL can be for a team trying to mold itself into a contender.
''You're always trying to improve, that's for sure, but I was hoping to be where we're at right now as a football team,'' Shanahan said Monday. ''I think we've gotten a lot better as a team, as an organization. I think we've made some strides. Not that we're there, but I think we're improving. And that's what you want to do, is improve each week and to give yourself an opportunity to do something special. I think we have that type of football team.''
Shanahan didn't define what ''something special'' would mean for this year's team - many Redskins fans would be thrilled with a wild card berth - but he came close enough.
''Everybody knows what's special. Everybody knows there's one thing - that's winning the Super Bowl - everybody understands that,'' said Shanahan, who won two NFL titles with Denver in the 1990s. ''To some organizations that have not been in the playoffs, people talks about the playoffs, people talk about a winning season, people talk about getting better. Our team knows exactly what our goals are, but the one goal that I tell our players and coaches: You've got to take it day-by-day. ... Don't get lulled into a trap.''
There are plenty of reasons to feel good. The defense is tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 15, including 2 1/2 from first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan, and is tied for tops when it comes to stopping teams on third down. There's now a three-headed running game: Ryan Torain's 135-yard performance against the Rams puts him fully in the mix with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu. The offensive line, supposedly a leak wink, didn't allow a sack Sunday and opened enough holes to generate 196 yards rushing.
There's also the fact that the Redskins of recent years would let down and lose to teams like St. Louis. This time, they let down and still won.
But the Redskins nearly blew a 17-0 lead against a dismal team, relying on their defense to make the final stands after the offense stumbled. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's play-calling skewed heavily toward the pass over the run when Washington blew a second-half lead against Dallas the week before. Against the Rams, with a seven-point lead and the running game cranking for most of the afternoon, Grossman dropped back to pass on first-and-10 at his own 20 with 5:45 to play and was picked off by linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Grossman has now committed 14 turnovers in seven Redskins starts.
Shanahan wasn't much in the mood to discuss such topics Monday. Asked specifically about Laurinaitis' interception in the wake of the run-pass disparity against the Cowboys, he instead went into detail about an earlier interception tipped by Santana Moss. The coach then emphasized eliminating penalties and dropped balls in the fourth quarter while making a passing reference to the need to ''keep a defense honest.'' When pressed, he said he was ''very much'' happy with the play-calling, and he credited Laurinaitis' pick to ''a heck of a play by the linebacker.''
Asked to evaluate Grossman through four games, Shanahan said statistics can be a ''little deceiving'' and spoke mostly in nebulous terms. Grossman is 24th in the NFL with a 78.7 rating, including six touchdowns and five interceptions.
''When you put a football team together, you know there's going to be some growing pains,'' Shanahan said. ''We've got some young players out there. We've got some free agents out there that haven't been with our organization. And what you're trying to do is play your best football in November, December and January.''
Then again, Shanahan didn't want to brag too much about the positives either. The defense is ranked fifth overall in the NFL after allowing only 172 yards on Sunday - albeit against the hapless Rams - but the coach knows it can be a fickle game.
''This is a game-by-game league,'' Shanahan said. ''We could talk about the next (game), and all you guys would be talking about is how poor our defense played and what's wrong with our defense if we don't play well. You're saying we've arrived on defense. It takes one game to go the opposite way.''
Notes: Shanahan said Hightower injured a shoulder early Sunday, yet another reason why the running back wasn't at the top of his game and thus opening the door for Torain's first carries of the season. There's no need yet to settle on a starter for the next game vs. Philadelphia on Oct. 16 because of the bye. ... While the bye comes at an early point in the regular season schedule, Shanahan figures it's actually closer to the midpoint of the football year. He counts about 72 days since the start of training camp, with 84 to go in the regular season. ''No matter when (the bye) is, you try to say, `Hey, it's the best time,''' Shanahan said. ... The Redskins in the next few days plan to activate CB Phillip Buchanon, who has served his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Shanahan wasn't sure of the timing of the roster move because Buchanon has also been recovering from a shoulder injury.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP