The Redskins have a problem. His name is Rex Grossman. ZUMA Press/Icon SMI
On Sunday, the Redskins went to St. Louis and did what good teams do -- laid a thorough beating on the Rams. It was an all-around butt thumping. The defense stifled the St. Louis ground game and sacked QB Sam Bradford 7 times. The offense bludgeoned the Rams with all three of their RBs, but especially with Ryan Torain.
That they escaped with just a 7-point win, that the game was close and the outcome in doubt late in the 4th quarter is testament to an underlying problem that threatens to hamstring what could be a terrific season. The problem is Rex Grossman.
In the 4th quarter, the Rams went no-huddle and finally found a way to move the ball against a Skins defense that had stymied them all day. They marched (inefficiently, but still) down the field and finally scored when Bradford connected with Steven Jackson for a 15-yard TD pass. The score was 17-10.
Washington got the ball back, and their first offensive play call generated controversy. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan figured the Rams would have 8-9 defenders close to the line of scrimmage, so he called a play-action pass. Santana Moss came open, and Grossman fired. Unfortunately, he failed to notice St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis dropping into coverage. Laurinaitis intercepted the pass and returned it to the Washington 19.
Thankfully, the Skins defense rose up, sacking Bradford on back-to-back plays. Those sacks combined with a motion penalty against the Rams left St. Louis with 4th and 30 from the 39 -- so far back they were even out of FG range. The Redskins, of course, went on to win.
So, let's back up to the interception. Not only was the play call not bad, it was a great call. The Rams were primed to stop the run. They had extra defenders in the box. They were ready to pounce. With a QB who could be trusted to notice defenders in his direct line of sight, that's a 15-yard completion, and the Rams defenders have to back off just a bit on the next play -- leading to more running room for the ground game.
I know the Skins were running the ball effectively all afternoon. But no one in the NFL is going to run the ball 3 times for 10 yards against an 8-9 man front. Had the Skins just handed off, the more likely outcome would have been to get 1-2 yards on first down leaving them with a 2nd and long. Calling for a first-down pass in that spot was an aggressive, go for the jugular, stomp on the opponent when he's down move. It's a great play call.
The problem, though is Grossman. Now in his 9th season, Grossman is still prone to the fatal (or near fatal) blunder. In 7 games as Washington's starter, Grossman has thrown for 13 TDs, but has also thrown to the wrong team 9 times and fumbled 6.
I know the team is 3-1 with Grossman at QB. I hear the argument that it would be unwise to bench him with team winning. And I think they're wrong.
The win probability numbers at Advanced NFL Stats tell an interesting, but ultimately damning story. In week one, Grossman was good. His play contributed 10.7 expected points added (EPA), suggesting that he significantly increased the team's chances of scoring. In week 2, his EPA was down to +4.3. In the week 3 loss to the Cowboys, he cost the team 3.2 EPA -- and the team lost by 2. Against the Rams, his EPA was -8.7 -- suggesting Washington could have scored another 9 points with even average play from the QB.
At this point in the season, remedies are scarce. The only real option would be to bench Grossman and give John Beck a chance. I know there's no chance of that happening, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be the right move. This team has a chance to win the division and go to the playoffs. But not with Grossman making critical mistakes at the worst time.