ASHBURN, Va. – This looked like Jim Zorn all over again — from the botched inactive list turned in before kickoff to the baffling game plan that produced 1 yard rushing in the second half.
The Washington Redskins under Mike Shanahan have converted only six third downs all season and have the worst defense in the NFL — and their loss to the St. Louis on Sunday was all too reminiscent of Zorn's loss to Detroit one year earlier.
The message is clear: Hiring a coach with two Super Bowl rings doesn't guarantee instant success.
"We didn't come into this saying 'Hey, we're going to jump out here with a new head coach, new offense, new quarterback and we're going to roll through this season like it ain't nothing,'" receiver Santana Moss said Monday. "It's not going to be easy."
The 30-16 loss to the Rams created doubts on many fronts. Does the 3-4 scheme really suit this defense? What is Clinton Portis' role going to be? What's the deal with the offensive line?
Last year's Redskins essentially knew they were done when the lost in Week 3 to a Lions team that had dropped 19 straight. Now in this year's Week 3 they have a loss to a Rams team that had won one out of its previous 28.
If the problems don't get sorted out soon, the Redskins (1-2) will be staring at 1-6. They are unlikely to be favored in their next four games: Philadelphia (away), Green Bay (home), Indianapolis (home) and Chicago (away).
The Redskins are allowing a staggering 424 yards per game, and several players look out of place in the 3-4 alignment. Albert Haynesworth got substantial playing time for the first time this season and didn't register a single tackle. They've given up 30 points in back-to-back losses to Houston and St. Louis.
"To give up that many points and give up the yards we are giving up, that's pretty sad for a defense of this caliber," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "We've got the same players pretty much. To give up the yards that we are giving up, it ain't good."
Shanahan said he felt the Redskins have the personnel to run the 3-4, but that it's going to take some time to get it right.
"I think we're making some strides," he said.
On offense, the running game is averaging just 74 yards per game, 28th in the NFL. Portis on Sunday split time with Ryan Torain, who had just been called up from the practice squad. Shanahan said Portis was limited by a wrist injury — in fact, Shanahan said Portis went down intentionally at the end of a 26-yard run in the first half to protect the ball rather than have it stripped by a tackler.
Nevertheless, Shanahan made it sound as if Portis is no longer the unquestioned No. 1 back.
"We'll change it up week by week," the coach said. "We have a plan each week relative to how many carries we'd like to have each running back have, and sometimes one guy will be in a passing situation other times it will be in a running situation."
After running the ball well in the first half against the Rams, the Redskins had only five rushes in the second half. Shanahan chalked up the lack of runs to a variety of circumstances: a three-and-out series late in the third quarter, a first-down holding call on the next drive and the need to play catch-up down the stretch.
The Redskins also are still trying to settle on an offensive line. Kory Litchtensteiger got the start Sunday over Derrick Dockery at left guard. Left tackle Trent Williams missed the game with knee and toe injuries, and replacement Stephon Heyer proved to be a significant downgrade.
For that matter, the Redskins had trouble deciding who was going to suit up just hours before the game. They submitted an inactive list, then tried to change it, then realized they had to stick with the original. They ended up with only one backup offensive lineman on the active roster.
Such a gaffe is out of character for Shanahan, who prides himself on meticulous planning and organizational control. When asked to explain what happened, he wouldn't touch the subject.
Note: P Josh Bidwell will have an MRI on his hip, which he injured during pregame warmups. K Graham Gano took over the punting, and Shanahan said that the team will bring in a couple of punters for tryouts on Tuesday, though a decision on whether to sign one may not be made before Friday.