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Kyle Shanahan Learns To Adjust On the Fly

Posted Jan 11, 2012

In his second year as Redskins offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan had to overcome injuries, suspensions and a rash of turnovers. He remains convinced the offense is heading in the right direction.

In two years as Redskins offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan sees improvement.

In offensive productivity and personnel.

In key stats, such as third downs.

Even in himself as a play-caller.

What is holding the offense back?


“Without a doubt,” Shanahan said in a media session late last year.

The Redskins’ offense turned the ball over 35 times, with 24 interceptions and 11 fumbles, en route to a disappointing 5-11 record last season.

The offense was ranked 30th in the NFL in most turnovers – only Tampa Bay (40) and Philadelphia (38) had more.

“You can’t win games when you’re turning the ball over like we have,” Shanahan said. “That makes you struggle to score points and struggle to win.”

When talking turnovers, you simply can’t avoid talking about quarterback Rex Grossman.

Grossman threw 20 interceptions and lost five fumbles last season. (In his four games of action, John Beck was credited with four interceptions and one lost fumble.)

Turnovers have been a problem for Grossman throughout his entire career. There’s no denying that.

Grossman’s ability to convince Redskins coaches that he can minimize turnovers could be the deciding factor whether he returns to Washington for a third season in 2012.

He enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. It seems likely the team will consider quarterback prospects in free agency and the NFL Draft.

Shanahan has said he likes Grossman’s aggressive play – he considers it the chief reason why the offense made strides in the latter half of the season.

“Rex has made a lot of plays for our offense,” Shanahan said. “He’s in there, he takes some hits, he does not flinch. He’s not afraid to throw down the field. But I feel like he feels a little pressure to make a lot of plays and get [the offense] going.

“When that happens, he does make some bad decisions when he should have pulled it back. You hope we get a better supporting cast, you get some leads in some games and then you can start doing things differently.

“He’s a smart guy. I think you can calm him down a little and make him feel like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to try to make all these plays to win the game. We’re in the game. We can run the ball. We can do this.’ Then you don’t have to make as many risky decisions.”

Grossman started the first five games of the season but was benched after a four-interception performance vs. Philadelphia.

He was replaced by Beck, who struggled in 23-0 and 19-11 losses to San Francisco in Weeks 8-9.

Grossman returned to the starting lineup the following week and finished the season as the Redskins’ quarterback.

The offense finished 16th overall and 14th in passing, averaging 235.8 yards per game.

Grossman completed 265-of-458 passes – a 57.9 percentage – for 3,151 yards and 16 touchdowns along with his 20 interceptions and five fumbles. Beck was 80-of-132 – a 60.6 percentage – for 858 yards and two touchdowns along with his four interceptions and one fumble.

Pass protection was inconsistent, due in part to injuries along the offensive line and at running back where Tim Hightower – lost for the season in Week 7 with a knee injury – was effective at blitz pickup.

The Redskins yielded 41 sacks overall, 11th most in the league. It was thought Beck’s mobility would help when he was inserted into the lineup, but he was sacked a franchise record 10 times in the loss to Buffalo.

The Redskins’ run game struggled at times as well, finishing 25th overall with 100.9 rushing yards per game. Hightower was solid before his injury and rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster showed promise down the stretch.

After compiling 135 yards and a touchdown in a Week 4 win against the St. Louis Rams, Ryan Torain was ineffective the rest of the season and ultimately released on Dec. 27.

If Helu and Royster continue to progress, they should form a solid running back tandem.

Helu had three consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in Weeks 12-14 and finished with a team-best 640 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Royster rushed for 100 yards in each of the Redskins’ last two games.

“It’s real nice to have them,” Shanahan said. “The consistency Helu had over the last five weeks was impressive. And for Royster to step up and do what he did, it makes you excited. You feel like you have two guys who can help you in the future.”

All last season, Shanahan was forced to get creative with his offensive play-calling due to injuries. In a two-week span in mid-October, the offense lost guard Kory Lichtensteiger, tight end Chris Cooley, wide receiver Santana Moss and Hightower.

Then, in Week 14, tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams – who had earlier missed two games with a high ankle sprain – were suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Shanahan tweaked the offense, downplaying the role of the tight end and using more three wide receiver and two running back sets.

“It has been good for me to just have to adjust,” Shanahan said. “Adjust with different players, adjust with injuries...Learning to adjust after you lose guys like Fred and Trent and you have to change personnel groupings to try certain things – I haven’t had to do that in the past.”

Shanahan pointed to the improvement in the last five games of the season, when the Redskins averaged 21.0 points and 368.2 yards per game.

“We’ve had to step our game up in certain areas,” he said. “We’ve had to different things. I think it has shown on the field and I think it has made [players] more confident that we don’t just have to depend on one thing.”

He knows the results haven’t shown up in the won-loss column. In that five-game span to end the season, the Redskins’ record was 1-4.

Shanahan has echoed comments by head coach Mike Shanahan, his father, in suggesting that the Redskins are an improved team even though the 5-11 record doesn’t show it.

Kyle Shanahan believes in himself and the future of the Redskins – and he tries not to let doubt creep in.

“You put your life into this,” he said. “You work extremely hard and you know you’re improving, but you are what your record says you are. We know that [the hard work] doesn’t show to everyone else, but we do believe in ourselves. We believe we’re going in the right direction.”



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