Last week I waxed philosophical over a Redskins loss that oddly struck me as somewhat heartening. Their effort against the Giants didn’t get them any closer to a long-shot playoff berth, but it did encourage me about their capacity to challenge tough opponents.
Sunday’s loss (in Pittsburgh) didn’t have quite the same effect on me. This time the Redskins pooped themselves.
I don’t think I need to rehash the double-digit drops, multiple special teams gaffes, or flagrantly porous defense. Even if the offense hadn’t shot itself in the foot so many times, the defense got far too brutally manhandled to have ever kept it realistically competitive. The Steelers gave the Redskins a righteous butt-whipping in all three phases, even more so than the final score indicated.
Here’s what I want to focus on, and I must warn you…it isn’t palatable. I want to examine a major problem in this rapidly disintegrating defense that isn’t getting much publicity. It’s not the pass rush, which barely exists. It’s not the secondary, which clearly can’t cover.
It’s the guy that’s supposed to be the heart and soul of the linebacking corps, the front seven, the greater defense, and really the entire team.
I am compelled to blog about London Fletcher, because the London Fletcher we have come to know and love is probably gone.
Fans will be very slow (and reluctant) to acknowledge this but Fletcher’s tangible performance in 2012 has been a liability. He’s not just slipping; he appears to have fallen off the cliff. Here is some cold, hard data from Pro Football Focus that might shake you to the core:
- 48 ILBs have played more than 150 snaps this year. ranks Fletcher 45th overall.
- has Fletcher as the only qualifying ILB in the NFL with negative grades in all four linebacking categories: rush, coverage, run, penalty.
- They gave negative performance grades to Fletcher in seven out of eight games this year.
- The most damning and disconcerting measure of all is that has Fletcher leading all ILBs with an embarrassing 14 total missed tackles.
I do not tweet these things to sully the name of an all-time great Redskin and one of my favorites ever, but merely to help you face the facts. Fletcher has played poorly this year, not just by his own lofty standards but even by less ambitious ones. Point blank: he’s among the league’s worst inside ‘backers right now. I literally never thought I’d say or type that.
London Fletcher is 37 years old. Not to overstate the obvious but human beings generally do not improve from an athletic perspective at any point past that age. Yes, he has recently been bothered by a strained hamstring and yes, he was checked out last week by a neurologist for some bizarre balance problems…and yes, it is conceivable that both of those issues will resolve completely and he will regain his previously unparalleled form. But that scenario is unlikely. We need to start familiarizing ourselves with a universe in which London Fletcher is unreliable.
Fletch is the lifeblood of the Redskins defense and has been for many years. Ball-carriers are funneled to him. Teammates feed off of his intensity. As he goes—at least until a suitable and ready replacement is identified—so goes the unit, and ultimately, I fear, the season. While his play-recognition skills, endless hustle, and emotional leadership both on and off the field will remain invaluable as long as he wears the burgundy and gold, his physical abilities are deteriorating before our eyes.
And that, every bit as much as the predictable scheme and the soft pass rush and the eminently beatable coverage tactics, is a big, big problem for the Redskins.
(Photo courtesy of @HomerMcFanboy)