Redskins' promising start could be derailed by more injuries

LANDOVER, MD., -- This is how bad the Washington Redskins' offensive line situation became Sunday: One more injury meant defensive end Matt Ioannidis would be pulling double duty on offense. The Redskins avoided that situation, but they can't get around their plight. And it's one that could linger a while and impact their season.

It wasn't just the 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that stung the Redskins. It was the exodus of two starting offensive linemen, with one of them already down. That was a recipe for disaster in 2017, when they used 36 line combinations. Now they have to hope 2018 doesn't turn into another such disaster.

Washington's starting guards, Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao, both will undergo MRIs on Monday to determine the extent of their injuries. Lauvao was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair -- and in tears. Scherff injured his shoulder in the first half and spent the second with it in a sling.

The Redskins already are down Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams, who is likely out another three games with a dislocated thumb. If they lose a player such as Scherff for a significant period of time, it will take away an offensive strength.

"You can't replace a guy like Brandon," Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses said. "He's the best guard in the NFL. ... For us right now, it's the next man up."

That's why Sunday was more than just the defeat. It was about the long-term impact of the Redskins' offensive strength: the run game. Adrian Peterson makes a big difference, but so, too, does his line. On his 64-yard touchdown run against the New York Giants last week, for example, a key element was Scherff blocking his man in the open field to create the opening.

The Redskins started Ty Nsekhe in place of Williams but had to shift him to guard after both Lauvao and Scherff were hurt. Rookie tackle Geron Christian then played left tackle with Tony Bergstrom at right guard. In other words, only two original starters remained: center Chase Roullier and Moses, who also left for a few series with a knee injury.

"We can't ask for any of those guys to be Trent Williams," Peterson said. "They can't. We've got to adjust and keep playing ball, and that's what we're going to do."

The Redskins relied on their run game to win five of their first seven games. Their formula in trying to earn a playoff spot revolved around the run game and stopping the run.

The Redskins endured a similar scenario in 2017. It also impacted their season in a negative way.

"Guys getting healthy is always a concern," Roullier said.

They're trying not to dwell on the sense of déjà vu.

"It's the NFL, so everybody is playing hurt," Moses said. "We're not the only [team] that has this issue, but for us, we have to continue. We just have to keep going back to work."

But that's why they have the emergency preparations. With no more linemen available Sunday, had there been another injury, Ioannidis would have played.

"That's panic time," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "Losing two starting guards is hard. ... We've been there before. Love to have some guys to step up who are practicing with us and get them ready to go."

The Redskins will be more susceptible to stunts by defensive lines, testing their ability to communicate. Scherff and Moses handled those well in large part because of their familiarity with each other.

Also, Peterson had been working well with the line for most of the season. He has said a few times how he learned to play off them and the speed they liked to go. It helped him adjust. He knew when he could run patiently behind them and when he had to plant and cut. One reason Peterson felt Washington was a good spot for him was because of the line.

Now he'll likely have to learn a new group.

"Just make it happen," said Peterson, who was held to 17 yards on nine carries. "I'm out there thinking about a play is called, I'm going to a landmark and just trying to execute the play and go from there. You adjust on the fly. There's no time to sit back and get a feel."