PFF Preview 2011 – Washington Redskins

| September 5, 2011

Year two of the Mike Shanahan era in Washington is ready to roll and Shanahan has spent another off-season re-tooling it to his liking. Now less than 50% of the roster Shanahan inherited remains and Redskins fans will be eager to see results from that turnover this season.

 

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Some of the old headaches are gone as is the old school Redskins style of massive free agent investment. Results will determine whether this new strategy is perceived as shrewd investment or penny pinching.

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Five Reasons to be Confident

1) No more square pegs in round holes

The Redskins had some tough decisions to make last season, force square pegs into round holes; or bench those pegs and start system fits who, perhaps, aren’t quite as talented. In the end their defensive line failed to make an impression and their dealings with Albert Haynesworth proved a massive distraction for the entire team. This year they have picked up some better talent that should fit their scheme in the shape of Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield. Cofield played over the center on occasion for the Giants but this will be his first exposure to “true” nose tackle play and how he copes will set the tempo for the Redskins’ defense this season.

 

2) Home… again

Arriving at his third team in the space of little over a season does Josh Wilson now fit the mould of journeyman? Wilson has showed promise at both of his previous stops in the NFL but neither the Seahawks nor the Ravens thought enough of him to invest in Wilson and give him a long term starting spot. Their loss is the Redskins gain and Wilson will be hoping to have a longer stay at a 2nd team that lies within spitting distance of his High School (DeMatha HS in Hyattsville, MD). Wilson was our 6th ranked corner in coverage last season, if he can replicate that then the Redskins pass defense should see a marked improvement this season as he eases the pressure on both pass rushers and coverage defenders around him.

 

3) Looking to convert pressure to sacks

Brian Orakpo has made an immediate impact on the Redskins’ defense since his arrival in DC two years ago and it’s scary to think that he may yet have more to offer. In terms of total pressure Orakpo wasn’t far short of the best 3-4 OLBs in the league in 2010 but his ability, possibly impacted by those around him, to turn that pressure into hits and sacks is what is keeping him out of the elite. If the Redskins can find a pass rush threat opposite him or if they see an improvement in their coverage, in combination with the Orakpo’s own improvement from year two to three in the NFL, the Redskins will hope to see Orakpo’s sack and hit numbers climb into double digits in 2011.

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4) Competition and depth at tackle

Sean Locklear was a shrewd signing this off-season and he would provide a quality presence at either tackle spot for the Redskins. He would offer an upgrade, on last year’s evidence, over either of the Redskins’ offensive tackles. Clearly, however, the Redskins aren’t going to give up on Trent Williams any time soon, but Jammal Brown should be feeling the heat from Locklear throughout this season. As a comparison Locklear was our third ranked offensive tackle (No. 1 RT) in pass protection last year, Brown ranked No. 57, only just starting quality. Locklear was also solid at LT in 2009 for the Seahawks and now provides the Redskins with solid swing depth at tackle, as well as competition for Brown at RT.

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5) Santana Moss… but where’s the supporting cast?

Santana Moss has been an ever present contributor for the Redskins passing game, but he has at times been short of help. Moss finished 2010 in strong form, with four straight games north of 70 yards but the consistency across from him hurt the Redskins as badly as the much talked about quarterback problem. Anthony Armstrong was an occasional contributor on deep passes, but wasn’t the consistent possession foil to Moss’ explosive play. In an attempt to rectify the paucity of consistent contribution from their second WR the Redskins have kept eight on their initial 53 man roster. That Moss will again be a strong contributor in 2011 should go without question, but who from the other seven receivers on the Redskins’ roster steps up to contribute could determine the strength of their passing game this season.

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Five Reason to be concerned

1) Quarterbacks wanted

The Donovan McNabb experiment lasted one year and whilst the Redskins may be happy to see the back of him, their plan to replace him has taken on the appearance of throwing darts at a piece of paper. Rex Grossman “impressed” late last season but has failed to nail down the starting job meaning John Beck, who has been entirely unimpressive to this point of his NFL career, is still battling with Grossman through the end of preseason. If you trust Mike Shanahan one of these guys will emerge and lead a solid offense, however if you don’t put blind faith in him and neither of these guys shakes off their career track record then this conundrum has the potential to derail the Redskins season.

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2) Defensive line depth

As much as the signings of Bowen and Cofield should bolster the Redskins’defensive line, the depth is still alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s troublesome line. Some are stepping down from starting roles while some will remain in similar roles from last season and barring improvement, that isn’t a positive. The loss of Vonnie Holliday will not be easy to cover in sub packages either.

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3) Lack of steam in the boiler room

Last year’s interior offensive line was almost universally poor. Casey Rabach is now gone replaced by Will Montgomery, who was poor after taking over from Artis Hicks at right guard. Montgomery at least graded positively as a pass protector but, his ability to hold up at the point of attack will be brought in to sharp focus with a move to center. Chris Chester is a solid, though hardly world beating, addition at right guard and the Redskins look short of answers if they are hoping to find an improvement in the run blocking from the interior offensive line this season.

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4) Replacing Portis

Clinton Portis may have been slowed by injury of late, but to the last he was one of the most rounded running backs in the league. Whilst the Redskins may have some younger backs in the stable that they are very positive on, they will struggle to fill the all-round void left by Portis. Portis entered the league with Shanahan as one of those young buck, great runners that now populates the Redskins’ backfield but he developed in to one of, if not the most, rounded backs in the league. The Redskins will struggle to replace Portis’ ability as a runner, catcher and most importantly as one the best pass protecting back in the league.

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5) Who to pair with London?

Rocky McIntosh was perceived by much of the Washington media as a surprise re-signing by the Redskins this offseason and to an extent we would share that surprise. McIntosh has struggled in both systems that we have seen him play in and it was a surprise not to see the Redskins pursue other options and give players like Perry Riley a chance to play next to London Fletcher. McIntosh’s play against the run last season was barely average and his pass coverage was, at times, woeful. Riley may prove to be no better than McIntosh but when your incumbent has proven to be so average for such a long time you almost wonder whether it would hurt to just take a look at someone else in that role.

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The one thing that Mike Shanahan brings to the table, that his predecessors lacked, is a proven track record and as a result an overall air of confidence. The results last season for the Redskins were frankly poor, there was mismanagement of certain players and many of the players brought in as “system fits” failed to perform. However Shanahan has been given the sort of trust by fans and ownership that many before him have not been blessed with. This allows Shanahan to continue to build stability in to the team, but he needs to make best use of that this season. If this project starts to look like being longer term, the patience of fans and ownership could begin to wear thin.

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