32 Teams in 32 Days: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins managed to put together a seven-game winning streak last season that turned a seemingly disappointing campaign into their first NFC East title in 13 years.
However, the offseason has been plagued with problems that actually began last year when quarterback Robert Griffin III tore his ACL, LCL and PCL in the playoff game against Seattle. To add to RG3’s injury, the Redskins were still affected by the second year of a league-enforced cap penalty that cost them $18 Million in cap space. Will the Redskins be able to repeat the success they had in the second half of 2012? Or will 2013 be a season where they take a step back?
Five Reasons to be Confident
Robert Griffin III did not have a typical rookie quarterback season. Griffin posted 20 touchdowns, only five interceptions (never more than one in a game), and led the league in Yards Per Attempt (8.15). As a dual-threat QB, Griffin also managed to lead the league in Yard Per Carry with 6.8 per. Griffin’s stats reflect a great start, but there is still room for further growth. While he was able to complete 16 of his 37 passes beyond 20 yards in the regular season, he did attempt only 37 deep balls, leaving him with a deep passing percentage of just 9% — third-lowest in the league
2. Return of Brian Orakpo
The Redskins’ defense lost Brian Orakpo for the season in Week 2 due to a left pectoral tear, but in those two weeks he still managed to achieve an impressive overall grade of +4.4. In 2011, he notched the fourth-highest pass-rushing grade (+20.5) among 3-4 outside linebackers and his Pass Rushing Productivity was sixth-best among the same group. Though his sack numbers were not at the top of the list, part of that can be down to the Redskins using him in coverage more often than some of the high-sack players ahead of him. If he can reach his potential, the defense could be brought back to respectable levels.
3. Williams, Montgomery and Chester
In Mike Shanahan’s first two seasons as head coach, the offensive line struggled — only three players had positive grades overall. In 2012 that changed. Trent Williams, who was drafted fourth overall in 2010, continued the steady improvements he has made each season since struggling his rookie year. In 2011 Will Montgomery switched from guard to center, and he made impressive strides last year to become the Redskins’ Secret Superstar and the league’s fifth-ranked center. The third member of the offensive line to make a leap in 2012 was Chris Chester. Though 2011, his first season with the Redskins, saw him struggle with the switch to a zone-blocking scheme, Chester put together the 15th-ranked grade for all 2012 guards, at +11.5.
4. Alfred Morris
Alfred Morris was one of the big surprise players from 2012. Drafted in the sixth round from Florida Atlantic University, Morris ran for 1,613 yards — good enough to trail only Adrian Peterson. Some have claimed Morris was a product of the zone read-option, however this undermines his ability to gain Yards After Contact — his 2012 total of 1,001 yards was the league’s third-best mark. And, though he might not be the best pass-catching running back in the league, he did finish high on the list for Pass Blocking Efficiency among RBs last season.
5. East Coast Offense
Shanahan mixed his traditional offense with college elements, some of which RG3 was accustomed to at Baylor. The biggest addition was the pistol formation, which famously brought in the zone read-option, but really the whole playbook was accessible out of this line-up. The scheme does, successful as it was, raise a legitimate question — can the quarterback stay healthy while running the ball and losing the protection of being in the pocket? For all the negatives, the offense created wide-open passing lanes off the zone read play-action, as linebackers and safeties became preoccupied with trying to stop the ground game that led the league in rushing yards.
Five Reasons to be Concerned
1. Right Tackle
Now that the Redskins finally have an elite QB, it is imperative they protect him. The good thing for RG3 is four-fifths of his offensive line logged positive pass-blocking grades… right tackle Tyler Polumbus, however, had the fourth-worst among tackles (-19.0). Polumbus gave up 58 total pressures last season, third-most in the league. His only competition seems to be Tony Pashos, who did not play in 2012. And the position is of particular interest to the team’s young QB — as Steve Palazzolo’s Examining Pressure series showed, Griffin struggled most when facing pressure from right tackle, posting a 28.0 QB rating.
The Redskins had difficulty with their secondary last season — a group that gave up too many big plays — and went into the offseason determined to find help. One of the additions is sixth-round draft pick Bacarri Rambo who has been lining up as the starting free safety in camp and in preseason. Second-round pick David Amerson also seems to have earned significant playing time, and both DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are back after taking pay cuts in the offseason. Hall and Wilson both have the ability to put up good games, but so far in their Redskins careers neither has managed to do it on a consistent basis. Brandon Meriweather, last season’s intended starter at strong safety managed only 44 snaps, missing time with multiple injuries. He’s due to finally see the field again in Washington’s final exhibition game.
3. Defensive Line Issues
The defensive line for the Redskins has been a collection of players who have struggled with consistency. The starting defensive ends, Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowens, both struggled to create any meaningful pressure (finishing with low PRP’s of 4.0 and 4.5, respectively). During the preseason Washington has toyed with using Ryan Kerrigan as an inside pass rusher to help generate some pressure in obvious passing situations. This may become more prevalent for a while as Jenkins is suspended for the first four games of the season. Kedric Golston and Chris Baker will also be relied on during the suspension. As a positive in the pass rushing department, the team does have Barry Cofield at nose tackle. Cofield posted the ninth-highest pass-rushing grade for DTs/NTs in 2012 (+13.1) — his poor run defense, however, balances the effect (-11.4).
4. London Fletcher
London Fletcher has had a noteworthy career, including his mark of playing in 240 straight games, but Father Time, and injuries, have caught up with him. Fletcher was the third-worst rated inside linebacker in 2012, after a bounce up into the Top 10 in 2011. While he graded negatively across the board, it was his performance against the run (-13.0) that was particularly off — his missed tackle total (21) was the highest among inside linebackers, and his Run Stop Percentage (5.1%) tied for the league’s worst figure. In coverage, his five interceptions couldn’t offset his ILB-worst marks for Yards Per Cover Snap and Coverage Snaps Per Reception, both bottom-of-the-barrel numbers. If he can regain his 2011 form he could provide the Redskins with a huge defensive boost, but that’s a big ask in what may be his final season in the league.
5. Griffin’s Health
There has been concern that Griffin will not be able to stay healthy enough to enjoy a long career, a thought underlined by the fact he left or did not play in four games during his rookie season. Even though none of these injuries happened while he was running, he needs to learn to protect himself from further trouble. If he can’t stay on the field the Redskins will not be the same offensive force as they were last season.
What to Expect?
With no powerhouse team in the NFC East, and Washington coming off last season as division winner, they have to be considered in the race for the title again. However, their season will most likely hinge on the health of RG3. If he can stay on the field for the whole season and avoid setbacks from his injured right knee, the offense could be one of the best in the NFL. The defense, though, could be the liability that keeps them from repeating as NFC East champs.
32 Teams in 32 Days, previous editions:
ARZ | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC
MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SD | SF | STL | SEA | TB |TEN | WAS
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mikemountford