After half a season, the Redskins seem to have almost as many questions marks as they did during training camp. However, there is reason to believe things can come together and the team can make a run towards the playoffs. 4 wins matches the win total from last season, and there are significant improvements in the areas of preparation, discipline, and opportunistic play. There’s also a major issue at quarterback and a lack of depth at key positions that will need to be resolved. Here are the major storylines thus far in 2010.
The Haynesworth Saga – What seemed like a problem a few weeks ago appears to have been assuaged. Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth are now on the same page, and Haynesworth is playing at his highest level since joining the Skins. We should remember that these two men were barely talking to each other during the off-season and Haynesworth complained about the new defensive scheme. His benching and the death of his brother didn’t help matters either. The last 3 games, however, Haynesworth has looked great and they need him to continue that play in order to make the playoffs.
Meet the Unknowns – Back in the 70s and 80s, the Skins were able to pick up castoffs and undrafted free agents, and turn them into stars. This year, Shanahan has taken those types of players and allowed them to produce for his squad. Guys like Lorenzo Alexander, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks, and Ryan Torain have had an impact yet none of those players were drafted prior the 4th round. In fact, Armstrong was a member of the Intense Football League a couple of years ago and no, I’m not making that up. In the past decade, castoffs such as these would have never been given an opportunity due to the star system that Dan Snyder preferred. This was despite the lack of productivity by some overpaid players. Now, if someone is productive and hungry, he’ll get his chance to shine.
3-4 Scheme – The new defensive scheme implemented by Jim Haslett has had its ups and downs, but for the most part is reaping some rewards. Last season, the Skins defense created only 17 turnovers overall. This year, they already have created 19 turnovers. The pass rush has also been solid as the team has 18 sacks thus far. The new scheme has also allowed Laron Landry and DeAngelo Hall to have career years. As the team adapts to the 3-4, there are some growing pains and the current personnel does not entirely suit the scheme. The run defense has been poor at times and there have been too many missed tackles. Another off-season could alleviate these problems but so far, the defense has helped win games.
Offensive Line Woes – As if the line was bad enough last season, it may be just as bad this year. They have given up 23 sacks and Skins quarterbacks have been battered. The run game lacks continuity as well. It was hoped that the addition of two new, quality tackles would solve these problems. Trent Williams has had to face some great pass rushers and he’s handled it well at times, but still makes some rookie mistakes. Jamaal Brown has been inconsistent but is still healing after a knee injury cost him the 2009 season in New Orleans. Where the major problem resides is in the interior of the line. Casey Rabach may be one of the weakest starting centers in the league and the two starting guard positions are being held by career backups, Kory Lichtensteiger and Artis Hicks. The depth behind these players is also lacking. They’ll need to patch up the line somehow in order to prevent a major injury to Donovan McNabb or Rex Grossman., which finally brings me to…
The McNabb Benching – As it’s been beaten to death this past week, Shanahan’s benching of McNabb in the last two minutes of the Detroit game has created a league-wide stir. Shanahan claims it was due to an injury that was possibly cardiovascular-related. McNabb claims he felt fine. Shanahan also said he didn’t think McNabb knew the 2-minute offense as well as Grossman. McNabb disagreed but didn’t say it out loud. So what to make of all this? It could either have been a motivation tool to get McNabb to perform better (which he should), or it could backfire and McNabb not only feels betrayed by Shanahan but chooses not to re-sign with the team after the season. It only makes the next game against the Eagles even more intriguing.