The story of the 2010 Washington Redskins needs no retelling. If the images of McNabb sulking on the sidelines and Haynesworth rolling on the ground aren’t burned into your memory then you weren’t paying attention. It can be argued that the issues with McNabb were partly his being taken out of comfortable surroundings and then feuding with the Shanahans. What cannot be argued is that McNabb threw a career high in interceptions with 15 and his lowest number of touchdowns since 2003 with 14, and his 77.1 passer rating was his worst since his rookie season in 1999 when he had a passer rating of 60.1. At the age of 34 Donovan McNabb had the worst season of his career, and he found himself benched for Rex Grossman in the final three games.
The main issues with the Redskins in 2010 were the same as they have always been. They continued to try and be the off-season champs with the trade for McNabb and stuck with Albert Haynesworth in the 3-4 defense despite his objections that he was not that type of player. Haynesworth swore that by working out with his personal trainer he would be ready for the 2010 season, but he failed multiple fitness tests and missed time in training camp. This season the Redskins do not have a McNabb, Portis, or Haynesworth, but what they might have is a team. The 2010 Redskins were seen as a disappointment more because of the expectations than the results. The team finished with the record the talent dictated it should.
The Redskins have made it a habit to ignore problems at the bottom and middle of the roster and to try and go for the big splash. The Redskins never wanted to put a team on the field. They wanted a collection of stars they hoped would play well together and cover up shortcomings at non-glory positions like the offensive and defensive line. When the big name signings and trades failed the Redskins ended up left with nothing and struggled through season after season. This off-season the Redskins took a different approach. They traded 35 year old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday to the Cardinals for 24 year old running back Tim Hightower. In 13 games started for the Cardinals in 2010 Hightower averaged 4.8 yards a carry and 46 yards a game with an average of only 9.6 carries a game. A league average running back average 4.2 yards a carry in 2010. With a normal workload of between 20-25 carries a game Hightower could provide a vast improvement to the Redskins running game.
‘BIG PAYBACK #27′
courtesy of ‘Danilo.Lewis|Fotography’
Last season the Redskins had Clinton Portis who had been good for them, but in 2010 he was only able to play in five games and averaged 4.2 yards a carry. With no one having signed Portis to a contract for the 2011 season his career very likely has reached its end. The 2011 offensive line is much the same as the 2010 offensive line. The Redskins did cut center Casey Rabach and move Will Montgomery to center, but most of the other members on the line will be the same. It was a unit that at times looked good, but at others could be porous. The improved running game provided by Tim Hightower should take pressure off the offensive line when other teams have to game plan against the running game as well as the passing game. In 2010 Redskins’ opponents could rush the passer at will, knowing that the running game was not much of a threat.
In 2010 the Redskins defense struggled in its first year as a 3-4 defense finishing ranked 31st in yards allowed and 31st and 26th in passing yards and rushing yards allowed. In order to address both these issues the Redskins signed OJ Atogwe, Barry Cofield, Josh Wilson, and drafted Ryan Kerrigan. For the Rams in 2010 Atogwe had three interceptions and two sacks in 15 games started. Atogwe’s nine passes defended would have been the most of any safety. Barry Cofield in 2010 had 40 tackles and four sacks at the age of 26 for the New York Giants, and Josh Wilson had three interceptions, 14 passes defended, and one fumble recovered in 14 games for the Baltimore Ravens. Atogwe’s and Wilson’s three interceptions would have ranked second on the Redskins to only DeAngelo Hall’s six. Neither Wilson, Cofield, or Atogwe are stars, but they weren’t signed to be. They are all solid defensive players that will show up and do their jobs and let players like Kerrigan, Orakpo, and Landry shine.
The 2011 Redskins should be a better team than the 2010 Redskins. The distraction of aging and underperforming players is gone, and what remains is a team that is stronger in nearly every aspect. With Rex Grossman named to be the starter on September 11th against the Giants the QB issues are far from solved, but Grossman doesn’t have to be great. All the Shanahans want out of a QB is someone that will manage the game, not turn the ball over, and will let the running game and defense win it. Grossman’s career 54.2 completion percentage, 70.9 passer rating, and 1/1 touchdown to interception ratio is not pretty, but the Redskins don’t want a gun slinging QB. They want a QB that can fit a system and hand the ball off while completing short passes to keep the defense off balance just enough to score more points than the Redskins’ defense allows.
How all of this translates to a final record has yet to be seen. The Redskins ended up going 3-1 in the pre-season but still struggled to score touchdowns when in the red zone and allowed 833 passing yards on 72 completions out of 139 attempts for an average of 6.8 yards. The Redskins defense, while poor against the pass, was able to hold opponents to only 4.1 yards a rushing attempt, but pre-season stats only mean so much. The Redskins look to be a better team, but that doesn’t guarantee a better record.
The Redskins should be able to beat the Dolphins and Bills, could beat the Cowboys, Cardinals, Panthers, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, and Vikings, and should struggle with the Eagles, Patriots, Giants, and Jets. When it is all said and done the Redskins could win anywhere from 2 to 10 games. The NFL is unpredictable and teams sometimes lose the games they should win and win the games they should lose. The Redskins will likely finish with a win total somewhere in the middle of that range, and if that happens to be a 6-10 record once again, it will be from a team that is finally on the correct path to rebuilding.
The Washington Redskins season begins on Sunday against the New York Giants. It will be a good test for the Redskins and win or lose it should give hints into how the rest of the season will go for the Redskins. The Giants will be missing most of their defensive line which might help the Redskins running game. The Redskins defense will also be tested as the Giants passing has always given them trouble and it won’t be long until Redskins fans find out if new editions Atogwe, Wilson, Cofield, and Kerrigan can help to slow down Eli Manning, Mario Manningham, and the rest of the Giants passing attack. The Giants have also had success running on the Redskins as they have struggled in the past to slow down both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The offense will also be tested even with most of the Giants defensive line out they are still a solid unit and depth has always been a strength. The Redskins haven’t beaten the Giants since 2007 and in 2011 the Giants look once again the be a tough test. Win or lose this game will reveal more about the Redskins roster than any pre-season game. The Giants defense will try and spend as much time in the Redskins backfield as possible and the offensive line will be tested even with so many of the Giants defensive stars injured. Grossman will have to be ready to stand in against a blitz that will put pressure on him every time he drops back. The Redskins are going to have a tough time winning this one, but a lot more will be known about the type of team the Redskins have after this game is over.