The Washington Redskins
The 2006 Redskins were a resounding belly-flop of disappointment. The formerly dominant defense was blown off the ball, yielding the most big plays & the lowest 3rd down efficiency while forcing the fewest takeaways in NFL history. The offense did not get anything out of passing the ball, and while they were able to run very effectively, they couldn't sustain and finish drives. The special teams units were not special, though the coverage units have improved.
Many otherwise clever people, my own self included, thought that the Redskins (a 2005 playoff team with true grit who beat the Bucs in the Wildcard Round and lost to the eventual NFC Champ Seahawks) would build on their growth. I hitched my wagon to their star, and was shamed for it. The Redskins stumbled backwards to a 5-11 record. The season's lone highlight was the Nov 5 victory over Dallas. Tied at nineteen with five seconds left, Dallas lined up for a chip shot FG to win. Troy Vincent came around the protection and blocked the kick. Sean Taylor recovered and returned the ball 35 yards despite a flagrant facemask, as time expired. As a half can't end on a defensive penalty, and the personal foul was worth 15 yards, the Redskins were able to go for the kick. K Suisham nailed it.
That was it. The other sixteen weeks (yes, including bye week) was as disappointing as any Redskins team I've seen in my 33 years. Once again, the expensive free agents were busts. Once again, stupid deals hamstringed us up against the salary cap ceiling. Once again, I had to talk about "next year" before Thanksgiving.
Well it's Next Year now, and there are good reasons to believe that the Redskins have the potential to surprise the pundits who are projecting them to finish below .500. The NFC East is in transition and the division title is not out of the question.
However, an enormous amount of improvement must happen, particularly with the defense. The Redsksins were refreshingly flaccid in free agency, but upgraded their talent at a number of positions. The offense must learn how to win, especially the close games (eight of their 11 losses were by six points or less). The Redskins must commit fewer penalties, especially the stupid personal fouls which helped them rack up the third most penalty yards in the NFL.
We'll learn if the team has made these improvements during the second game of the season, a MNF grudge match in Philly on 9/17. If the Redskins win that game, they'll take the division: I guarantee it!
And now, your Three Time World Champion Washington Redskins:
The Al Saunders offense, intended to take the Redskins over the top, was ineffective at scoring TDs. Whatever the relationship between Gibbs and Saunders, it didn't click last year. Another year in the system ought to improve the playcalling. The Redskins were limited first by Brunnell's arm weakness, then by Campbell's inexperience. The only thing that went right was the rushing attack which was 4th in the league but only generated 13 TDs.
The Redskins have not had an NFL-caliber QB since Mark Rypien stood tall behind the Hogs to win the Superbowl in 1992. Jason Campbell, quietly groomed until the 11th game of his second season, shows the potential to be a winner for many years. The Sportsjacks have no faith in the young gun from Auburn, but none of them watched him play last year. I did, and I can tell you the kid has some great qualities: he is calm, he is big & strong (6-4, 230), he has a cannon and he leads by example. I saw him do two things that I haven't seen a Redskins QB do in a very long time: he shrugged off pressure and threw fireballs. A full year in the system and much more time with his WRs should make this a breakthrough season for Campbell.
The Redskins OL played well through injuries. They lost massive OG Derrick Dockery and depth behind the starters is a worry. Last year they opened big holes, particularly on the right side. They only gave up nineteen sacks, despite Brunnell's immobility for the first 11 games. They must establish their dominance against a number of good D-Lines this year.
RB is a strength of the Redskins. The Redskins have two 1,000 yard rushers with Clinton Portis returning from injury to join Betts, who came within eight yards of breaking Portis's record for most consecutive 100 yard games (five). Portis is the starter, blessed with a great motor, high knees and a lot of wriggle. Betts chose to stay with the Redskins after his breakout year. He is stout, with great body-lean and plenty of pop on impact; he also demonstrated good hands by snagging 53 passes. The FBs Rock Cartwright & Mike Sellers contributed well both in lead-blocking and the passing game.
WR is a strength on paper, but the Redskins didn't get much out of free agents Brandon Lloyd or Antwaan Randle El. Santana Moss and H-Back Chris Cooley had decent years with a handful of big plays, but teams could double-team them both with impunity. This unit must improve its desire, precision and team pride.
Gregg Williams's D was stale, weak and out-of-position in 2006. A lack of pass rush forced predictable blitzes that never seemed to beat the protection. This allowed an assload of big plays last year, the most in the league. When opportunities were present, the unit failed to seize them. The lack of heart was alarmingly obvious. The Redskins couldn't stop anybody on 3rd down or at the end of the game. This unit is largely the same as the 2005 & 2006 models, so it isn't clear which version is going to show up.
The D-Line is my main concern for 2007. They added no personnel in the draft or free agency, despite some available options. They were blown off the ball by physical O-Lines and were unable to generate any pressure whatsoever. Very little penetration against run or pass. Injuries and age mean that this corps must overachieve in order for the schemes to work.
LB is suddenly a strength with the addition of stout MLB London Fletcher-Baker. He joins team leader Marcus Washington and blossoming second-year SLB Rocky McIntosh to form a fast, destructive corps. The backups are raw after former starter Lamar Marshall.
The defensive secondary is suddenly a strength with the drafting of S LaRon Landry and return of CB Smoot. They are counting on a healthy season from Shawn Springs and continued improvement from youngster Carlos Rogers. Sean Taylor made the Pro Bowl on a few strong hits, but was sometimes caught out of position trying to do too much. Paired with Landry, the Redskins have a safety duo as intimidating as any in the league. They have good depth, and shouldn't be the liability they were last year.
The Redskins are hoping K Suisham provides some stability at a position which has been crap for many years. P Derrick Frost had his best year, and the coverage units were among the best in the league. The return units were nothing special. This unit's performance could tip the scales for the season -- positively or negatively.
Badcock Says: The Redskins take the NFC East with a 9-7 record.