Monday, September 5, 2011

NFL Season Preview - The Washington Redskins

I am sure some of you are wondering why the hell I am poisoning this blog with filthy dirty Redskins talk (ok, some of you are cheering, I know).  Anyway, since I live in the DC metro area, it makes a lot of sense to talk about the local team, especially since they are a rival of the Eagles.  I present to you this preview of the Washington Redskins, written by my good friend Nick Caputo, of Caputo's Corner fame (be sure to check out his writing as well!).  Enjoy, and fire away in the comment thread -- J.L.

Anyway, Josh asked me to do a preseason analysis of the hometown Washington Redskins for the 2011 season. Before I go any further, I have to qualify this by saying that I am a die-hard Skins fan, and have been my entire life. I will attempt to be as objective as possible, and when you see my final record prediction, I think you’ll see my objectivity come to the surface. Let me start with a look at the offense.

The big story of course this offseason has been the quarterback “controversy” between John Beck and Rex Grossman. Some conspiracy theorists have claimed that coach Mike Shanahan is going with Beck or Grossman instead of a veteran like Donovan McNabb because the powers that be in the organization REALLY want Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick next year, so they’ll do their best to tank the season this year to get that #1 pick. I’m not going to entertain those sickening thoughts with any sort of analysis, so I’m going to take this quarterback battle at face value.

Through the entire preseason, the quarterback play I would say has been above average. During the offseason, Beck talked a very big game about how this was “his team” and that he was going to be the starter. Grossman even went so far as to say the Redskins would win the NFC East. These two certainly talk big, but when the regular season starts, we’ll see if the play backs up the talk. So far in the preseason, it has not been that bad to watch. The Shanahans have been very mum about who would start every game, and probably will not officially reveal a starter until the day of the season opener September 11th against the New York Giants. However, all signs point to Beck being the starter. Nevertheless, expect him to have a very short leash.

Quarterback is by far and away the biggest question mark on the offense. However, the other positions do show a lot of talent, albeit some very raw talent. The offensive line looked shaky in the preseason, allowing several pressures, but Trent Williams and Jamaal Brown look to be a solid tackle combination to protect whomever is under center. Tim Hightower has impressed at running back over the preseason as well. Hightower comes from the Cardinals, the team with the worst running game in the NFL in 2010, and has a history of fumbles. Hightower was used mostly as a goal-line and a third down back in Arizona, but looks to unseat injury-plagued Ryan Torain as the starter.

Santana Moss is the veteran on a very talented yet raw receiving corps that has big play capability, but has yet to show enough consistency in route running and holding onto the ball. In recent years, most watchers of the Redskins have said that if the offense can score 21 points, they will win more often than not. This year may be no different, but with question marks at quarterback and an unproven receiving corps (outside of Santana Moss and an injured Chris Cooley), they may very well struggle to reach the 20-point mark.

Defensively, the Redskins made a move last season to Jim Haslett’s 3-4 base defense in an effort to create more takeaways. Early on, it worked out well, but from a scheming perspective, teams were able to beat it later in the season as the team started to collapse. This season, the team looks to improve on defense by addition through subtraction. Albert Haynesworth is gone, and Barry Cofield will play that all-important nose tackle position which, if he’s effective, will allow the linebackers to make plays both at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. The linebacking corps is the strength of the defense, led by London Fletcher and Rocky Macintosh in the middle, flanked by Brian Orakpo and first round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. Both Orakpo and Kerrigan have made noise in opponents’ backfields, notably both sacking Joe Flacco in the preseason game against Baltimore.

In the secondary, the team will look once again toward DeAngelo Hall to make plays (already with a pick-six this preseason), but he will need help from both Kevin Barnes and Philip Buchanon as they both look to be picked on frequently as teams will try not to throw in Hall’s direction if they can avoid it. At safety, Laron Landry starts the season on the PUP list. Therefore, Reed Doughty will have to be the playmaker covering the deep middle, but he has a history of being beaten badly downfield. The defense will look to create turnovers, but they will be most successful if they can stop teams on 3rd down, a problem they had in the 2nd half of last season. Also, they need to avoid penalties. There were 2 penalties in the Baltimore game that occurred on 3rd and 4th down that extended drives that eventually led to touchdowns. If the Redskins want to have a chance, the defense will have to hold teams to a maximum of 17 points, especially if the offense will have trouble scoring.

Finally, on special teams, Graham Gano was perfect in the preseason, but will that translate into the regular season? Brandon Banks may very well rival Devin Hester in terms of returning capability if he’s healthy. He returned a punt 95 yards for a score in the final game against Tampa. However, with the kickoff being moved to the 35 yard line, how many chances at returns will he have? Sav Rocca seems to have finally secured the punter position as he has several punts in the 50-60 yard range in the preseason.

Admittedly, I like what I have seen from the Redskins in the preseason (3-1). The offense has played well above their heads; the defense has made plays (and more importantly takeaways), and special teams have not screwed up. However, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason in 2008, the same season they went 0-16 in the games that mattered. I look impressed probably because the expectations are so low. My season prediction is 4-12. Yup, 4-12. I just don’t see the offense gaining rhythm when they have to play 60 minutes against a #1 defense. The defense will play well, but they will be on the field so long that by the 4th quarter, they will wear down and that’s where games will be won and lost. I hope for my sake I’m wrong, but the Skins are that team on the schedule everyone circles to be that “easy one.” You never want to be the fan of a team that is an easy one. Yet, if the set the expectations so low, it will be fairly easy (one would think) to exceed them.

Anyway, I know I’m a big long-winded, but I hope you enjoyed my preview of the Redskins 2011 season here at Lattanzi Land. Back to Josh.

Thanks, Nick!  Again, be sure to check out Caputo's Corner when you have a minute.

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