MHB’s 2014 Washington Redskins Preview

Kerrigan_Orakpo

Keys to the defense: Brian Orakpo (left) and Ryan Kerrigan.

My Redskins 2014 preview has arrived!

Overall in 2014 I’ve tried to avoid the cyclical sports-world posts (fantasy baseball in March, NFL draft in April, etc…), but the 3rd annual Redskins preview on MHB was destined to be the exception.

The past two endeavors with my Redskins season preview/prediction segment, I’ve been the optimist heading into week 1.

In 2012, it was the best of times! The Skins got hot during a 7-game winning streak to end the regular season. Leading to a division crown. Last year was the worst of times. The season was a debacle even before it got started and all the Redskins endured was heartbreak. Finishing last in the east.

The offense was a one-dimensional passing attack. Featuring a QB was still trying to find himself after sustaining a huge knee injury. And the defense was just porous. Their record of 3-13 was worst in the NFC. Earning Washington the second overall pick in the NFL draft. Which, unfortunately, was already promised to the St. Louis Rams.

Jay Gruden, Robert Griffin III

Quarterback Robert Griffin III with new head coach Jay Gruden.

Head coach Mike Shanahan was (thankfully) shown the door after the disastrous 2013 season. Whether Shanahan or Griffin was responsible for the divide between head coach and quarterback, I’m guessing we’ll never know?

A few days later new head man, former Bengals Offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden was hired to get this ship back on course.

People may think I’m crazy, but I’m playing the optimist again! I don’t believe the Redskins to be as far gone as their 3-13 record last season may lead one to believe. Success this year depends many aspects, but here are my keys to victory if the Redskins wish to recapture the division on their path to the playoffs.

1 – A balanced play-calling/offensive attack.

If the Redskins are calling 40 pass plays a game – they will lose. A lot. Not because Griffin III isn’t a capable passer. But because Washington would be nullifying their own running game. The Redskins were gashing defenses with the run-game in 2012 and it set up the passing game, especially the play-action passing game, beautifully. And no – running game doesn’t mean they have to depend on running read option or Griffin scrambling for yards. It means pounding the ball with Alfred Morris. Up the middle. Off-tackle. Toss-sweep. Let him wear down the opponents defense. That’s when the Redskins will start ripping off big chunks of yards.

A running attack circa 2012 would guarantee 1-on-1 match-ups on the outside for Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Jordan Reed would easily own the middle of the field if defenses committed 8 men to stack the box against the run.

I honestly believe the Redskins have the players to be a Top 5 scoring offense. It’s up to Jay Gruden whether it happens or not. Be balanced!!

2 – Limiting offensive turnovers.

This can be said about any team. But after watching the Redskins 2nd preseason game a few nights ago vs the Cleveland Browns, when their first 4 drives ended via turnover (2 INT’s, 1 fumble, and 1 turnover on downs – after 4 straight rushing attempts failed to punch the rock in from the 2 yard line), I felt the need to actually state it. In 2012, Griffin was awesome protecting the ball in the pass game with only 5 INT on the season. I don’t expect only 5 per year from here on out (though that would be nice), but keeping that number closer to 10 rather than 20 is a must if the Redskins are looking to be a playoff caliber team.

3 – Defense HAS to take that step.

Last year I expected the defensive unit to take that step into the top 1/3 of the league. That didn’t happen. Washington’s defense was one of the worst units in the NFL. Brian Orakpo got hurt almost immediately in 2013 and missed the rest of the season. When every NFL team has to deal with injury, the Redskins roster proved to have no depth when some of our impact players got hurt.

This year London Fletcher is gone – which I actually believe to be a step in the right direction. It was time. Fletcher was a good, dependable player for the Redskins. He just lost one too many steps. With the pass rush I’m hoping the Redskins front 7 are capable of this year, the secondary should benefit. David Amerson has a full year under his belt. DeAngelo Hall is coming off a really good season. We’ll see if Ryan Clark is the answer at Strong Safety. Safety is a hole that hasn’t been filled since Sean Taylor passed.

Having a “bend-not-break” defense isn’t the key. Setting the tone with pressure is. Whether the pressure is from rushing the passer, or pressing the wide-outs hard – Washington’s defense has to dictate. Good hard-nosed tackling is a must. The Redskins have been a bad tackling team for a while. It shows. And it’s tiresome.

 4 X-factors

Mark-Moseley-Redskins

Moseley & his straight on kicking style in all his glory.

I find that special teams can be a big indicator towards how your team is trending. The 2003 Chiefs with Dante Hall returning kicks galore were a tough team to beat. Same with Devin Hester and the Bears in 2006 when Chicago went to the Super Bowl. Looking back a bit further to 1983 with Redskins kicker Mark Moseley – he scored 161 points (8th All-Time for points scored by any player in a season) on their run to the Super Bowl vs the LA Raiders. Good special teams play matters!

I haven’t seen anything from any Redskins special teams unit to write home about since Brian Mitchell was returning kicks. And that is the truth! This year, with the addition of WR Andre Roberts and WR DeSean Jackson, I’m hoping that is about to change. The speed threat is something that has been severely lacking in the return game. I’m sick and tired of watching full backs and/or back up tight ends returning kickoffs.

All & all if the Redskins get things clicking early I believe they should compete for a division crown. And at the very least a wild card playoff berth. I don’t view the Cowboys or Giants as potential threats to win this division.

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!

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