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Assessing The NFC East: A Look At Washington’s Prospects

Posted Jan 16, 2014


It’s odd to think back to the start of November, when the Redskins defeated eventual playoff team San Diego by the skin of their teeth and were still alive in the NFC East race.

That was Nov. 3, and it was the last time Washington would win in the Mike Shanahan era.

So now a new era begins up in Washington, and it falls to Jay Gruden to dig the Redskins out of the 3-13 cellar they find themselves in one year after a division title.

So starting with the Redskins, I figured I’d take a brief look at the division – a look back, and a quick synopsis going forward.

2013: Unmitigated disaster, like I mentioned above. Washington lost its last eight games, benched its franchise quarterback, saw the retirement of its potential Hall of Fame linebacker and then fired its head coach.

That’s not exactly the title defense the Redskins were expecting when they brought Robert Griffin III back from injury in time for the season opener. Griffin wasn’t the only guy to struggle, especially given a defense that finished near the bottom of the league. But the No. 2 overall pick’s sophomore slump garnered all the attention and was the main flashpoint in a dramatic final month.

What they did well: It gets lost in the malaise that was last season, but the Redskins once again ran the ball pretty darn well in 2013.

Washington finished the season with the league’s fifth-best rushing offense, even with Griffin contributing less as a running threat. 

Where Griffin didn’t enjoy nearly as much success as his rookie season, the Redskins’ other rookie phenom, Alfred Morris, picked up right where he left off. Morris finished as the league’s No. 4 rusher in his second season with 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns.

Morris’ 10 rushes of 20-plus yards was the best among league leaders, and his yards per carry average of 4.6 was behind only DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles among the league’s top 10 rushers.

The linebackers in Jim Haslett’s 3-4 defense are also deserving of a nod. Inside ‘backers Perry Riley and Fletcher led the team in tackling, with 115 and 111, respectively. Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan combined for 18.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.

Draft: The draft picks the Redskins gave up to acquire Griffin didn’t hurt as much when they were a playoff team. But it’s got to hurt when you need to repair a 3-13 record and your No. 2 overall pick belongs to someone else.

Fortunately for them, they have six other picks – all located at the top of the other six rounds.

The Redskins’ problems in the secondary remind me of the Cowboys a bit. The defense against the pass was lackluster. But Washington was able to throw two 2013 draft picks – David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo – into the fire in hopes of improving them. Fellow 2013 draft pick Phillip Thomas was lost to injury before the season and may be able to bolster the safety position going forward.

Fellow rookie Jordan Reed had a nice rookie season and could be Washington’s future at tight end. But the Redskins need some more playmakers to help Griffin, Morris and Pierre Garcon. Washington’s offensive line also finished exactly 16thin the league in sacks allowed. They may want to improve their protection, given Griffin’s injury history.

Also, though I just called linebacker a team strength in 2013, it probably needs to be assessed. Orakpo and Riley are up for free agency, and Fletcher is set to retire.

Fortunately for Washington, the team is projected somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million under this year’s salary cap after dealing with penalties in recent seasons.

It remains to be seen if the Redskins will start off the Gruden era with flashy free agent acquisitions. But they should at least be able to afford to keep some of their key guys.

Prognostication: I don’t think Washington is a good team, but I certainly don’t think they’re as bad as the abysmal finish they slumped to in 2013.

A regime change, coupled with some good additions, could make a world of difference for a team that has seen both the postseason and the league cellar in the past two seasons. The truth is that they’re probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Less-than-shocking prediction: the Redskins’ viability will hinge on how well Griffin responds to his nightmarish second season.

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