The Redskins start out with a very favorable schedule with three of their first four games before the bye against teams who finished last in their division in 2012. The Redskins should be heavy early favorites against the Eagles, Lions and Raiders, with the lone game that they are likely to be underdogs in is week 2 when they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers. The Redskins have to take care of business in the early going of the season, and even if they lose to the Packers, they need to ensure they win the other three games. Last year the Redskins made it into the postseason with an impressive 7 game winning streak to end the season, but they can’t count on that same late season success this year. Had the Redskins gone 5-2 or even 6-1, and lost that lone game to the Giants or Cowboys (in two chances), the Redskins wouldn’t have won the division. The Redskins need to give themselves an advantage heading into a rougher end of the year schedule, so instead of playing for their playoff lives they are playing for a bye or homefield advantage.
The other factor for the Redskins to start off hot is their injury situation. While a lot won’t be known until late in preseason, the fact is the Redskins have a number of starters and key contributors returning from injuries. It is likely that some of them won’t be ready to go to start the season, and that others may be more limited. It is very likely that the Redskins are going to be less than 100% to start the season, so it is crucial for them to get off to a good start as they try to get their team back to normal. If the Redskins can succeed without some key players early, it will help them get ready for the rest of the season.
The Redskins are heading into the season with 8 starters and multiple significant contributors coming off major injuries/surgeries. Some appear to be back to 100%, others are on target for the start of camp, and others are a bit more up in the air. A lot will be made more clear once Training Camp starts, but the fact is the Redskins have to make a lot of decisions on how soon and how much they should push some of these players coming back from injuries. Now playing a little hurt is a part of the game, but it can open up a player to additional risks.
Last year much of the debate surrounding the RGIII injury involves whether or not to pull him during the playoff game. What is talked about less is the fact that he was pretty hobbled in the Eagles and Cowboys games to close out the season and didn’t fully look like himself. The question that should be asked more is whether or not Griffin being out there, put him at a greater risk to re-injure his knee in that Seahawks game.
Griffin was hardly the only Redskins player to have a similar sort of set back of a player coming back too soon from an injury, only to make it worse. During training camp we saw both Tim Hightower and Roy Helu Jr. try to battle for injuries, only to make it worse and essentially end both of their seasons. After suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the final game of the previous season, Brian Orakpo injured it in the 2nd preseason game. He was back for week 1 though, but didn’t make it too far into week 2 before suffering another injury. Safety Brandon Meriweather sprained his knee in that same preseason game as Orakpo and suffered the first of his two setbacks in practice for the opener. The 2nd setback perhaps was more unavoidable, but you have to wonder if the knee was fully healthy would the pre-game collision still have knocked him out until week 11.
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Pierre Garcon may perhaps be the worst case, as he injured his foot early in the week 1 game, and missed the following two weeks. After some comments that suggested the team expected him to be back, Garcon suited up for games 4 and 5, but was woefully ineffective. The pain was too much and he needed to sit out until week 11. Had the team not rushed him back he could have been perhaps on the field sooner.
It is tough to say with much certainty how much pushing a player back early impacted the additional injuries, but it is clear that setbacks and additional injuries happened quite a bit last season. At the very least that should have the team be more cautious about how aggressive they bring these players back from injuries, because the Redskins can’t afford a number of setbacks this year.
Though the Redskins shouldn’t expect to win their final 7 games this year, they will need to close out the season with a 6-2 record or better. In the Redskins final eight games they face seven conference games including four division opponents. Of those four division games, it includes two against their top rival for the NFC East the NY Giants.
In addition to the four divisional games, the Redskins other conference games are against the Vikings, 49ers and Falcons, three playoff teams from last year. Not only would wins against them help in potential seeding or with tie-breakers, but it could also possibly knock one of them from the playoffs, if the Redskins need to end up settling for a wild card spot. The Redskins are going to be tested during this stretch and they need to show they are up for the challenge.
Mike Shanahan teams perform the best when they are among the league leaders in rushing attempts, and that is regardless of whether or not the QB can run the football. Alfred Morris and company have to be the featured part of this offense. Their success running the football, helps ensure that RGIII can be such a threat off play action because teams need to respect the run so much.
Also, the success of the running game ensures that there are fewer third and long plays for the offense to face.It doesn’t matter how good of a quarterback you are, you are going to see a decrease in production on 3rd and long situations, and that held true for Griffin as well. It might even be worse this year, if Griffin doesn’t have the same level of mobility and can’t buy as much time in the pocket or run for as many first downs. If the Redskins can run the football effectively they can (and should) win, if not it could be a long season.
-The Redskins have built their defense to rely a lot on big plays resulting from turnovers. The problem with that is that turnovers are typically a function of pressure. Increased pressure helps on the turnover front in two ways. First it leads to sack fumbles, which are typically the highest percentage of fumbles forced by a team in a given year. Secondly, most interceptions occur as a result of the quarterback being under pressure. Whether it is because the quarterback threw a riskier pass (i.e. across the body, off their back foot) or just didn’t see the defender there, mistakes by a quarterback are what fuels interception numbers.
Last year the Redskins were pretty good in the turnover department all season (tied for 5th most turnovers in the league), but the Redskins pressure was inconsistent to start the year. Now situationally this was still leading to turnovers, but it wasn’t enough for the Redskins to always get the win.
In the second half of the year their pressure increased and the turnover ratio went from good, to great. During the last seven games the Redskins were averaging 2.14 turnovers forced a game. If the level of pressure continues to increase that number could be higher with the potential ball hawks the Redskins have in the secondary. If the Redskins don’t get enough pressure though it will open them up to more big plays.