Mike Shanahan started out his Redskins career 11-21 his first two seasons, and appeared to be headed for his third straight losing season as the Redskins stood at 3-6 heading into their bye week. With their playoff hopes all but dashed, the Redskins rallied to win their final seven games to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East for the first time since 1999. Led by rookie sensation quarterback Robert Griffin III and late round gem Alfred Morris, the Redskins offense finished 5th in total yards and 4th in total points. The offense played to Griffin’s strengths and implemented a zone read/pistol offense that left defenders guessing all season. Though their defense was typically their downfall last season finishing 22nd in points and 28th in yards, they improved down the stretch and kept the score close enough for the Redskins to win. Washington’s storybook season came to an end in the wild card weekend of the playoffs, with the Seattle Seahawks 24-14. The Redskins marched out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, but the Seahawks responded with 24 unanswered points, and QB Robert Griffin suffered a knee injury that got progressively worse and severely affected his play. Griffin eventually went down with a torn ACL and LCL that required offseason surgery.
RGIII led the league in both rushing yards per attempt and passing yards per attempt on his way to winning the NFL’s rookie of the year award last season. Injuries though are a real concern going forward, as not only is Robert Griffin coming back from his 2nd ACL surgery since 2009, but he’s now suffered concussions in each of the last two seasons. Griffin is likely to be ready for week one, but his injury concerns should be something to watch all season. Overall his passing production should at least be on par with last season, but he may not be the same as a runner this year. If Griffin were to miss anytime the Redskins would turn to 2nd year player Kirk Cousins, who came in for relief last season, and has been working with the first team in camp. Cousins is a very promising young QB, and would probably start on a number of teams in the NFL.
Alfred Morris was an unheralded 6th round pick last year, and due to multiple preseason injuries he had a chance to start the season. Morris quickly established himself as not only the Redskins starter, but one of the premier backs in the league. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 TD’s on 335 carries (4.8 ypc) last season, good for second in the league in both yards and TDs. Morris figures to be once again the focal point of the Redskins offense this season, and should again be among the league’s best. Morris will probably see his carries drop slightly and may see a dip in ypc, but should easily surpass 1,200 yards if he stays healthy. Backing him up this year will 3rd year RB Roy Helu Jr., who missed most of last season due to injury. Helu will offer the Redskins more speed at the position and should be a weapon catching the ball as well. At fullback the Redskins have one of the best in the league in Darrel Young, who excels not only at blocking, but as a runner/receiver as well.
Pierre Garcon was the Redskins best receiver down the stretch last season, and figures to put up even better numbers this season as he doesn’t (hopefully) have to deal with the foot injury that bothered him a year ago and cost him 6 games. Garcon became a big yards after the catch weapon for this offense last season and should once again be effective in the screen game and crossing routes. Starting opposite Garcon should once again be Joshua Morgan, who led the team in catches and targets last season. Morgan was a reliable possession target last year, but it is hopeful now that he’s fully recovered from his 2011 broken leg, he can offer more for the Redskins passing offense. Santana Moss has now become a slot only guy, but had a highly effective season last year, pacing the team with 8 TD catches and coming up with numerous clutch 1st downs. He doesn’t play as much so his overall production will be limited, but when he’s on the field he’s a weapon. Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson are a pair of third year receivers, who offer quality depth and should continue to carve out roles on this team.
Fred Davis is back as the starting tight end after suffering a mid-year Achilles tear, which could lead to a decrease in production. So far he looks to be back to normal, but his production bears watching. Behind him though the Redskins have blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, who filled in pretty well for Davis the final nine games of the year last season. Paulsen doesn’t stretch the field like Davis does, but still gives solid production and is a big target in the red zone. The team drafted Jordan Reed in the 3rd round this April, but he is more of a longer term project and is likely behind 3rd year Niles Paul on the depth chart. Paul who’s main value is his special teams ability, did manage to haul in 5 receptions that went over 20 yards last season out of his eight total catches. If he can be a more reliable receiver, he could be a solid number two tight end.
Last year the Redskins offensive line started 79 of a possible 80 regular season games. That led them to have a better season than most expected as they helped propel the Redskins offense to be one of the league’s best. Everything wasn’t rosy for the line last year though, as Alfred Morris dealt with too much contact at or behind the line of scrimmage and the team’s sack rate was among the league’s worst for much of the season. Washington is bringing back their entire starting line, and hopes the continuity will help mitigate any talent issues. Left tackle Trent Williams is the star of the line, though he’s dealing with a sprained wrist and may be playing this season in a cast. Center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester are very good starters, and keys to this team’s success. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had a rough first year back from a 2011 ACL injury and led the team with 10 penalties. He isn’t a star, but if he cuts his penalties down he could at least be solid. Right tackle is the big question mark as Tyler Polumbus struggled quite a bit there last season. Veteran Tony Pashos was brought in to challenge him and add depth, but even if he wins it would only be a marginal upgrade. The overall depth of this line is very suspect, meaning they have to stay as healthy as possible for this season if they want to have even moderate success.
The first four games could be a real test for this unit as projected starting DE Jarvis Jenkins is serving a suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. This comes on the heels of losing top back-up Adam Carriker for likely the entire season due to injury. The Redskins will rely on veteran back-up Kedric Golston and former back-up NT Chris Baker to hold the fort down while Jenkins is out, but there is likely to be a drop-off. Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield are two good productive starters, but this unit lacks an elite player. That has caused problems in the past, and could be an issue again if the depth doesn’t step up.
The linebacking corps is the heart and soul of this defense as outside backers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are probably the team’s two best defensive players. Both Orakpo (who is coming off a missed season due to injury) and Kerrigan are very capable of putting pressure on the quarterback and making things happen in the backfield. Fourth year inside linebacker Perry Riley looks to take his game to the next level this season, and is considered a good all-around defender. Veteran London Fletcher saw his production and effectiveness fall last season, but rebounded down the stretch to help this defense. What he can bring the table this season is a tough question to answer heading into this season. If he plays like he did last year the Redskins could have some problems, but if he is back to his previous level of play, the Redskins could have the best linebacking unit in the NFC. Depth is strong across the board here for the Redskins, though they will be without top back-up Rob Jackson for the first four weeks due to a suspension. The team lost 2nd year ILB Keenan Robinson to injury, but mitigated that loss with the signing of veteran Nick Barnett.
This unit was the Redskins biggest weakness last season, and the Redskins looked to improve this year by signing corner E.J. Biggers from Tampa and drafting defensive backs in the 2nd, 4th and 6th rounds. Biggers and 2nd round corner David Amerson will join incumbent starters DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson at the top of the depth chart. Hall has had issues in recent years with giving up too many catches and yards. Wilson has been the more consistent corner, but his size can limit him from effectively covering some of the bigger receivers in the league. Biggers and Amerson add size and potential, but there are some question marks surrounding both players. Behind the top four the Redskins have two promising young corners in Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield, in case there are any injury concerns with the top guys. Overall it should be a solid group, and if someone struggles they will have the depth to replace them.
Safety is still more unsettled than cornerback at this point. Projected starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather is coming back from a late season ACL injury, and has been limited for much of practice this training camp. Though the hope is that he will be ready to start the season, the chance that he will be healthy enough for 1,000 or more plays this season seems slim. Unfortunately top back-up SS rookie Phillip Thomas, will now miss the season due to a Lisfranc injury. Though Thomas wasn’t expected to start, he would have likely gotten a fair amount of work this season at both SS and FS. Starting free safety currently looks to be 6th round rookie Bacarri Rambo. Rambo has some good potential, but still figures to have his fair share of growing pains this season. Depth is now in question without Thomas in the mix, though veteran Reed Doughty has been a solid in the box safety when called upon.
Street free agent Kai Forbath was a tremendous find for the Redskins last season after he made his first 17 field goals after joining the team in week 6 last year. In fact Forbath missed just a single field goal attempt all year, giving the Redskins the consistency they’ve lacked in their kicking game for years. Forbath’s accuracy shouldn’t be the issue this season, but his distance on kick-offs did put the defense in some bad situations last year. Sav Rocca is a solid veteran punter who will boom some punts and is pretty good from a hang time stand point, but he’s not consistent enough. His averaged distance has been in the bottom third the last two seasons, and will likely be an issue again. The returners are up in the air at this point, but it is like that Niles Paul is the kickoff returner and Richard Crawford the punt returner. Both have the potential to be above average at the position and an improvement over Brandon Banks from the last couple of years.
The Redskins figure to be similar to last season where their offense carried them to the playoffs. The defense should be improved this year, particularly from a pass rush perspective, but it still figures to be the weak point of this team. The Redskins schedule is tough overall, but does start out favorably during the first four weeks before the Redskins bye. That could be key since it is likely that players like RGIII, Brandon Meriweather and Fred Davis may not be at their peak early in the year. Also suspended players Jarvis Jenkins and Rob Jackson won’t miss as many key games. The NFC East figures to be competitive this year, with the Giants and Cowboys both likely to be in the mix, but the Redskins should be able to take the division once again based on their superior offense.