5 Lessons the Playoffs and Super Bowl Hopefully Taught the Redskins
1. Defense Matters:
-Everyone always wants to talk how this is an offensive league, but typically top defenses make the playoffs and have postseason success. Last night’s game obviously epitomized it, but it was a theme throughout these entire playoffs. Seattle’s defense was amazing throughout the post season and really carried this team to victory. The 49ers defense was big against Carolina and Green Bay, and their defense was a big part of the reason why they played the Seahawks the toughest this post season. Even the Broncos proved this to be true, as their defense made big plays against both San Diego and New England to help Denver make it to the Super Bowl. Good teams need quality defenses and if you want to be a great team you really need to have a comparable defense. Mike Shanahan’s strategy to ignore the defensive side of the ball was completely embarrassed last night, as arguably the best quarterback in the history of the game was made to look extremely normal and forced into mistakes.
2. Depth is Key:
-This was a major theme throughout the postseason as a number of teams (Colts, Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Chargers) all dealt with multiple major injuries and were still able to make the postseason. The Broncos and Seahawks suffered some of the worst issues, yet still managed to have the best record in the NFL and make it to the Super Bowl. Denver was on their 3rd center this year and were without their LT for much of the season. Defensively due to suspension and injury they were without their star player Von Miller for much of the year and all the of postseason. They were also missing multiple members of the secondary and defensive line for long stretches (and most or all of the postseason). The Seahawks were without their top two receivers Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice for almost the entire year. For a stretch of the season the Seahawks were missing three starting linemen, including their top lineman LT Russell Okung who missed half the season. Seattle also dealt with multiple injuries and suspensions in their secondary.
These teams would not have been in the Super Bowl if not for their quality depth up-and-down their roster. The Redskins desperately need to build that level of depth as it clearly isn’t there currently. Many of the guys that made up the 2nd and 3rd units on the Redskins wouldn’t be back-ups on these playoff teams.
3. Pressure is Very Important:
-A lot is obviously made about the performance of the Seattle secondary, but really the big winners last night was the Seahawks front 4 who without the aid of blitzing, generated quite a bit of pressure on Peyton Manning. Though they only managed one sack, they brought a lot of heat on Manning and forced a number of short throws, incomplete passes and a pair of interceptions. Don’t get me wrong the coverage and play of the secondary was great, and they also helped the pressure by ensuring there were no blown coverages to exploit, but without the pressure up front this is a different ball game. Manning was harassed for much of the first half and he really couldn’t get into a rhythm. The two things that really stood out about the Seahawks pressure was, one the fact that they were getting it at all. Manning is the best in the league at scanning the field and finding the open guy quickly He doesn’t take a lot of sacks and doesn’t allow pressure to force that many bad throws. The second thing that really made the Seahawks pressure special was the fact that they were able to be so effective rushing only 4 guys for much of the night. Since they didn’t have to blitz there weren’t any vacated areas for Manning to exploit, and when Manning did complete a pass, the defense was on top of the receiver.
From the Redskins point of view this shows just how important re-signing Brian Orakpo is to their future. Orakpo is the Redskins best pass rusher, and while he’s not always getting sacks, he’s getting pressure and forcing some bad throws. The Skins absolutely can’t afford to lose that. The Rob Jackson’s of the world just can’t make that level of impact. It doesn’t matter if he will sign for only a quarter of the price, you aren’t replacing Orakpo’s production like that. The two other things seen from Seattle’s dominance along the line is that the Redskins need to do more here. Just re-signing Orakpo isn’t enough. They need to add another guy who can generate pressure along the line, if they really want to start influencing the quarterback.
4. Special Teams Matter:
-A number of teams that made the postseason were very good in special teams and it was a big part of them being successful in the field position battles (both offensively and defensively). We saw special teams play a role last night as well. Not just with a kick-off return for a TD by Percy Harvin, but a poor punt by Denver early on that set up Seattle with great field position. Seattle’s coverage units were big as well and set Denver back behind the 20 on 3 kick-off returns. The punt and the kick coverage seem like small things, but they really can have a big impact on the game.
The Redskins special teams were a joke last year and a lot of the issue went back to that lack of quality depth. It has to be a priority for them to fix this year. They don’t necessarily need an elite unit (it would be nice though), but they need a competent unit to start.
5. Importance of the Draft- and not just the first couple of picks:
-Yes the Broncos landed Peyton Manning in a big free agency move, but that was a rare circumstance. Most of the free agency moves done by the playoff teams and especially the Super Bowl teams were considered secondary moves. Most were smaller deals that maybe panned out in a big way. This is not to say the Redskins have to take the Packers or Steelers approach of barely touching free agency, but it is to say that the draft is the most important part of the offseason. Most of these playoff teams owe quality drafting to their success, and both playoff teams prove this completely. While Denver had plenty of help this year from free agents like Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Shaun Phillips, Terrance Knighton and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, they also relied heavily on Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Malik Jackson, Robert Ayers, Danny Trevanthan, Von Miller, Duke Inhenacho, Rahim Moore and many others who were draft picks or UDFA’s. The Seahawks are even more dependent on the draft as with the exceptions of Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, just about every other key player or contributor was either drafted or signed by the Seahawks (Harvin and Rice weren’t, but neither played that much). Both Denver and Seattle also have gotten major contributions out of 4-7th round picks. For Denver that includes players like Julius Thomas, Danny Trevanthan, Malik Jackson, who were late rounders and guys like Tony Carter, Duke Inhenacho and Chris Clark who were UDFA’s. Seattle has even had greater success in these rounds or with UDFA’s: Walter Thurmond, Red Bryant, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Luke Wilson, Byron Maxwell, J.R. Sweezy, Malcolm Smith, Michael Bowie were late round picks, and if that wasn’t enough Brandon Browner (CFL), Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin were undrafted guys.
Similar to Vinny Cerrato, Mike Shanahan did a decent job in the first couple of rounds (when he actually had picks there), but in the later rounds the Redskins have very little to show for it. Mike Shanahan found Alfred Morris, and Roy Helu is a nice number two back, but outside of running backs those rounds have been pretty unproductive for the Redskins. Perry Riley was a 4th rounder, but the Skins haven’t gotten a ton of impact out of him. He played all of 8 snaps his rookie year, and didn’t start until mid-way through is 2nd year. Since then he’s been an average starter, which is nice, but hardly the level of impact that these other teams are getting from these picks. The Redskins currently have just 6 picks in the draft, and they need to do a much better job at hitting on these guys. Not just from a finding starters and contributors perspective, but landing guys who can help on Special teams. The Skins also need to do a better job uncovering some undrafted talent as well. If the Redskins are to turn this thing around they have to start building the right way. Free agency should be used to just supplement the draft, especially at this point when the Redskins are rebuilding.