Monday, September 9, 2013

The Optimist’s Annual Redskins Forecast

There has been one dominant topic of conversation in the national media when it comes to the prospects of the 2013 Redskins. We have heard the same view expressed over and over again on TV, on the radio, by columnists and bloggers, and by our non-Redskin fan family and friends. When asked about the team, the response is always along the lines of “I like RG3, but I don’t know if he will be the same or can stay healthy playing in the style he did last year.” They are a popular pick to regress from last year’s ten win season based on this concern, but little else is usually said about this Redskins team.

These are legitimate concerns, of course, but I’m not interested in adding onto the pile of speculation over this. There’s a chance for every player to get hurt, and these kinds of things are impossible to predict, even if some players carry a bigger risk than others, so why dwell on it? If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of hearing this talked about incessantly whenever our beloved team comes up in conversation and want to get away from such negativity. So for the sake of this exercise, I’m going to disregard the subject completely. I’m not even going to put in pixels that word composed of a two letter preposition and a group of peers selected to uphold justice. No, don’t say it out loud.

Imagine with me a 2013 regular season in which Robert Griffin III plays sixteen games. Some may say this is very unlikely, but I’m more interested in what this team could be if everything clicks rather than accepting the inevitability that something goes wrong. Last year at this time, many were talking about managing our expectations and not to be discouraged if RG3 and the team as a whole struggled in his first year. I took a more optimistic position in my preview for 2012. (

 I predicted they would win at least nine games and be in the hunt for the playoffs based on the upgrade at quarterback the rookie represented, as well as other trends that were going in their favor. Guess what? I was right! It is possible for good things to happen, even to us Redskin fans. Last year proved that. Let’s assume young Master Griffin never comes off the field and look at three other story lines that have been mostly neglected by the media in favor of dissecting the anatomy of our hero.

Continuity of the Roster
The negative take on this would be to say that they didn’t make any major upgradess to the team, but considering the harsh cap penalty, inflicted on them for refusing to adhere to the salary cap in an uncapped year, I think they did a good job in retaining the services of every starter but one from last year’s NFC East champion squad. They did not lose a single major contributor to free agency, as many other 2012 playoff teams did. With the gang all back and after finishing last season on fire, I think this Redskins team will have great chemistry. Their familiarity with each other and the system should lead to a focused and organized approach on the field.
This is especially relevant to the league’s top rushing attack of 2012. I thought Tony Pashos was a possible upgrade over Polumbus, but they chose to stick with the known quantity. The recently released Pashos was impressive in the preseason, but offensive line is one area where unit comfort and continuity is particularly critical to success. If the offensive line can be as good as or better than last season, then there is little reason to believe the combination of Griffin, Alfred Morris and a fit Roy Helu won’t be steamrolling defenses on the ground again in 2013.

Ball Control
A mammoth contributing factor to Washington’s 2012 campaign was their turnover margin. Their +17 difference was 3rd best in the league. Although these numbers tend to be a bit random from year to year, there is some reason to believe the Redskins will again perform well in this vital aspect of the game. RG3 throwing just five interceptions as a rookie might be his most underrated achievement, but given the quarterback play we have witnesed in Washington the last decade, we certainly appreciate it. Griffin and Morris both fumbled a bit more than you’d like to see, but there will always be a much greater factor in the randomness of fumbles and their recovery. Interceptions are much more indicative of player and team performance. Having a quarterback who takes care of the ball like Griffin did his rookie season can give your team a big advantage in the turnover department.
I expect the defense to also build on a season that saw them force a top five 31 turnovers. They gave up a lot of points, and the secondary got regularly abused, but they caused a lot of game turning plays despite having to play several guys extensively that began the season way down the depth chart. Getting pass rusher Brian Orakpo back to pair with Ryan Kerrigan will lead to much more pressure on the opposing quarterback. New arrivals Brandon Jenkins and Darryl Tapp will make them even deeper at pass rusher.
Likewise in the secondary, rookies Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson won’t be stars straight out the gate, and will be sure to make mistakes, but they will still be upgrades over the guys they are replacing. Both were athletic ball hawks in college, and while the defense will still give up their fair share of big plays in the passing game, I think those guys make them tougher and riskier to throw against down field.

The Second Year Leap
Much of the enthusiasm behind teams like the Seahawks and Colts is based on the maxim that quarterbacks over the history of the league make their biggest jump in performance from the first year to the second year. If Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck makes the leap to a no brainer elite quarterback, then they can propel their teams into the upper echelon who compete for a Super Bowl every year. This isn’t usually brought up applied to Griffin though. Why? For one, the view is that RG3 is the most reliant on running out of this group and so his success is more predicated on his legs than his throwing ability. Plus, all the inane chatter on that other subject tends to drown everything else out.
Yet, if Griffin is the one who takes his passing game to the next level, he may not need to run at all this year. Yes, the running game was so dominant that he was often throwing to wide open receivers, but he still completed 65% of his passes and set the rookie record for QB Rating. He doesn’t need to run for 800 yards every year to become one of the best players in the league. The Skins will remain a predominantly running team and defenses will need to be reminded occasionally of the dual threat of RG3, but even taking that element out, I think he has the potential to be an historical great just based on his accuracy, laser cannon arm and his unprecedented rookie season he had throwing the ball.

All that being said, this Redskins team at full strength has no ceiling. I’m not sure if they can improve much on their record from last season, but I see them back in the playoffs and trying to take the next step in becoming a perennial threat to raise the Lombardi. Let’s keep our thoughts positive while blocking out all the hate and negativity. For all the turmoil of this off season, it is a great time to be a Redskins fan.

Monday Night Picks from the I Ching
Eagles @ Redskins-4.5
Hexagram 25: Perseverance
Operation Patience is behind us. Us fans too have made it through the barrage of talking head speculation without succumbing to fatigue.Tonight,we finally get to see the Redskins and RG3 on the field again. I expect the conversation after this game to change from that other discussion to how good this team can be with a healthy and still improving Robert Griffin III.
Texans -2.5 @ Chargers
Hexagram 10: Treading

The Chargers are a team in transition and they get a bad match up for their home opener. The Texans offensive line should give whoever is carrying the ball for them plenty of room to run against a suspect San Diego front seven. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers chronic struggles at protecting Phillip Rivers will be put on display and exacerbated by JJ Watt and crew. This Texans team isn’t perfect, but they have enough up front to dominate teams like the San Diego.  

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