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NFL Preview: The Redskins

September 11, 2010

After last year’s (probable) bottoming out of a 4-12 season, the Redskins have brought in a new GM in Bruce Allen, a new coach in Mike Shanahan, and a new quarterback in Donovan McNabb.

Will these moves equal a reversal of fortunes for the Redskins, and send them to the playoffs?  Or will the 2010 season merely be more of the same hideousness that made the team a laughingstock in 2009?

Reasons for optimism

Unlike his predecessor Vinny Cerrato, Allen appears to have more skill than simply being able to adequately kiss owner Dan Synder’s ass.  He had mixed success at his previous stop in Tampa Bay, but he had been partially hindered by the previous regime’s salary cap issues.  He’s already shown absolutely no loyalty to Cerrato’s players.  This can only be considered a good thing, because Cerrato’s players hadn’t met with much success.

Perhaps his best move was hiring Mike Shanahan as coach.  While his recent teams haven’t been quite as good, he has proven himself to be a successful NFL coach and has two Super Bowl rings.  There’s a good chance that Shanahan will have the Redskins’ offense looking much better than they have in recent seasons.  He was able to make the playoffs with a variety of quarterbacks and running backs in Denver, so he has shown the ability to win with a variety of talent.

They also have a pretty good defensive coach in Jim Haslett.  While the defense may not be overloaded with talent, chances are Haslett will stress forcing turnovers and big plays.  Often times, a few big plays a game can make up for a lot of shortcomings.

McNabb is a huge upgrade at the quarterback position.  While McNabb has some weaknesses, and wasn’t able to win a Super Bowl in Philly, he’s still very talented and one of the better QBs in the league.  At the very least, he should be an improvement over anyone the Redskins have tried over the past decade.

I’m curious to see how McNabb will perform in a system other than Andy Reid’s.  I have a feeling that the Redskins’ offense won’t be quite as McNabb-centric as the Eagles’ was, and at this stage of his career, that can only help.  If he’s not asked to make too many touch passes or to throw 50+ passes every game, and is given a few chances to throw deep each game, then McNabb could have a great season.

Perhaps his most important attribute this season will be his mobility.  He might not be as fast as he was in his early career, but he’s still one of the more mobile QBs in the league, and will often keep plays alive with his legs.  Considering that the offensive line looks to be a work in progress, that may be key if this offense is to have any success.

Reasons for pessimism

It sometimes takes time for regime changes to take effect on the field.  Allen and Shanahan are still largely dealing with the players brought on by Cerrato.  Sometimes a coaching change can reap instant benefits if the players were underacheiving under the previous coach.  But I got the impression that the talent level simply wasn’t good enough to win.  I’m not sure if any coach could have made last year’s squad into winners.

A big problem with the Redskins last year is that they were both bad and old.  There are very few players who you can point to and say: “This guy is going to develop and get better.”  The key offensive players aside from McNabb are RB Clinton Portis, WR Santana Moss, and TE Chris Cooley.  All of them appear to be past their prime.  While it’s definitely possible that the upgrade at QB could help Cooley and Moss, it’s hard to see any of them playing much better this season.

Do they have any potential breakout stars elsewhere on the roster?  Options on offense seem limited.  RB Keiland Williams brought some excitement to the preseason, but is he really more than a fringe player?  Fred Davis seems like a good TE, but he’ll be splitting time with Cooley, and his impact may be limited.  WRs Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelley are probably never going to succeed on this team.  On the other hand, if he lives up to billing, rookie OT Trent Williams could anchor the offenseive line for years.  And an improved offensive line would make everything look a lot better.

On the defense, there seems to be a bit more potential for improvement.  Veterans like London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh are solid players, and Brian Orakpo and LaRon Landry at least give some hope for being future stars.  There’s a chance that Haslett could shape this unit into a strength.

Unfortunately, the last thing a team like this needs is a distraction, but that’s what they’ve got with Albert Haynesworth.  It appears that Shanahan doesn’t think it will ever work out for Haynesworth on the team and is setting him up to fail.  If the team starts off poorly, that situation could help derail the whole season.

Prediction

While this is still a long way from a championship team, I can’t believe that the additions of Shanahan, Haslett, and McNabb won’t improve the team’s fortunes immediately.  I’ll go as far to say they could add up to four wins to the team’s total. 

The rest of the roster may still need some work, but the newcomers will keep the team in the mix for most of the year, resutling in an 8-8 record.  And while .500 may not be anything to get too excited about, it will seem like a breath of fresh air after last season.

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