2010 NFL Team Preview: Washington Redskins

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 4-12, 0-6
Division finish: 4th NFC East
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 26th, 22nd, 16th, 27th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 18th, 10th, 8th, 16th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Clinton Portis, 494 yards, 1 TD
Passing: Jason Campbell, 3,618 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT
Receiving: Santana Moss, 902 yards, 3 TD
Tackles: London Fletcher, 142 total tackles
Sacks: Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo, 11 sacks each
Interceptions: DeAngelo Hall, 4 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes division game)

Key Matchups

September 12 vs. Dallas: If the Cowboys are facing Donovan McNabb on opening day, they'll be in for a challenge. McNabb is a wily veteran who still has a bit of mobility left in his legs, and he still has the arm to make all the throws. Because of the Cowboys' struggles along the offensive line, this might be the ideal opportunity for the Redskins to break in their new 3-4 defensive system and work out some kinks.

October 3 at Philadelphia: It's no exaggeration to say that this game will drastically impact how Donovan MCNabb's career is viewed in the long run. After being traded away from Philadelphia this offseason, McNabb has the chance to show the Eagles how big of a mistake they made. If McNabb has a transcendent performance in this game then his dominance of the Eagles will go down in NFL history similar to Brett Favre's great performances against the Packers last year.

Key Losses

Chris Samuels, OT; Antwaan Randle El, WR; Carlos Rogers, CB

Key Returning Players

Clinton Portis, RB; Santana Moss, WR; Rocky McIntosh, OLB; Albert Haynesworth, DE; DeAngelo Hall, CB

Key Draft Picks

Trent Williams, OT; Dennis Morris, TE/FB

Key Free Agent Signings

Artis Hicks, OG

Key Acquisitions via Trade

Donovan McNabb, QB, Jammal Brown, OT; Adam Carriker, DL

Offensive Overview

The Redskins made some big moves on offense this offseason. First they hired head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, former Houston Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. When the elder Shanahan was a head coach in Denver, his zone-blocking schemes always led to major production from the running back position despite a lack of any big names. Current Redskins running back Clinton Portis had the best two years of his career when he was in Shanahan's system, which gave him the advantage in the preseason running back competition between him, former Chief Larry Johnson, and former Steeler Willie Parker. Parker has had frequent injuries the past couple years that have affected his speed, and speed was really the only aspect of his game that made him a dangerous runner, so he will probably get cut, and even if he stays on the team, he won't be able to provide an impact.

As the starting running back, Portis will greatly appreciate the Redskins' offseason moves along the offensive line. Along with drafting left tackle Trent Williams, they traded for New Orleans Saint Jammal Brown, and signed former Viking Artis Hicks in free agency. Although he's needed a little bit of help from a tight end when playing against some of the NFL's top pass-rushers, Williams has been very good this preaseason, and Brown has played well at right tackle. As a whole, the offensive line is not great, but it is nowhere near as bad as it was last year, especially in pass-protection. Also, the Shanahans tend to use a lot of rollouts and bootlegs, which allows somewhat mobile quarterbacks a lot more time than they'd normally get.

For this offense, the mobile quarterback is the Redskins' biggest offseason acquisition Donovan McNabb. McNabb isn't the runner he was early in his career, but he still has enough speed to move the pocket, buy time for his receivers, and occasionally hurt defenses if they drop too many men into coverage. McNabb doesn't have the best accuracy in the world, but with his mobility he scrambles around until holes open up in the defense, so he doesn't have to throw into the tightest of windows. The best word to describe McNabb as a passer is “streaky.” When he gets in a slump, his confidence seems to get rattled and it takes him a few plays, or even a series or two, to get comfortable again. However, when he's on a hot streak, he can sling it with the best of them.

When McNabb is really playing well, he throws an amazing deep ball, but chances are that there won't be a lot of deep passing on this team, simply due to their talent at receiver. Santana Moss has been a favorite of the quarterbacks this preseason, and he's been looking very good. Opposite of him there are no real deep threats. Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas were supposed to be the future of the Redskins' passing game when they were drafted in 2008, but they've both played extremely poorly, and Kelly is now actually on the team's injured reserve list. Joey Galloway, who couldn't cut it in either Pittsburgh or New England last year, is on the roster but not expected to contribute much, and Bobby Wade is pretty much the same story. While Mike Furrey isn't going to help stretch the field, he is best when hit on underneath routes. 2009 practice squad player Anthony Armstrong may even win the starting number two wideout spot after having such an impressive preseason, but he is still very raw.

One area in which McNabb's job will be made easier is throwing to tight ends. Not only does Chris Colley often help as a blocker, he also gives McNabb a safe outlet to throw to, especially when McNabb is scrambling and looking to quickly dump the ball off to somebody. When Cooley went out last year, Fred Davis got some quality starting experience, and as a result, the Redskins now have two very good tight ends, which is why they have been experimenting with what they've called a “Tiger” package, where both tight ends line up in the backfield, one on either side of the quarterback, and one stays to block while the other goes out for a block. Someone else to look at on this offense is tight end Dennis Morris. Morris is being moved to fullback, where his skill set translates well to being able to not only be a great lead-blocker, which is necessary in a good running-based offense. It's possible that Morris could push incumbent fullback Mike Sellers for a starting job. If so, this gives McNabb a solid receiving option coming out of the backfield. While the offense won't air it out and launch 70-yard bombs all the time, they can move the ball methodically and effectively, especially if McNabb gets comfortable.

Defensive Overview

The key to this defense is the success of nose tackle/defensive end Albert Haynesworth. Throughout his career, he has been an extremely talented player who can't bring it all together and play at a consistent level. This season has been no different. There have been plays where Haynesworth isn't getting off the line right at the snap, and he's playing a bit slowly. However, there have also been plays where he makes a dominant impact. It's got to be frustrating for the Redskins, because the success of their defense is predicated on Haynesworth playing at his best. When Haynesworth is playing well, it makes the whole defense better, but when he's playing poorly the whole defense falls apart a bit. He can play end or nose tackle, and he plays extremely well on stunt plays, too.

With Haynesworth in the fold and playing well, the Redskins have a pretty good defensive line, but without him they simply don't have the personnel to be a 3-4 defense. His status is kind of up in the air right now, as he is embroiled in a public feud with head coach Mike Shanahan. This feud took a turn for the worse in the Redskins' fourth preseason game when Shanahan played Haynesworth for 49 of 55 defensive plays, citing a need to get Haynesworth into football shape. Haynesworth was extremely angry after the game and refused to comment on it to the media. While there's certainly nothing wrong with Shanahan asserting his authority, he needs to tiptoe a thin line, because without Haynesworth at nose tackle, this defense will collapse. Maake Kemoeatu, who has played ahead of Haynesworth at nose tackle this offseason, gets pushed back off the ball too easily because of a lack of leg strength that stems from recovery from an Achilles injury suffered last year. Former Rams defensive tackle Adam Carriker can play end in coordinator Jim Haslett's scheme, and there are plenty of other options to rotate at end, including Phillip Daniels, Vonnie Holliday, and Jeremy Jarmon.

At linebacker, the Redskins aren't bad, though the players all have room for improvement in certain aspects of their game. Brian Orakpo is a great pass-rusher, though he's a liability in run defense. Andre Carter compiled 11 sacks last year, but he might struggle converting from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Inside linebacker Rocky McIntosh is a good run-stopper, and London Fletcher plays with good technique to cover up his age of 35. However, he is easily taken out of run defense with low blocks. H.B. Blades is too small to start, but the backup inside 'backer plays with outstanding athleticism. In the preseason game against the Cardinals, he was assigned to cover slot receiver Early Doucet on one play, and Doucet ran straight up the field, but Blades was only a yard or two behind him, which is astounding speed for a linebacker.

The Redskins' safety tandem looks like it will be Kareem Moore at free safety and LaRon Landry at strong safety. While Landry has incredible speed that is better suited for the free safety position, he doesn't have good coverage instincts, so he's better off in a run-stopping strong safety role. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall is great in coverage, and is going to be noticed for his skills now that he's finally back on a defense that isn't terrible like the ones he played for the past couple of years. While not a great tackler, Hall's coverage ability more than makes up for that. Starting opposite of Hall will be Carlos Rogers, who has been benched in the past for lack of attention to detail. If he struggles again, there's depth in the form of Phillip Buchanon and the extremely athletic Byron Westbrook.

The Redskins don't really have the personnel in their front seven to run a 3-4, but when Haynesworth is playing at his best, they can get away with it. However, when Haynesworth is struggling, the Redskins have to bring 5 men to get even a decent pass rush, and then opposing quarterbacks are able to pick them apart. The defense hinges on Haynesworth, and his fate will decide that of the entire defense.

Special Teams Overview

The Redskins' coverage units were great last year, ranking 3rd in average yards allowed per kickoff return and 6th in average yards allowed per punt return.

Kicker Graham Gano was signed at the end of last year, and made 4 of 4 field goals despite a broken foot. This preseason, he made 5 of 7 field goals and special teams coordinator Danny Smith seems happy with Gano's progress.

"Graham's shown improvement in practice, he's shown improvement in games," Smith said in the Washington Post. "That's what gives him the opportunity to be a good player. I think he's going to be a good player in this league."

With a punt return average of 15.4 yards per return and a kickoff return average of 24.7 yards per return, receiver Brandon Banks seems to have secured a roster spot as a return man this year.

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan

Shanahan is a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, and it's hard not to expect big things from Donovan MCNabb this year after seeing what Shanahan did with John Elway, a player with a very similar skill set to McNabb's, at around this point in Elway's career. As far as the Haynesworth situation goes, Shanahan knows he has to be extremely careful, and he has to strike a balance between asserting his authority and keeping Haynesworth content enough to play with full effort for the Redskins. How successful Shanahan is in this season will go a long way towards defining Shanahan's tenure in Washington.

Top 2011 Free Agents

H.B. Blades, LB, Mike Sellers, FB

Season Prediction

4th NFC East

The offense will be good, but not great, so the defense is key to this team's success. With Albert Haynesworth playing at his best, this team could actually finish in third place. However, it's a bit much to just assume this will happen when Haynesworth is embroiled in a public spat with the coach and may still end up being traded. This team's entire season is contingent on the mood and effort level of the petulant Haynesworth. Jeff Fisher must be laughing right now. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.


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