Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash Spree: Washington Redskins Season Preview

2008 Record: 8-8

After starting 2008 on a blistering 6-2 pace, the Steelers came to town on the eve of election night and smacked the snot out of the Skins, including 7 sacks and two picks of Jason Campbell. After the Monday Night shellacking, the Redskins finished the season a disappointing 2-5, to close out at .500.

The Redskins' offense, which looked unstoppable to start the season, had a marked decline over the latter half of the season. Most of this can be attributed to injuries along the offensive line. Commentators thrust the blame on the shoulders of quarterback Jason Campbell, without even discussing the fact that Clinton Portis didn't break 80 yards in a game after Thanksgiving, following a stretch of over 120 yards in five consecutive games from September 28th through October 26th. Last season, Clinton Portis was the leading rusher in 10 games, with the Redskins going 7-3 in those games. By contrast, the Redskins were 4-3 in games when Jason Campbell out-passed the opposing quarterback. Campbell had only 6 interceptions last season, which on paper looks good, but he lacked the receivers to improve his TD-to-INT ratio, only posting 13 touchdown passes last season. In the right system, I believe Campbell can be a very, very good quarterback in this league, but the question remains to be seen if he will be given that opportunity, or if Jim Zorn will have him on the short leash this season after the 2-6 finish to last year.

The Redskins' offense is all about running the ball. Portis had almost 1,500 yards last season on 342 carries. One has to wonder how much longer Portis is going to be able to maintain that big of a workload. It showed last season, as his production slowed towards the end of the season. For as much as the Skins' offense relies on the ground game, it is of paramount importance to keep the offensive line healthy. Chris Samuels, a perennial Pro-Bowler at left tackle, has had some injury problems the last few years and is at the tail end of his career.

Santana Moss is a dangerous deep threat, but he needs some help. Antwaan Randle El was brought in from Pittsburgh to be that help, but injuries have hampered his three seasons in DC. Last year, the Skins drafted two wide receivers early in the draft, Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma) and Devin Thomas (Michigan State). Both of them were hampered by injuries in their first year, with Kelly having micro-fracture knee surgery, and Thomas having hamstring issues. Thomas, known for his blazing speed in college, has been working on running cleaner routes rather than just relying on his speed. Thomas had only 15 catches while appearing in all 16 games last season.

Owner Dan Snyder's off-season spending spree rivaled Barack Obama's, but it remains to be seen whether Snyder's will actually net results. The biggest acquisition was defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth from Tennessee. The Redskins' defense was very solid last season, and they look to be much the same unit, with the additions of Haynesworth and first round draft pick Brian Orakpo from Texas. Orakpo played a 4-3 end at Texas, but he has been running with the first team defense as an outside linebacker, so he may see the field on opening day. Orakpo's speed and athleticism will make him a good fit as a run-stopper and pass-rusher, but pass coverage may be different story.

Ian's Prediction: 9-7

The NFC East remains one of the best divisions in football, and the Redskins will be hard-pressed competing for a title. However, with two of the biggest receiving threats (T.O. and No-Catch-ico) out of the division, it remains to be seen whether there is an elite team of the bunch. Look for a lot of this group to beat up on each other in division play. All four teams play very good defense, so points will likely be at a premium in divisional games. On the upside, the NFC East faces the AFC West in inter-conference play, arguably the weakest division in the NFL, which should give the Redskins 3 easy wins, barring an upset. They also face the NFC South, one of the best divisions in football last year. However, as the Steelers showed, having the hardest schedule doesn't really mean much. Washington's schedule starts easy with games against St. Louis and Detroit in September. Their hardest stretch comes at the end with a trap game in Oakland, followed by two home night games against division rivals Dallas and New York, before closing out back on the west coast in San Diego. I think the Skins should hold their own this year, with the defense keeping them in a lot of games. Don't expect many blowouts from this team, but they are good enough to hang around with anyone.

John's Prediction: 10-6

Responsibility. Accountability. Leadership. Depth. The Redskins had issues with all these aspects in 2008, especially on offense. Who was to blame for the second-half collapse? Jason Campbell seemed to receive the majority of the criticism, but what about Clinton Portis' disappearing act, the continued absence of true receiving threats, and poor O-line play? Additionally, where the QB is generally considered the offensive captain, the 'Skins have as many as four potential "stars" to fill the important role. Campbell is now experienced enough to handle being the leader, but Portis, Santana Moss, and Chris Samuels have all been the "face" of this team in recent years. To make matters worse, the offense is only one or two injuries away from being degraded to the ability of a college attack due to absolutely no depth at any position. The defense will once again be the strength of this team, especially with the additions of Haynesworth, Orakpo, and DeAngelo Hall for an entire season. If the Redskins can stay healthy and have a true leader emerge on offense, and if the new acquisitions on defense can gel quickly, this team has the potential to win up to twelve games. However, a tough second-half schedule will probably limit Washington to a nine or ten win campaign.

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