The Redskins got off to a hot start in 2008 under new coach Jim Zorn. They were 6-2 halfway through the season. That was before they ran into the Steelers' defense and everything came unglued. What went wrong? And how can the Redskins fix it?
Maybe the best place to start is to look at what went right. The most obvious thing is the Redskins' defense ranked fourth in the entire league behind only Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Also, the running game was so good, Clinton Portis was being seriously mentioned for MVP well into the season.
Could getting Julius Peppers through free agency help the pass rush? No doubt. But should fixing the fourth-ranked defense in the league be a priority? No, it should not.
It’s the offense where the real concerns lie, despite the fact Jason Campbell proved to be a steady, serviceable quarterback. He threw 13 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, and had a passer rating of 84.3.
The problem is the Redskins never developed a deep-pass threat and couldn’t score points. With Portis finishing fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,487 yards, there’s no justification for the Redskins' scoring a meager 16.6 points per game and finishing 19th in overall offense.
Much of the blame lies with having a new offensive system. But the offensive line showed signs of aging. It lacks speed and is prone to injuries. And the receivers weren’t getting separation. The result of this combination was that the 'Skins' line couldn’t hold the fort while Campbell looked in vain for open receivers down the field. This isn’t Santana Moss’s fault. He needs help, and he’s not getting it.
Time for owner Dan Snyder to get the jet running. The only free agent on offense the Redskins need to worry about losing is guard Pete Kendall. He should be signed back at a reasonable price.
The first free agent I’d be looking to get is Jordan Gross, Pro-Bowl right tackle of the Carolina Panthers. Right tackle has proved to be a real problem for the 'Skins since Jon Jansen’s age caught up with him. Gross would fix that the moment he walked onto the field.
The 'Skins may also be considering going after a free-agent wide receiver like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who may be the best No. 2 receiver in the league at this point. He caught 94 balls for nearly 1,000 yards this year.
Their focus in the draft should be the same as with free agency: offensive line and receiver. Having only four draft picks at this point, the Redskins might trade their first pick for additional picks. If the Redskins stay at 13 in the first round, they should go for a solid offensive lineman to groom for the future.
If they can sign a free agent like Jordan Gross to shore up tackle, they should go for one of the outstanding 330-pound guards available in this draft: Duke Robinson from Oklahoma and Herman Johnson from LSU. If they were to sign Gross and put him at right tackle, and Robinson or Johnson was being groomed behind Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall at guard, the 'Skins would have made a vast improvement over the offseason.
But don’t be surprised if they have their eye on someone in their backyard for a receiver spot. Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey is big and fast, and if still available at the 13-spot, would be very tempting, despite (or maybe because of) the disappointing output of last year’s duo of rookie wide receivers (Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly).