The Washington Redskins haven't won or lost a game by more than a score. At the very least, Robert Griffin III has made a team that was consistently mediocre into one that is consistently competitive. The biggest concern now is whether Griffin will be able to stay on the field enough for that trend to continue.
We look at that and more in a state of the union breakdown of where Mike Shanahan's team sits through five weeks.
What They Should be Thinking
Our pass defense is historically bad. We've given up 1,643 passing yards through five games, which is the most in team history and the third-most in NFL history, according to CSN Washington's Rich Tandler. Few cornerbacks have been beaten as often as DeAngelo Hall, while new additions Cedric Griffin and Richard Crawford have struggled. Brandon Meriweather can't stay healthy and Tanard Jackson is gone, and we aren't happy with our depth beyond that.
With Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker out, we've been able to record just four sacks in three games, which makes things impossible for our already weak defensive backfield. After recording a stellar 41 sacks last year, we're on pace to take down the quarterback only 25 times in 2012.
On top of all that, we have a franchise quarterback who keeps exposing himself to dangerous hits and is now dealing with a concussion only a month into his NFL career. Our backup tossed two interceptions on only nine passes in Griffin's stead Sunday, and we won't be able to compete under those circumstances going forward. Is Griffin going to learn from his latest mistake, or will he spend the rest of his career in and out of the trainer's room? We have no way of knowing.
In this era, most defenses struggle against the pass. On a per-game basis, the Buccaneers have actually given more passing yards than we have, and four defenses have surrendered more yards per passing attempt than we have.
Last year, the Packers and Patriots went a combined 28-4 despite allowing more passing yards than every other team in football. Plus, Josh Wilson's one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and we've been banged up right across the board in the secondary. Oh, and in our defense, we have had to face Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan, who have been two of the most lethal quarterbacks in the league this year.
Orakpo and Carriker might be out and our sack rate is dropping, but at least we're discovering that Kerrigan has All-Pro written all over him. The guy's been a playmaker with and without support, and he gave us a great chance to pull off the upset Sunday against Atlanta by registering a pick-six on Ryan. Pro Football Focus ranks Kerrigan as the third-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the game through five weeks.
RG3's a smart, mature dude, and he should adjust his game in order to better protect himself from the types of hits that could cause him to miss time going forward. Let's keep in mind that he's only a handful of games into his career and yet he has the fifth-highest passer rating, the second-highest yards-per-attempt total and the highest completion percentage in the league. Throw in what rookie back Alfred Morris is doing to support him and consider, too, that the offensive line can only get better, and you begin to see that the sky's the limit.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Alfred Morris
Thank goodness for Morris, who would be an early candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year love if not for what Griffin's done. The NFL's fourth-leading rusher is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. What's more, he seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on. Not bad for a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic. The balance he's brought to this offense has been crucial.
Stock Rising (defense): Ryan Kerrigan
He's been without a doubt the defensive MVP and the team's best non-quarterback. It was doomsday when Orakpo went down for the season, but the second-year linebacker out of Purdue has continued to make big plays. He scored the second touchdown of his career Sunday, and there isn't an outside linebacker in the league who's recorded more hurries than Kerrigan has, per PFF.
Stock Dropping (offense): Pierre Garcon
I realize he's been hurt, but the expectations were so high and Garcon has taken some heat for his slow recovery from a foot injury suffered in Week 1. Since his return in Week 4, he's managed to drop two passes, take two penalties and catch only four passes.
Stock Dropping (defense): Josh Wilson
He hasn't been the problem in the secondary, but while Kerrigan has saved the shorthanded front seven, Wilson has failed to step up of late to help the struggling defensive backfield. The team's top corner was playing at a Pro Bowl-level early, but his PFF ratings have dropped consistently each week since the start of the year. He's been beaten 15 times in the last two games alone.
It all depends on RG3. Early signs point to him being able to play Sunday against Minnesota, and if he truly does learn to make better risk/reward decisions while running with the football, this team might be good enough offensively to stay in the playoff race all year.
Ultimately, though, Kerrigan alone can't fuel the pass rush enough to overcome what's happening on the back end, and the 'Skins will continue to get pounced on by the slew of great quarterbacks that lie ahead on the schedule.
But as far as the micro goes, they have to find a way to get past the 4-1 Vikings before back-to-back road games against the Giants and Steelers. If they don't beat Minnesota, they could be looking at a 2-6 start.
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