Washington Redskins: 3 Key Areas Skins Must Improve on to Contend in NFC East

Colin Kennedy@ColinKennedy10Featured ColumnistOctober 23, 2012

Washington Redskins: 3 Key Areas Skins Must Improve on to Contend in NFC East

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    Washington's surprising start to the 2012 season has been impressive to say the least. But the Redskins must make a few critical improvements if they are to contend in the competitive NFC East. 

    Entering this year, nobody foresaw Kyle Shanahan's offense posting league-leading numbers behind a rookie quarterback. 

    But that is just what Robert Griffin and Co. have done. 

    A rookie combination of Alfred Morris and RGIII have the Redskins in the top 10 of nearly every offensive category. However, the team has just three wins to show for it. 

    Finally the 'Skins are close. 

    At last the faithful fans in D.C. have a franchise quarterback they know can lead them back to the Superbowl. 

    But a few things still stand between Washington and greatness. 

    And I am here to tell you what they are. 

    Here are three areas the Redskins must improve on to contend in the NFC East.

Pass Blocking

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    If the Redskins want to have any chance at competing for a division title this year, it is critically important that they protect their best player. 

    Robert Griffin III took his fair share of bone-crushing hits through the first five weeks of the young season—32 to be exact.

    And after the rookie sensation was forced to exit the Atlanta game with a concussion in Week 5, an optimistic fanbase in D.C. held its collective breath. 

    You see, the future of the historic Redskins franchise rests on the shoulders of football's most exciting new player.

    A long-term investment that has already shown promising signs looks to be the first big step in Washington's return to glory. 

    And that is why Trent Williams and Co. must continue to strengthen their pass protection. 

    Improved performance in the last couple of weeks has been evident, both in statistical measurement and on-the-field production. 

    Washington's ability to keep RGIII upright in recent games has allowed the rookie passer to exploit strong defenses in both New York and Minnesota

    The Redskins lost a heartbreaker to the Giants this past Sunday; however, the Burgundy and Gold likely wouldn't have competed if it weren't for a valiant protection effort against one of football's most feared pass-rushers. 

    Through seven games, Robert Griffin III has shown the world why many believe he is a future MVP. 

    If Washington can give him some time, the sky is the limit in the nation's capitol. 

The Big Play/Secondary

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    It doesn't take Trent Dilfer telling us on ESPN for Redskins fans to know the glaring weakness of this football team. 

    But did Eli Manning and Victor Cruz really have to rub it in? 

    Washington's secondary has been frustrating to say the least. A freakish accident with Brandon Meriweather left its starting safety sidelined before the season began, and the results haven't been pretty. 

    Consider this. 

    As a group, the Redskins defense ranks 30th out of 32 teams in terms of total yards allowed. 

    Against the run, Washington ranks eighth. 

    That means that the 'Skins pass defense has been putrid enough to drag down the entire unit more than 20 slots in the rankings. 

    Their 2,299 pass yards against is over 200 more than the next worst team in New England.

    So, while the front seven continue to limit opponents to 85 yards on the ground per game, a scuffling secondary continues to lose Washington games. 

    Most notably has been the "big play" (for lack of a better term). 

    The Redskins have surrendered seven passes of 40 yards or more so far in 2012—a mark that ties them for the unimpressive league-lead. 

    Big-time receivers like A.J. Green and Julio Jones have had success against Washington, while lesser-known players including Danny Amendola have posted career-high numbers against the weak secondary. 

    The most recent, Victor Cruz, torched the Redskins for seven catches, 131 yards, and a game-winning touchdown. 

    After finally landing a franchise quarterback in RGIII, a majority of the pieces are in place in D.C. 

    But right now, a depleted secondary stands between the 'Skins and completeness. 

3rd Down

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    Who knew two rookies could make such a difference? 

    The expectations for Robert Griffin III were there. And he has already exceeded them.

    But for Alfred Morris, a sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic University, nobody saw this coming. 

    The balanced attack in Washington has given the Redskins two legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates and the league's fifth highest-scoring offense through seven weeks. 

    Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme has proven successful, and the 'Skins are beginning to move the ball with the best of them. 

    But still, something is missing. 

    And that something is the ability to convert on third down. 

    Perhaps it is a reflection of Washington's inexperience on the offensive side of the ball. Or maybe we have to credit the opposing defenses. 

    Either way you look at it, the Redskins must improve on third down situations. 

    Currently they rank behind only Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Jacksonville in terms of third down percentage. 

    With a stifling run defense and one of the game's most explosive offenses, a 31 percent conversion rate simply isn't acceptable. 

    Robert Griffin III already out-performed Drew Brees. He ended a historically bad home drought against a tough defense in Minnesota. 

    RGIII even pulled an Eli Manning before Manning one-upped him in the Meadowlands this past Sunday. 

    But if the Redskins are going to make that step to the next level, they must find a way to keep the chains moving when it matters most.