The Washington Redskins have such a promising future right now that it's almost easy to accept that 2012 might not be their year. After all, the 'Skins have dropped four of their seven games despite having led or been tied in the fourth quarter of each of them.
It's hard to come back from that, and it's even harder to come back from injuries to guys like Fred Davis, Pierre Garcon, Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker. But this team has a special feel to it, so we're not prepared to rule anything out.
Here's a breakdown of where the 'Skins stand seven weeks into the season.
What They Should be Thinking
Our defense is simply too weak for us to close games out. In our four losses, we've given up over 13 points per game in the fourth quarter, which would work out to over 50 points over all four periods. We don't have the speed in the secondary to deal with top-end wide receivers or spread-out offenses, and without Orakpo and Carriker we aren't able to get enough pressure to compensate for that.
Quite simply, we just don't have the talent on defense to hold on against good teams, and it's killing us. We've now given up a league-high 16 passing touchdowns and seven passes of 40-plus yards.
And on top of all that, our front seven has now lost its leader with London Fletcher going down with a hamstring injury. Fletcher might not be out for long, but we're already thin at linebacker without Orakpo and could take another hit in run defense and even underneath and tight end coverage if Fletcher is limited or forced to miss time.
At least the offense had been saving the day until this past week. But then it got sloppy, turning the ball over four times in one half after doing so on only five occasions during the first six weeks of the season. Now we have to fear that becoming an issue, too.
This would all be easier to swallow had we beaten the Giants. If that were the case, we'd be alone in first place with tiebreakers considered and we'd have a very strong chance to actually win the division during Robert Griffin III's rookie season, officially making the sky the limit beyond that.
Now, instead, we're actually alone in last place in the division with a hell of a lot of climbing to do in the competitive NFC.
We outplayed the Giants without Garcon, Davis, Orakpo, Carriker and Fletcher and despite those four second-half turnovers. If the secondary can improve only slightly, it could be the difference between making a playoff run now or having to wait until 2013.
And at least we have the pieces in place, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The pass protection for Griffin has improved substantially of late, while rookie running back Alfred Morris continues to prove that he has the potential to become Mike Shanahan's latest sensation out of the backfield.
No one seems to know how to slow down the read-option offense, even though they've now had over six weeks' worth of tape to prepare with. RG3 is that dangerous, the running game is that effective and the passing game has been steady enough to keep everyone on their heels.
Keep in mind how difficult New York's schedule is. Dallas and Philadelphia aren't doing much of anything right now, and the Giants have a tough road ahead. We might be banged up, but we have nothing to lose, which has to scare the rest of this division. Plus, we have the easiest schedule in the division. Just one of the perks of sucking in 2011.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Logan Paulsen
Paulsen did a great job filling in for Davis on Sunday and should be the team's No. 1 tight end going forward. The 25-year-old has always been known for his blocking ability, but he was steady as Griffin's safety blanket, too, catching four passes for a team-high 76 yards against the Giants.
Stock Rising (defense): Rob Jackson
Who knew they had this spectacular 26-year-old career backup linebacker? Jackson had his second pick Sunday since relieving Orakpo and also registered a sack while compiling the top defensive PFF rating on the team.
Stock Dropping (offense): Niles Paul
The reserve tight end played a career-high 38 snaps with Davis going down, but he failed to do anything as a receiver, gave up a sack in pass protection and drew a negative run-blocking rating from PFF. It's clear the wide receiver convert isn't ready yet, which is a big reason why Chris Cooley has rejoined the team.
Stock Dropping (defense): Ryan Kerrigan
What's wrong with him? One week after PFF gave him the worst ranking on the team, Kerrigan was its second-lowest rated defender against the Giants. In the immediate aftermath of Orakpo going down, it looked as though Kerrigan might be able to step up and help compensate for the loss. That doesn't appear to be the case, as Kerrigan has hit the opposing quarterback just once since a solid Week 3 performance.
They can't afford to drop to 3-5, but Pittsburgh's rather desperate at home this week so it's going to be a challenge. Beyond that, though, they only have three road games left on the schedule and little to lose with five more games against NFC East rivals.
I still think the focus now, though, should be on helping Griffin to continue to improve while developing this team for the long run. Part of that means keeping RG3 clean, which is something they've improved on in the last couple weeks.
If they can continue to do that, I'm expecting them to exceed expectations this year with a chance to become dominant in the very near future.
View last week's report here