Why the Washington Redskins Are NFC East Favorites with or Without RG3 in 2013
There is no discounting the impact Robert Griffin III's injury has on the Washington Redskins organization. Some reports have him becoming a different player, while others predict a career full of injuries that will derail his superstar ascent.
With or without the now-famed RG3, the Washington Redskins have to be considered favorites to repeat as NFC East champions.
It goes beyond just the quarterback position, which will be handled much differently if Griffin isn't the starter on opening day. The Redskins, for a change, built a team.
While they may have invested a great deal in Griffin, he is not the only player making a difference for the Redskins or the only factor in why they're favorites for the division crown next season.
Health on Defense
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Washington's defense, at least for the first half of the season, was nothing short of abysmal. They improved down the stretch, holding the Dallas Cowboys to 296 total yards in the season finale, but that is a far cry from the elite unit they were expected to be before the season began.
With Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker healthy and a secondary that will likely be upgraded in the offseason, the Redskins have the makings of a formidable defense.
Orakpo and Carriker accounted for 14.5 sacks in 2011-12, which is almost half of their team sack total from this season (32). Their run defense was fifth best in the NFL, though much of that is due to their pass defense, or lack thereof, being so inviting.
With even a middle-of-the-pack defense, the Redskins could have won three or four more games this season with their offense scoring 27.3 points per game.
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With one official victory and one fourth-quarter comeback, Kirk Cousins showed himself to be capable of leading an NFL offense. He isn't the dynamic, dual-threat quarterback that Griffin is, but he is a cool-headed passer who can improvise and keep plays alive while keeping his eyes down the field.
No one expected Cousins to lead the Redskins to a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game against Baltimore, nor did they expect him to throw for 329 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his lone start of the season.
In the event that Griffin isn't ready to start the seasons, Cousins is prepared to be the field general. While the Redskins become a seemingly more predictable offense with a traditional pocket-passer running the show, look at what Kyle Shanahan did with the Houston Texans in 2009.
Houston scored the ninth-most points and produced the third-most yards in the NFL that season.
Alfred Morris and the Ground Game
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Alfred Morris, sixth-round pick out of FAU and everything, is one of the main reasons the Redskins rolled in the second half of the season. He set the Redskins' franchise rushing record with 1,613 yards, 651 of which came in December.
RGIII gets the spotlight, but Morris makes the Redskins offense go, evidenced by the 200 yards he rumbled for against the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale.
The Redskins offense utilized Griffin perfectly if you look at it from a sheer numbers standpoint. The read option, and the success both Griffin and Morris had with it, forced defenses to respect both of them running and the prospect of Griffin passing.
With a traditional quarterback/running back offense, the Redskins will have to make adjustments, but with the regularity Morris finished his runs moving forward and the gaping holes the offensive line created, there is little concern that Washington will be stuffed by opposing defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles in Flux
For the first time since 1999, the Philadelphia Eagles have a new head coach. The makeup of the Eagles roster is messy and was built for Andy Reid's uses. Whomever the team ends up hiring will have their work cut out for them.
A new coach means change in Philly, and change rarely translates into success so readily. Following their 4-12 season and 12-20 record over the past two seasons, the Eagles are headed for rough times.
The team must decide if Michael Vick is a part of their future plans, if DeSean Jackson can be more than just a really fast deep threat with an attitude and if the defense can shake off finishing 29th in the NFL through two defensive coordinators.
Philadelphia may take Washington's spot at the bottom while they figure things out over the next few years.
New York Giants Are Unpredictable
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The New York Giants missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, and even though they have two Super Bowl victories in the past six seasons, the NFL is all about "What have you done for me lately?"
Eli Manning continues to feign interest in actually being an elite quarterback, failing to throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in four seasons, and throwing just 26 touchdowns, down from 29 last season and 31 the season before.
The Giants used to be about a productive offense and strong defense, but lately their defense has fallen out of the top 10, and their offense has failed to find a consistent running back or a solid complement of receivers. Victor Cruz emerged as a go-to receiver, but Hakeem Nicks has been hurt and Martellus Bennett at tight end isn't enough.
Washington has taken three of the past four games against the Giants, including sweeping them in their Super Bowl season last year. New York is not to be trusted, even with the hardware they've acquired under Tom Coughlin.
Dallas Cowboys' Elite Facade Is Crumbling
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Sky-high preseason expectations eroded by injuries, inconsistency, finger-pointing and an unnecessary coaching change. Just another season for Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.
Tony Romo wilted late in the season when it mattered most, and when Dez Bryant looks like the most focused member of your team, there is a problem.
Dallas will rebound with Monte Kiffin taking over as defensive coordinator, but talent alone will not be enough to overcome the growing need for change, or at the very least health, on both sides of the ball. Jason Garrett was a catalyst when he took over as head coach in 2010, but hasn't led the 'Boys to the promised land as expected.
He'll be on the hot seat, and if he is anything like his quarterback, he'll come up empty-handed and on his way out.
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If we disregard for a moment the heartbreaking manner in which the Redskins' season ended, they were on a roll for seven weeks and looked unstoppable, or at least like possible sleepers heading into the playoffs.
Robert Griffin III's injury may have put a damper on things to end the season, but it doesn't change the seven-game winning streak the 'Skins rode into a division title and postseason slot.
The NFC East hasn't seen a repeat division champion since 2003 and 2004, when the Eagles won their fourth and fifth division crowns. The Redskins showed this season in late-game situations and in a pinch that they can win with anyone under center. Griffin is an incomparable talent, but Washington built a team before he arrived.
Griffin makes things easier, but the Redskins can fight for wins when necessary.