Mapping out the Blueprint for a Washington Redskins Super Bowl Run in 2013-14
Against all odds, they recovered from injuries, suspensions, salary cap restrictions and a 3-6 start to win seven straight and take the NFL East.
They already have the talent on the roster to make a run at the Super Bowl and must map out a way to build on that this offseason.
The 2013-14 season will start out in much the same way as the previous one. The salary cap penalty still hovers over the front office, and there is a certain amount of concern regarding the quarterback position.
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen must once again do more with less, and overcome a lot of obstacles in order to prep this team for a run at the Lombardi trophy.
Let’s take a look at some ways they can do that.
The elder Shanahan remains, but what of his son?
Kyle Shanahan has been instrumental in the newfound success of the Redskins, designing innovative offensive schemes for Robert Griffin III for which the NFL seemed to have no answer at times.
Inevitably, that meant Shanahan was linked with many of the head coaching jobs that suddenly became available at the end of the regular season. Nothing has come of it this year, but rumors will no doubt resurface if the team is successful once again.
Shanahan hasn’t always been the popular choice in Washington, but Griffin needs stability in his developmental years, so the OC must be retained. It’s not like there won’t be another head coaching job available, and it may even be in D.C.
Wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard left the franchise to join the Buffalo Bills. Overall, Hilliard did a solid job with his unit, and five receivers finished the season with over 500 yards.
The Redskins front office may look to bring in an experienced WR coach, or perhaps take a chance on an ex-player’s ability to succeed as a coach. B/R writer John Bibb put forward Art Monk as a coaching candidate, which would certainly be a popular choice among fans.
Monk’s knowledge of the position is beyond question, and he would undoubtedly care about the team. It’s a choice that could yield positive results, but is still a risk.
Whoever the coach turns out to be, the cap penalty reduces options with regard to bringing in new players. They will have to get better results out of this group next year. There were inconsistencies that still need to be ironed out, and developing players like Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson need to start getting better faster.
Special teams coach Danny Smith also left Washington, returning home to Pittsburgh and a job with the Steelers. There will be many who will be glad to see the back of Smith, who received a lot of criticism for the five blocked field goals of 2011, as well as the two blocked punts to start 2012.
However, it’s telling that the players were unanimous in their support for Smith, absorbing the blame for the mistakes and promising to get better. Upon Smith’s exit, Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg tweeted that Smith was the best ST coach he ever worked with.
Smith’s replacement will need a similar amount of support from the players, as special teams play emerged as a highlight over the course of the season, with Lorenzo Alexander and Kai Forbath making plays to keep the Redskins’ win streak going.
Raheem Morris’ tenure in Washington was always going to be difficult to maintain. Although he maybe became a head coach too soon, there’s no denying that he is a talented defensive coordinator and currently working below his ceiling as the Redskins’ defensive backs coach.
Morris has been linked with the Cleveland Browns recently (via The Washington Post), so it could be difficult to keep him around. Morris would be a big loss for the team, especially given how the defense performed in the second half of the season.
He gets players motivated, maintains discipline among the unit and generates a good working relationship. If the Redskins bring in defensive backs via the draft, it would be a real shame if they didn’t get to work with Morris in their rookie year.
Dynasties are built through the draft.
It’s way too early to be using that word, admittedly, but that has to be the long-term thinking of Shanahan and his staff. That’s why Shanahan went to such lengths to reduce the age of the roster upon his arrival.
He traded down in the draft for more picks at a time when the Redskins had previously thrown everything at over-the-hill free agents. He jettisoned those expensive contracts in exchange for more draft picks when possible.
The cap penalty makes the draft even more important this year. The risk of the Griffin trade was the right one to take, regardless of his injury and the loss of a first-round pick this year and next.
Shanahan needs to strike the right balance in April, as the defense needs players who can contribute immediately. Trading back is great, but more picks equate to nothing if they’re made at the expense of talented starters.
Top free agents are difficult to come by with an $18 million cap penalty, so don’t expect anything more than veteran role players. The team doesn’t have the financial muscle to go after players like Jairus Byrd, which makes the draft even more crucial.
The second and third rounds are key this year.
Trading back a couple of places would be fine—this year’s class is deep at defensive positions—but the first two picks Shanahan makes simply have to work out. There can be no more picks like Josh LeRibeus, who despite solid performances right at the end was a wasted pick in the third round last year. The team needs Week 1 starters in both the second and third rounds, however unlikely that may seem.
Right tackle remains a concern. If the ‘Skins go for a safety and cornerback with their first two picks, finding a starter at right tackle in the fourth proves more difficult. Tom Compton was given a salary increase on the practice squad last year, so it’s clear the front office thinks highly of him.
However, he was unable to beat out Tyler Polumbus, despite Polumbus struggling in pass protection. Polumbus is a free agent this year, so a lot depends on the tackles in this year’s draft.
If they are unable to find a starter, Compton could see his NFL career begin in earnest.
Griffin’s recovery will be monitored, updated, analyzed and projected so often this offseason that all Redskins fans will able to practice orthopedic surgery by September.
Don’t do that, though. Promise me you won’t do that.
Joking aside, Griffin isn’t the only player recovering from injury; he just has the highest profile.
Chase Minnifield, Jordan Bernstine, Chris Neild, Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Fred Davis and Roy Helu are all due to return for the new season, which instantly makes the Redskins a better team.
Minnifield was making a lot of noise in camp, and it’s fair to say that Bernstine would have seen some time at safety over the course of the season, given Madieu Williams’ problems. Orakpo and Carriker are integral to the success of the defense, and Jim Haslett’s struggles with his scheme were partially due to their absence.
Injury isn’t the only contributing factor, however.
The Redskins also have a number of notable free agents, including Davis and Kory Lichtensteiger. These players have been key contributors in the past, and the front office should look to retain them.
Davis will be available for less after his injury troubles last year, while any new deal for Lichtensteiger will need to be back-loaded to accommodate the limitations of the cap penalty. LeRibeus isn’t yet ready to take over from Lichtensteiger, so it’s important to maintain consistency along the offensive line—especially in the wake of Griffin’s injury.
While the Redskins could draft a tight end in April, it won’t be until the late rounds and they won’t offer the same impact as Davis. He has the ability to make game-changing plays and showed improvement in his blocking before his injury.
Griffin’s ability to scramble may not be reduced when he returns to the team; the fact is, we don’t’ know enough about his recovery to make those kinds of predictions. Those who see him being forced to become a pocket passer are being sensationalist for the sake of it.
Even if that was the case, Griffin has the talent to become a very good pocket passer. He’s aware of pressure, has good feet and the arm strength to make all the throws.
However, combining those skills with that exceptional pace is part of what makes him such a threat. The designed runs will likely reduce as he makes his comeback, which means he needs his tight ends to be reliable safety valves on screens and checkdowns.
Davis offers better yards after the catch than anyone the front office could bring in, with either Griffin or Kirk Cousins under center. Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul did a good job in Davis’ absence, but don’t have his pace or reliability as a receiver.
Keeping the Offense Fresh, Yet Stable
Inevitably, we return to Griffin here, but allowances have to be made for the possibility of Cousins as the signal-caller for the 2013 season. Cousins showed he can do a good job for the Redskins, exemplified when he rolled out of the pocket to put the ball in the end zone against Baltimore and take the game to overtime.
Much like Kyle Shanahan, Cousins raised his profile with a good year. There are many teams in need of a quarterback for the coming season, and the draft is nowhere near as stacked as last year. Cousins will find himself in demand, but it’s absolutely crucial that the Redskins retain him, at least for another year.
Not enough is known about Griffin’s return to state whether he or Cousins will start the season. It’s crucial that Griffin’s rehabilitation is done at the right pace, as rushing him back could end his career.
Shanahan will have learned from the terrifying way Griffin’s knee twisted against Seattle that perhaps the young quarterback isn’t the best judge of his own fitness. Sterner measures are needed this time around.
If Griffin isn’t 100 percent healthy, he doesn’t play. Shanahan would do well to start working that into his offseason interviews.
This leaves an opportunity for Cousins. He has the chance to assume the starting role and make a name for himself in the NFL.
As NFC East champions, the Redskins automatically have a very tough schedule this time around. They play the Falcons, Packers, 49ers, Broncos and Bears, as well as the Vikings, Chargers, Lions, Chiefs and Raiders. All of those games are lose-able.
Should Cousins get results and build on last year’s performances, he’ll make himself a very attractive proposition for teams around the league. There’s no question that he’s a starting-caliber quarterback, and it now seems incredible that Brandon Weeden was taken so far above Cousins.
Nevertheless, Cousins will run a reduced version of the offense that Griffin ran so well last year. He will need to rely on Alfred Morris—who also suffers from Griffin’s absence—much more, but teams will look to stuff the run and force him into mistakes.
Once Cousins finds a rhythm, he commands respect from the opposition. This was demonstrated against Cleveland, when a slow start suddenly gave way to an exceptional performance that broke the Redskins’ single-game passing yardage record for a rookie.
The Shanahans need to work on the basis that Griffin might not return, and work plays into the offense that both quarterbacks can run equally well. The roll-outs and bootlegs will remain, but there will be more convention to the passing attack, which has the added benefit of protecting Griffin upon his return.
The read-option—with which the 49ers are suddenly credited for transforming the NFL—will diminish under Cousins, which makes the team more predictable. Kyle Shanahan is a creative coordinator, however, so it certainly won’t become stagnant.
As with last year, regardless of the results, it’s going to be worth watching the Redskins in 2013.