Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris enters his second season with the team following a record-breaking rookie season—including 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Following the success of the Washington Redskins' 2012 regular season—winning the NFC East title for the first time since 1999, a berth in the playoffs after starting 3-6 and the record-breaking performances by rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris—the Redskins, like any team, still have room for improvement in five key areas.
After all, a team needs to build upon its strengths and look for ways to improve in areas that were either subpar or dreadfully woeful in some cases.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi may have summed it up the best way possible. "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall."
Despite losing in last season's NFC wild card game to the Seattle Seahawks, the 2012 Redskins became the first team since 1943 to be led in both passing and rushing by rookies. The team led the NFL with 88 runs of 10-plus yards, had an NFL low with 14 giveaways and led in yards per play and yards per pass play, according to CSNWashington.com.
For a team that started 3-6 last season and then embarked upon a seven-game winning streak, this year's team has already taken significant steps to make improvements where necessary.
During the offseason, the Redskins acquired some very strong prospects through both free agency and the NFL draft. Most would agree that the biggest area the team needed to improve was the defensive secondary and the team certainly added some key players.
In order for the Redskins to remain a contender for the playoffs and defend the NFC East title, five areas need some improvement:
1. Defending the pass: Passing yards were easy to come by against the Redskins in 2012. Opponents passed 65 percent of the time, a NFL-high. The secondary allowed 13 touchdowns on throws at least 15-yards downfield, also the most in the league.
The Redskins' secondary allowed the most pass attempts (636), finished 31st in completions allowed (393) and finished two touchdowns shy of last place by allowing the most TDs passing (31).
Several opposing quarterbacks' performances stand out from last season.
In Week 12, Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw 62 passes in the game, completing 37 for 441 yards and three TDs.
Individual plays that merit mentioning, or forgetting, include the first play of the game in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up in a wildcat formation next to Bengals QB Andy Dalton, took the shotgun snap, dropped back and threw a 73-yard TD pass to fellow receiver A.J. Green.
In Week 2, St Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola had 12 catches in the first half, finishing with 15 receptions for 160 yards.
With the addition of drafted cornerback David Amerson, safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo combined with free agent E.J. Biggers all joining veterans DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, the Redskins should certainly be able to improve greatly upon last season's bottom of the league rankings.
2. Third-down conversions. The Redskins struggled on third down last season and through Week 5 were last in the league, converting 14-of-60 for a dismal 23.3 conversion rate. At that point of the season, the teams offense was grinding to a halt when it came to third downs.
In the Week 5 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Redskins converted only one third down in the game. At the weekly press conference later that week, RG3 addressed the team's inability to convert third downs and it's effect on opponents, as seen on Redskins.com.
"It is something that is a glaring issue for us right now," Griffin said last October. "Teams are going to try to exploit that and say 'Hey, whatever we run on third down, these guys aren't being able to move the ball and get first downs.' We'll make sure we clean that up, and that takes everybody."
The team finished the 2012 regular season ranked 24th in the league—a disappointing 35.8 percent conversion rate.
3. Penalties. According to The Football Database website, the Redskins had the fourth-highest number of penalties (116) last season. In the team's six losses, they were called for more penalties than their opponent in all but one game, Week 6 versus Cincinnati.
Forty-one percent of their penalties were called in their six losses in the first nine games.
The most frequent penalty was false start, just one shy of tying the league high with 27. They were tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the most personal fouls with three.
One of the most glaring penalties of the year occurred in Week 2 when WR Josh Morgan was called for unsportsmanlike conduct with 1:19 left in the game. Morgan threw the football he had just caught at Rams defensive back Cortland Finnegan, who had pushed Morgan in the facemask.
The penalty ultimately pushed the Redskins back and out of range of a game tying 62-yard field goal, which was missed, resulting in a Redskins 31-28 loss. Morgan would later receive death threats posted on Twitter.
4. Dropped passes. As a fan, I cannot think of anything more frustrating than penalties at critical moments in a drive—following close in second are dropped passes.
Just imagine how RG3 must feel when it was determined by ProFootballFocus.com that the quarterback's completion percentage would have been nearly 76 percent if not for dropped passes.
The definition used by ProFootballFocus.com for a drop was "the intended target could get his hands on the ball and it was catchable." RG3 had 8.7 percent of his passes dropped—fourth-highest percentage in the league.
Additional statistics revealed RG3 had the 10th highest number of drops last season with 24.
In the Redskins worst loss of 2012 as far as points are concerned, a 27-12 losing effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, the team's receivers had what NFL.com dubbed "butterfingers." They would account for a combined nine dropped balls in the loss.
5. Scoring on kick returns. The Redskins did not have a punt or kickoff returned for a touchdown last season. While this is not something of a regular occurrence in NFL games, the team finished 2012 around mid-level in all special teams kicking return categories, according to pro-football-reference.com.
And to their credit or as a mistake in judgment, the team had the fewest fair catches (7) last year.
The team's leading return specialist in 2012 was Brandon Banks—accounting for 72 percent of punt returns and 58 percent of kickoff returns. His lackluster performance ended following Week 12 and the return duties were assumed by cornerback Richard Crawford who brought excitement to the return game.
During the offseason, the Redskins parted ways with Banks and he is currently a free agent.
Whether it is a lack of good blocking up front or a player's lack of solid running and playmaking ability, the return specialist can be a significant factor in turning a game around or providing the offense excellent field position to begin a drive.
An unexpected return for a score can also result in a dramatic swing in momentum. However, it's most vital function is field position, especially on kickoffs.
With the recent signing of RB Chris Thompson, who can also serve as a kick returner and has 4.4 second speed in the 40-yard dash, the Redskins may have found someone to step in and fill a role at this position—providing that spark the team could use on special teams.
Overall, the Redskins have made great progress in filling gaps on both offense and defense. With these positive changes, hopefully these areas of improvement can turn into areas in which the team excels.
I trust the Redskins staff and players will continue to make a concerted effort to bring their "A" game every time they take the field. By making improvements in these five areas, the Redskins will certainly be a more solid, well-rounded and competitive team.
With last year's strong finish in the regular season, along with the return of the top-ranked rushing attack fueled by RB Alfred Morris and RG3's overall performance, the Washington Redskins are poised and positioned to not only build upon their strengths, but also improve upon their weaknesses.
Last year, in both pre- and post-game analysis done by broadcasters and sportswriters, these keys to winning were almost always mentioned and if they are addressed, the Redskins should unlock more much needed wins for the team in 2013.