Robert Griffin III was a highlight of the entire league last year, but Mike Shanahan has changes to make elsewhere.
2012 was a success for the Washington Redskins, but there are still improvements to be made. There are doubtless many plays they would like to do over again, even discounting the injury to their franchise quarterback.
If Robert Griffin III makes it back for the start of the regular season, 2013 is a chance to correct these mistakes. With a solid draft that addressed areas of need—as well as some value free-agent signings— they have the tools in place to do so.
There were three main things that stood out across the season—isolated mistakes that became worrying tendencies as the weeks progressed. Granted, the seven-game win streak righted the situation, but some of these flaws remained, and are highlighted on the following pages.
Keenan Robinson has the ability to be a difference-maker in the Redskins defense.
The secondary gave up a lot of big plays in 2012, effectively negating the good work of the offense. In particular, there seemed an inability to stay with tight ends in coverage, whether playing man or zone.
His analysis showed that the Redskins were aware of the problem, but stuck in a situation where everything they tried had the same effect: giving up yards.
It could be argued that an effective pass rush would help to cut down these big plays, and that’s true to a certain extent. It wasn’t just the tight ends who gained yards on the ‘Skins in 2012—wide receivers regularly torched the secondary for huge gains.
Danny Amendola racked up 160 yards. A.J. Green got in on the action with 183 yards. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson combined for 215 yards from a total of 10 receptions—and that was in a game the Redskins won.
Better safety help over the top will be necessary to relieve some of the pressure on DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson—assuming they start in Week 1—and a better pass rush will give the quarterback less time to run through his progressions.
However, the flip side of this is a better pass rush inevitably leads to the tight ends getting more action.
Under pressure, the tight end is often the hot read for the quarterback, so if Washington continues to struggle in coverage, the much-anticipated return of Brian Orakpo won’t accomplish much in getting the defense off the field.
It seems that Keenan Robinson could be the key here.
In the same Hogs Haven article, Bullock highlighted a play against the Bengals where London Fletcher was lined up in man coverage on Jermaine Gresham. The idea was to jam Gresham at the line of scrimmage and keep him from finding the seam.
Fletcher struggled to contain Gresham and the Bengals tight end was able to get ahead of him. Perry Riley had the same problems when he was assigned to Gresham later on.
Robinson has the advantage over those teammates in that he possesses superior speed and agility, as well as the arm length to contain modern receiving tight ends. If he can show an improvement in technique over the preseason, he could be an ideal candidate to contain the TE and buy Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan the time to reach the quarterback.
It’s yet another reason why the Redskins miss Sean Taylor prowling the field, but Robinson has the ability to make his presence known at the LOS and make the stop.
Jordan Reed presents an extra option to stretch the field on third down.
It’s a familiar question when talking about Washington ahead of a new season. Can the team raise its game on third down and keep the chains moving?
In 2012, the Redskins converted 35.8 percent of their third downs, good for 24th in the league. Bear in mind that they ranked seventh in total first downs, and it’s easy to see where the problem lies.
Against Atlanta, Washington was 1-of-9 of third-down conversion, and even that only happened because Kirk Cousins hit Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown. During that game there were also a couple of drops on third down, which obviously continued to be an issue in Pittsburgh later on.
So what can be done about it this year?
Well, to correct the slump in 2012, Griffin often turned to Santana Moss. After failing with their first three attempts against Minnesota, Griffin hit Moss for six yards and Mike Shanahan went for it on fourth and three to extend the drive.
Griffin again found Moss on the next conversion before Alfred Morris ran in for a one-yard score.
Moss continued to find success after Fred Davis went down with an Achilles injury, making plays from the slot and acting as Griffin’s safety valve. With Moss and Davis both returning, they remain options for Griffin this year.
Jordan Reed also makes a case for himself as a viable target, as does Roy Helu Jr. in the backfield. Although Moss is the only player not recovering from injury, the Redskins suddenly have four players who can help keep the defense off the field and gain positive yardage on third down passing plays.
If Griffin is to take better care of himself and be less exposed trying to make a play, he could do worse than make those four men his best friends this year.
Bacarri Rambo has great instincts and the range to start at free safety.
Inconsistency among starting safeties was a huge issue for the Redskins in 2012. Tanard Jackson brought his woes upon himself, then Brandon Meriweather tore his ACL. That left the two presumed starters out of the league and on the treatment table, respectively.
DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty became more reliable as the season wore on, but Madieu Williams should not have seen the field. As a result, the Redskins were targeted over the top and had very little in the way of a response. Coverages were blown and cornerbacks were left exposed, highlighting a weakness in the secondary.
Without the huge step up on the offensive side of the ball, the season would have looked very different.
The team addressed this area of need with two picks in the 2013 draft. Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo both have the advantage of playing in very similar defensive schemes at Fresno State and Georgia, so they should be able to contribute quickly.
Both Thomas and Rambo have spent time at either safety position, which is the sort of versatility defensive backs coach Raheem Morris demands from his players.
Brandon Meriweather looks to be entrenched as the starter at strong safety, so the challenge is for Thomas or Rambo to prove themselves at free and earn a starting spot.
Although he was taken later in the draft, Rambo seems to be the better choice right now. He has the better range of the two players, quickly covering a lot of ground and laying big hits. He also reads the quarterback well, which is imperative to make a play on the ball.
The Redskins had a +17 takeaway-to-giveaway differential differential last year, which was a key component in their winning streak. It’s no coincidence that Shanahan then picked three of the biggest defensive playmakers in this year’s draft.
Turnovers win ball games, so this is a trend that must continue throughout the secondary.
Thomas, Rambo and cornerback David Amerson all hunt the ball like a receiver, leading the country in interceptions across the last two years, but Rambo has the instincts to start over Thomas. His tackling needs work, but he has the aggressiveness the team lacked at safety last year.
If Meriweather can stay healthy and retain the standard of play he showed in that one half against the Eagles in Week 11, Rambo would be a good foil for him, making plays and causing that extra half-second of doubt in the quarterback's mind.