5 Biggest Threats to Washington Redskins' Success in 2013
After winning the NFC East for the first time since 1999, the Washington Redskins look to improve upon their 2012 season.
The NFL is one of the most volatile leagues, where any team is capable of either making great strides forward or falling from grace to join the mediocre masses.
Finishing on a seven-game winning streak in the regular season, the Redskins were one of the upstart teams to make a surprise run to the playoffs. They look to be moving in the right direction going into 2013.
The knee injury to Robert Griffin III is the obvious concern this season, but let's focus on other possible issues that could lead to the Redskins taking a step back. Injuries can happen to any team at any position, so this list will not include things like "player X gets injured." Overall depth at a position, though, is definitely in play.
Here are the five biggest threats to the Redskins making the playoffs and contending for a Super Bowl in 2013.
Rookie Defensive Backs Are Not Ready for the Spotlight
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The Redskins finished 30th last year in pass defense, surrendering 281.9 yards per game. Although they improved greatly over the second half of the season, the backfield was still the primary issue the front office looked to address during the offseason.
David Amerson was selected with the 51st overall pick. The Redskins further bolstered their defense with safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.
Thomas was the victim of a brutal collision in the first preseason, suffering a season-ending Lisfranc ligament tear. While Thomas won't provide any help in the backfield, both Rambo and Amerson are expected to contribute as early as Week 1.
Rambo has been penciled in at free safety since day one at training camp, and he has drawn praise with his play at camp so far. His first preseason game, with Chris Johnson making him look silly on a 58-yard touchdown, was a stark reminder that practice is no substitute for game experience.
Amerson also looks impressive thus far, and his length and playmaking ability give the Redskins something they've been sorely lacking in recent years. However, Amerson is known as a gambler who was frequently beaten for big plays his senior year at North Carolina State.
An improved pass rush could help the defense, but these rookies will be thrown into the fire on day one. With so much talent at wide receiver in the NFC East, there will be no room for error when covering speed demons such as DeSean Jackson and Victor Cruz.
Offensive Line Depth Is Exposed
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In 2012, the Redskins' offensive line was among the healthiest in the NFL. The only player to miss a start was Tyler Polumbus, who only missed the Week 16 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It is overly optimistic to imagine the Redskins going through another season without suffering at least some losses along the line.
The Redskins' starters performed better than anyone anticipated last year in run-blocking, leading the NFL with 169.3 yards per game on the ground. Pass protection was less than stellar, but Robert Griffin III's mobility along with the addition of the pistol formation and read-option plays covered up their pass-blocking deficiencies.
If one of the starters were to go down, depth remains a serious concern.
Although Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen drafted three linemen in the 2012 draft, none has shown much improvement in training camp so far in their sophomore seasons. Guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis along with tackle Tom Compton are all projected to make the team but have failed to impress so far this year.
Veteran tackles Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos were also brought in to compete at right tackle. So far, neither has pushed Tyler Polumbus for his starting role. It would not be a surprise if both were cut when the Redskins trim down to the final 53-man roster.
Penalties Hold the Team Back
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There is nothing that kills a drive faster than a penalty to negate a positive play. The Washington Redskins finished the season 10-6, despite the fact that they were the fifth-most penalized team in the NFL.
Everyone remembers Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams. Down 28-31 with only seconds left on the clock, Griffin led a drive down the field and completed a seven-yard strike to Josh Morgan to put the Redskins at the Rams' 29-yard line.
What happened next?
Josh Morgan lost his cool and threw the football in the face of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Game over.
In their first preseason game, the Redskins committed 11 penalties. Fred Davis' 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration after his touchdown reception was a perfect example of how a lack of concentration can cost a team.
Two plays later, Chris Johnson broke off a 58-yard touchdown run.
Special Teams Mistakes Lead to Big Plays
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Special teams might be one of the most overlooked aspects of a football team, right up until a blocked punt is returned for a touchdown.
That nightmare scenario happened Week 1 last year against the New Orleans Saints. What looked to be a dominating victory turned into a comeback run that gave Drew Brees a chance to tie the game with a Hail Mary.
The next week, another blocked punt gave the Rams a short field to score a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter.
The first half of the 2012 season was riddled with costly special teams mistakes, with some possibly costing victories. Billy Cundiff missed on five of his 12 field-goal attempts, including close games against the Falcons and Rams.
Kickoff and punt-coverage units have been solid over the years. With special teams coach Danny Smith and captain Lorenzo Alexander now gone, new leaders must step up and continue to provide solid coverage.
London Fletcher Finally Shows His Age
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It's almost unthinkable that Redskins captain London Fletcher won't be on the field every week marshaling his troops into the right position. But the fact remains that he turned 38 this May.
The Cal Ripken of football, London Fletcher is truly the iron man of the sport. With 240 consecutive starts at arguably the most physically demanding position in all of sports, Fletcher proves week after week that football is not just a young man's game.
Perhaps even more amazing than his streak of consecutive starts is the fact that until this offseason, Fletcher had never even required surgery. He is truly a testament to what hard work, preparation and taking care of one's body can do.
Last year, Fletcher played well, but there were times when he was beaten in coverage by younger, faster and more physically dominant tight ends. Even though he may have lost a step, Fletcher's knowledge of the game allowed him to always be in the right position, racking up 139 combined tackles and five interceptions.
If London Fletcher were to miss significant time, the inside linebacker position is woefully thin this year due to Keenan Robinson's pectoral tear in July.
The recent addition of Nick Barnett provides some depth, but he is coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery and is switching from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. Expect linebacker to be a high priority going into the offseason next year.