The Washington Redskins found themselves at 3-6 last year following a home loss to the Carolina Panthers. Head coach Mike Shanahan was heavily scrutinized after the game for giving a speech that almost everyone interpreted as waving the white flag on the season.
That is, everyone except his team. From that point on, the Redskins won their last seven games of the regular season and were well on their way to beating the Seattle Seahawks before Robert Griffin III left the game with a torn ACL.
This season has started off with the same disappointment. Through the first four games, the Redskins have just one win. For a team Pierre Garcon thought could make it to the Super Bowl, they now can only focus on one week at a time.
The first point of order for salvaging this season is to get better defensively. The New Orleans Saints set the record for worst defense in NFL history last year, and the Redskins are on pace to be worse. Giving up an abysmal 440 yards per game, they are ranked in the bottom-five in both passing and rushing defense. Improvements may be coming, though, as the defense should now be as healthy and intact as it has been in a while.
Standout pass rusher Brian Orakpo and safety Brandon Meriweather have been back in the lineup this season after missing most of last season. In addition, both defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson have returned to the team after serving four-game suspensions. Jenkins is an underrated run-stopper, and Jackson gained invaluable experience as Orakpo’s replacement last year. The added talent should at the very least provide quality depth in the defensive front.
The offense—mainly RG3’s lack of confidence—is the other reason the Redskins have faltered. Coming back from a torn ACL suffered in the playoffs, he was held out of the preseason to avoid any setbacks. Some have even considered Washington’s first four games RG3’s preseason.
He has been hesitating to reset in the pocket, looking completely uninterested in running and throwing passes without planting off of his back foot. The result: defenses are stacking the box daring him to beat them through the air, and he has thrown four interceptions in just four games. By contrast, he only threw five interceptions all of last year, and the fourth didn’t come until Week 12.
Now having won their last game and fresh off a bye week, it is time for RG3 to resemble the form that earned him last year’s Rookie of the Year honors. He will need to plant off his back foot to achieve maximum accuracy and velocity on his passes; relax when bodies are falling around his legs; and run when necessary just to keep defenses mindful of the threat.
Up next, the Redskins travel to play the 2-3 Dallas Cowboys, who have lost their last two games and own the league’s second worst pass defense. Also working in RG3’s favor is his confidence. Last year in Cowboys’ stadium, he torched them for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Outside of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, who are both 5-0, the Redskins’ remaining opponents have a combined 13-25 record. Being 1-3 and still only one game out of first place in the division is the absolute best scenario the Redskins could hope for.
There are no excuses from this point on. The Redskins made the mistake of assuming last year’s success would automatically transfer into this season. Fortunately for them, there is still time to save the season. Success doesn’t just carry over; it is earned.