Two season-ending injuries have further depleted a mediocre group and prompted some roster moves to compensate. A useful reserve along the offensive line is also set to return.
Repairing the special teams and offensive line have to be the priorities ahead of the visit of the Chicago Bears in Week 7. Washington cannot risk falling any further behind in the NFC East.
|New York Giants||0-6|
At 1-4, including a pair of losses in the division, the Redskins need to quickly get back on track. The fact that the team makes the trip to take on the Denver Broncos in Week 8 makes beating the Bears at home vital.
Just as important is the opportunity to take advantage of the schedule for their rivals.
|Dallas Cowboys||at Philadelphia Eagles|
|New York Giants||vs Minnesota Vikings|
The division leaders do battle in Philadelphia, giving the Redskins an opportunity to get back in the NFC East race. Getting to within a game of one of these teams will at least provide some hope that this campaign can still be salvaged.
The 0-6 New York Giants won't play until Monday night but will be confident about defeating the inept Minnesota Vikings at home. The Redskins don't want to find themselves just one game short of the division basement at the end of Week 7.
Two key figures from the special teams have been lost for the season. According to ESPN's John Keim, Bryan Kehl, who is also part of the rotation at linebacker, and long snapper Nick Sundberg, have both suffered season-ending knee injuries.
The response from the team has been to enlist two former practice-squad players. A report from Lee Thompson of Mlive.com claims that former Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson has been added to the mix.
NBC's Dianna Marie Russini has indicated that the team will also workout ex-St. Louis Rams linebacker Josh Hull.
Source: Former Ram Josh Hull is expected to join the Washington Redskins special teams unit. He will replace Bryan Kehl. Penn State Alum— Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) October 14, 2013
While the Redskins continue to try and stitch a competent special teams unit together, they have received a boost along the O-line. Backup guard Maurice Hurt is ready to come off the PUP list, according to The Washington Post's Mike Jones.
Hurt featured at left guard during the 2011 season and is solid blocking for the run, although he struggles in pass protection. In fairness, that makes him no different to any member of the starting front five.
If nothing else, it is a bonus to have an extra option along the front.
Defensively, the main injury news concerns rookie cover man David Amerson. The cornerback suffered a concussion against the Cowboys and will be monitored this week, according to Keim.
The secondary was actually one of the team's better performing units in Dallas. DeAngelo Hall and company did a decent job containing wideout Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
But the defensive backfield cannot afford a long-term absence. If Amerson cannot play Sunday, then E.J. Biggers becomes the third cornerback, and that is bad news.
What Must Improve
Improvements must start with the special teams. The injuries sustained by Kehl and Sundberg are yet another blow to a unit that has been the team's biggest liability this season.
One of the franchise's greatest special teams standouts ever, Brian Mitchell has been clear about where the blame lies.
Keim quotes Mitchell speaking on CSN Washington's postgame show:
I said that when you have two weeks to prepare for a team, you have to come out with the best scheme, offensively, defensively and special teams. And I’ll say this: Keith Burns, you are a problem right now because you can’t seem to get your guys to play for you. The one thing that every coach has to have – great coaches – they have to have the ability to get people to buy into what they’re trying to present. And at this point, they’re not buying into one damn thing that you’re presenting.
Mitchell's words are strong, but don't stray too far from the truth. Of course, Burns has not been helped by the team's decision to part ways with key players (Lorenzo Alexander in particular).
According to CSN Washington's Rich Tandler, even head coach Mike Shanahan has bemoaned Alexander's absence and its negative impact on the special teams:
Lorenzo Alexander's not going to show up so somebody's got to take control of those special teams, he said, referring to the Redskins’ special teams captain last year who left as a free agent during the offseason. And one guys' got to define himself or two guys have to define themselves. It's us working as a group and it takes just one guy for us to look pretty average.
At this point, I'd happily settle for a special teams that is "pretty average."
Burns and his special teams unit are rightly under immense pressure. As fate would have it, they don't have much time to right their wrongs.
The Bears' prowess on special teams is no secret. Devin Hester remains perhaps the most consistently dangerous return man in the NFL.
Teams usually have specific game plans in the kicking game just to stop Hester from dominating. Chicago's coverage units are also opportunistic and can soon swing momentum the Bears' way.
Burns needs a clear plan for Hester, and he also needs to design some plays to create an impact for the Redskins. That could involve a certain pressure look for rushing punts or some type of fake.
The offensive line is the other major area of concern, but at least the hapless group won't have to face star defensive tackle Henry Melton. The cat-quick interior pass-rusher is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL.
After watching Cowboys tackle Jason Hatcher destroy Washington's interior in Week 6, the Redskins will be thankful Melton isn't available to cause similar havoc.
In fact, the Bears have serious issues at defensive tackle. Melton's replacement, Nate Collins, has also been lost for the season after tearing his ACL.
So far, the Bears have relied on shifting end Corey Wootton inside. So expect me to spend most of this week calling for Shanahan to lean heavily on the running game in Week 7.
That is just what the Giants did in Week 6, and even Big Blue's feeble ground game found success. Brandon Jacobs battered the Bears for 106 yards and two rushing touchdowns, looking like his 2008 self in the process.
With Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster in the rotation, the Redskins can be even more effective on the ground.
But for that to happen, the front five must play better—and not just in the running game. The Bears rank a respectable 12th against the run but are so far struggling to get to the quarterback.
They are 30th in sacks, with just eight takedowns to their credit. Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com has indicated that the team's priority is getting more pressure from the front four.
Mayer says coaches are counting on the return of tackle Stephen Paea to help matters. Paea can play the 3-technique position, or over the center, and generate pressure inside.
That means guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester, as well as center Will Montgomery, will all have to play better than they did in Dallas.
One other intriguing matchup to watch pits former college teammates against each other. Rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic will square off against first-year Redskins tight end and ex-Florida ace Jordan Reed.
The Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell has indicated that Bostic is already preparing for the threat Reed poses:
Jon Bostic just said he watched Sunday's Redskins game & focused on TE Jordan Reed, his Florida teammate. Reed = good route runner, elusive— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) October 14, 2013
Reed is steadily developing into a matchup nightmare for defenses. It will be interesting to see if he can outwit Bostic and expose the areas in front of Chicago's Cover 2 shell.
Of course, the Redskins may choose to test the outside more often if veteran cornerback Charles Tillman is unable to play. He is confident about featuring, but CSNChicago's John Paschall reports the decision is still firmly one for the team's doctors.
If Tillman is ruled out, then wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson have to take advantage. They were both lacklustre against the Cowboys but have the talent to expose Chicago's 23rd-ranked pass defense.
But just like in the running game, the success of that plan will depend on how the line performs.
The Redskins have the weapons to match the Bears offensively, but they must hope for better blocking and a special teams unit that doesn't give momentum away like it did in Dallas.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.