Last season started as well Redskins fans could have hoped. With a 6-2 record, Jim Zorn seemed to be pushing all the right bottons to lead Washington back to the promised land. With wins over Dallas, Philadelphia and Arizona, they were clearly a team capable of going toe to toe with the best of the NFC.
Things quickly became unravelled in the following weeks.
Discussion of a Jason Campbell run at MVP became whispers of the young quarterback losing his job. Clinton Portis began the season looking like the NFC's Ladanian Tomlinson and finished like Cedric Benson. A nagging injury turned into a public dispute with Jim Zorn that played out through the national media.
Fortunately for Jim Zorn, the blueprint for success this season was established at the beginning of last season.
As has become the norm in Washington, the defense held it own all season giving up 18.1 points per game for the first eight games and 18.9 the following eight games. The offense scored 20.6 points in the first eight games and only 12.5 in the following eight games.
With that in mind the defense did two things very poorly. They did not get to the quarterback and they did not force turnovers.
No team has ever won the Super Bowl without a dominant pass rush and the ability to make big plays on defense. The Redskins did neither in 2008. In fact, only two teams forced fewer turnovers last season.
It's amazing what the Redskins were able to accomplish on defense the past few seasons without these two elements.
To their credit, the Redskins addressed these issues as well as they possibly could have in the offseason.
Aquiring Albert Haynesworth improves every dimension of the Redskins play at the line of scrimmage. He is the premier pass rushing defensive tackle in football with more than enough size to stuff the run. He will demand double teams presumably opening up the pass rush on the outside.
Andre Carter has shown the ability to get after the quarterback, but the Redskins were expecting more from him in 2008. With Haynesworth in the middle, he should have the opportunity to reach his 2007 total of 10.5 sacks.
Coincidentally, that was the last year the Redskins made the playoffs. For the past three seasons, Carter has been considered the Redskins most effective pass rusher.
This season he may be the third most dangerous man on the line of scrimmage.
This is because of the good fortune Washington received when Brian Orakpo slipped to the 13th pick in the draft. Once considered a top 5 pick, Orakpo was certainly the premier pass rusher in this years draft. Look for the Redskins to use him as a hybrid linebacker this season.
They will most likely try to utilize him the way Dallas uses Demarcus Ware. They are both 6'4", 260 pounds and are at their best lining up well outside the offensive tackle.
The Redskins demand discipline from their defensive line. Orakpo will have to improve as a run stopper and be more than a one-trick wonder.
The Redskins believe they have solidified their secondary with the re-signing of Deangelo Hall. His reputation as a shut down corner was tarnished in Oakland, but he thrived in Washington's zone defense schemes.
It will be interesting to see how Hall responds now that he has a new contract in Washington. It's worth mentioning that Hall was the beneficiary of two terrible decisions by Eli Manning and Tony Romo. He has a tendency to gamble, but will hopefully have the opportunity to put up Pro Bowl numbers within the Redskins zone schemes.
If the secondary continues its solid play along with an improved pass rush, the Redskins defense will hopefully create opportunities for their offense much like their neighbors in Baltimore.
Remember, Jason Campbell's quarterback rating was 84.3 last season. Statistically, he actually had a better season than Joe Flacco. The difference was opportunities created by the defense and a consistent running game the entire season in Baltimore.
Offensively, the Redskins need a healthy Clinton Portis. It's no coincidence that Campbell's play dropped when Portis dropped off late in the season.
For as much talk as their was about replacing Campbell, the Redskins should have been much more concerned about finding a consistent running back to spell Portis. It would be worthwhile for Washington to work a trade with Oakland for Michael Bush or someone similar from another team.
A big back would be ideal in Washington to get 150 carries and all the goal line touches—assuming Clinton Portis would be comfortable with this.
At wide receiver the Redskins must start to get productivity from last years draft. Campbell needs a larger target than Santana Moss and Jim Zorn did everything in his power to draft size at the position last year. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly have been very underwhelming to this point.
Washington hopes they respond when healthy this season.
If Washington gets some production from their "other" receivers and Jason Campbell can show better accuracy on the deep throws, the Redskins should not look to change their philosophy on offense.
Patience will run thin in Washington this season with the Redskins' offense, but fans need to accept Jason Campbell as a ball-control quarterback. If he continues to limit his mistakes the Redskins will forget they doubted him.
Remember he still has every tool that scouts look for in a franchise quarterback. He may windup his throws more than his coaches would like, but he has shown the ability to fit in tight passes regardless. He is tall and moves well for a quarterback of his stature.
I expect Campbell to bounce back and the Redskins to bounce back into contention this season. I believe the shaky play at wide receiver and lack of depth at running back will be what keeps Washington from winning its fourth Super Bowl.
If Portis stays healthy for 16 games plus the playoffs, all bets are off.
The sky is the limit and Redskins fans could be dancing in "Hog Heaven."
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