Can Jay Gruden and DeSean Jackson Turn Around Football in Washington?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, left, talks with wide receiver DeSean Jackson, right, during NFL football minicamp, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

We've asked variations of the question above plenty of times before, with the subject of said question constantly changing but the object remaining the same. In the last decade alone, we asked it of Mike Shanahan, Donovan McNabb, Albert Haynesworth and Robert Griffin III

And now, as something of a new era dawns on Ashburn and Richmond, we're asking it of fresh faces Jay Gruden and DeSean Jackson

That's what happens when you have zero playoff wins in eight years, one in 14 and two in 21. That's right, if you're an American who has yet to reach legal drinking age, you've only had a chance to see the Washington Redskins win, at the most, two postseason games in your lifetime. 

And when you consider that, prior to that, the Redskins won 16 playoff games and three Super Bowls in an 11-year span, the strain on current Skins fans and coaches becomes even more conspicuous. 

Washington Redskins: What went wrong?
Time periodLengthWin% (rank)Playoff wins (rank)Super Bowls (rank)
1982-199211 years.690 (2nd)16 (1st)3 (1st)
1993-201321 years.418 (25th)2 (27th)0 (NA)
Pro Football Reference

Don't get me wrong, redemption for this franchise is still spelled with two letters and a number: R-G-3. Griffin is a young star quarterback in a quarterback's league. He's the franchise's largest investment, possibly of all time, and if this team is going to turn it around and recapture even a fragment of the success it had in the 1980s and early 1990s, the man under center will have to lead the way. 

But it's also clear, based on what went down during an embarrassing three-win 2013 campaign, that more was needed. The relationship between Shanahan and Griffin had become noticeably strained based on media reports and public comments, and it had also become obvious that RGIII lacked elite weapons. 

Now he has a new head coach and a new No. 1 weapon in his arsenal. Could those changes be what it takes to put this franchise over the top? 

Training camp has yet to arrive, but the buzz from organized team activities indicated there's a fresh and positive feel being generated by the presence of Gruden, who comes to D.C. with less baggage and arguably a more open mind than the grizzled Shanahan half a decade ago. 

From USA Today's Jim Corbett

Gruden seems to have the right temperament and approach to rebuild that broken trust after RG3's stormy, forgettable sophomore season with Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Gruden is the right kind of quarterback-friendly coach who arrives at the right time to get RG3 back on track 18 months after major knee surgery.

And's John Keim

Players have talked about the new energy in practices, stemming from him and his new hires. Coaches like him because they have more freedom—to hire, to implement ideas, to coach. It matters. It’s too early to say he changed the culture; Shanahan was said to have done the same thing. But Gruden has changed the mood. There’s a different level of passion, stemming from his energy and the coaches. It rubs off on players. Because of that, it (should) enable him to command the room, a pre-hire criticism. That is, as long as you bring in the right players who won’t abuse that trust. It’s a fine line.

As Keim indicates, the jury is still very much out. And rarely is there anything but optimism this early in a coach's reign. Things can sour quickly, and we'd be crazy to start making predictions regarding Gruden's long-term future in Washington, especially with Daniel Snyder running the show. 

But here we're looking at a young, exciting, QB-friendly coach who is gaga over RGIII and who doesn't appear as though he'll be schematically stubborn the way Shanahan was. He has already made it obvious that the read-option will become less prevalent, which should help protect the often vulnerable franchise quarterback. 

Gruden told Sports Illustrated's Don Banks last month:

Personally my belief is the read option is better as an element of surprise. If you're making it a major focal point of your offensethough they had success with itthat's problematic. You want to have some of it, no question, because it's the way to get the numbers back in your favor offensively. And with a quarterback like him, why wouldn't you have some of it?

But we're trying to develop him as an all-around quarterback. And I don't know if they had that (as a goal). I'm sure they did a little bit, but I think that's the clear intent moving forward, to develop him as an all-around quarterback. That's part of his growth, from '12 to '13 to now.'

Under Gruden's tutelage, the Bengals offense got better in each of the last three years. And with Gruden coaching him up, Andy Dalton—who is also in what is supposed to be the pre-prime portion of his NFL career but clearly possesses a lower ceiling than Griffin—managed to become only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw 80 or more touchdown passes during his first three seasons in the league. 

A key factor? In Gruden's offense, he was rarely under pressure. 

Least-pressured quarterbacks, 2013
QuarterbackPressure %
1. Peyton Manning22.7
2. Andy Dalton25.2
3. Matthew Stafford28.9
4. Drew Brees29.8
19. Robert Griffin III38.0
Min. 50% of team's snaps (Pro Football Focus)

If Griffin can even get close to Dalton's range in that area, it could be a game changer. 

Dalton benefited from having that mentorship as well as talented top receiver A.J. Green, but now Griffin'll have both Gruden and Jackson playing those respective roles. And that's flat-out scary. 

Because, with all due respect to the very skilled Pierre Garcon, Jackson is the best playmaking wide receiver Griffin has had the chance to work with. Not only is he coming off a career year with 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, but Jackson also led the NFL with 16 catches on passes that traveled at least 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Most deep receptions, 2013
PlayerDeep catchesDrops
1. DeSean Jackson160
2. Eric Decker151
2. Josh Gordon153
Pro Football Focus

Garcon actually had more total catches and yards than Jackson last year, though, which is why the addition of D-Jax becomes so promising. How do you stop both of those guys, especially with Griffin and Alfred Morris always threatening to do damage with their legs, and with tight end Jordan Reed and speedy slot receiver Andre Roberts also factoring in?

"It’s gonna be tough on defenses," Jackson said last month, per Mark Maske of The Washington Post. "People are gonna have to account for him. They’re gonna have to account for me. Not only that. We have other players involved in the offense, too, that people are gonna have to account for."

Jackson added that he feels this offense—and because it's 2014, the team, by extension—has great potential. And he's right. So while this franchise has gone through a hell of a lot more fright than delight the last two decades, and while that provocative and pesky nickname storm continues to pick up momentum, the reality is that with the addition of Gruden and Jackson, the Redskins, on the field, are in better shape now than they have been in over a generation. 


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