Will the real Robert Griffin please stand up? Nobody knows for certain which Griffin we're going to get this season in D.C., which essentially means that nobody knows what to expect from the Washington Redskins in 2014.
This is a team that has gone from worst to first and back to worst in the NFC East the last three years, and now it's on RG3 and his brand-new head coach, Jay Gruden, to prove that 2013 was an anomaly. With that in mind, here are 10 predictions related to the 'Skins…
1. Robert Griffin III will bounce back
An argument can be made that he won't be able to reproduce what happened during his out-of-this-world rookie season, but that doesn't mean Griffin can't find a middle ground between that and his tremendously disappointing 2013 campaign.
Look, in 2012, we all overreacted to his league-leading 8.1 yards-per-attempt average, his 102.4 passer rating and his 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, as well as his 815 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns. He took the league by storm, and defenses adjusted slightly in 2013.
But we also overreacted to his problematic sophomore season, considering that he was coming back from the second reconstructive knee procedure of his 24-year-old life. As we discovered as part of an in-depth examination in September, these things simply take time. And off-the-field distractions, poor pass protection and little help from his receivers and defense didn't make things easier.
|RG3's sophomore slump|
|Metric||2012 (rank)||2013 (rank)|
|Comp. %||65.6 (5th)||60.1 (25th)|
|TD %||5.1 (8th)||3.5 (27th)|
|INT %||1.3 (1st)||2.6 (18th)|
|YPA||8.1 (1st)||7.0 (18th)|
|Rating||102.1 (3rd)||82.2 (22nd)|
|QBR||71.41 (5th)||40.12 (28th)|
|Rush YPA||6.8 (1st)||5.7 (4th)|
|Rush YPG||54.3 (1st)||37.6 (3rd)|
|Rush TD||7 (2nd)||0 (T-27th)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now, with the Shanahan family gone and Gruden running the show, Griffin has a fresh start. With the offensive line looking better and the receiving corps jacked up thanks to the addition of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, RG3 should once again return to Pro Bowl form in his big third season.
2. Griffin won't be able to start all 16 games
I don't trust him to remain disciplined when it comes to deciding whether to pass or run, whether to throw it away or improvise, whether to get out of bounds or push for extra yardage or whether to slide or sacrifice his body.
And I still don't totally trust that offensive line, which caved in the middle far too often last season but didn't add quite enough bulk or talent in the offseason. For whatever reason, they stayed away from top-end free agents at that position and stuck with question marks Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus, and it's not as though newbie Shawn Lauvao is a game-changer.
Two years into his career, Griffin has consistently been thrown around like a rag doll. If that doesn't change this season—and it's not looking good right now—the odds don't favor him playing a full season.
3. But there'll be no quarterback controversy
Preseason performances matter, but not enough for Kirk Cousins to overcome the fact his spot performances in relief of Griffin last season were terrible, and not enough for the franchise quarterback's job to be jeopardized in his first proper season back from injury.
|Griffin vs. Cousins, career stats|
|Pro Football Reference|
Gruden can't risk alienating Griffin early. This is his season, no matter how badly things go. If it really hits the fan, then you've got a legitimate discussion to be had in the winter and spring of 2015. But it's not worth it right now, especially because Cousins hasn't been close to as good as many are giving him credit for.
4. Alfred Morris will once again be a top-five rusher
I mean, why not? Morris is super-consistent, regardless of what's happening with that offensive line. And yeah, he probably benefited from Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking system, but let's keep in mind that Gruden isn't making any major changes to how the 'Skins will be running the ball in 2014.
You can fool this league once, but not twice. The entire NFL knew what Morris brought to the table after his 1,613-yard rookie season, but in year two his average only dropped from 4.8 to 4.6 despite the fact everything around him within that offense had gone to hell.
The guy is a smart, disciplined runner who is extremely tough to take down. And this year, he'll benefit from having Jackson distracting defenses deep. Look for Morris to have his best season yet.
5. They'll make a run at 50 sacks on defense
Ryan Kerrigan looks to be ready to explode in his fourth season, and you'd have to think that Brian Orakpo will be more comfortable now that he's a season removed from those pectoral issues. Both of those edge-rushers will benefit greatly from the addition of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, who looked stellar in his preseason debut two weeks ago.
Throw in the reliable Barry Cofield and the emerging Keenan Robinson, and it's safe to call this one of the most talented defensive fronts in football.
Now, the secondary is still a mess that's been neglected far too long, but if DeAngelo Hall can hold it down and second-year corner David Amerson can keep improving, they might be good enough to lock in just long enough for the pressure to get through up front.
The 'Skins have recorded just 68 sacks the last two seasons combined, but with similar personnel, they ranked sixth in the league in sack percentage in 2011. With Jim Haslett able to get more creative without Shanahan casting a shadow, look for them to get back into that range this season.
6. Ryan Kerrigan will have a Pro Bowl season
This ties directly to prediction No. 5. We love what we've seen from the fourth-year outside linebacker this year, and with all of that added support, we're actually going out on a huge limb within B/R's annual expert awards prediction breakdown by prognosticating that Kerrigan will emerge as an All-Pro in 2014.
We've reeled that in a little over here, conservatively suggesting that the former first-round pick should get back to the Pro Bowl. But I guess the key point is that we're expecting Kerrigan to be this team's defensive MVP this year.
7. They'll cycle through at least five starters at safety
It's quite simply a massive weak spot. Brandon Meriweather is suspended to start the season, but even when he's healthy and not serving time for being a serial illegal hitter, Meriweather is a below-average starter.
Beyond that? Ryan Clark is 34 going on 70, Bacarri Rambo had a nice summer but was utterly unreliable last year, Trenton Robinson has been on three different rosters in two years and might have to start despite never having done so and Duke Ihenacho can't be viewed as a savior less than a week after being cut by Denver.
Expect all of those guys to get kicks at the can this season, and expect few, if any, to excel.
8. Jordan Reed, not Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson, will become the key pass-catcher
It's amazing how quickly Reed's play rendered veteran Fred Davis useless and dispensable last year. The rookie tight end out of Florida was on pace for an 80-catch, 885-yard season before a concussion ended his campaign early.
|Rookie tight ends, 2013|
|Jordan Reed's pace||80||885||5|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now, he's healthy and ready to re-establish the strong chemistry he had with Griffin. The key is that he'll be RG3's safety valve in the middle of the field, which could make him more important than any other weapon the third-year quarterback has.
Jackson goes down, you've got Pierre Garcon. And vice versa. Reed might be more valuable than either. Plus, as our James Dudko points out, Gruden's offense is extremely friendly to tight ends. If he can stay healthy, Reed will explode in 2014.
9. Perry Riley will lose his starting job at linebacker
The guy just doesn't flash, which is why Keenan Robinson's emergence has saved the day as this defense tries to replace the retired London Fletcher inside. Riley has started 40 consecutive games since being promoted in 2011, but he's forced just two turnovers in that span.
Despite the fact he played over 1,000 snaps last season, you hardly noticed he was on the field. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him a minus-8.4 grade, which ranked 42nd among 55 qualifying linebackers.
Behind Riley on the depth chart sit Akeem Jordan, Will Compton and Adam Hayward. Jordan's a vet with a ton of starting experience within good defenses, but all three earned positive preseason grades at PFF. So for Riley, the heat will be on from the very start.
10. Washington will make a playoff run
The Eagles have a clear edge in the NFC East, but we're fully expecting the sneaky-talented Redskins to leapfrog both the Giants and the Cowboys this year. When you're this deep and have weapons like these, you can overcome a questionable secondary.
|Brad Gagnon's NFC East Prediction, 2014|
|1. Philadelphia Eagles||11-5||+100|
|2. Washington Redskins||9-7||+25|
|3. New York Giants||6-10||-70|
|4. Dallas Cowboys||5-11||-110|
So as long as Griffin can stay healthy and productive, this could be a wild-card team at the very least. Now, will Griffin stay healthy and productive?
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.
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