This article will dissect the Washington Redskins' previous season, analyze each facet of the team (front office, head coach, offense, defense, special teams) and what looks promising/unpromising in 2009.
Are you ready for some footballlll?! (Cough, cough. Boy, Hank Williams, Jr. suuure makes it sound easy...)
Come Sunday, September 13, 2009, the Washington Redskins will play the New York Football Giants, recent Super Bowl champs and longtime, hated NFC East rival, on the road.
Before we discuss the expectations of this season, let's recap last year's season, and discuss the 2008-'09 offseason/preseason, shall we?
Last season started with lots of pessimism then optimism, as the Redskins surprised many prognosticators after a humbling 16-7 loss start to the Giants, with a 5-1 record from Weeks 2-7.
Starting quarterback Jason Campbell and first-year head coach Jim Zorn shocked the American football world who expected only disaster during that span, including back to back NFC East division wins against Dallas and Philadelphia—on the road.
However, the team did not really face some uncertainty until they were beaten by a weak St. Louis Rams team in Week 6, losing 19-17 at home. A depleted offensive line then became the sore point that primarily led to the Skins’ mid- to late-season swoon—especially the embarrassing loss at FedEx Field against the eventual 2009 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
The season ended unceremoniously with a 27-24 loss to the mediocre San Francisco 49ers on the road at Candlestick Park.
Statistically, the Skins were vanilla on offense after pretty much catching the ’Boys and Iggles off-guard, not even coming close to providing much chutzpah after that span.
They scored a season total of 265 points, an anemic 16.6 points a game, which ranked for 28th out of 32. However, the offense was ranked 19th overall (5,020 yards), 8th in running (2,095), and 23rd in passing (3,025).
Their highest point total was 29 in a neck-and-neck match-up against the 2008 NFC champs Arizona Cardinals at FedEx, 29-24. Their lowest came in that Steelers game, losing 23-6.
The defense allowed 296 points, 6th in the league, averaging 18.5 per game. The D allowed a season high of 24 points three times (against Baltimore, Dallas, and Arizona), and a season-low against Philadelphia in an impressive Week 16 win at home against Philadelphia, 10-3.
The sturdy defense allowed 4,621 total yards (3,095 passing; 1,526 rushing, a stingy 3.8 rush average), with 24 sacks, 13 interceptions, 9 forced fumbles, 5 fumbles recovered--yet no fumbles or interceptions returned for a touchdown.
What with a mediocre preseason (1-3 record), as meaningless as it is, questions about this year's squad persist, such as whether defensive tackle "Fat" Albert Haynesworth will gobble up opposing QBs as much as his hefty, $100 mil. deal, and if J-Cam will thrive under the second most under-pressure position in Washington, besides "that one" residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Front Office
A dark cloud hovers over the front office for the 2009-'10 season, particularly with principal owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato under the microscope. They orchestrated the free agent acquisition of former Tennessee Titan defensive tackle star Haynesworth, drafted first-round pick Brian Orakpo, all but neglected the glaring needs of improving the offensive line, and twice tried to trade Campbell--once for Jay Cutler (now with the Chicago Bears), the other for rookie Mark Sanchez of USC (New York Jets).
To top off that busy and distracting offseason, Snyder's ticketing/marketing operating unit has been guilty of a. having employees who have sold their team tickets to outside investors; and b. sacking life-long Redskin season-ticket holders who have come up short in fulfilling their ticket contracts, persistently suing those delinquent fans, all of which was featured in an investigative report in the Washington Post last week.
And in his second year, Jim Zorn has a lot to prove, with an 8-8 record in during his maiden voyage. With "free agent" head coaches like Brendan Shanahan, Jim Gruden and Bill Cowher on the outside, only a winning season will keep Zorn and his version of the West Coast offense in Washington.
(If the former Seattle Seahawk QB does happen to ride high this year, many will look no further at the auspices of former coaching great Joseph Jackson Gibbs, whose own rookie season ended at 8-8. That Joe Gibbs ended a Hall of Fame-worthy, 12-year run with an astounding record of 124-60, three Super Bowls, four NFC East division titles and four NFC championships.)
Campbell must prove now that he’s capable of playing better than he did in his season and a half as the starter so far. He played well and made strides during the team’s 6-2 run. But late-season decimation in protection led to a rampage on the Taylorsville, Missippi, native, as he was sacked, knocked down and picked off more in the team’s last eight games.
Overall, the gaudiest of Campbell’s stats is the 38 times he was sacked. However, the others are brighter: 84.3 QB rating, 62.3% completion rate, over 3,200 yards passing, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio over 2:1 (2.167). Not only must he put the rumors and attempts of being traded behind him, but Campell must show to both media members and franchise heads that he’s worth being considered a franchise quarterback.
Star running back Clinton Portis played in every game last season, did well in pass protection when necessary and ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (92.3) and rushing yards gained (1,487), respectively, with 71% of the team’s overall rushing yards (1,487 out of 2,095).
Still, his mouth seems to be his worst weapon.
At times being ripped and benched by Zorn in a couple nationally televised games, , the reportedly overly sensitive Portis has vented on radio waves, sarcastically calling Zorn a "genius."
He has also confronted Hall of Fame-caliber Redskin franchise players (e.g., Brian Mitchell, John Riggins) who have criticized him in public this year and last.
And, although a few years back, when he came up with clever, noteworthy characters such as Coach Janky Spanky, Ken Bro Sweets, Southeast Jerome, Portis still speaks his mind about certain taboo issues whenever he sees fit.
Such as in the Washington Post article with Barry Svrluga last September.
In it, his feelings had seemed to indicate that the offensive line did not create many opportunities for him to run as freely as he did years ago when he was a Denver Bronco. Furthermore, he had seemed to throw his offensive linemates under the bus, intimating the chance to rush for a team with better blockers than his own.
After that aforementioned O-line broke down for good in early November, not only was Campbell attacked. So was Portis’ production, rushing for more yards during Weeks 1-8 (over 900 yards), compared to only 500+ yards in Weeks 10-17.
To reduce the number of carries, wear and tear on Portis this season Zorn and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith have designated eight-year back-up tailback Ladell Betts (in 2008: 61 carries, 206 rush yards) as the third-down rusher.
Whether this will be effective and lead the team well into November and December shall remain to be seen. Having third-option, kick return specialist Rock Cartright, newly added scatback Marcus Mason and tight-end-sized fullback Mike Sellers (6’3”, listed at 275 lbs.) may bode well for the team’s prospects in the rushing attack, too.
The 22-year-old, 6’4” Malcolm Kelly, a second round pick from Oklahoma who hardly played much last season (and had microfracture surgery on one knee during the offseason), has been promoted to the flanker or ‘Z’ position (#2 wide receiver), lining up on the far end of Santana Moss at the line of scrimmage this season.
(Although a bit of a demotion, the offense may really look promising with veteran Antwaan Randle El, 30, in the slot position, where he thrived during his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.)
Kelly seemed to play better than fellow 2009 2nd round pick WR Devin Thomas, who played in or suited up in more games than Kelly last season (15 to 11), but was still considered lost with certain plays on the field, immature and not able to progress as quickly as Kelly during training camp or the preseason.
Kelly’s development, as well as second-year TE Fred Davis' are important signs of success this year. Davis has a chance to stretch opposing defenses, and try to eliminate a sometimes embarrassing (two consecutive fumbles against the Baltimore Ravens), sometimes promising (1 TD in the red zone vs. Pittsburgh) showing during the preseason as well.
Moss remains the team’s only deep threat so far, rebounding from a dismal 2007 season, in which in he appeared in 14 games, received 61 passes and 808 yards, and scored three times. 2008 wasn’t necessarily a banner year, but it was Moss' second season with the franchise in which he had 1,000+ yards (1,044, 11th in the NFL). Last season he received 79 passes, 6 passing touchdowns (including a 67-yard TD catch vs. the New Orleans Saints, and a 50-yard one vs. Detroit), and scored on an 80-yard punt return, too.
Captain Chaos aka tight end Chris Cooley may be even a bigger target in this year's offensive schemes upon which Campbell will rely. This option will be available once Davis is able to show that he's more coversant with Zorn's playbook and will be featured in more two TE sets, pass blocking more frequently with the linemen.
Cooley set the franchise record for TE catches with 83, along with 849 receiving yards. His lone touchdown reception for the year did not come from Campbell, however; it came on a reverse bootleg pass from wide receiver Randle El (who played QB at Indiana University) during the Week 5 game against the Eagles.
Selected to the Pro Bowl for two years straight, Cooley may reach his peak as a quality TE and get 90-100 catches, 5-10 passing touchdowns--if plan turns into reality. Davis, Yoder and Sellers may each receive 15-20 catches, too.
If the line, with the welcoming re-addition of Derrick Dockery at left guard and Stephon Heyer at right tackle, remain solid with Pro Bowl stalwart LT Chris Samuels and RG Randy Thomas recovering from offseason surgeries (plus four extra linemen on the bench), then Jason Campbell may be better now than in the waning moments of the diminished playoff drive in 2008. If the line can hold Campbell's head high for at least 12-14 games, along with Moss, Kelly, Cooley, Davis, Portis, Betts and Sellers clicking on all cylinders, the team may finally show some teeth from Zorn’s playbook.
The defense, ranked fourth in the NFL last season, did not need much improvement. But the front office was busy this offseason and spent lots of money (over $174 million) in re-signing mid-season acquisition cornerback DeAngelo Hall, sought-after defensive tackle Haynesworth and hybrid linebacker-defensive end rookie out of the University of Texas Brian Orakpo. This year’s unit will obviously be stronger with Haynesworth most likely being double- or triple-teamed in every game this year (a chance for the defense to accumulate perhaps 35-40 total sacks and many more turnovers).
Despite the attention that Haynesworth may attract will benefit the rest of the defensive line, the line will be one of graybeards in the league, with defensive end Phillip Daniels, returning from an ACL injury, at the age of 36, run-stopper Cornelius Griffin (32) and Andre Carter (30), who has yet to reach consecutive double-digit sacks as a Redskin.
The major make-or-break issue on defense is the linebacker corps, outside of London Fletcher, a 12-year veteran, who has led the team in tackles for two straight years (an average of 131 solo/assisted tackles), and has never missed a game or start in his career. Weak-side linebacker starter Rocky McIntosh is back, but was only effective for about half the season, due to chronic knee ailments that have plagued his ability since his days at the University of Miami.
The deciding factor of success for the corps will hinge on how SAM or strong-side linebacker Orakpo transitions from playing at defensive end in college to linebacker, going back and forth as much as defensive coordinator Greg Blache wants him to.
If Orakpo’s able to be effective standing up and covering tight ends and running backs in the open field as well as blitz a la Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, the whole unit will be formidable. It’s possible for Orakpo, impressive during most of the preseason, to get at least 5-10 sacks.
The secondary seems legit with Hall, last season’s seventh round gem strong safety Chris Horton and dangerous free safety LaRon Landry, who all totaled seven interceptions. Last year's fortunes may turn out to be breakout years for all of them--or one of them.
The odd man out and in need of redemption is CB Carlos Rogers. At times he has shown that he is capable of being a shut-down cornerback. But for the third straight year, he has not been consistent, most notably after he dropped a potential interception for a touchdown against Seattle in the 2006 NFC divisional playoff game.
If Rogers is unable to play consistently and/or not able to play for a full season due to injury, the team’s defense/secondary may be in trouble--with nine-year, nickelback corner Fred Smoot not as reliable and fast as he was in his prime and three unproven, green backups Justin Tryon, Byron Westbrook and Kevin Barnes on the squad. If he does play and play well, that will be another top 5-10 ranking for the defense as a whole.
The unit needed an upgrade, with the only bright spot coming in the form of previously mentioned Cartwright, who averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return (10th in the league). But the punt returning was a low point with main returner Randle El only averaging 6.5 yards, and in need of help from others.
The field goal and punting were also atrocious. Incumbent place kicker Shaun Suisham missed 10 of his 36 field goals (a league-low 72.2%), including 11 of16 on 40-49 yard attempts, 1 of 4 on 50+ yard attempts. Some of his kickoffs were not close to the goal line in the opposing team's territory, too.
The team made an unheard of draft of rookie punter Durant Brooks, who only lasted six games, with a league worst 39.1 average. Brooks' replacement Ryan Plackemeir fared no better in the remaining 10 games, with a 41.7 average.
One of the front office's most savvy of moves this offseason was finding a solution to this punting issue by adding longtime Indianapolis Colt punter Hunter Smith. With career averages of 43.4 punting, 12.1 inside the 20-yard line, 4.4 inside 10s, and 8.5 fair catches, field position/accurately directional kicks might not be as problematic with Smith at the helm as it was last year.
The field goal unit still remains in jeopardy though, as the Redskins retained Suisham, who did not receive much competition from kicker Dave Rayner during preseason.
After facing the Giants, the Redskins' next three opponents (St. Louis at home, Detroit on the road, Tampa @ home) had a combined 2008 record of 11-37. In Week 6 they play the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that went 2-14 last year, at home too. If the team wins early and often, a 9-7 or even 10-6 record is credible. Yet with seven of the 16 games against 2008 playoff teams, and a brutal second half (Atlanta, Dallas and Philly all on the road in three out of four games), the expected outcome could be more like 8-8.
(Sources include The Washington Post, Yahoo! Sports, Sports Illustrated's 2009 NFL Preview issue, and http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/was/2008.htm)