The Washington Redskins play in a brutal division, where every other team has been dominant in the past decade.
The Redskins have been the weakest team in the division for a long time, but the winds of change are blowing strongly in their favor in 2010.
With wholesale changes in Washington this year, the Redskins have a chance to win the division crown. Despite the strength of their division rivals, the Skins will surprise many people by winning the NFC East and riding high into the playoffs.
The Offensive Line Is Not Only Fixed—It Is Now a Strength
After watching Jason Campbell get pummeled by pass rushers last year, the biggest weakness of the Washington Redskins was well known. The offensive line was one of the worst in the league in 2009.
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen wasted no time in upgrading the line. Trent Williams was added via the draft, giving the Redskins a very athletic left tackle that should be solid protection on the blind side. In addition, Williams has excellent speed for a huge man, and he will open up some wide running lanes for Clinton Portis.
Artis Hicks was then added through free agency, and his experience gives the Skins reliability at guard. Jammal Brown was the most recent addition, through a trade with the Saints, and the two-time Pro Bowler will be another bookend at tackle opposite Williams.
With the starting five of Williams, Hicks, Brown, Casey Rabach, and Derrick Dockery, the Redskins now have an excellent offensive line. Donovan McNabb will be well protected this year, and he will have plenty of time to find receivers downfield. That's bad news for the rest of the league.
The 3-4 Defense Will Create More Big Plays
The 4-3 defense was solid for the Redskins for many years, but the lack of big plays was clearly evident. Forced fumbles, interceptions, and sacks have not been good statistical categories for the Redskins defense for a while now.
Jim Haslett's 3-4 change-up should provide a boost to the playmaking drought. Brian Orakpo is perfect for the 3-4, and he should immediately increase his sack total. DeAngelo Hall will be put in a position to make more interceptions. LaRon Landry will move predominantly into the box and give the Skins a more solid front against the run.
Regardless of what happens to Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins defense will be stout in 2010. With reliable starters like London Fletcher and Reed Doughty making solid tackles, Haslett's creative play calling, and playmakers like Orakpo terrorizing quarterbacks, the Redskins will have a top-five defense this year.
The Redskins Finally Have a Quarterback
It has been a long time since the Redskins had a legitimate franchise quarterback. Brad Johnson from a decade ago was the last really good one, but even Johnson didn't have the credentials of Donovan McNabb.
Donovan McNabb gives the Redskins everything they didn't have in Jason Campbell: leadership, decisiveness, confidence, and the ability to create plays. Mike Shanahan was thrilled to pick up McNabb, and the new-look offense will be executed to cater to his strengths.
Behind a rebuilt Washington line, McNabb will quickly become acclimated to the Shanahan offense. With his playmaking abilities combined with Shanahan's offensive genius, McNabb will be ready to put up some career-high numbers in 2010.
The Running Game Will Be Back in Full Force
There are a lot of people outside of Washington who believe Clinton Portis no longer has any gas left in the tank. The same line of thinking goes for his backup, Larry Johnson. Certainly, no one is predicting the Redskins' running game to be a major factor in this offense.
For the same reason Jason Campbell spent most of his time last year on his back, the Washington running game was impotent. Without a good offensive line, and without a healthy Portis, the Redskins couldn't get the ground game going in 2009.
The offensive line is now revamped. Portis is healthy, and he's pumped up to play in Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Johnson is pushing Portis for playing time, and they're both benefiting from the motivation of competition.
Clinton Portis has one more good year left in him, and he will leave it all on the field in 2010. A 1,200-plus-yard season is very possible, and McNabb will greatly benefit from having a running game that takes so much pressure off him.
The Redskins' rushing attack in 2010 will force defenses to load the box, and McNabb will take full advantage in the passing game.
The Coaching Staff Is the Best It Has Ever Been. EVER.
I know what you're thinking. Blasphemy, right? As good as the current coaching staff is, it can't be better than Joe Gibbs and his assistants, can it?
First, in comparison to last year's circus clowns, the Redskins' coaching staff is light years ahead. Mike Shanahan's offensive mind is unparalleled in the league, and he has the Super Bowls to prove it. The naysayers claim he was nothing without John Elway, but Elway never won a Super Bowl until he had Shanahan as a head coach.
Kyle Shanahan may be the best offensive assistant in the entire league. The Houston Texans had the best passing attack in the NFL last year, thanks in large part to his brilliant game strategies. Matt Schaub also benefited greatly under Kyle's tutelage.
Jim Haslett is vastly underrated as a defensive coordinator, and there aren't many people who have as much knowledge on running the 3-4 defense. He's a hard-nosed man who commands respect from his players, and he forces them to play with discipline.
The greatest change in the coaching staff from this year to last is based in leadership ability. Mike Shanahan is the unquestioned leader of this team, and players listen to him in a way that Jim Zorn would never be able to duplicate. Even Joe Gibbs (at least Part II) could not reach the level of respect Shanahan is able to achieve almost instantly.
So, yes, in play calling, experience, intelligence, and leadership, this is the greatest group of coaches ever assembled in Washington—and they're one of the biggest reasons why the Redskins will win the NFC East this year and continue their success into the years beyond 2010.