Washington Redskins Grinding Their Way to the Top of the Wide Open NFC East

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Washington Redskins Grinding Their Way to the Top of the Wide Open NFC East
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The NFC East is often touted as one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Since 2004, no team has repeated as division champion and rather than stand as proof of weakness, it proves that the best team one year is a target the next.

The Washington Redskins haven't won the division since 1999, but this season they already have two wins over division opponents and are tied for the best record with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

It hasn't been pretty every week, but the Redskins have the makings of a divisional juggernaut with Mike Shanahan at the helm.

The Redskins came into the season with high hopes that their new coach and quarterback would bring them out of the darkness that was the Jim Zorn era. They opened the season with a tough win over Dallas, where the new 3-4 defense stifled the explosively talented Cowboys offense. They turned around and dropped a high scoring affair to the Houston Texans, where Donovan McNabb threw for 426 yards.

It was against the St. Louis Rams that the Redskins failed to appear as anything more than a .500 team at best. Turnovers and poor third down defense, along with the Rams' intensity, led to an ugly loss to a team that won a single game a year ago.

In yet another game in which they were seemingly outgunned, the Redskins went into Philadelphia and disrupted everything they had done so well to start the season.

The typically explosive DeSean Jackson was limited to just three catches for 19 yards after averaging 24.5 yards per catch heading into the game. Jeremy Maclin had just one catch for 15 yards, and failed to reach the endzone after having scored four touchdowns in the first three games of the season.

If the Redskins can bring the best of their individual unit performances together, they will be a tough team to beat. Dare I say, they will be a top 10 team in the NFL?

The passing game has shown itself to be explosive, and efficient. Sunday's win over the Eagles showed that McNabb doesn't have to have a stellar day for the Redskins to win. In that case, the defense came up big as it didn't against Dallas in the season opener.

Even the run game, that wasn't lighting the world on fire so far this season, showed some progress against the Eagles.

With the exception of the loss to the Rams, the Redskins have shown the ability to overcome mistakes by forcing their opponents into more. They are committing far too many penalties, which has been an issue throughout the last decade, but they are also plus-3 in turnover differential. A trademark of goods teams is their ability to hold on to the ball, and the Redskins are doing just that.

On the contrary, teams are passing on them with great regularity and finding too much success for comfort. However, the run defense is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, good for ninth best in the league.

Washington has all the makings of a good team, but have to show they can put together an entire game where all phases of the game are performing. They can't rest one game on the defense, one game on the offense and hope someone picks up the slack in between. The offense needs to put the ball in the end zone with more regularity and the defense needs to stop giving up so many third down conversions.

For a team that deserves credit for knocking off the next anointed division champion after Dallas, the Redskins have a lot to work on in order to insure they aren't the next top team toppled from the top of the heap.

The Giants are showing up big on defense, and their run game is starting to ramp it up. The Redskins still have to face them twice, as well as another meeting with both the Cowboys and the Eagles. If Washington can manage 4-2 in the division, which they clearly can, they'll be back in the playoffs this year.

That, of course, doesn't account for the upcoming games against the Packers, Colts and Bears before the bye week. That isn't to say they have no chance of winning, as they've been counted out of almost all of their games thus far. And it isn't as though Green Bay, Chicago or Indianapolis are impervious to defeat. They've proven to be quite vulnerable to bad teams like Detroit and Jacksonville.

The Redskins will have to keep the run game in every gameplan, or come out firing every week the way they did against the Texans. The defense needs to find balance between coverage and blitzing the way they did against Philadelphia. Every team needs to improve week to week, but in a division as mercurial as the NFC East, the Redskins cannot afford to slip up like they have been known to do in years past.

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