Washington Redskins 2011: Probably No Playoffs This Year, but Reasons for Hope
The Redskins Monday Night loss was frustrating, disheartening and maddening. It seems that every year the team sets up its fans for unrealistic expectations, only to crash and burn spectacularly before drifting through the remainder of the season in a sort of daze.
Was last night already the beginning of the end for the 'Skins? Certainly doubtful given that the Redskins head to St.Louis to face the winless and beleaguered Rams.
Still, even if the Redskins win next week, they will probably not make the playoffs. Disagree with me, tell me that I am an idiot, not fit to draw breath, etc., fine. The team has been resurgent in the first few weeks, but they simply lack NFL playoff talent.
Don't take this as simple Redskins bashing, though. This team is a far cry from the dysfunction and ineptitude that has plagued the organization since 1999. There are reasons for hope, not for this year, but for the 2012 season.
The Defensive Line
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Over the course of the first three games, what is the single largest difference between the Redskins from last year to this? The defensive line.
The starting line up of Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Adam Carriker has been a serious force, bullying opposing lineman all three weeks. But the single best surprise? Rookie Chris Neild.
He has looked like a true nose tackle in his limited playing time, drawing double teams, penetrating the pocket and generally disrupting the blocking schemes of opposing offenses.
The Redskins have something up front on defense that they haven't had since I can remember. A very solid starting group of defensive lineman with depth at all positions. Fair enough, Kedric Golston and Darrion Scott aren't exactly John Randle, but they provide quality minutes and the ability to rotate linemen, reducing the likelihood of injuries and allowing the starters to stay fresh.
This unit is the No. 1 reason to have hope for the Redskins fortunes next season. Especially when Jarvis Jenkins returns. The man is a beast.
Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo
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Although the defensive line may be the most improved unit on the Redskins, they certainly are not the best. That honor is bestowed upon the Redskins starting outside linebackers.
Every Redskins fan has known from Orakpo's first game as a rookie that he was something special. Incredibly fast, incredibly strong and an absolute maniac getting to the quarterback, Orakpo made a very serious case for defensive Rookie of the Year in 2009.
With the team's adoption of the 3-4 defense, many expected Orakpo's sack and tackle numbers to continue to increase last year, but a sub-standard front three, the lack of any other potent pass rusher, and his first year learning the scheme caused Orakpo to struggle making the impact that was expected.
This year is a different story. With a stalwart defensive front, Orakpo is back in prime form. But he is no longer alone, having teamed up with rookie Ryan Kerrigan to form an NFL elite duo. I will only say this once, but the Redskins have the single most formidable young outside linebacker duo in the NFL.
Young, fast and hungry, these two are a great reason to look forward to 2012. With another year in the system, and most likely an even more improved defensive front, these two will give a lot of NFL quarterbacks nightmares for years to come.
In his first game in 10 months, Landry came out and picked up where he left off in 2010. Making huge plays, big hits and generally being a force, Landry is a game changing safety.
If he can remain healthy this season and continue to improve, he could quickly develop into the next Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed.
The Youth Movement
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The most refreshing difference between this year and seasons past? The fact that more young, unproven players are getting a chance to produce.
The Redskins simply look more explosive, faster, and quicker than in years past. If Shanahan and Co. continue to infuse the team with young players and opt against paying overpaid, over the hill free agents, the 'Skins will return to relevancy quickly.
More importantly, though, by using the draft and bringing in young players the team lowers the chances of next season being derailed by injuries. The difference between a team that contends in January and a team that doesn't is the ability to weather injuries and replace lost production.
Players like Darrel Young, Fred Davis, Trent Williams, Roy Helu, Chris Neild, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, and Landry are drastically changing the landscape of the franchise. It's an exciting time to watch the 'Skins. There will be down weeks and there will be up weeks, but there is little doubt that the Burgundy and Gold are headed in the right direction.
The Culture of the Franchise
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With that youth has come a massive shift in the attitude and culture of the Franchise itself. For years, a sense of malaise and discouragement surrounded the Redskins. Bringing back Coach Gibbs, legend that he is, was simply biding time before the team would have to inevitably clean house and rebuild a roster and franchise from the ground up.
Despite the loss, this team does not look like the Redskins of old. They are hungry and energetic. They play like the games actually matter. That, above all else, may be my favorite thing about this team.
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I'm not completely writing off the Redskins this season. Crazier things have certainly happened, and if Grossman overachieves and plays better than he is accustomed, than the playoffs may be within reach.
That said, no sane Redskins fan feels that they can compete for an NFC title, let alone a super bowl this year. But if they can find some more young talent in April 2012, and some key free agents (a real QB would be nice), the Redskins are quickly turning a new leaf and may very well be competing for titles in the not too distant future.