Breaking Down Every Game on the Washington Redskins' 2011 Schedule
It's about that time.
Although we have no idea how training camp will play out, we have the slightest idea of who the locks are to make the team, and we have as much confidence in John Beck as we do in a college freshman. Nitpicking the Washington Redskins upcoming schedule is a necessary precursor for the upcoming season.
Week 1: Sept. 11 vs. New York Giants
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Could it get any better than this?
First game of the season. Division rivalry. Ten-year anniversary of September 11th. American pride. And the obvious excitement amongst players and fans after a lengthy and frustrating lockout.
Call me crazy, but the Giants don't appear nearly as threatening to me this season as they were last year. Sure, Eli Manning and the receiving corps of Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are efficient, but the Giants are still without free agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Steve Smith.
It's not that the offense is inept without those two, but the unit is definitely down a notch if the Giants can't come to terms with two of their best offensive weapons.
Enter the Redskins new and improved defense for 2011.
With a year under their belt as a 3-4 defense, in addition to quality free agent acquisitions, I think the Redskins could give Manning the most heat he's felt in Washington for some time.
The current cornerback tandem of DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson threatens for turnovers, and I'd expect a much heavier pass rush from Brian Orakpo, rookie Ryan Kerrigan and an improved defensive line that includes Stephen Bowen and former Giant Barry Cofield.
The obvious question in this game, as it will be in every game this season, is the play and poise of quarterback John Beck. The Redskins running game should be effective enough to keep the pressure off Beck, but he'll need to be able to manage the game against a stingy Giants defense with an impressive secondary.
With momentum, the home crowd and the overall release of being delayed for so long to play football, the Redskins could sneak one out in their home opener.
Week 2: Sept. 18 vs. Arizona Cardinals
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Blessed with their second consecutive home game to start the season, the Redskins have a realistic opportunity to start the season off 2-0 and build some confidence in their signal-caller.
So far, Arizona has parted ways with running back Tim Hightower (who is now with the Redskins) and wide receiver Steve Breaston on offense, but added quarterback Kevin Kolb—a position the Cardinals desperately needed to address over the offseason.
The Arizona defense doesn't seem to be that dangerous against a Redskins team that should have a decent running attack. Mike Shanahan improved the offensive line over the offseason by signing guard Chris Chester and re-signing tackle Jammal Brown, not to mention adding rookie explosion Roy Helu and Tim Hightower at running back.
Assuming Kolb is still working to get his team under wraps during Week 2, I think the Redskins can take advantage of home field and start their season off 2-0.
Week 3: Sept. 26th at Dallas Cowboys
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The rivalry between the Redskins and Cowboys is one of the thickest in the league, and this Monday night matchup should be no different.
Without the normal names of Marion Barber and Roy Williams gracing the Cowboys offense, I'd like to be able to say that this game could be a little easier on the Redskins defense. But that's not the case.
Felix Jones takes over as the primary running back for the Cowboys, and sophomore receiver Dez Bryant is now a starting receiver alongside Miles Austin. Add in Jason Witten at tight end, and Tony Romo has one hell of an arsenal.
On the other hand, the Redskins defense could find some success against a Cowboys offensive line that is currently transitioning to become a more athletic unit. Fortunately for the Redskins, with transition usually comes inconsistency, and the Redskins defense will need to take advantage of a shaping offensive line whenever given the chance.
Arguably the largest threat for the Redskins in this game will be the Cowboys pass-rush against the inexperienced John Beck. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware off the edges will likely look to get into Beck's face as much as possible—typically very successful at doing so.
On the big stage in Big D, it's only realistic to believe that the Cowboys' pass-rush and high-octane offense get the best of the Redskins on Monday night.
Note: When going over the schedule, I usually always split the Redskins/Cowboys series. So please, don't write me off just yet.
Week 4: Oct. 2 at St. Louis Rams
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Obviously I'm not comparing the 2011 Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf that occurred between 2000 and 2005, but this current Rams squad is nothing to brush off.
Sam Bradford will have a year under his belt in the NFL, and I don't view him as a quarterback that could undergo the common "sophomore slump." The Rams front office made moves to help Bradford as well, signing sizable receiver Mike Sims-Walker and improving the offensive line with the signing of guard Harvey Dahl.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams lost a huge asset in O.J. Atogwe (who made his way to Washington), but tried to mend their wound by signing safety Quintin Mikell. I wouldn't call Mikell something close to Atogwe, but it helps the defense.
At first glance, the Redskins would likely go with a gameplan that looks to take advantage of the Rams' cornerbacks. A solid mix of Helu, Torain and Hightower could help to chip away at the Rams' front seven, hopefully opening up the passing game for John Beck.
Before the Redskins free agent signings over the past week, I would call this game a win for the Rams—as I didn't originally believe the Redskins to have enough on defense to stop the Rams offense. However, since signing guys like Bowen, Cofield and Wilson, the Redskins have a real chance to steal one on the road.
Week 5: Bye Week
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Going by my predictions, the Redskins enter their early bye week with a 3-1 record. Wishful thinking or not, I think many would argue that the record is possible after four games, two of which come against NFC West opponents.
The main focus at this point will be health, whether it be healing an injured starter or helping to prevent injury. Running back Ryan Torain, right tackle Jammal Brown and every rookie that makes the squad and receives playing time will be on high-alert entering the bye week. Due to lack of depth, the Redskins will rely heavily on health in 2011.
Another topic of discussion at Week 5 will be that of John Beck and his play so far. Assuming a 3-1 record, Beck will likely receive praise barring some absurd number of turnovers. Will Beck be able to keep it going?
Week 6: Oct. 16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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Remember the last time the Redskins hosted the Eagles after the bye week?
It wasn't pretty, as the Eagles torched the 'Skins 59-28 in a game that actually seemed worse than the score itself. If the Redskins aren't careful, they could be embarrassed yet again in front of about 80,000 screaming fans at FedEx Field.
The Eagles have been the clear-cut winners of the 2011 offseason, improving their defense with lockdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha, playmaking corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and rush-end Jason Babin. Now, with three of the top corners in the league, the Eagles are going to have a really good chance of shutting down offenses week in and week out.
For Redskins quarterback John Beck, this Eagles secondary will be the best he sees all season, and it will likely finish as the best in the league when it's said and done.
Although the bye week could help Beck and the Redskins, I don't see them getting past one of the league's best defenses (I'm not overly impressed with Philly's linebackers), as well as one of the league's most explosive offenses.
I can take a Redskins loss to the Eagles this season, as long as there's a fight. But if it's 35-0 after the first play of the second quarter and the Redskins are on the crappy end of the score, I may have to head down to the local watering hole a little earlier than normal.
Week 7: Oct. 23 at Carolina Panthers
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Besides the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles, I believe the Carolina Panthers had the best offseason of any team in the league.
After being able to retain running back DeAngelo Williams and rush-end Charles Johnson, sign middle linebacker Jon Beason to a contract extension, bring in two solid tight ends in Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen AND sign the No. 1-overall pick Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers are in much better shape than people realize.
According to some reports, even veteran receiver Steve Smith is buying into the new team philosophy under new coach Ron Rivera, and this team should go as far as Newton takes them.
That being said, I do believe this is a road game that the Redskins are capable of winning. Even with Johnson off the edge and Beason holding down the middle of the field, I find the Panthers' potential offense to be the Redskins' biggest threat.
When going against a rookie quarterback, the key is to get after him as much as possible and rattle his cage. Even with a mobile and athletic passer like Newton, I would assume that guys like Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo could apply the pressure, while linemen like Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker can help to contain him.
This isn't the same Carolina team that we've seen in recent years. If the Redskins aren't careful (and that goes for any team), I think the Panthers have the potential to catch some people napping.
Week 8: Oct. 30th at Buffalo Bills
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It could be worse, but drawing the AFC East in 2011 won't be an easy task. The Redskins will travel out of the states to Toronto, Canada for their first game of the series, and I'm hoping that the Bills' quiet offseason is a benefit to the Redskins.
Although their name was mentioned in numerous rumors throughout the offseason, the Bills never quite landed that big name free agent that they had hoped for. They were able to sign veteran linebacker Nick Barnett on defense and multi-purpose receiver Brad Smith on offense, but neither has the explosive impact of some the free agents the team originally pursued.
Given the current rosters, I feel that the Redskins have the upper hand in this matchup. The offense, again depending on Beck and his progression, has the ability to cause damage against this Bills defense, and I see no reason why the Redskins' defense wouldn't be able to contain Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills offense.
Road trips in the cold are never easy, and the Bills do have big time playmakers like receiver Stevie Johnson and running back CJ Spiller, but I'll chalk this one up as a win for the Redskins.
Week 9: Nov. 6 vs. San Francisco 49ers
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Playing the San Francisco 49ers isn't necessarily an easy win, but playing at home and avoiding a cross-country trip sure does help things.
The main question regarding the 49ers is who new coach Jim Harbaugh plans to start at quarterback. Will it be former first-overall pick Alex Smith, who has had more than enough time to show the franchise that he's worthy and hasn't? Or is it the raw and talented rookie Colin Kaepernick?
If it's the rookie who gets the nod, the obvious key to a Redskins' win is to get after Kaepernick early and often. If the start goes to Smith, then the Redskins will know to approach the game with the same mindset. Smith succumbs to pressure when placed in the cooker, and hopefully, ball hawks like DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and OJ Atogwe can make the most out of Orakpo's blitzing against Smith.
It should also be noted that 49ers running back Frank Gore is currently holding out in hopes of a new contract. Although Week 9 is darn late in the season, you never know how Gore or the 49ers could be effected by contract woes.
Because the 49er's have to travel all the way across the country and play an early 1:00 p.m. game, I'll give the Redskins the benefit of the doubt. Gore is coming off serious injury, receiver Michael Crabtree has hurt himself early on this year in camp and the quarterback position is up in the air for the 49ers.
Week 10: Nov. 13 at Miami Dolphins
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The Redskins travel to South Beach in their second matchup against an AFC East opponent when they take on the Miami Dolphins, and this remains a winable game for Washington.
After choosing not to sign Vince Young or trade for Kyle Orton, the Dolphins are apparently prepared to start Chad Henne yet again this season. Running back Ronnie Brown has not yet been re-signed, and I'm not sure that he will be.
The Dolphins did add flex-runner Reggie Bush to their offense, but the Redskins defense seems to have the talent to contain him, given rookie Ryan Kerrigan transitions to the OLB position easier than most newcomers.
This game will also serve as some revenge for Redskins quarterback John Beck. Originally drafted by the Dolphins in 2007, Beck was given five games with the Dolphins before they shipped him to Baltimore to become a third-string backup.
Not to say that Beck will even be capable of revenge against his former team, but assuming he's still the starter by Week 10 and given the Redskins are playing decent football, Beck could shoot for a surprising performance in Miami.
Because each team has questionable starters at quarterback, I'd say this game could go either way. The Dolphins have offensive playmakers in Bush and receiver Brandon Marshall, while the Redskins present some playmakers of their own on the defensive side of the ball in Brian Orakpo and DeAngelo Hall.
Slight edge to the Redskins?
Week 11: Nov. 20 vs. Dallas Cowboys
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The Cowboys in Week 11 kickoff what's sure to be the Redskins' toughest stretch of schedule in 2011; unfortunately, that stretch covers the team's final seven games.
As I mentioned before, I typically split the Redskins/Cowboys series in a season regardless of talent. Sometimes the talent is lost in the rivalry and it's anyone's ball game (see: Brunell and Moss in 2005).
Being a home game, you can guarantee that FedEx Field will be jam-packed and the crowd will be rowdy, especially if the 'Skins are coming into the game with a mediocre record.
I have a feeling that injuries may play a role in this one, as I feel a few Redskins may be banged up by Week 11. I hate to assume injuries or jinx anyone, but it's a part of the game.
Hopefully at this stage, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo will realize that he's better off getting his PGA tour card and switching careers as an athlete, and the Redskins will be able to face Jon Kitna instead.
Week 12: Nov. 27 at Seattle Seahawks
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Somewhat like the Redskins, the Seahawks have undergone quite an identity change this offseason, and their 2011 production is very unpredictable.
New quarterback Tavaris Jackson has been declared the team's starter already, and he can have a little piece of mind knowing that receiver Sidney Rice is there with a big contract and ready to catch touchdowns. The duo's potential production, on the other hand, is for another debate.
Usually, with this game being later in the season and requiring the team to travel all the way to Seattle, I would chalk this up as a loss for the Redskins. However, because of the team's new look and the shakiness at quarterback (after Jackson is Matt Leinart), I'm going to assume (and wish) that the Redskins are able to squeeze out a road win.
Week 13: Dec. 4 vs. New York Jets
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They may have lost out on the Asomugha Sweepstakes, they may lose cornerback Antonio Cromartie to free agency and they look to be moving forward without Braylon Edwards, yet this New York Jets team is still a very legitimate contender in the AFC.
Currently, Cromartie has not be re-signed by the Jets, but I feel like that could happen shortly, meaning the team's cornerback unit hasn't changed all that much from last season. Would adding Asomugha have helped? Without a doubt. But the re-signing of Cromartie will still make this defense a threatening one.
On offense, the Jets' attempted rebound signing of receiver Plaxico Burress will be an interesting spectacle. As the Jets count on Burress to fill the hole once occupied by Braylon Edwards, Burress may simply be focusing on getting his life back to normal.
With lack of depth along the offensive line and the unpredictability of injuries, I would guess that the New York defense gets the best of John Beck and the Redskins offense. Getting after Beck, even a little bit, will give the Jets corners time to slice up Beck's throwing lanes and likely cause some turnovers.
As much as I'd like to say that the Redskins have a shot in this home game, I just don't believe that the team is in the position to take on AFC contenders and win. Could they make it close? Yes. Could they get lucky and pull a last-minute field goal? Maybe. But by looking at the rosters and speculating, this is a loss for the 'Skins.
Week 14: Dec. 11 vs. New England
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The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Redskins in Week 14 when the New England Patriots visit town.
Because it was such a monkey-stomping, I think I still taste the loss from 2007 when the Redskins travelled to Foxboro and received a 52-7 beatdown. Hopefully that's not the case this season.
But even if it's not a beatdown at FedEx, I don't think the Redskins are in any way favored in this game. From a talent standpoint, the Pats are better and deeper. From a coaching standpoint, Bill Belichick is one of the best in the game. And at this point late in the season, the Pats are going to be dishing out some of their best play as they make their push for the playoffs.
Perhaps one of the biggest headlines of this game will be the return of Albert Haynesworth to Washington. The Redskins traded the disgruntled defensive tackle just last week for a fifth-round pick in 2013, and he remains one of the most hated players in Redskins franchise history. With this game being played at home, you can bet the Redskins fans will have more than a little something to say when Haynesworth is on the field.
As nice as it would be to stick it to Haynesworth and pull the upset in front of a home crowd, I have to chalk this one up as a loss for the Redskins. Too much, too late.
Week 15: Dec. 18 at New York Giants
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Since I have the Redskins stealing the home opener against the Giants in Week 1, I'd be willing to predict that the Giants get the best of the Redskins at the Meadowlands.
While the Giants could be making their playoff push at this point in the season, the Redskins have the chance of doing the very same thing. And if the wishful thinking is too much for you and you believe the Redskins to be dead in the water by Week 15, then let's assume that Washington will do their best to spoil a division rival's playoff aspirations.
New York gets the best of the Redskins in this one.
Week 16: Dec. 24 vs. Minnesota Vikings
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And for Christmas this season, the Redskins invite quarterback Donovan McNabb back to Washington.
Seeing as how the Vikings were McNabb's desired destination since his clock in Philadelphia ran out, it would be no surprise to see him return to FedEx after his dismal one-year tour with the Redskins and throw all over us.
For quite some time now, the Vikings have been described as a team that is just a quarterback away from being serious contenders. Brett Favre came out of retirement to give it a whirl, and now McNabb will attempt to pull it off in the final years of his career.
As much as I love games on Christmas Eve, I think this one is going to be a little tougher to land a gift for Redskins fans. I expect both teams to be fighting off injuries this late in the season, and the game could be a costly one for a team looking to lock up a playoff spot.
The Vikings come with playmakers Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin, while the defense will continue to be a solid and effective unit, even after the loss of Ray Edwards to free agency.
This game has revenge written all over it for McNabb, as I'm sure he has this one circled on his calender. The Redskins fans will want to stick it to McNabb and serve him up a loss for Christmas, but I think McNabb gets the last laugh in Washington.
Week 17: Jan. 1 at Philadelphia Eagles
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I hate to admit that I think we'll go belly-up against the Eagles this season, but it's looking that way.
After doing so much damage in effective signings and trades, the Eagles are one of the favorites in the NFC and a likely Super Bowl contender. If the Redskins can't win one at home against the Eagles, they damn sure aren't going to steal one in Philly.
The only chance the Redskins have of winning this game is if the Eagles are already locks in the playoffs as division winners and head coach Andy Reid decides to rest his starters. But, even so, it won't be an easy game for the Redskins.
In a perfect world, the Redskins are battling for a wildcard spot in the playoffs, and the Eagles are already in. With that situation, I'd give the Redskins' starters a chance against the Eagles second- and third-string.
If the Redskins are mathematically out of the playoffs and the Eagles are fighting to get in, I would definitely give it to Philly.
And then there's the possible scenario in which both the Redskins and Eagles are vying for a playoff spot, and I'd still give the edge to Philly.