Five Keys to the Washington Redskins Success This Season

Tom NataliCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2011

Five Keys to the Washington Redskins Success This Season

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    Going into the 2011-2012 NFL campaign, the Washington Redskins future looked dull. There were questions at almost every position prior to this offseason and many skeptics (including myself) expected the worst. Admittedly, I previously claimed that I should reserve an Andrew Luck rookie jersey for next year. 

    After three stellar performances in the preseason, do I think this team is going to make a run at the NFC East title? No, but an overall improvement of last season should be at least the minimum. By looking at this simplistically, what has impressed me the most thus far is the effort I am seeing on the football field. All the way from the clear-cut starters, to players trying to make a name for themselves.

    Please note that it is unrealistic to predict an outcome of a season after preseason play, (just ask the Colts poor preseason record), but I can’t help but notice the exertion shown from every player. The defense has a tenacity that it lacked last year, receivers are blocking downfield and running backs are fighting for that extra inch. 

    Redskins players and officials no longer have to answer any questions regarding Albert Haynesworth or Donovan McNabb. They don’t have a former bingo operator calling plays on offense and Jason Taylor hasn’t been brought in to be the team’s premier pass rusher.   

    While I would be astonished if the Skins were to make a playoff run this season, my opinion of their record has changed and now foresee a higher win total in comparison to last year, as well as complete all 16 games without outlandish off the field distractions fully emasculating the team’s common goal. 

    I have put together five imperative keys to the Washington Redskins success this season, barring one exception: the quarterback. The John Beck and Rex Grossman position battle will most likely be played throughout the season and their situation is obvious.

    The keys listed below can easily determine the outcome of the season and if performed effectively, we may be in for a surprise.  

The Dominance of LaRon Landry

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    Before LaRon Landry’s injury last season, it can be argued that he was playing at an All-Pro level. LaRon always had the physical tools of a safety, but was never properly positioned until Jim Haslett arrived in Washington. The defensive coordinator put him back at his natural position of strong safety, in which he thrived.

    Last season’s defense was an embarrassment and I expect major improvements to be made, but for the Redskins to have a great defense, it will need to be carried out by Landry. All the great defenses in the NFL have an intimidating presence that will hit you in the mouth while thoroughly enjoying it. 

    Think of Ray Lewis of the Ravens, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers, and Clay Matthews of the Packers. All of those players are exceptional, but they are also feared. I believe Landry has that menacing mentality where receivers and quarterbacks will think twice in what has become a pass happy league.

The Maturation of Trent Williams

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    When Trent Williams was selected fourth overall in the 2010 draft, it filled a need that has been a major weakness of the Washington Redskins for many years. Trent was immediately penciled in as the starting left tackle and certainly suffered some growing pains. 

    While many analysts and fans were critical of his play, it should be taken into consideration that week after week Williams was going against some of the best veteran pass rushers in the league, so his struggles I conclude to be acceptable. (DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, Trent Cole, Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney just to name a few)

    The left tackle position is the most crucial of the offensive line, as their job relies on protecting the blindside of the quarterback (Assuming that the QB is right-handed) and playing left tackle in the NFC East demands greatness. Trent Williams can be a solid offensive lineman, but when he will have to face the pass rushers of the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants twice a year, he has to become a standout player. 

    Kyle Shanahan’s offense has proven that receivers can get open on a consistent basis. If Trent can mature in his second season and give John Beck or Rex Grossman time, then I am hopeful for a well balanced offensive arsenal.

Graham Gano Becomes Consistent

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    Graham Gano is vital to the team’s success? I say absolutely. While a kicker has been a laughable position over the years, I want Redskins fans to think about every game lost over the last 10 years, and I want you to remember how many of them were close. 

    It can be argued that the Skins have been a good kicker away from countless victories and Graham Gano surely didn’t help that cause last year.

    Despite Gano’s inefficiencies last year, Mike Shanahan has a lot of faith in him for reasons I have yet to discover. That all being said, I can guarantee that there are going to be many games this year that will be decidedly close and this will be a make or break year for Graham. 

    Getting in the end zone has already become an issue for the offense, so I expect him to be tested frequently.

Develop a Consistent Running Game

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    In what has been the surprise of the preseason; Tim Hightower and Roy Helu have exceeded expectations, while breaking off runs against some of the best defenses in the NFL. When Hightower was initially acquired, I assumed he would become the team’s third-down running back while Ryan Torain was the starter.

    Since then, Hightower has shown a spark in the running game that Redskins fans haven’t seen in a long time. Additionally, he is a good pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield. What concerns me about Hightower is that he has never been a feature back before, averaging just above nine carries a game over three years (NFL.com), so I am indifferent if Tim can handle a heavy workload throughout a full season.

    Roy Helu and Ryan Torain will be used as well this season. Helu is a change-of-pace back who has shown the ability to break off a long run at anytime. Torain’s injury concerns are a given, but when healthy he has shown his talent in this offense. Even though Mike Shanahan’s tenure in Washington has unquestionably been controversial, he still can find running backs that nobody else can.

    Why the running game will be vital for this team’s success is due to the quarterbacks. Regardless of the impressive performances of Rex Grossman and John Beck thus far, the team still has two marginal quarterbacks entering in the regular season and what is a marginal quarterback’s best friend?  A running game.

    While I believe the NFL is evolving into a pass-first league, having a dependable running game will manage the game and open up the field for play-action passes.

The Defense Causes Turnovers

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    The Washington Redskins started last year on a good start due in large to the amount of turnovers that the defense was producing. Turnovers change games and the Redskins have one of the best at this in DeAngelo Hall. 

    With the arrival of Ryan Kerrigan coming to the aid of Brian Orakpo, I expect an improved pass rush, which then gives the rest of the defense the ability to make a play on a poorly thrown ball. 

    This was one of the reasons why Mike Shanahan wanted the change from 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4. He wanted a deceptive, attacking style defense that can change the outcome of a game on one play. Last year was a struggle, players were adjusting to new positions and most of the personnel were better suited for the previous defensive scheme.

    There seems to be a better understanding of the defense this year and new players have been brought in whose skill set is conducive to Jim Haslett’s style of play. I envision a substantial difference of play on the defensive side of the ball.