It wasn't pretty, but the Washington Redskins' 17-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams propelled them atop of their division with a 3-1 record heading into their bye week. Though there is no time to celebrate, there has to be some pride of the work this team has put in so far.
Expecting to rebuild, general manager Bruce Allen wheeled and dealed during the 2011 draft. Nine of Allen's 12 picks have made the team, and the remaining three are on the practice squad.
With their two division rivals losing this week, the Redskins gained percentage points on the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles, 2-2 Dallas Cowboys and the 3-1 New York Giants. Washington defeated New York already in the first week of the season.
The Redskins will prepare for the Eagles in a game two weeks from now, but they also need to use this time to work out some kinks. Critics will point to a soft schedule filled with injured opponents, but any victory attained in the NFL is truly earned.
The running game was clicking versus the Rams, something it has done several times since preseason. This time saw the Redskins' 2010 rushing leader, Ryan Torain, get his first action of the year and rush for 135 yards on just 19 attempts.
The passing game is still a work in progress. Quarterback Rex Grossman continues to turn the ball over, something that has been Washington's problem 18 straight games, and he had a series in the third quarter of the Rams game that was frustrating.
After Torain carried the Redskins about 40 yards, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan reverted to his bad habit of eschewing the run game in favor of the pass. He first had Grossman, not known for nimble feet, roll out to his left, where the quarterback quickly stumbled and began to fall to the ground untouched or without defensive pressure.
How Will The Redskins Finish The 2011 Season In The NFC East?
Grossman tried to throw across the middle of the field, but a Rams defender dropped a sure interception. Grossman looked a bit lost after that play, causing the Redskins to take a delay of game penalty. Finally getting his team ready, he signaled center Will Montgomery to snap the ball but looked over to a receiver as the ball was hiked.
Though no turnovers came on that series, this series of plays killed the drive and forced Washington to punt. These types of moments must be ironed out during the bye week, because the Redskins might not survive such events in another contest.
The defense has carried this team, a sight Redskins fans have grown accustomed to over the past many years. The 21 points they allowed in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the second week is still the most they have allowed in a contest yet.
Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are a pair of first-round draftees that have made seamless transitions from defensive end to outside linebacker. While neither are as good in pass defense as they will be in time, the youngsters are creating havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Middle linebacker London Fletcher is the leader of the defense, and Rocky McIntosh was a terror versus the Rams most of the contest. Washington's linebackers have benefited from stout play by the defensive line, as the front seven is the prime reason for their record.
The amazing part of Washington's defensive excellence is that they have done much of it without star strong safety LaRon Landry. Landry was easily the best safety in the NFL in 2010, until an injury ended his season after nine games.
Landry returned last week, after recovering from a groin injury that had kept him out since training camp, but was seen going into the locker room early in the fourth quarter against St. Louis. He did return to play later on.
Getting healthy is obviously a priority during the bye week, so it will be a nice break for some of the Redskins with nagging injuries. The other positive of having the bye week so early is getting it out of the way, which allows the team to plow forward with momentum the rest of the way.
Since the NFL implemented the bye week in 1990, seven teams have won the Super Bowl after enjoying an early break. Three more reached it after having their bye week early. The 1993 Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills had two bye weeks that season.
So this week is important for many reasons, especially since they are coming off a victory. The Redskins have had time to have their weaknesses exposed, and the roster is healthy enough to try to do something about it.
If Grossman's prediction that Washington will win the NFC East this season comes true, hammering out the kinks with be needed so they can hopefully keep winning enough games to get into the playoffs. That, as well as good health and fortuitous luck, can help the Redskins continue to shock the critics who expected them to finish last in their division this year.