You all remember bringing home that first report card of the year, right? It kind of set the tone for how much you were going to get away with that year and how long a leash your parents were going to give you before they yanked the hell out of it. As important as each grade in each subject was, the effort level was always the overriding factor in how my parents interpreted my grades. I think for the first quarter of this 2009 football season this approach makes the most sense. Let's get to it.
Offensive Line: B-
We knew at the end of last year that our line was an issue. The attention paid to that issue in the making of the 2009 roster was insufficient in my opinion, but I believe that where we started this season was better than where we ended last season. Unfortunately, marginal improvement on arguably the most important unit on your team is unacceptable. Yet the guys that have lined up for the first four games have played well enough to win games (especially the games that have been and continue to be on our schedule.) Our lack of a running game has at least appeared to be more a function of play-calling prowess as opposed to a perceived weakness. We are not where we need to be, but the line has held up reasonably well so far (losing Randy Thomas was simply not shocking and in the end, it gets Rinehart some much needed time.) Effort Level: B+
See the running backs get crushed by my red pen after the jump.
Running Backs: D
I think we all know Clinton Portis is playing hurt...already. Ladell Betts has looked good getting passes out of the backfield, but his running has been mediocre. I know Marcus mason gets a lot of love in these parts, but Kevin and I agree that this guy does not give us anything we don't already have. Alridge was the guy who brought some speed and agility to the backfield but his inability to hold onto the ball kept him from making the team and is now probably the main reason he continues to watch. This grade hurts to give out, but when you look around the league, you can see the difference between our running backs and other running backs. The failure on two 4th downs at the goal line is not 100% on the line. Portis could have gotten the first down against the Rams, and I wonder if a sell-out dive could gotten him to the goal line against the Lions. Far be it for me to second-guess a guy of CP's ability, but those are my thoughts there. Effort Level: C
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Four weeks in and our passing game this year looks eerily like our passing game from last year. We force it to Moss, settle for ARE, and sprinkle in the youngsters. Randle El is talented enough to be a deadly weapon for a quarterback like Brady, or Manning, or Brees. JC does find him and dump it to him, but he is an escape route guy that JC mostly finds when he is under pressure. It's not like our offense is built around or designed for his abilities in the slot (like Wes Welker in NE, or Bush/Moore in NO, or even Garcon in Indy). I feel like Devin Thomas can get in there and do a lot of damage in the slot. Malcolm Kelly is starting games but he is not targeted enough for my liking. Cooley is on his way to another Pro Bowl and Fred Davis is a model of inconsistency in the passing game (though he is in there a lot.) The Skins have put some numbers together this year through the air. We have relied on the passing game to move the chains. The Redskins are 7th in the league in passing first downs (20th in rushing first downs.) This C is a move up from where we were at the end of last season. But we need an A grade from this group if we are going to right the ship in time to make some noise in the second half of the season. Effort Level: B-
I have long contended that quarterback was not out problem. I have never denied that an upgrade at the position might net positive results, but the cost of such an upgrade was always my concern. Jason Campbell had one of his best days against the Lions, throwing for 340 yards, two touchdowns and a 97.6 QB rating. We lost. Against the Bucs, JC threw for 170 yards, three interceptions, and a 70.5 rating and we won. I don't want to over-analyze that because both games were disturbing to watch for so many reasons. But what I take away is that this team can win without a top 10 quarterback under center. What we are getting from the quarterback spot so far this season is more than we need to be a contender. Effort Level: A
Defensive Line: B-
Albert Haynesworth is doing a hell of a job out there. Brian Orakpo and Jeremy Jarmon are promising pass rushers who are getting reps and looking good. Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels look like the same guys who have not been getting to the quarterback for the last few years. Overall, this group has played well, but we still see quarterbacks camping out in the pocket week in and week out. I think we are better along this line than we have been in recent years and I am hopeful that our run defense tightens up a lot before this Sunday. But until we put more pressure on the QB, this unit is going to be a disappointment. Effort Level B
I initially had this grade at C+ but then I remembered that London Fletcher leads the NFL in tackles, with 52 (Barrett Ruud in TB is in second with 40 tackles.) This is also why I kept the defensive line in the B range since they are succeeding in occupying blockers so London can get to the ball carrier. Rocky McIntosh has half as many tackles, and though he kind of disappears at times, he has made some plays. Orakpo in coverage is kind of a debacle, but his ability to rush the passer from the LB spot is huge. Blades and Wilson have also seen the field and contributed. During the offseason, you tend to focus on Fletcher's age and it makes you worry and then you get to the season and you see this man is every bit the player you want him to be...if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl this year it will be time to change the voting process. Effort Level: A-
I think this grade is too high, but Reed Doughty has come in and saved it. He is a sure tackler and it seems Blache trusts him to be exactly where he is supposed to be on every play. Landry has looked superhuman on some plays, and then on others, he whiffs on a tackle. That kills me. DeAngelo Hall has been beaten a few times and the way teams have gone after him has scared the crap out of me--there doesn't seem to be a ton of fear in the minds of quarterbacks when it comes to D Hall, does there? Carlos Rogers is an above average cover guy, and the combo of him and Hall gives us a pretty decent corner tandem. But his catching skills continue to be terrible. Under Obama's new health care rules, he should be required to donate his hands to a kid who was born without hands--he's not using them. There are rumors of a breakdown in discipline on our defense, with guys getting themselves out of position. That is why I have them so low on Effort at this point. Effort Level: D-
Special Teams: C+
Our kicking game has been decent. Hunter the Punter has been middle of the road among league punters in yardage and kicks inside the 20. Though we may have wanted more, this is significant improvement for the Skins. Our field goal kicker "battle" seems to have yielded at least some short-term results. Shaun Suisham is 5-for-5 this year, which stands in stark contrast to his last place finish last year in field goal percentage. We could be covering punts a little better, but I have been impressed with our ability to keep teams inside the 20 on kickoffs at times. I am pleasantly surprised by our special teams this season, but I want more. They can't go from an F to a B or an A. If they keep it up, mid-term grades will be much kinder to this unit. Effort Level B
Overall (Positions) Grade: C+ (2.53 GPA)
Overall Effort Grade: B- (2.84 GPA)
P.S. My grading system is based on 1,2,3,4 for D, C, B, A respectively, and quarter points up or down for +'s and -'s.