Out of all the stats someone could look at, the one that stands out the most is 3-1 the Redskins record. It is also a great stat because it shows how stats can be misleading or the impact of sample size. Now before I'm accused of being a naysayer and not drinking the Kool-aid, that is not the purpose of this post. At the end of the year wins are all that count towards determining a playoff spot, but things like stats, level of competition etc. can show both the likelihood of that occurring and the chances for sustained success.
There is no denying that Rex Grossman isn't booking his flight to Hawaii this February, and it is quite clear that he is a below average to average quarterback at best. Despite that and any other negative issues one could point out, Grossman has helped the Redskins in the intangible department. The passing yards, deep passing, and ball security issues are all real, but he has stepped up. Grossman ranks 10th in the league in 1st down %, which shows that he is making good decisions and keeping the Redskins offense moving (this has gone down the last two weeks). He has also saved the Redskins in sacks allowed. Now I realize that seems weird considering how much has been made about his lack of athletic ability, but it is true. Grossman is the 7th most pressured quarterback in the league, as he is under duress 37.7% of his dropbacks. Despite being constantly under pressure, Grossman ranks 23rd lowest (the lower the better) in sack percentage. Which is a pretty good indicator that Grossman is doing a good job at releasing the ball before taking the sack.
Tim Hightower- It's been a mixed bag for Hightower overall. Rushing he's found little room on the ground and hasn't been too effective. On passing downs though he has been one of the Redskins best options though. Of his 106 passing downs the Redskins have asked him to stay in to block 36 times which is among the league leaders. For the most part he has been a wall back there, stonewalling a number of blitzers and helping out linemen with their man. He's also been effective catching the ball as well representing a nice safety valve.
Ryan Torain- Torain had a really good game against the Rams, though they are the leagues worst rush defense. For him to continue to have a good role, he will need to show consistency, as well as some ability to pass block.
Roy Helu- Helu has looked really good in limited action these last three games, and definitely looks to be a key component to this team. He's been the Redskins most explosive player running and receiving so far, and in limited work has looked to be a decent blocker.
Overall: While much is made by the Redskins rushing yardage total which ranks 6th in the league, the fact that their yards per attempt ranks 19th is pretty troubling. The Redskins won't be able to sustain their offense, unless the ground game becomes a real threat. While Torain can help in this department, the real key will be the improvement of the run blocking, which thus far has been their biggest weakness.
Now this is an area where the Redskins can be proud. Right now their defense is the 3rd ranked scoring defense in the league. Even when you factor in level of competition, this is probably a top 7-10 unit. They are holding opposing quarterbacks to a 54% completion rate, and a paltry 6.7 yards per attempt. Washington's 15 sacks are tied for the league lead, and are over half the total (29) of last season.
There are two areas where the defense needs to particularly work on; one eliminating big plays, and two, consistency versus the rush. The Redskins have given up their fair share of big plays this year (top 15 in allowing plays of 20 or more yards), and it has allowed teams to hang around. Overall the Redskins have done well to hold offenses to so few points, but in reality they should do even better. If Washington cuts down on these big plays, this defense could be really special. The other area of concern is consistency against the run. The Redskins have given up the 6th fewest yards on the ground, but they've also had the 2nd fewest attempts. On a per carry basis the Redskins rank 21st in the league, and have gotten caught out of position on more than a few plays. If the Redskins don't do a better job, opponents will start focusing on the run more early, and that could change the tide of these games. Also by not being better against the run, it becomes very troubling if the Redskins are ever down late in the game and need to prevent a team from eating clock.
The Redskins are running well right now, and could get better with LaRon Landry fully back and Phillip Buchanon taking over nickle duties. Both Reed Doughty and Kevin Barnes have struggled this season so getting fully healthy is key, to keeping this defense improving as the competition does. The defense though isn't the main concern, as right now it looks good enough to keep Washington in every game this season. The real issue is will the offense do enough, to make sure the majority of those games are wins. The lack of a top offensive line will be an issue, as there aren't the playmakers at the skill positions to make up for their weakness. Regardless of how the remaining 12 games go, the Redskins sit atop the division today and are in the best position they have been in for years.
Steve Shoup has been a Redskins fan his entire life and dreams of the day they get back to the glory days of his youth. In addition to his regular piece on Hogs Haven, you can find his daily writings at Fanspeak.com.