This week, SB Nation is running a theme on the 32 NFL sites asking what “they” got wrong about each team. The “they” be just about anyone. As Redskins fans, we are very familiar with what folks in the “they” category say each year: it isn’t generally very complimentary.
To me, what I thought people got wrong all offseason was the general expectation of wins from the Washington Redskins. Sportsbooks lived in the 6/6.5 neighborhood before ticking up, and the “they” folks jumped all over the under. I am not one to EVER question the very good...fellas that make betting lines in this great nation of ours. Instead, I look at the 53-man roster of the Redskins and I struggle to see how folks so willingly buy into what would be a decline from the two years of progress this franchise has made.
Plenty of people hate when I go with the “two straight winning seasons for the first time in 20 years” stat—but it’s true (8-7-1 is, in fact, a winning record). Sure, losing Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson will not go unnoticed, but it’s not like we lost Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss. The players being used to compensate for that loss (Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson) have struggled to find chemistry with Kirk Cousins in the early stages of the 2017 campaign, but it’s a bit too early to raise the white flag and give up.
We’re talking about a quarterback who has thrown for damn near 10,000 yards over the last two seasons, for a team that people didn’t respect a ton WITH Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson!! Sean McVay left town, and he is a very gifted offensive mind, but Jay Gruden has been his mentor for years—going back to the AFL—and Jay Gruden was the one hired to install a potent offense in D.C. Mission accomplished!
The Redskins offensive line showed what they are capable of this past weekend, when they steamrolled the Los Angeles Rams for 229 rushing yards. With running backs to spare, and tight ends aplenty, the Redskins offense looks at least as good as it did in 2016 on some of their better days—and there is considerable room for improvement still. Seeing as we have gotten the bulk of our wins the last two seasons on the back of our offense in Washington, downgrading the Redskins in expected win total begins to look slightly illogical.
On defense, the Redskins stunk out loud at precisely the thing that will cause you to lose lots of games: third down situations. Former defensive coordinator Joe Barry (the defensive architect for the winless 2008 Detroit Lions) left the building after laying down the single worst season performance on third downs in Washington franchise history (in fact, the worst in many franchise’s histories). Addition by subtraction? Perhaps, though new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has some proving to do of his own.
The Redskins defense added cornerback Josh Norman last year, and this year get a healthy Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller to round out the top trio of cover men. Rookie Fabian Moreau has the size and skills to play now—and he is. Pro Bowl-linebacker Zach Brown was added, along with the young and talented safety D.J. Swearinger. Listen, you can say what you want about Swearinger, but he represents a material upgrade for the Redskins from their patchwork effort in 2016 to cobble together a pair of starting safeties each week. Junior Galette, a gifted pass rusher that had not played a single down for the Redskins in his two years with the team thanks to repeat Achilles injuries, is 100% healthy this season and dying to prove he can still play.
You won’t hear me invoking the ‘85 Bears here, but come on, even a casual observer can compare this year’s Washington defense with last year’s iteration and see a noticeable increase in talent and competence. Come on—it would be difficult to underperform last season’s numbers. Assuming for a moment that younger, more talented players leads to increased success, it stands to reason that the Redskins defense could contribute far more to the W column than they have over the last two (winning) seasons.
I have been accused of worse things than being a biased homer, but what about the improved 53-man roster in D.C. is causing otherwise rational people to bet against them at least contending for 0.500 status? The unique divisional opponents the Redskins will face in 2017 are the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. Last season, the Redskins took on the hardest unique divisional opponents on account of them being the defending NFC East champions. You’re telling me the Redskins won’t be given at least a puncher’s chance in those games? You’re telling me that the Giants—who may be guilty of murdering their quarterback before the season is over—are THAT much better than the Redskins?
It is one of the easiest jobs in the world for NFL pundits to look at the Washington Redskins each summer and poo-poo their chances of winning games. Yet, there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that—on the field—Washington is closer to that 0.500 team on the cusp of moving up rather than moving down.