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Can the Skins Still Win the NFC East? Part I: They Still Have a Chance

In the words of Modest Mouse, are the ‘Skins dead or are they sleeping? On Sunday afternoon the Redskins lost to the Eagles 20-13 and lost a chance to be the lead driver in the race for NFC East Crown. Now, many wonder whether the Redskins performance was a foreshadowing of the remaining eleven games.  This is the first of a two part piece on whether our hometown heart breakers still have a chance to capture the NFC East for the first time since 1999.

Why the Redskins Can Still Win the NFC East

NFC Beast this year has been the NFC Weak.

The NFC East is not as strong as it typically is.  The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys have a combined 5-7 record against out of division opponents.  That batch includes San Francisco, Detroit, New England, St. Louis, Atlanta, Buffalo, Seattle, and Arizona.  The Redskins have some tough games ahead of them, but the apparent weaknesses of the NFC East teams seems to suggest that unless the Skins go on a stretch of 4 or 5 straight losses, they’ve got a chance to be in it in the end.

Skins Don’t Need a Hero at QB, They Just Can’t Have a Traitor.

The Redskins do not need their QB (Rex or Beck, or collectively Reck…hahaha notice there’s not a W between them?  Ha, just kidding. Kind of.) to win games as often as they need them to not lose them.  This is because up until this past game against Philadelphia, Washington has had a decent run game, averaging 4.0 yards a carry.  With the loss of starting LG Kory Lichtensteiger for the year and the possible loss of starting LT Trent Williams for a couple of weeks, the 4.0 days may be over.  Still, the fact remains, if the Redskins don’t give the Eagles four turnovers on Sunday, the Skins probably win that game.  Part of that is because  the D, which will address in my next point.

Spelling W-I-N with a capital D.

Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett’s Defense gives the Skins a chance to be in every game this season.  The Skins are allowing only 16.6 points per game through five games.  Heck, they held the Eagles remarkably well in the second half of Sunday’s game.  How many points would you expect the dynamic Eagles offense to put up if you knew that they would have four bonus shots due to interceptions?  As much as the Redskins were dominated throughout the game, they still had a chance to win it in the 4th Quarter.  If the Redskins defense continues its course, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (and Rex Grossman/John Beck) should be able to manage the modest achievement of two touchdowns and a field goal a game.

There are plenty of other reasons why the Skins can win the NFC East, one of them being blatantly obvious- they are 3-2 and only one game back from the Giants.

Your Thoughts

What do you think?  Do you think the Redskins can and will win the NFC East, or were the Redskins revealed in their game against the Eagles as a pretender?


New Coverage Poll

Hi everyone! Mark here. We’re going to talk about this a little on the next podcast, but there is going to be a change coming to Washington Sportsjam. Please let us know what direction you’d like it take!


Why the Skins Should Switch Back to the 4-3

As the season starts to slip away many are wondering if the Redskins should have stayed in their 4-3 defense.  If they need to make major roster moves to make the 3-4 work. If they should switch back to the 4-3 this offseason. The answer to all these questions is yes they should and here’s why.

The 3-4 scheme is not necessary to suceed in this league or to fit Haslett’s playbook.
There are a few out there who think that 3-4 is the way of the future. This is not necessarily true. Of the top 10 NFL defenses in points allowed five are 3-4 and five are 4-3 schemes. You can be sucessful in this league with either scheme.

There are others who have the misception that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is a 3-4 coach. This is not true.  In his stints as defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and St. Louis he has run both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. In fact, he ran a 4-3 at his last stop at St. Louis.

The 3-4 is failing
The Redskins are curently 23rd in points allowed and last in yards allowed. Injuries or not that is unacceptable. It is true that the defense as already caused more than twice as many turnovers this than last year. However if offenses can move the ball at will improved turnover differential means nothing unless you force a to every other possession.

There are those that say it will take a few years to get the players for the 3-4 scheme and for the unit to get comfortable in it. Why bother? The pieces were already in place for a 4-3 defense to be a top ten unit last year. Which brings me to my next point…

There are more holes to fill in a 3-4 scheme

There are plenty of personnel needs on this team already. The offense obviously needs a lot of help. Regardless of scheme a starting second corner and a starting free safety have to be found for this secondary to be effective against all an opponents receivers. The problem is in 3-4 scheme the Skins need a nose tackle, a 3-4 end to play opposite of Adam Carriker, and a starting linebacker who can shut down the opposing team TEs. In a 4-3 the skins already have three solid starting linebackers in Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher, and RockyMcIntosh. Nose Tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu becomes a DT with less responsibilty. Carriker moves inside to the other DT position. Andre Carter moves back to DE and becomes a force again. Now all the Skins need to find is an end to play opposite Carter. And they already have a few options – Philip Daniels if he returns for another year, Chris Wilson has shown some promise at end as well. They would also have much better depth at 4-3 defensive tackle than they have at 3-4 nose tackle. Kedrick Golston is a competent backup who could even compete for a starting job. Vonnie Holliday is a decent backup as well. Right now the Skins have no good option if Kemoeatu gets injured.

If the Redskins stay in the 3-4 defense they are going to be at least two seasons away from being a dominating defense. If they switch back to 4-3 they are just one good offseason away. Let’s hope that Shanahan can swallow his pride and make the right call when this season is done.


A Lionshare Share of Blame to go Around

In week 8 the Redskins dropped their second consecutive game to the terrible Lions. Redskins fans will recall that last year the Skins gave the Lions their first win after 19 straight losses. This year the Lions came in a little better  — at 1-5 for the year but only 1-9 over the previous ten games.

There were many people, including local sportswriters,Matt on the last podcast, and the Redskins themselves thought that this game would show the difference between this year’s team and last year’s.  This time the Redskins weren’t going to play down to the competition. This year they were going to beat a team they should beat decisively. They weren’t going to commit stupid penalties, weren’t going to give up big plays on D, and the offense was finally going to start clicking.

Well, it ended up being deja vu all over again. The Redskins once again couldn’t protect the ball, didn’t commit to the run, and made penalties in crucial situations. Yet again their defense played well enough to keep them in the game but couldn’t win the game for them. Special teams almost did, but a penalty negated one of the two return TDs. This year’s Redskins aren’t looking that much different from last year’s Redskins.

Two years ago after the Jim Zorn slide began, I wrote an article instructing which Redskins player and personnel I thought should be let go. I don’t feel quite as strongly this year, but some heads should roll over some of the poor play and decisions that have taken place this year. So here’s who should be replaced if an upgrade comes along.

Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan

How long to we have to wait for the younger Shanahan’s system to work? In the 8th game of the season it looked worse than ever. Kyle Shanahan seems incapable of adapting his system to the players instead insisting the players adapt to his system. Which could work if the O-line wasn’t terrible.

Kyle has stated that in this offense you set up the run by getting in a rhythm with the pass. That is never going to happen behind in this offense. The line doesn’t protect well enough and the receivers aren’t sure-handed enough. Another flaw of the Shanahan’s’ systems is the pass reads. Apparently, QB Donovan Mcnabb is supposed to read the deep routes first, then the middle, and then the shallow routes last. In a more traditional West Coast offense it would be the opposite.  Reading routes this way sets up more big plays but gives the QB less time to complete an accurate pass.

No one knows for sure if the 2-pt conversions and the benching of McNabb were Kyle’s decisions, his Dad’s, or a combination. However your go-to-guy on a conversion can’t be Fred Davis. Oh, and if your QB doesn’t know your 2-minute offense you’re  a terrible OC.

The whole Offensive Line except Trent Williams

The offensive line is atrocious and getting worse, more injured, and older every day. They gave up a season high seven sacks against the Lions and only averaged 2.3 yds per rush by running backs. Trent Williams is the only player on the line who’s going to get any better but he’s going to have a hard time surrounded by this “talent”.

Safety Reed Doughty

Doughty had huge penalty that may have altered the game. During a Brandon Banks return TD, he was called for an illegal block in the back. Whether or not Banks could have made the run without the block is debatable. However, you never block a man when his back is to you and a professional football player should know that. Doughty hasn’t played well all year on D and has been a liability in both the run and the passing game. If he’s going to start making stupid penalties on Special Teams there’s no place for him on the team.

Bruce Allen GM

Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan’s offseason moves resulted in a major overhaul of this team. Yet the team seems to be stuck between trying to win now and a rebuilding phase. The offensive line they put together is terrible and not going to improve. While the Ravens, Jets, and Bengals were putting together stacked receiving cores Allen was only able to get the Skins Joey Galloway. Brandon Banks and Anthony Armstrong are nice pickups, if you’re rebuilding. They’re not legitimate receiving threats yet.

The most egregious though was the McNabb trade. After  the trade for McNabb they did not sign him to an extension right away. Now, after he was benched for Rex Grossman, they may not be able to re-sign him even if they want to. If he decides to go elsewhere  they’ll be forced use a high draft pick on a QB and start building the team around the new guy.

I don’t see how the Skins can put together a playoff contender next year without some major moves. Right now it looks like a lot of the “win-now” guys will be scrapped for younger potential.

Head Coach Mike Shanahan

This is a little drastic I admit. I don’t think the Skins should cut Shanny loose after just one season. But, if Bill Cowher or another coach with similar credentials is looking for a job you have to question whether Shanahan is right for DC and this team.

Shanahan was in on the personnel moves. He could have told Allen to get him a younger, healthier, and better offensive line but let the GM go out and sign a number of questionable veterans. There are rumours that he has been treating this year as a rehearsal for McNabb before decided whether or not to offer him a serious contract.  He brought  in his son, who doesn’t appear to be able to call an effective offense with players he had a huge part in picking. He decided not to dress a healthy Derrick Dockery and Chad Simpson despite injuries to the running back core and o-line. The decision to go for 2 and to bench McNabb ultimately came down to him.

Maybe Shanahan was trying to prove he’s the boss. Maybe he was trying to light a fire under unproductive players. Maybe that was his motive for benching McNabb and not dressing Dockery. In hindsight he picked a terrible time to prove a point.

I hope this loss served as a wake-up call to the Shanahans, Bruce Allen, the O-line, and Reed Doughty. Because if they want to be successful in Washington they still have a lot to prove. And they can’t prove it if they’re not around.


NFC East 2010 Predictions – Mark’s Pick

The NFC East is more unpredictable than it has been in years. The Redskins have a new premier QB and a new HOF-caliber coach but will that be enough to improve the team right away? Can the Giants defense regain its form as one of the best defenses in the league? Will the Cowboys offensive line stay healthy enough for them to dominate? Will the youth movement in Philadelphia succeed this year or do the young ones need a little more seasoning?

I have a few theories on the answers to those questions and that has largely shaped my predictions. However, I can very easily seeing things going the opposite way as well. So without further ado, let us move on to the predictions.

1st Place – Dallas Cowboys 10-6

Once again the Cowboys are the most talented team in the division, at least on paper. They have a Pro Bowl QB, a trio of talented running backs, multiple passing weapons, and a fearsome pass rush. There are issues with an old and beat up offensive line, an unproven kicker, and a weak secondary. I think all of those will come back to bite the Cowboys…in the early playoff rounds. Their high-powered offense should win them enough regular season games to take the division.

2nd Place – New York Giants 8-8

This prediction is more based on the Giants tough schedule. They have games at Indy, Houston, Minnesota, and Green Bay. Those are teams they may be able to beat at home but look to be tough matchups on the road. The Giants D has gotten healthier and their performance should improve over last year, but do not expect them to regain their Super Bowl form. They no longer have the talent or the coaching. The Giants disappointing run game could also cost them a few games as it is hard to protect a lead if you cannot run.

3rd Place – Washington Redskins 7-9

The McNabb-Shanahan era has started. While it seems inevitable to be better than the Zorn-Campbell era it is not going to be an overnight success. The offensive line had a major overhaul this offseason and may take a while to gel. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams may end up being a star but right now is still a green LT that elite pass rushers can expose. The wide receiving core is full of good storylines but not much actual talent. Finally, the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense will not happen overnight either. Starting safety Kareem Moore will miss a good chunk of the regular season, Albert Haynesworth does not appear to have bought into the program entirely still, and Andre Carter is having some trouble adjusting from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Next year, I can see this team being a favorite to win the division, this year there is just too much change going on at once.

4th Place – Philadelphia Eagles 4-12

The Eagles organization may think otherwise but I do not see a team jettisoning their starting QB and RB and making the playoffs the same year. McNabb and Westbrook may be a touch on the old side and injury-prone but they were also two of the best offensive players the Eagles have ever had. For all the promise LeSean McCoy and Kevin Kolb have, they have proven very little so far. Once opposing defenses get more tape on them they will find that big plays do not come as easy. And if either one of them gets injured there is no decent backup now.  The Eagles bolstered a top 15 defense through the draft but did not add any notable veterans. In a few years this should be a good team, but right now they are mostly raw potential. I see them losing a lot of games because of inexperience this year.

So those are my picks for this year. But before you start any flaming comments let me reiterate that I could be very wrong on nearly every team. The Cowboys offense could continue rolling and finish with more than 12 wins or the offensive line could fall apart early and they could struggle to make .500. The New York Giants could become a dominating defense again and take the division. The Redskins may actually win now, especially if Clinton Portis, Donovan McNabb, and Albert Haynesworth feel like they have to prove themselves every game. The Eagles young ones could come out like a house on fire and perform right away. Like I said the NFC East is more unpredictable than ever. It should be fun year.