NFL Preview: The Washington Redskins

Hail to the Redskins!  Hail victory!  Braves on the warpath!  Fight for old DC!

A classic fight song, one near and dear to the DC faithful.  Of course, the reality is that last year the Skins had four occasions to belt these famous lyrics;  the team was a laughingstock for much of the year, finishing 4-12 and considering it an upgrade to hire Sherm Lewis to call plays instead of bingo numbers.  To make things worse, the team lost their final three games, home blowouts against the Cowboys and Giants and a humiliating loss to the Chargers’ back-ups.  Needless to say, the Redskins were positively dreadful last year.

But hope springs eternal.

The Skins have a new QB, a new coaching staff, a new defensive scheme and a new identity.  Nobody can say just how many wins that will equal, but I have a strong feeling it will be more than four.  So, without further ado, a breakdown of the reborn Washington Redskins.

Strengths

The biggest upgrade was the firing of Jim Zorn, who was simply horrible as a head coach in DC.  Adding the two time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan was merely icing on the coaching cake.  Shanahan will most definitely produce a decent running game, something he has done throughout his entire career.  Furthermore, he is an expert at juggling multiple running backs, and with Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker loading the backfield, that expertise will be necessary.  His discipline, play calling and credibility will likely improve the Redskins by at least a couple games.

The addition of Donovan McNabb is also a plus.  I have been a critic of McNabb recently, but the fact is that the Redskins finally have a quarterback who is not despised by the entire fan base.  At least McNabb is viewed as a hero in DC, not a loser like Jason Campbell was.

Finally, the Redskins added Trent Williams, Derrick Dockery and Jamaal Brown, all of whom should help shore up an awful offensive line.  The line will not be fantastic, but I think it will be better.  And with an injury prone McNabb under center, that makes a huge difference.

Weaknesses

For starters, there’s McNabb.  Expectations are running high for him, and if he underperforms early, the sharks will start to circle him.  McNabb is not a guy who handles criticism well;  if the fans turn on him, it could seriously affect his confidence.

That is assuming he stays upright.  The Redskins offensive line will be decent, but it is not the caliber of the Eagles front five he succeeded behind over the past few years.  McNabb has played 16 games once over the past five years, and with Rex Grossman (shriek) as his backup, Washington will be toast if McNabb gets injured.  All I’m saying is that the offensive line needs to protect McNabb, otherwise the Skins will not even sniff the postseason.

As if that weren’t enough concern, the Redskins receiving corps is down right dreadful.  After throwing to superstar DeSean Jackson, quick silver Jeremy Maclin and sticky-handed Brent Celek last season (194 total receptions), McNabb will be horrified to find his top targets are Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Devin Thomas (124 combined receptions).  Honestly, the concern isn’t so much McNabb staying upright as it is McNabb finding an open receiver.

Finally, there’s the defense, which has to significantly improve if the Redskins hope to contend for the playoffs.  The unit is transitioning to a 3-4 formation, a shift that could yield great results or poor ones.  The defense could be good in a couple years, but I’m not sure if a new system will reap the benefits the Redskins need to contend.

Overall

The Redskins seem to be on the right track.  They are improving the offensive line, implementing a new coaching regime and putting a cease-fire on stupid front office moves (I’m not condemning the McNabb trade until I can prove I’m right).  But the bottom line is that McNabb is injury prone, past his prime and too unreliable.  The bottom line is that the Redskins offensive line needs to implement four new members.  The bottom line is that the defense is in the middle of a challenging transition.  The bottom line is that the Redskins receivers stable is so bare that McNabb would be best off running the ball himself (and getting injured).

The Redskins will be better.  An improved offensive line, an improved coaching staff and a less despised quarterback should make them three or four wins better.  But I simply cannot predict the Redskins to sniff the division title, nor can I pick them to make the postseason.  Next year, and a playoff berth, are coming for Washington.  But for this year, they will have to be happy with an average 8-8 season.  It’s a lot better than the pathetic 4-12 effort from last year’s model.  And so, we’ll hear that stirring, triumphant chant a few more times.

Hail to the Redskins!  Hail victory!  Braves on the warpath!  Fight for old DC!

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