Sunday, July 26, 2009

Evaluating the Redskins' offseason

Last season, the Washington Redskins finished 8-8 and were outscored by 31 points (296-265). Here's a quick review of what went down -- sticking to the facts.

First, the good news:

1) The defense was phenomenal, finishing sixth in points allowed per game (18.5) and fourth in yards allowed per game (288.8).

2) Clinton Portis had a solid season, rushing for 1,487 yards (fourth in the NFL) and scoring nine touchdowns.

3) The Redskins offense didn't commit many turnovers; their 18 turnovers were second-lowest in the NFC.

4) Jason Campbell had his best season as a pro. The numbers weren't spectacular -- 3,245 passing yards, 13 passing touchdowns, 258 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown -- but he only threw six interceptions, only lost one fumble, and posted the best quarterback rating of his career: 84.3 percent.

5) The same coaching staff returns for another season.

Now, the bad news:

1) For the most part, the offense was atrocious. The Redskins were 28th in points per game (16.6) and 19th in yards per game (320.0). Even the 0-16 Detroit Lions (16.8) scored more points per game than the Redskins offense. The aging and worn-down offensive line also allowed 38 sacks -- tied for 22nd in the NFL.

2) The defense forced only 18 turnovers (13 interceptions and five fumbles), which was tied for last in the NFC with San Francisco and Atlanta. Also, the Redskins defense had trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks, recording only 24 sacks (t-28th with Buffalo). So the defense regularly stopped opposing offenses in scoring and yardage totals, but it didn't force a bunch of turnovers in order to set the offense up with great field position very often.

3) The rookie receivers contributed very little. Their 2008-2009 totals: Devin Thomas (15 receptions, 120 yards, three carries, 53 rushing yards, one touchdown), Fred Davis (three receptions, 27 yards), and Malcolm Kelly (three receptions, 18 yards).

4) Punting and field goal kicking were both terrible. Kicker Shaun Suisham was last in the NFL with a 72.2 percentage on field goals. And with the two-headed monster of Durant Brooks and then Ryan Plackemeier, the Redskins finished 29th in punting average (41.0).

5) Antwaan Randle El was awful as a punt returner. In 39 attempts, Randle El had a 6.5-yard return average. If not for Santana Moss (six attempts, 124 yards, one touchdown (80-yard return against Detroit)), the Redskins' punt return average of 8.4 yards would have been lower than 22nd in the NFL.

For the most part, those were the main positives and negatives of the season. And, in yet another interesting offseason, here’s how the Redskins addressed those problem areas (in no particular order):
  • Albert Haynesworth signs for seven years, $100 million ($41 million guaranteed).

  • DeAngelo Hall re-signs for six years, $54 million ($22.5 million guaranteed).

  • Derrick Dockery returns and signs a five-year, 27 million contract ($8.5 million guaranteed).

  • Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato try to trade for Jay Cutler and then consider drafting Mark Sanchez. Neither move takes place.

  • Jason Taylor, Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs, and Jon Jansen get cut. Demetric Evans leaves and signs with San Francisco.

  • Punter Hunter Smith signs with the Redskins, along with Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn, Jeremy Bridges, and Mike Williams (all 404 pounds of him, though right now he's down to 354 pounds).

  • Defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo is the Redskins’ first-round draft pick. The other draft selections include cornerback Kevin Barnes (third round), linebacker Cody Glenn (fifth round), linebacker Robert Henson (sixth round), tight end Eddie Williams (seventh round), and wide receiver Marko Mitchell (seventh round). The Redskins decide not to pick an offensive lineman.

  • The Redskins make the only choice in the NFL supplemental draft, selecting Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon (for a 2010 third-round pick).
Reactions to the various moves, as expected, were mixed. If you're interested, here are some of them:

  • Clifton Brown: "Albert Haynesworth worth the gamble for Redskins owner Dan Snyder"

  • Peter King: "Lewis a Cowboy? Cassel a Chief? Previewing the start of free agency"
Negative:Neither (or both):
      There are way more links out there, but those were the ones I had highlighted in particular.

      Look, it's easy to bash Daniel Snyder. I don't know many, if any, Redskins fans who actually like the guy as the team's owner. But, ignoring all of that hatred, dislike, etc. for a moment, let's focus on whether or not the Redskins are better equipped to handle the 2009-2010 season.

      As of this moment, the Redskins appear to be content with their group of players and are ready to head to training camp on July 30.

      Earlier I recapped some of the problem areas, so let's summarize the team's weaknesses that needed to be addressed: 1) scoring more points and getting more production from receivers not named Santana Moss and Chris Cooley; 2) defensive line (creating pressure and turnovers; getting sacks); 3) offensive line depth (preventing sacks and opening holes); 4) better punting and field goal kicking; 5) depth at linebacker and in the secondary; and 6) a better punt return average.

      First, the Redskins didn't sign or draft any big name running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, or quarterbacks. Snyder and Cerrato tried to make a splash by going after Jay Cutler and then Mark Sanchez in the draft, but neither move ever materialized. Jason Campbell will be counted on to improve significantly now that he's in his second year in Jim Zorn's offensive system. The offense will be counting on the same group of offensive playmakers besides Campbell: Portis, Moss, Cooley, Randle El, and Ladell Betts. Thomas, Kelly, or Davis will probably need to step up and be reliable for opposing defenses to stop double-teaming Moss and Cooley on obvious passing downs.

      Second, the defensive line was definitely upgraded and may be the team's deepest position. Haynesworth and Cornelius Griffin will start at defensive tackle and will be backed up by the solid duo of Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery. Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels will probably start at defensive end. The backups there could include Renaldo Wynn, Rob Jackson, Brian Orakpo, and Chris Wilson. Orakpo may play mostly at linebacker, but his role isn't really known at this point. Jarmon, selected in the supplemental draft, may not see the field much this season, depending on injuries. The versatile Lorenzo Alexander could also see some playing time. With the powerful Haynesworth now anchoring the line and giving a strong push up the middle, the Redskins should be able to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

      Third, the offensive line didn't get younger, but it was upgraded. Dockery is a better option than Pete Kendall at guard, and Stephon Heyer, Jeremy Bridges, or Mike Williams appear to be better options than the recently departed Jon Jansen. As usual, if the Redskins are forced to weather a few injuries on the line, Jason Campbell (and Joe Bugel) will have his hands full.

      Fourth, the Redskins addressed the punting situation by signing Hunter Smith away from the Colts. Last season, Smith was 12th in the NFL with a 44.2-yard average. If he's able to duplicate those numbers, that will be a three-yard increase per punt over what Redskins' punters did last season. Suisham, unfortunately, may return at kicker, but he'll have to beat out Dave Rayner for the job in training camp. Neither is a particularly reliable option, though.

      Fifth, linebacker still appears to be a little thin. London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh will start, and H.B. Blades may be the third starting linebacker. Orakpo could also see lots of playing time. Other options, right now, include Alfred Fincher, Robert Thomas, Glenn, and Henson. With LaRon Landry, Chris Horton, Kareem Moore, and Reed Doughty, safety is a pretty deep position, but the battle for the dime cornerback position behind Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall, and Fred Smoot will likely come down to rookie Kevin Barnes and Justin Tryon. The hard-hitting Barnes will probably win that battle.

      And sixth, Randle El should not be allowed to return punts this season. I'd prefer that Moss didn't handle the job more than a few times during the season to keep him healthy, so it may make sense to give Hall a shot. In 13 career punt return attempts, Hall has managed 123 yards -- good enough for a 9.4-yard average. At this point in his career, Randle El can't do that.

      The worst thing that the Redskins failed to do in the offseason is add some youth to the offensive line. Injuries frequently occur, and it doesn't seem like the Redskins will be able to take much of a hit on the offensive line and be able to stay effective for the rest of the season. Linebacker depth could still be a concern as well, but Orakpo could also succeed in whatever role defensive coordinator Greg Blatche places him in.

      Anyway, judge the offseason for yourself. Did the Redskins really get better?

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