By: Brianne Dempsey
As a Redskins fan, it’s hard not to look back on the 2016 season as a bust. Going from winning the NFC East in 2015 to barely being over .500 and missing the playoffs seems like we reverted back to being the same old Redskins who disappoint year after year. So I decided to take a look at this team and see what is needed to put the Redskins over the hump to be contending for a division championship and a spot in the playoffs next year.
First – our strength of schedule. You would think that with a third place finish, next year would be significantly easier. We’ll have gone from playing all of the first place division finishers in the NFC, as well as the always competitive NFC North and AFC North division to the third place finishers and the NFC West (a fairly week division aside from the Seahawks) and the AFC West (good defenses, but so-so offenses, especially depending on the timeline for Derek Carr’s return). However, upon further analysis of next year’s opponents, seven out of the sixteen regular season games will be against 2016 playoff teams, as well as the Vikings and Broncos who may only be a few pieces away from returning to the playoffs next year. What will also be interesting about this schedule is the Redskins will be facing a few former offensive coordinators who have moved on to being head coaches (we all know Kyle Shanahan is going to San Francisco) when they face off against the Rams and 49ers.
Next I wanted to take a look at our offense. I mean, you can’t win games if you don’t put up any points. I was surprised to see when looking at the statistics for total offense that the Redskins finished third, behind the Atlanta Falcons and just ahead of the New England Patriots. I bet you’ve heard those team’s names a lot lately. I think they may be playing in some important game this Sunday. If that is an indication of where this team is on the offensive side of the ball, I think it shows the Redskins are on the right track. Now don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some changes to be made that could improve an already stable offense. As always, the Redskins could always use some beefing up on the line. Trent Williams is a monster, and well deserving of his three straight Pro Bowl appearances. But he is just one man on one side of the line. A more dominant line would help the run offense, which despite the emergence of Rob Kelley, was only 21st in the league this year. This may also translate into helping the red zone offense, which was admittedly frustrating this year. There were too many times where the Redskins abandoned the run inside the 20 yard line and defenses were able to play in coverage to shut down the pass offense. Of course the biggest question on offense for the Redskins is Kirk Cousins. Will they franchise him again, or sign him to the contract he is asking for? But that’s a topic deserving of its own article.
Finally, the area I felt the Redskins struggled the most – defense. Imagine my surprise when I found that the Redskins were 28th in total defense. I’ll give you a hint – there wasn’t any. The pass rush from the Redskins front seven this year was weak and they were 29th in the league in completion percentage against them. They were not much better with the run defense, ranked 25th in average yard per carry. The secondary was not terrible. Once they switched from zone to man so that Josh Norman was covering number one receivers each week, the defense seemed to be more efficient, especially after the embarrassment that was week one against the Steelers on Monday Night Football. Bashaud Breeland is not a bad corner, but he is definitely not a number one. If the Redskins can improve the front seven to have a more efficient rush, and if they want to keep the linebackers they have, maybe consider switching to a 4-3, they may not give up those heartbreaking fourth quarter drives which made the difference in them making the playoffs this year. Had they not lost literally in the last minute to Detroit and not gone to overtime and tied with the Bengals, they would have locked up a wild card spot by week 14. And that doesn’t not even factor in the other 2 games in which they lost by less than 6 points, which can be attributed to both the offense and defense. It will be interesting to see if the newly promoted coordinators will be able to improve this team under the continued tutelage of Jay Gruden.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, and some major unanswered questions – the biggest being who will be the starting quarterback next year, the Redskins could prove to be an interesting team next year. Or they could break my heart, again.