Four games are in the books, and the Washington Redskins have reached their bye week. The jury still is out on this team as three-quarters of the season remains. But we’ll take this time to evaluate the team at its current state. Today features a look at the offense, Thursday will feature the defense and Friday special teams.
The Redskins this season have made improvements on the offensive side of the ball, but still experience some of the struggles that plagued them in 2010.
Through four games, Washington ranks 15th in the league in total offense, averaging 356 yards a game (229.3 passing, 126.8 rushing) and 21st overall in scoring, averaging 20.8 points per game.
The 126.8 rushing yards a game rank sixth in the NFL and third in the NFC. But Washington ranks 20th in the league and 10th in the conference in passing yards per game.
A year after ranking 29th in the NFL on third downs (29.3 percent success rate), the Redskins now are tied for 15th in the league at 37.1 percent.
Washington remains far from automatic in the red zone, however, and has managed to come away with touchdowns only 46.7 percent of the time. But they’re moreso middle of the pack (ranking 17th) rather than among the league’s worst. This is an area that Coach Mike Shanahan and his players continue to express confidence that as the season progresses, improvement will come.
> Jabar Gaffney — The free agent addition of of this veteran wide receiver was a very good move. Gaffney has has fit right in, recording 17 catches for 238 yards and a touchdown, and last week was Rex Grossman’s go-to guy on third downs.
> F red Davis — The tight end has gotten off to a strong start – especially in the first two games of the season – and leads the team with 248 receiving yards.
> Running back depth – Tim Hightower was the workhorse in Week 1, and Roy Helu in Week 2 proved himself as a spark plug/change-of-pace back. Then, with Hightower struggling in Week 4, Ryan Torain came in and produced a monster game.
Areas of concern:
> Grossman’s ball security – The quarterback has turned the ball over seven times (five interceptions, two fumbles) in four games, and admittedly has to do a better job both of protecting the ball and recognizing coverage.
> Inconsistency – The offense has yet to put together a complete game. They’ll do well in one aspect, but struggle in another. Or they’ll move the ball for a while, then the drive will stall. The unit will look good for one drive, then totally lose momentum the next time out.
> Cooley’s inactivity – He’s been on the field, but hasn’t had his number called much. He missed all of the preseason with a knee injury, but says he feels good now. But the last two games, he has served as fullback with Darrel Young injured, and hasn’t gotten the opportunity to run many pass routes. Cooley’s too talented not to use. Will he get his chance when Young returns to the lineup?
What we know so far:
The Redskins have the capability of being a good offensive team, boasting depth at wide receiver, tight end and running back, and the offensive line is improving gradually. Grossman is who we thought he was: a quarterback that can light it up if he plays within the system, but also a quarterback that can have some bad, turnover-filled outings if he isn’t disciplined.
Mike Shanahan & Co. know they aren’t where they want to be, and hope that they can steadily improve and peak late in the season. There are signs here and there that suggest that improvement is possible.
So much of the Redskins’ success hinges on the offensive line, which remains a work in progress both in pass protection and run blocking. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster said that he sees growth in his unit each game, and last week while looking at film of the offensive line versus St. Louis in 2010 and then comparing that with how they played this past Sunday, Foerster noticed tremendous improvement. Continuity and an attention to detail is key, the line coach said. Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery and Jammal Brown all say they feel more comfortable in their second season in the zone blocking scheme, and Chris Chester, who is in his first year in the system, said the techniques are beginning to come more naturally for him. Foerster said correcting little technical aspects will go a long way toward making this offense run like a well-oiled machine. He cited a play last Sunday where Chester was asked to take off, get past the defensive lineman in front of him, then get to the next level and block the linebacker. Chester during the first three weeks, kept hitting that defensive lineman with his forearm and would get caught, or held up and thus couldn’t get to the next level. On Sunday, he finally comfortably applied the technique Foerster had been preaching – jabbing that lineman with his hand (and snagging him enough for Montgomery to get over to him to make the block) and at the same time was able to get clear of that lineman and freely moved onto the linebacker. “It’s little things like that are a huge difference,” Foerster said.
That’s just one example, but continuing to hone techniques like that will ensure that the Redskins continue to improve, particularly in the running game.
It’ll be interesting to see how the running back position continues to shake out. Hightower seemed like a hard runner, and in the preseason ripped off several big runs, but Torain appeared much more explosive, and more fluid. All three running backs can help the Redskins in different ways, and Shanahan has said he’ll go with the hot back.
Cooley’s involvement in the passing game could increase with the recovery of Young. With him nursing a hamstring injury, Washington has used Cooley as the fullback, and although he and Davis are on the field at the same time, it doesn’t create the matchup problems as did the two-tight end sets that had both guys running routes against the Giants and Cardinals. Ultimately, both big targets should be able to help cure the red zone struggles.
Moss, Gaffney and a healthy Armstrong remain a solid receiving trio, and rookie Niles Paul saw an increased number of snaps, but hasn’t been targeted.
As mentioned before, Shanahan needs his players to improve week by week and build momentum down the stretch of the season. The last five games feature the Jets, Patriots, Giants and Eagles.
We’ll see how this offense looks by the time that final month rolls around.