Redskins answer some skeptics, but questions remain

Columnist October 3, 2011

Remember the Really Big Questions in Ashburn from barely a month ago? No? Well, they looked something like this:

In Year 2 of The Big Fix, can Mike Shanahan coach seven wins out of two marginal quarterbacks and this roster?

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Or, Can an offensive line that has not played together very long learn their blocking scheme and, while they’re at it, keep their starting quarterback out of traction?

And the money one: Will this town’s pro football team be dreadful enough to actually be involved in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes come draft time in April?

But it’s the bye week, Washington, and — miracle of miracles — your NFL team is 3-1.

Okay, after a businesslike victory over the sorry St. Louis Rams on Sunday, it’s not exactly a flap-your-gums-like-DeAngelo Hall 3-1.

It’s not even a “We’re-going-to-win-the-NFC-East,” crazy-Rex-prediction 3-1. (Though, amazingly, the Redskins have led the division since Week 1.)

No matter how they got there, though, they are 3-1. Fair or no, expectations have been officially raised. Because the Redskins haven’t entered a bye week with a victory since Jim Zorn’s first year (bad omen?), it’s time for a whole slew of new questions begging to be answered. For example:

1. Is it too early to mention the “P” word?

Yes. Playoffs should not be mentioned until after Halloween, and that’s only if they have five or six wins against one or two losses. Conventional logic suggests Washington needs seven more victories. But Tampa Bay finished 10-6 a year ago and didn’t get in.

Another reason for caution: The “soft” part of the schedule perhaps isn’t so soft. entire

No one saw the Bills and the 49ers also starting 3-1. Facing Cam Newton in Carolina is suddenly scary. The back end of the schedule — Jets, Patriots, Philly and Giants among the final five games — always looked rugged; now the middle appears much more of a chore.

2. Is Rex Grossman a big “Law and Order” fan or does he just love the drama of making his fan base nauseous?

Yes to both. Remember that Grossman’s idol growing up was Brett Favre, Mr. Riverboat Gambler himself, Indiana Jones in Cleats and Helmet. Rex is Brett Lite: Half the numbers but still all the worry. He will never be just a system guy who manages the game. You want that guy? Tell Shanahan to trade for Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman.

Yes, Rex possesses more turnovers (seven) than touchdowns (six) thus far. Yes, one of his most beautifully thrown balls of the year was to the Rams’ James Laurinaitis with just more than five minutes left Sunday. But imagine having a quarterback who never turned over the ball in crunch time. How boring would that be?

3. Is this defense good enough to carry this franchise into. . . January?

Don’t get carried away yet. But if — and this is a huge “if” — Jim Haslett can continue to siphon controlled mayhem out of this unit and LaRon Landry stays healthy, this defense has the potential to pull off one of the great single-season turnarounds in league history. With a menacing mix of youth and experience, the Redskins are tied for the league lead with 15 sacks and have given up fewer yards than 27 other teams and fewer points than everybody in the NFL except the Ravens and Titans.

Four games in, that’s not bad for a defense that a year ago ranked second-to-last in the NFL in total defense.

After having the 3-4 alignment forced on him a year ago, Haslett now has a honest-to-goodness rock of a unit. Is it on par with Kurt Schottenheimer’s or Marvin Lewis’s or Gregg Williams’s best defenses? Not yet.

And much like Grossman gets in trouble with unnecessary risks, Haslett is vulnerable to over-aggressive blitz calls that leave chunks of green open downfield.

But with so much new personnel up front, that’s almost quibbling.

Of course, the Redskins aren’t the best 3-1 team out there. The Patriots, Saints, Ravens, Chargers, Texans and maybe even the Bills, with their huge comeback win over New England, are stronger teams than Washington.

At 2-2, the Jets, Steelers and Falcons would have to get the nod over the Redskins. If the Packers and Lions of NFC North are the last unbeaten teams left, that means one is on a wild-card path.

But none of it matters at the moment. In an NFC that’s very bunched up, what matters is the Redskins in two weeks have a chance to create sizable distance between themselves and the surprisingly 1-3 Eagles team at home. If the focus is on winning their division, Washington could conceivably host their first playoff game since 1999.

Damned if I didn’t just use the “P” word.

Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments