Players know. That’s the bottom line. They know when a corner is cut or when a principle is violated and turns into lip service. They know who doesn’t work quite as hard, and who is chronically late, and they know how those little things turn into big things on the field, compromising performance and corrupting the locker room. Players know — and what the Washington Redskins know is that they finally have good habits, and they no longer have false hope.
Sure it’s early, and they are just 2-0. But for once, we don’t have to temper expectations about this team. Here’s why: There is a statistic that no one is talking about, but which might be the single most important number in their winning start, more important even than Rex Grossman’s quarterback rating. Through two games they are the most disciplined team in the NFL. They have committed fewer penalties, for fewer yards, than anyone in the league. They have been flagged just six times for 40 yards. Their opponents over the same two games? Try 18 penalties for 140 yards.
The Post's LaVar Arrington explains how he sees "a different team" on the field for the Redskins this year and Mike Jones discusses Rex Grossman's experience last year in Dallas as being beneficial to the quarterback's preparation heading into Monday night's matchup with the Cowboys.
"Every off season the Skins do something to make a big splash - McNabb, Haynesworth, bring back Joe Gibbs, Deion, etc. This off season they tried something different - they brought in new attitudes. It was utterly splash-less but will produce better results than any off season acquisition ever could."
What that means is their performance is built on bedrock consistency — guys aren’t screwing up, they aren’t false-starting or committing illegal procedure, or taking a delay of game because they don’t know their assignments or who’s supposed to be on the field. They are playing reliably and accountably on virtually every play.
“We have guys who want to do things right every single day,” says Tim Hightower.
The guys who don’t want to do things right every single day are gone. Coach Mike Shanahan has turned over literally half the roster in his second year, 26 players in all. Ten of those aren’t even in the league any more — and I can think of a couple more who may not be around by next year, either, and the list starts with Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth.
Are there any more questions about Shanahan’s methods, or his judgment, his eye for hungry have-nots instead of complacent veterans, and his preference for the underrated to the overpaid? Shanahan may have made a couple of early mistakes in trying to remake a losing outfit . But the reasoning behind his more controversial dealings is now clear.
“This is the way the good teams do it,” Shanahan says.
Ask any player at Redskins Park what the difference is between the inflated hopes of the last few years, and the real confidence this season, and they will tell you it’s the uncompromising, day-in-and-day-out standards established by Shanahan. There is no more Clinton Portis-like shirking practice only to show up on Sundays. If a player is late to a meeting, he gets fined, and it doesn’t matter whether he’s a first-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent. “Players are smart,” Shanahan says. “They know when people try to get away with things, and you want to make sure the respect level is there, that you’re going to do the right thing with the team.”
Here’s what you see now in the Redskins’ locker room when the clock nears 11:30 a.m.: players with their eyes on the minute hand, grabbing their playbooks and literally sprinting for the hall. Another of the things you notice is that the first guys in the meeting room are highest-paid and the most prominent.