True, the Bills are bad. The Redskins’ three preseason wins evaporate on opening night in two weeks. But when a team can play as crisply as the Redskins have so far, don’t disregard it too quickly. They have taken advantage of teams with new coaches or rebuilt offensive or defensive units.
But whom do they meet in their first game? The Eagles, a team surrounded by buzz because of Chip Kelly’s warp-speed offense imported from Oregon. But Philly is in that same rebuilding boat. Washington is finally that rare NFL team that opens a season polished and comfortable in its own Skins.
“I was impressed with our football team. We did a bunch of positive things. I was impressed with our [offensive] line and backs,” Coach Mike Shanahan said after Saturday’s game, using the word “impressed” five times in different contexts.
“There’s cohesion now. They know each other, and that familiarity is a key to running-game success. You could see it today — continuity, knowing what to expect from each other.”
Even Joe Gibbs in the four years of his second go-round as Redskins coach had tons of churn as players aged and the team spent big to get better fast. Now, partly by design and also because of a $36 million salary cap penalty over the last two seasons, the Redskins have brought back the same NFC East championship team at almost every starting position.
Nobody in the NFL has blown up its roster more often with worse results than Washington since 1991. The Redskins’ penalties, missed assignments and lack of discipline, their disorganization in the fourth quarter of close games and their almost complete inability to function as a team whose sum is greater than its parts have been pet peeves throughout the six coaching regimes between their last Super Bowl win and Shanahan’s arrival.
Manic Mike’s beady glare doesn’t make him an ideal dinner companion, but it’s a joy to imagine 300-pounders who cringe when they see his Albert Haynesworth-stare and vow never to get the snap count wrong again in this century. Many Redskins followers are ready to swap charm for football fear and take a second helping of NFL coach deviousness, too, as long as their team actually can remember 11 assignments correctly on 20 plays in a row.
In contrast to those teams, the current Redskins are built on players who are 30 or younger yet also have multiple years of playing together. In the fourth season under Shanahan, the Redskins are familiar with the quirks of one another’s styles and can start the year not just on the same page but on the proper sentence and word. This phenomenon may linger; the only starters older than 30 are London Fletcher and Santana Moss.