The Redskins went 7-25 the past two years, so it’s not surprising that no one is picking them to win the Super Bowl — or even be competitive in the NFC East — heading into the 2015 season. A main reason for the pessimism is the team’s instability at quarterback. Robert Griffin III was proclaimed the starter in the offseason and he didn’t even make it to Week 1 before losing the job to Kirk Cousins. While quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, having an elite one isn’t necessarily a playoff prerequisite. If Cousins’ supporting cast can reach the following goals, the Redskins could be a winner this year even if their quarterback play is mediocre.

Running backs

Season goal: Run the ball at least 500 times
Over the past five years, 19 teams recorded 500 or more rushing attempts in a single season. Of those teams, 16 won at least eight games and 12 had double-digit victories — including the Redskins in 2012, when they won the NFC East behind the top-ranked rushing attack. Here’s a list of quarterbacks on a few of those teams that made the playoffs: Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Schaub, Tim Tebow, Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez. The Redskins claim they’re committed to the run this season after rushing only 401 times in 2014. With Alfred Morris — who has averaged 292 carries and 1,320 rushing yards a season in his three-year career — and bruising rookie Matt Jones, the Redskins have a backfield that could wear down defenses.

Offensive line

Season goal: Don’t allow more than 30 sacks
Last season, eight of 12 playoff teams allowed 30 sacks or fewer and none allowed more than 45. The Redskins’ quarterbacks were sacked 58 times — the second most in the league. Washington put a lot of effort in improving the offensive line this offseason, drafting Brandon Scherff in the first round and bringing in offensive line coach Bill Callahan from Dallas. They also made Trent Williams the highest-paid tackle in NFL history. Results were mixed this preseason, but the move from Griffin to Cousins should help. Last season, Griffin was sacked 13.4 percent of the times he dropped back for a pass while Cousins was sacked only 3.8 percent. The NFC East had two of the top four pass-rushing teams in the league last season (Giants and Eagles), so the revamped line will be tested.

Wide receivers

Season goal: Have a receiver with 20 catches of 20 yards or more
Last season, nine receivers in the NFL reached that benchmark and seven of them played for teams with winning records. The Redskins have shown they have big-play ability. In 2014, they had 20 40-yard receptions — five more than any team in the league. While big plays didn’t translate to wins for the Redskins, the other five teams with at least 12 40-yard catches last year did have winning records. When they’re going deep, the Redskins will mostly turn to DeSean Jackson, who had a team-high 16 20-yard catches in 2014. The 28-year-old has reached the 20-for-20 mark in a season twice in his career and both times (2010, 2013) his team, the Eagles, made the playoffs.

Defensive front seven

Season goal: Hold teams to 3.7 yards or less per rush
While a good pass rush can help any defense, it wasn’t necessarily a catalyst for wins last season. Only one of the seven teams that recorded 45 sacks or more made the playoffs. A better indicator of success was how well teams defended the run. Five defenses held teams to 3.7 yards per rush or less last year and those teams won an average of 11 games. The Redskins, who allowed 4.1 yards per rush in 2014, have beefed up their line with the additions of 354-pound nose tackle Terrance Knighton and 300-pound end Stephen Paea to improve on a run defense that ranked 12th in yards allowed a year ago. This preseason, coach Jay Gruden has said he’s been encouraged by the Redskins’ stout run defense.


Season goal: Grab 18 interceptions
Last season, the Bengals, Lions and Cardinals made the playoffs with a worse team passer rating than the Redskins. One thing those three teams had in common is they helped their offense by forcing turnovers on defense, with at least 18 interceptions each. The Redskins’ defense last year managed just seven picks — tied for 28th in the league — and no one player had more than two. Washington’s secondary will get a boost from the offseason acquisition of Chris Culliver, who had four picks with the 49ers last season, and the return of DeAngelo Hall, who is second among active players in the NFL with 43 career interceptions. But it’s unclear what the Redskins will get from Hall, who is 31 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon.

Special teams

Season goal: Finish in the top 15 in the league in punt or kick return average
Of last season’s 12 playoff teams, only the Seahawks and Panthers failed to finish in the top half of the league in either punt or kick return average. The Redskins ranked 25th in kick returns (21.8 yards per attempt) and 21st in punt returns (7.2 yards per attempt) in 2014 and their last special teams return touchdown was by Brandon Banks in 2010. The Redskins hope rookie Jamison Crowder will be their answer to years of futility in the return game. In his last two seasons at Duke, Crowder had four punt return touchdowns in 47 attempts. Andre Roberts could also factor into Washington’s return plans, but he had minimal success in that role last season.

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