The Washington Redskins play the New York Giants on Sunday to begin their 2011 National Football League season. The big question at the beginning of any Redskins season is: How good (or bad) will the team be? Let’s take a look.
Quarterback: Coach Mike Shanahan has decided to start Rex Grossman, not John Beck, at quarterback. My guess is that both will see action during the season.
Grossman has played professional football since 2003 — he even made it to the Super Bowl with the 2006 Chicago Bears — but he has never been a star. He has completed a little more than 54 percent of his passes in eight seasons and has a career quarterback rating of 70.9. Both of those marks are below the NFL average.
Beck has played just five regular-season games in the NFL. So starting Beck would almost be like playing a rookie quarterback. That would have been a big gamble.
Whoever plays, the Redskins will have to find a way to win without a proven pro quarterback.
Offense: To make matters worse, the Redskins quarterback will not have much to work with this season. Santana Moss is the team’s best wide receiver. He had a terrific season last year, catching 93 passes. But Moss is 32 years old, and that’s often the time when wide receivers begin to slow down or get hurt.
Chris Cooley is back at tight end. Cooley has been one of Washington’s best and most consistent players. He has been hurt during the preseason. I wonder if the rugged pass catcher is beginning to wear down from all of the tough tackles he endured in the past seven seasons.
Running backs Tim Hightower and Roy Helu, a rookie, will bring more speed and energy to the Redskins’ ground game. However, running backs are only as good as their offensive line. The Redskins’ line has struggled over the past few years. Coach Shanahan is hoping new guard Chris Chester and some old faces at new positions will help.
Defense: The Redskins’ defense can hardly get worse. It was rated 31st out of 32 NFL teams last season, giving up almost 400 yards a game. That’s awful.
So Washington went out and got some new players. Linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen — we’re not related, but with a last name like that, he’s got to be good — will help the Redskins stop the run. It’s too bad rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins hurt his knee and will miss the season. He looked like a good player. Rookie Ryan Kerrigan will help linebacker Brian Orakpo pressure the passer.
The improved defense should keep the Redskins in some close games. But that’s one of the team’s problems: They always seem to be in close games.
You don’t think so? I did a little research. The Redskins’ regular-season record for the past five years is 32-48 (32 wins and 48 losses). The Redskins won only four of those 32 games by 15 points or more. That means the Redskins almost never dominate their opponent.
Compare that with the top teams in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers (51-29) won 23 of those regular-season games by 15 or more points. The New England Patriots (63-17) won 31 games by 15 or more points. Good teams — Super Bowl teams — crush a bunch of opponents every year and then win their share of close games to make the playoffs.
So how will the Redskins be this season? Don’t let the happy talk of the preseason fool you. The team has a long way to go to be a Super Bowl team or even a playoff contender.
My prediction: I hope I’m wrong, but I think the Redskins record will be 6-10 again this season. Not so good.
Bowen is the author of 17 sports books for kids. His latest is a football book, “Quarterback Season.”