NFL Team Previews: Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins bet the ranch on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The ‘Skins gave up three first-round picks to get the Heisman Trophy winner, and with head coach Mike Shanahan already in his third season, there’s not a lot of room for patience. This is an organization with a lot of angry and desperate fans—which, in the interest of full disclosure include yours truly. TheSportsNotebook therefore, makes a futile attempt at unbiased analysis of the Redskins’ 2012 chances measured against their Over/Under win projections in Las Vegas…

OFFENSE: RG3 is the man getting all the ink in the nation’s capital, but the real issue for this franchise since the end of the first Joe Gibbs era (1981-92) has been the inability to get consistent play on the offensive line. Washington is undersized on the interior. Center is a weak spot, as is right guard. Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard has respectable pass-blocking skills, but can’t power forward on the run and even against the pass, bull rushers can collapse the pocket. The burden for this front five will fall on the shoulders of former Oklahoma Sooners’ tackles Jamaal Brown and Trent Williams. Brown, now 31 and a solid veteran is a known commodity. He’s good, but can be beaten by really quick edge rushers. Williams, at 24, is the wild-card. Early returns suggest he can be an All-Pro tackle, but it’s got to be put together for an entire season. The year where he watches the blind side of the rookie franchise quarterback would be the optimum time to get it together.

The Redskins went out and got Griffin some new toys at the skill spots when it came time for free agency, but I’m less than inspired by the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan at the receiver spots. Washington’s play at running back and receiver has a lot of decent players, but no one really special. At 33-years-old, Santana Moss still plays hard, but is more of a third option. Roy Helu’s got possibilities for a breakout year in the backfield, but only if the line in front of him stabilizes. The man RG3 is going to get familiar with is Fred Davis, one of the best tight ends in the league. Washington will have to find offensive success by having their quarterback spread the field with his mobility, hit Davis consistently then allow the other talent to move in and find its niche. Is it possible? Sure. But it’s a lot to ask of a rookie quarterback.

DEFENSE: Washington’s defense is a 3-4 scheme and the linebackers that key it are excellent. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan man the outside and are both playmakers that can disrupt an offensive scheme. London Fletcher may be 37 years old, but the inside linebacker still wraps up as well as anyone in the league. Perry Riley is only 24 years old at the other inside spot and already a solid tackler and cover man, so long as the coverage is underneath.

The challenge defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has to meet is what to do about what’s in front of, and behind the linebackers. The front three doesn’t have the ability to tie up blockers, which is an underrated part of enabling players like Orakpo to go crazy. While the corners are decent enough, Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall aren’t enough to compensate for some real problems at both safety spots. When you mix in Hall’s tendency to freelance, problems at safety can blow up in your face. If Haslett can’t get the secondary to play better, it limits his ability to attack the quarterback with blitz packages, which takes away the biggest positional edge the Redskins have.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 6—This looks like what handicappers might call a tight number. Since this is my own team we’re talking about I’ll always take the Over on principle, but I also do think the better bet does lean that direction. Although Shanahan’s reputation has taken a hit the last couple years, I think he can get something going with the offense and if that happens the linebackers are enough defensive talent to get seven wins. Any more than that is going to require some serious magic on Haslett’s part with the rest of the defense.