|2005 NFL Preview
By Dave Golokhov
Sports Central Columnist
After Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier, it seemed like Redskins owner Daniel Snyder could pull no more coaching surprises. Then came Joe Gibbs. After taking some time off from the NFL, the renowned Redskins coach returned to the new era, which was somewhat harsh to him in his first season. Running back Clinton Portis stumbled along with the rest of the offense leaving the Redskins desperate for points on several occasions. There's no question that Washington can hang their hat on the defense, but will the offense oblige this year?
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What We Learned From Last Year
The Redskins were one of the few teams stung by the injury bug in the preseason when tackle Jon Jansen ruptured his Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.
The loss was key as the offensive line was not exactly a strength and with no depth behind Jansen, a domino effect was felt.
Running back Clinton Portis, who was acquired in a summer blockbuster trade for cornerback Champ Bailey, was directly affected by the weak front. His yards per carry average was well above 5 in his first two seasons in Denver, but dropped to 3.8 last year.
The quarterback situation was a complete disaster as the one-two punch of Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey failed. Brunell was brought in as a veteran presence to start, but looked distraught in the offense. He started the first nine games of the season before Ramsey relieved him in the ninth game. His statistics were atrocious as he completed less than 50% of his passes.
Ramsey stepped into the lineup and started the remainder of the season, but his numbers were not much better. While his completion percentage was superior (62.1%), he threw too many interceptions and his interception percentage was one of the highest in the league.
If the quarterbacks and running backs struggle, you can only assume that the wide receivers would be next in line. Laveranues Coles was a big signing for the Redskins in the offseason, but his 90 receptions amassed only 950 yards and 1 touchdown. Prior to last season, he didn't average less than 14 yards per catch in any season.
While the Redskins labored to score on offense and only averaged 15 points per game (31st in NFL), the defense was a pleasant surprise.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his aggressive scheming led this squad to the third-best ranking in the NFL. Most people didn't expect the 29th-ranked defense to climb 26 spots after Champ Bailey was traded.
But Williams was a mastermind and proved that the personnel did not matter so much. The Redskins endured some nicks and cuts on the defensive side of the ball and have a fairly ordinary defensive line, but no matter who was out there, the Redskins were still difficult to score against. Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington only played in four games and even though he is the defense's best player, he was not overly missed.
The pressure was consistent as they collected 40 sacks, but there was no one dominant presence. Tackle Cornelius Griffin led the way with six.
Linebacker Marcus Washington proved to be a good fit for Williams' defense as he finished second on the team in tackles and sacks.
This was not simply a good defense, as the year progressed, they were downright dominant. Opponents were only converting 31% of third downs (second-best in NFL), averaging only 4.4 yards per play (also second-best), and Washington did not help them out with unintelligent penalties (fourth-best).
All of that led to only 28:41 of playing time for the defense, which kept them very fresh and gave the offense several opportunities.
The Redskins were only 3-6 under Brunell, but won three of their last six games under Ramsey with their losses coming by a combined 15 points. Maybe they have a little momentum on their side.
Last year, the secondary lost Champ Bailey and was adequately replaced by Shaun Springs. This year, the secondary loses Fred Smoot, but a sufficient replacement was found.
Walt Harris does not talk a lot of trash, he's not flashy or flamboyant, but he gets the job done. First-round pick Carlos Rogers will play the nickel role until he is ready to start. He has looked good in the preseason and has one of two Redskins interceptions.
Safety Sean Taylor is a growing force in the league and assuming his trial is postponed until after the season, will have a more integral part of the team. He is excellent in coverage and should emerge as the best playmaker in the secondary. At strong safety, two hard-hitters, Matt Bowen and Ryan Clark, will likely split time.
While the secondary as a whole might be improved if Taylor and Rogers can mature quickly, the linebacking corps also looks enhanced compared to last year's cast.
LaVar Arrington will reclaim his job from Warrick Holdman on the weak side, while Pro-Bowler Mike Peterson returns on the strong side. Little known Lemar Marshall will start in the middle. He was very steady last season finishing with 69 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 14 starts. Holdman is versatile and could still be a starter.
The defensive line for the Redskins remains a group of no-names, but their effectiveness is a testament to the defensive coaching staff.
Virtually the same crew returns led by Cornelius Griffin. He is roadblock in the running game and has the ability to get to the quarterback — he could have been a Pro Bowl selection last year. Phillip Daniels returns from an injury that limited him to only five games. The starting combination of him and Renaldo Wynn are exactly a dream come true, but both can generate some pressure.
Gregg Williams does an excellent job of putting players in the best position to succeed. He hides their weaknesses and exploits their strengths — very New England Patriot-like.
The defense should be advanced and it's hard to imagine the offense being any worse than last year.
With the addition of free agent center Casey Rabach, who is an upgrade over Corey Raymer, the Redskins do have an above-average offensive line. Tackle Chris Samuels is Pro Bowl-caliber and with a healthy Jon Jansen, the ready will be sturdy on the outside. Derrick Dockery is still a decent starter with lots of potential, while Randy Thomas is very reliable.
This unit turns from a weakness to a strength and they only permitted five sacks in four preseason games. Testing the depth is not suggested.
Patrick Ramsey was immediately named the starting quarterback at the end of last season, but he is skating on thin ice. He has been hot and cold in the four exhibition games with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He should be a decent starter if the running game can flourish behind him.
Mark Brunell has looked rejuvenated in the offseason, but he will likely be an emergency starter. If Ramsey struggles and the team falls out of contention, first-round pick Jason Campbell will get into the lineup.
Some questioned whether trading so many draft picks for Jason Campbell was a good decision, but the Redskins feel they are pretty much a complete team. With a stout defense, a strong offensive line, and a stud running back, it's hard to argue with them. With a high-quality quarterback, this is easily a playoff team in the NFC.
The Redskins traded Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner in the offseason, which seems to have left them somewhat short of talent. Santana Moss is a speedy wideout and ex-New England Patriot David Patten is more of the same. Both can get downfield without any problems, but they are easily pushed around. Kevin Dyson is the team's only receiver over six feet of height, so red zone situations could be problematic.
With a strong offensive line, the Redskins should be at least a win or two better, but their playoff hopes rely on Patrick Ramsey's ability to limit his mistakes and take care of the football.
Trusting Patrick Ramsey with your money is not a good idea, but if the Redskins can heavily emphasize Clinton Portis and keep the attention off of Ramsey, it may not necessarily be a bad idea, either. With four good coaches manning four improved teams, there are no easy wins in the NFC East. They play: CHI, SEA, @DEN, @KC, SF, @TB, OAK, SD, @STL, and @ARZ.
It is never advisable to draft players from a lackadaisical offense, but keep in mind that somebody has to make plays. Santana Moss played in a conservative offense under Paul Hackett in New York, but still managed just under 2,000 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He should see the bulk of the passes in Washington.
This article was reprinted with permission from Sports Central.
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