Pretenders or Contenders? Evaluating the Redskins Through Nine Games
Buzz Helfrich | 11/18/16 11:53am
| Updated 11/18/16 11:53am
The Washington Redskins’ chances of making the playoffs remain likely through Week 10. The team’s 5-3-1 record reflects a season marked by offensive success and above-average defensive play. Despite the loss of key players including linebacker Junior Galette to a season-ending Achilles injury and left tackle Trent Williams to a four-game drug violation, the Redskins continue to play at a high level. The offense, lead by likely franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins, is largely responsible for the team’s above .500 win percentage and negates a defense marred by mediocrity. The Redskins’ playoff hopes depend on their ability to play consistently on both sides of the ball. However, the possibility of continued success by the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants in the NFC East poses a serious threat to Washington’s postseason aspirations.
The Redskins’ ability to win games can be attributed to the surprising rise of Quarterback Kirk Cousins. Since taking over for Robert Griffin III in 2015, he has led the team to a 14-10-1 record, including 10-5-1 in the last 16 regular season games, their best stretch since 1992.
Despite the limited availability of key wide receiver DeSean Jackson due to injury, Cousins’ consistently high performance has led the Redskins to rank third in the league in pass offense and fourth in total offense.
Also, the emergence of undrafted free agent Robert Kelley has considerably improved the Redskins’ running game. Although head coach Jay Gruden initially limited Kelley’s gameplay because he was backup to veteran running back Matt Jones, Kelley’s relatively high average of 4.8 yards per carry, as well as solid performances versus the Bengals and Vikings in the last two weeks, suggests that he will likely play a larger role in the Redskins offense for the remainder of the season.
The Redskins’ weakness lies in the play of their relatively average defense. Although they struggle to prevent other teams from scoring, the Redskins’ defense is not terrible by any means. The redeeming quality of their performance on the other side of the ball lies in their pass defense. The signing of cornerback Josh Norman during the offseason helped the Redskins rank in the top half of pass defenses, giving up an average of only 250 pass yards per game. Washington’s satisfactory performance in this area can also be attributed to the team’s pass rush. Outside linebackers Trent Murphy and Ryan Kerrigan lead the team with 7 sacks each, helping the Redskins rank fifth in the league with 25 sacks through nine games.
Despite the relative success of the pass defense, the team’s run defense serves as their Achilles’ heel. Opponents often exploit the lack of consistent play among their defensive linemen, causing the Redskins to give up an average of 115.2 yards per game on the ground, ranking them among the 10 worst defenses in the league. This substantial defensive shortcoming must be addressed in the coming weeks to ensure Washington can maintain viable playoff hopes.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, the most significant factor that will determine their playoff fate falls outside of their control. Washington is currently tied for third in the NFC East, one of the league’s toughest divisions. Following an embarrassing lowpoint in week 12 last season when the Redskins and Giants sat atop the division with 5-6 records, the Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants comprise the only division in which all four teams currently have records above .500 and are in the top half of ESPN’s most recent power rankings.
The resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys as an elite team remains the most surprising factor in the division. Due to the emergence of rookie stars Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, the Cowboys currently rank fifth in total offense and are heavy favorites to win the division and clinch first-round byes. Similarly, Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz may end the team’s run of signing subpar quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles in a plea to revitalize the team’s lackluster offense. Despite the Eagles 5-4 record, they pose a legitimate threat to Washington’s playoffs hopes.
The departure of Giants head coach Tom Coughlin appears to have little effect on the team’s performance. The Giants’ offense, led by veteran QB Eli Manning and noted for star players such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, continues to lead this team to second place in the division and a possible playoff berth.
Just over halfway through the season, the Redskins’ playoff prospects remain bright. If Kirk Cousins and the offense continue to play at a high-efficient, consistent level and the defense improves both its defensive end core and its rush defense, the Redskins could prove themselves a worthy opponent to most NFC teams. However, the incredible strength of the division likely indicates the Redskins will clinch a wild card spot, and the future of the team from there lies solely in Washington’s hands.