Experts' Picks (Consensus: first)
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Redskins have their issues, particularly in the secondary. But if Robert Griffin III can stay healthy, the offense should remain dynamic. And the pass rush has shown signs of being a strength. Those two factors will propel Washington.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Redskins have done a great job fighting cap issues to stay competitive, but the season comes down to how Robert Griffin III does after knee reconstruction.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 If RG III can bounce back this quickly from major knee surgery, the Redskins could win back-to-back division titles.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 If RG III and Brian Orakpo are healthy, look out. The Redskins will run away with this division.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 RG III. RG III. RG III. It is all about RG III.|
Five things you need to know about the Redskins:
1. It's a good locker room: One area Mike Shanahan transformed when he arrived in 2010 was the locker room culture. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't a strength, either. It is a strength now. The Redskins have a tight, confident group. Before their seven-game win streak last season, multiple players felt good about what they could do despite having a 3-6 record. One factor is the resilience of a cohesive team. It worked in the Redskins' favor last year. Whether they can duplicate 2012 remains to be seen, but, when adversity hits, they won't back down. Continuity helps, too, as the offensive and defensive philosophies have been the same since 2010. Defensively, they have nine projected starters who have played at least three years in this system. Offensively, they shined despite having six new starters -- and every starter returned this season.
2. Robert Griffin III can, and will, improve: Although Griffin completed 65.6 percent of his passes and threw for 3,200 yards, he can be a much better passer -- and even have his percentage decrease by throwing the ball away a little more. He can limit the hits he takes by improving as a passer, too. Considering his study habits, it would be surprising if Griffin didn't improve in this area. Thanks to his year of experience, Griffin should improve at diagnosing defenses -- giving him the ability to know who will be open based on the look. He passed up open targets last season in part because he did not get to them in time. He also can be more dangerous on scrambles by keeping the ball alive, not tucking it 10 yards behind the line as he did too often last year and finding those open targets he did not always see in 2012. Plus, Griffin will be helped by having a healthy Pierre Garcon at receiver and Fred Davis at tight end. The Skins never played a full game together in which both were healthy last year.
3. Don't sleep on Alfred Morris: Yes, the zone read-option runs helped him last season, just not as much as you'd think. Morris still averaged 4.6 yards per carry on non-zone-read runs. He fits the system well with his patience, vision and quick cuts (plus leg power). What helped him a lot, too, was the blocking by receivers Garcon and Josh Morgan. They were as much a key as the zone read in terms of getting Morris extra yards. Keep in mind that it took Morris several games last year to feel comfortable in this offense -- and he and the coaches felt as if there were more yards to gain. They anticipate more long runs, unlike last season, when his best was 39 yards.
4. The pass rush is back: Much of that can be traced to linebacker Brian Orakpo's return, but not all. First, Orakpo affects the rush just by his presence. He draws more double-teams, which means fewer for players such as end Stephen Bowen. Orakpo's ability to set up others by collapsing the pocket was sorely missed when he was out last season. But it's not just about him. It's also about Ryan Kerrigan's development and ability to rush from multiple spots. The Redskins can be creative with their fronts yet still only need to rush four defenders. With issues in the secondary, that would be a huge bonus.
5. History is against them: Washington hasn't made the postseason in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. Since then, the Redskins have not posted strong follow-ups to playoff runs. They also own one playoff win since 1999, but none in their past three trips. They've won eight, five and eight games after their most recent three playoff seasons -- and once lost a coach when Joe Gibbs resigned. There's a reason Redskins fans are always nervous: the good times haven't lasted long. Also, the NFC East hasn't had a repeat champion since the Eagles won four straight 2001-04. It's a tough division to duplicate success. However, the Redskins are, by far, in their best position to build on a playoff season in the Dan Snyder era. That's the power of Griffin.
-- John Keim, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
The Redskins rushed for an NFL-high 169.3 yards per game last season, including nearly 50 yards per game on option rushes. That was a drastic improvement from Washington's 2011 rushing offense, which ranked 25th before Robert Griffin III's arrival in Washington.
The Redskins' success will once again hinge on Griffin's performance, as he ran for a league-high 344 yards on option plays in his rookie season. But is the pain worth the gain?
Griffin was contacted on 33 of 44 option keeps last season and 71 times on all rushing plays (scrambles and designed runs), second among all quarterbacks (Cam Newton, 100). Washington averaged nearly a yard more per rush on option plays than non-option plays last season, so, if Mike Shanahan does sacrifice some of the team's zone-read option to protect Griffin, the rushing game could suffer.
It's not solely hits on rushes the Redskins are worried about, though. Griffin was hit an additional 99 times last season either while throwing or by taking a sack. In Week 3 against the Bengals, Griffin took a season-high 27 hits.
• The Redskins will welcome back linebacker Brian Orakpo from injury this season. Orakpo's presence should particularly help with Washington's standard pass rush as 22 of his 29.5 career sacks have come with four or fewer pass-rushers. The Redskins averaged a sack every 27 drop-backs using such pressure in 2012, ranked 30th in the league (one every 14.7 drop-backs in 2011, sixth in NFL).
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Magazine: Non-QB MVP
RB Alfred Morris (13.0 AV in 2012)
Morris was a total shock in 2012. The sixth-rounder became only the third rookie to rush for at least 1,600 yards and 13 TDs. Only Adrian Peterson had more 10-plus-yard runs than Morris' 44.
-- Pro Football Reference