2010 Redskins Projection: Who’s Bringing the Wins?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins

I’m optimistic about the ability for the Washington Redskins to compete in 2010.

It’s tough to say with any certainty which way the team is headed in the long term.  We don’t really know if the new leadership is going to emphasize the draft or try to leverage the team’s financial flexibility into a sustainable competitive advantage.  If they don’t rebuild through a long slow process — and there is no indication they will — then the reality is that every personnel mistake gets magnified when everyone else is making yearly gains in leaps and bounds, and the Redskins have to manufacture talent increases through sustained and incrementally increasing payroll.

In the short term, the Redskins need only to best some other teams in their division to be back in the postseason.  Most early projection systems and prognsoticator opinions have the Redskins at 4th place in the NFC East this year, and that’s probably where I would have to pick them at this point.  The NFC East is a highly competitive division, and it’s one that you do not have to win to make the postseason, like the NFC West, for example.  I think the Redskins could win the division, but they haven’t won it since ’99, and they have had diminishing chances from 2005-2008, and then with the division down again last year, they couldn’t capitalize, going just 4-12.  This year, every team in the division is looking to rebound from something: Dallas bottomed out midseason last year, and rose to the top of the heap.  They are looking to sustain their position.  Philadelphia had ANOTHER division title in their hands, and it slipped away in the final week.  The Giants were incredibly disappointing last season, going just 6-8 against teams that weren’t the Redskins.  Quietly, they were able to sweep the Cowboys, meaning that outside of the NFC East, they were just 4-6 last year…same as the Redskins.  There’s not one team in the division that expects to be worse than last year, possible exception of Philadelphia, who could still finish as high as second and a playoff berth if the status quo holds.

Still, the wins are going to have to come from somewhere on the roster.  It’s easy to sit in an ivory tower and espouse that the Redskins were very unlucky last year, particularly in that mid-November to December 1 stretch that culminated with an absolute giveaway of a win vs. the then undefeated Saints, that they are better with Shanahan, better with Haslett, better with McNabb, Portis can’t possibly be worse, Cooley is healthy, Thomas and Kelly can step up with experience, Heyer is not a cornerstone of the offensive plan, Trent Williams, Albert Haynesworth, Orakpo, Carter, Rogers, Fletcher, Hall, and Landry, etc., chewing through run-on sentences.  All those things are true, independent of one another.  Still, the Redskins need to generate a lot more winning plays than they did last season, and they certainly dumped a lot of their winning players from last year in pursuit of “moving on”: Corneilus Griffin, Ethan Albright, Jason Campbell, Quinton Ganther, Rock Cartwright, Ladell Betts, Todd Yoder, Chris Samuels, Randy Thomas, Marko Mitchell, and Anthony Montgomery all hand their hands in plenty of winning plays over the course of the Zorn era, and while the Shanahan rebuild could have ended at simply cutting dead weight like Todd Collins and Fred Smoot, he and Bruce Allen clearly went beyond the concept of simply releasing the useless and cut a bunch of guys who have helped the Redskins to their 12 wins over the last two seasons.

None of those guys were irreplacable by any stretch, but they all must be replaced.  Approximate value, a propriatary metric over at pro-football-reference.com, has put the following values on the Redskins offense from last season.  Scores are, by definition, merely approximate, and the only scale they have value for is relative to each other (returning players in bold):

  1. QB Jason Campbell 11
  2. OT Stephon Heyer 7
  3. WR Santana Moss 7
  4. TE Fred Davis 6
  5. G Derrick Dockery 6
  6. C Casey Rabach 6
  7. WR Antwaan Randle El 4
  8. RB Rock Cartwright 4
  9. RB Clinton Portis 4
  10. RB Ladell Betts 3
  11. FB Mike Sellers 3
  12. OL Mike Williams 3
  13. WR Malcolm Kelly 3
  14. WR Devin Thomas 3
  15. TE Chris Cooley 3
  16. OT Levi Jones 3
  17. OT Chris Samuels 2
  18. RB Quinton Ganther 2
  19. G Chad Rinehart 2
  20. G Will Montgomery 2
  21. G Edwin Williams 1
  22. G Randy Thomas 1
  23. RB Marcus Mason 1
  24. TE Todd Yoder 1
  25. WR Marko Mitchell 0
  26. OT D’Anthony Batiste 0
  27. OT Will Robinson 0

For those keeping track:

  • The Redskins return 54 AV between 13 players
  • The Redskins lose 34 AV between 14 players

The idea here is to open up more opportunity to generate winning plays (relative to the league average) than you cost yourself in dropping production.  Right now, the most productive returning Redskin on offense is…Stephon Heyer.  That only makes sense when you consider that AV is highly dependent on player usage to determine value.  Campbell, Heyer, Dockery, Rabach, and Moss all had 16 starts, with Davis contributing as a full season starter in only 9 starts.  The bigger picture, however, is that if the Redskins are going to win more games in 2010, there will be more than just 88 offensive AV to throw around.

AV isn’t scientific in it’s nature, it’s, well, approximate.  The points have little meaning, except in relativity to each other.  With that said, I love using it, because, well, the Redskins had a crappy offense last year.  They didn’t have a ton of points to split amongst them based on the lack of production of the entire unit.  Still, they were willing to get rid of about 40% of everything they accomplished last year in order to potentially get better.  That, my friends, is rebuilding (if with the oldest pieces they could find).

Question — and point of writing tonight — is: where are those points going to come from?  The Redskins freed up the quarterback position, moved a wide receiver out of the way to give more playing time to the younger receivers and tight ends, changed the status quo of old running backs, and changed the balance on the offensive line.  It’s likely that the QB position will lead the Redskins in AV again, and that the running backs will combine for more than 14 points.  If the Redskins receivers are going to produce more, one player has to emerge as the go to receiver, and produce in excess of Santana Moss’ 2009 season.  There’s enough opportunity to go around, but little hint as to where, if anywhere, that top line production might come from.  The tight ends are capable of more: Fred Davis doesn’t have to give up that many of his yards and TDs to allow Cooley to get back to his career numbers.

If the Redskins offense is to improve significantly, the improvements will primarily come from the offensive line, with 5 different players combining for between 14 to 16 starts, and splitting 45-50 AV between them, instead of 33 in 2009.

The defense is capable of improvement too.  Their sack rate, at best, will remain constant with 2009, but the pass coverage was horrendous in 2009, and can improve.  Here are the AV figures for those members of the secondary, with the returners bolded.

  1. CB Carlos Rogers 7
  2. FS LaRon Landry 6
  3. CB DeAngelo Hall 5
  4. SS Reed Doughty 4
  5. CB Fred Smoot 3
  6. SS Chris Horton 2
  7. CB Justin Tryon 2
  8. FS Lendy Holmes 1
  9. FS Kareem Moore 1
  10. CB Byron Westbrook 1
  11. CB Kevin Barnes 0

And here’s that group compared to the same unit in 2008:

  1. FS LaRon Landry 9
  2. CB Carlos Rogers 8
  3. SS Chris Horton 6
  4. CB Fred Smoot 5
  5. CB Shawn Springs 4
  6. CB DeAngelo Hall 3
  7. FS Kareem Moore 2
  8. SS Reed Doughty 2
  9. SS Mike Green 2
  10. CB Leigh Torrence 1
  11. CB Justin Tryon 1
  12. FS Justin Hamilton 0

Thats 43 AV in 2008 vs. 32 AV in 2009, which is where the real decline on the defense was, because I thought the front seven was a lot better in 2009.  The top three guys on the 2008 list all declined in 2009, Rogers by a lot more than AV captures, Landry and Horton by about as much as AV sees.  Smoot played a lot both years, but offered basically no quality plays.  Springs wasn’t really replaced by Hall, as his release just drained the depth.  Tryon, though, improved by a lot more than AV thinks, and Doughty probably did double his value.

The secondary comparsions are adept at showing where the problems are on the defense.  I would describe the 2008 group as adequate and deep, and the 2009 group as generally in adequate.  If Landry can lead the defense again, if Rogers can get back to being a number one corner, if Hall can be a functional player in a good secondary, and if basicaly the same supporting cast can combine for more points than they did in 2009, then this unit will be fine, and the wins will follow.

We’re in an age where pass defense is the untapped path for many teams to playoff success, and the Redskins, who weren’t good enough in pass defense to make a run in 2008, declined to the point where they weren’t good enough to to finish a game in 2009.  It’s sad, because the run defense is generally quite adept, and strong pass defense for a team that spent as much draft value in the secondary as the Redskins did in the last decade should be a given.  They’ve had to deal with plenty of adversity on the way, and can be given a short-term bpass if they get things turned around.

To recap, the wins need to come from the offensive line, and the pass coverage.  If those units can improve, the Redskins are capable of winning a bunch of games in 2010.  If those units fail to improve once again, or worse — continue to slide — their schedule of tough conference games is all but certain to get the best of them.  I’m cautious, but optimistic, about the team’s chances right now.

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