Hog Heaven Previews the Redskins’ 2010 Season: Part I

Today, Anthony Brown and Greg Trippiedi will preview the 2010 Washington Redskins.  We’re going to look at the changes on the offensive side of the ball in this part: the coaches and the quarterback.  In part II, we’ll look at those players who will try to help Donovan McNabb win his first Super Bowl.  In part III, you’ll get our in-depth predictions for the season.

Hog Heaven’s 2010 Redskins Preview, Part I

Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb passes in front of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis during the first half of their pre-season game in Landover, Maryland August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Greg Trippiedi: If our 2010 Redskins look anything like our 2009 Redskins, well, hopefully it will be because Fred Davis is doing something spectacular.

There have been wholesale changes throughout the organization.  Mike Shanahan comes in as the head coach, and brings Kyle Shanahan in as the offensive coordinator.  Regardless of your feelings on either minority or nepotistic hiring tactics, it’s hard to imagine finding a duo more comfortable with one another after dealing with Jim Zorn, and Sherman Smith (who weren’t), and then the team bringing in Sherman Lewis, who neither Zorn nor Smith were comfortable with even being on the coaching staff.  That doesn’t mean that Shanahan and Shanahan were particularly good hires, as much as it means that we couldn’t have done any worse than in 2008 and 2009.  Ditto for Jim Haslett hired to be the defensive coordinator.  The Redskins may not have been able to do any worse on that side of the ball than in the last two years, so Haslett brings a fresh mentality to this team that is sorely needed.

Anthony Brown: Mike Shanahan is the best coaching hire Danny Snyder has ever made and here’s why. Shanahan matches the experience of Marty Schottenheimer and has near the championship luster of Joe Gibbs. Most important, Shanahan is in Washington to coach and lead and not be be a general manager.   Kyle Shanahan may not be the best offensive coordinator the Redskins could have hired, but it works for poppa Mike. The younger Shanahan is given much credit for the Houston Texans’ offensive success last year. The Texans are coached by Gary Kubiak, himself described as an offensive mastermind and once the offensive coordinator for Mike Shanahan. It’s hard to tell where Kubiak ended and Kyle Shanahan began in influencing the Texans’ offense. We’ll get a clue September 19 when the Texans visit FedEx. Kyle and Mike Shanahan should be of one mind for the Redskins offensive scheme. That will do for now.

Unless your last name is Parcells or Belichick, no coach should have GM power. There is nothing about coaching that prepares one to be general manager. Coaching is all about leadership–weaving powerful bodies with powerful egos into cohesive units to out-do the other team. There is no All-Madden team in the NFL. Every team has strengths. Every opponent has a weakness to exploit. Coaching skills to lever your strengths against the other guy’s weaknesses while channeling free spirits like Albert Haynesworth rises from wholly different career path than general managership.

Shanahan has made all the right moves as the incoming coach of a broken system. He has a well defined offensive scheme. He’s established clear work rules, consistently applied. He’s called out star players to lead in adhering to those rules and has not buckled under team divas who push it. He’s addressed, as best as possible, the obvious weaknesses on the offensive line, running back depth, secondary and quarterback. I am a Jason Campbell fan who believes that Donovan McNabb brings intangibles to the offense that Campbell could not.

Greg Trippiedi: And of course, just doing something different with the coaching staff has brought in wholesale optimism for the entire fan base.  Well, at least it’s as optimistic as you can get without actually being able to sell out the home game for archrival Dallas.  This optimism stems almost directly from the overdue decision to hire Vinny Cerrato to run the franchise.  Cerrato did some of his best work for the team from 2004 through 2007 when he worked for Joe Gibbs, but removing Gibbs and keeping practically the same front offense turned out to be a disasterous decision.  So there as well, we see changes across the board.  The man that will lead the front office is Bruce Allen, who is the one member of this operation (aside, obviously, from Mike Shanahan) who is directly reporting to Dan Snyder.  It’s unlikely that Shanahan will report to Allen, but as long as Allen’s opinion’s as general manager of the team carry weight consistent with his title, the Redskins are in good hands.

Anthony Brown: The NFL’s top GM’s Bill Polian, Ozzie Newsome, Bobby Beathard grew up as scouts, matching talent for the scheme a team runs. Or they come up through the ranks as contract specialists, structuring deals under the Collective Bargaining Agreement that elude crippling salary cap penalties if a star does not pan out. Fitting talent to scheme is a skill coaches are not practiced enough to be good at it. Mike Shanahan fell victim to this at times in Denver (Tatum Bell, Maurice Clarrett). Bruce Allen makes Shanahan a better coach as he would have done for Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs. Jim Zorn would likely not have been hired as head coach if Allen were in the front office.

Greg Trippiedi: They are in good hands.  Also: very veteran hands.  Allen and Shanahan have both been around a while, but that’s not what I mean.  I mean: veteran players.  The Redskins are full of them.  Joey Galloway.  Vonnie Holliday.  Phillip Daniels.  Artis Hicks.  Bobby Wade.  Larry Johnson.  Rex Grossman.  Ma’ake Kemoeatu.  Phillip Buchanon.  Every one of those players were in the league by 2003, which means they are all on the other side of their careers; the other side of the one we’re supposed to be optimistic about.  But when you look at the core players of the 2010 Redskins, it’s hard to ignore that the previous regime didn’t develop many of them.

Tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis will be the focal point of the offense, and they were both Redskin draft choices.  But the other main pieces of this offensive unit are Anthony Armstrong, a guy who was actually picked up off the scrap heap by Cerrato, and put on the practice squad.

Anthony Brown: None of those new veterans, including Donovan McNabb, can be called steals. All are cast-offs. This is Shanahan’s and Allen’s bridge team from the rubble of 2009 to the rebuild of 2011.

We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Greg Trippiedi: Speaking of McNabb, you mentioned above his well-regarded intangibles.  Certainly, it is difficult to set a price on those intangibles, but it seems to me that whatever reasonable price (or cost) can agreed upon, the Redskins overshot it on McNabb.  Tangibly, McNabb and Campbell are quite similar.  If you took the numbers off of them last year, took the colors off of them, and just compared what you saw on the tape…I don’t think either would impress very much, but feel like Campbell would be less ugly to watch.  At least, he might strike as the more resourceful of the two.  But you put the names back on, put the meaningful statistics back on, bring the win-loss records back in, and suddenly there’s hardly any doubt which of the two is more accomplished.

I guess what I’m saying is that for every time you hear that “the stats don’t matter”, well, the only thing making McNabb a better player than Campbell is that their statistics suggest that this is the case.  It’s often ugly (sometimes painful), but given 16 (or 14, or 12) games, Donovan always gets it done.  McNabb’s most impressive statistic might be his playoff record: he had never lost his first playoff game in any season prior to last year’s wild card round exit in Dallas.  In no uncertain terms, McNabb is one of the better playoff quarterbacks in NFL History.  Problem here isn’t a lack of playoff success, but that the season is usually over well before playoff season.  McNabb might have all the intangibles in the world, but the only ones that are relevant here are that he’s proven, and he’s not Jason Campbell.

Are those intangibles worth the price of a second round pick and a third round pick?  Absolutely not, but once you jettison Campbell, there was no better quarterback available this offseason (obviously, Campbell included) than Donovan McNabb.  Which also means that he was the priciest of the bunch.  I get that.  If there’s an issue with the move, it’s that the Redskins didn’t start the offseason by driving up the price for Campbell first, trading him, then worrying about who would actually be the team’s quarterback.  This of course, leads me to a completely different conclusion than stated above: the team’s actions suggest that Campbell wasn’t going to be traded because it was the right thing to do, but that he would have been the quarterback in 2010 if a better opportunity hadn’t come along.  Which, you know, is what Vinny Cerrato would have done in the same situation.

Except that Vinny Cerrato would have drafted Jimmy Clausen with the 4th pick.

Anthony Brown: You said Vinny Cerrato and Jimmy Clausen and now I feel sick.

Joe Gibbs’ first move upon his return was to trade a third round pick to the Jaguars for Mark Brunell, then extend Brunell’s contract by seven years for $43 million. Though I doubt Cerrato could have stood up to Gibbs on Brunell, it was his job to throttle back the price. We’ll know how effective Bruce Allen is by how well he structures McNabb’s extension here in comparison to Brunell’s. To err on a player is human. To make dumb deals is...dumb.
McNabb displayed two intangibles in Philly: he lifted the performance of pedestrian receivers, and he was mobile behind the line. If the Redskins receiving corps and O-line aren’t fixed, then there’s no better band-aid than that.

Greg Trippiedi: McNabb hasn’t exactly looked comfortable in his new digs yet, but he’s the least of this team’s concerns.  He’s still a high level player at a premium position.  He still can get the ball downfield.  His feet are still functional.  He’s still a better player than Jay Cutler is, and is better than Mark Sanchez will ever be.  McNabb can’t stay healthy for season-long stretches, but he’s still quite effective when he’s healthy enough to play through, and McNabb will never lean on injury as excuse for his performance.  McNabb did have DeSean Jackson last year, but even still, he led all of football in 40+ yard passes with 17.  McNabb can’t sustain that figure without Jackson, and Campbell (8) wasn’t exactly a slouch, but if we take the Redskins passing total and give it a 33% increase in 40+ yard passing plays with McNabb, 13 long bombs will be the most for this teams offense in years.

While there is a lot to be suspicious about here (going from 28 to 33 at quarterback almost never works out in terms of sustained productive offense), that’s exciting.  I’m excited.

Part II will focus on McNabb’s teammates, the ones most responsible for whether or not he can take the next step with the Redskins.