No. 1 – Joe Gibbs doesn't live here anymore.
All the things that new millennium Redskins fans hoped for have come to pass. We hoped that Mr. Snyder would be more hands-off and bring in competent management. We hoped the Redskins would build through the Draft saving veteran free agent contributors to fill talent gaps. And we hoped the Y2K teams would get younger and more athletic. Done, done and done.
My blogging friend Rich Tandler put it succinctly.
"Of the 89 players currently on the preseason roster, only 10—London Fletcher, Santana Moss, DeAngelo Hall, Reed Doughty, Kedric Golston, Will Montgomery, Fred Davis, Rob Jackson, Brian Orakpo, and Darryl Young—were with the organization when Shanahan arrived."
Gibbs' operating philosophy was to build around veteran talent to "win now." He did lead the Redskins to the playoffs in two of his four years in his second go-round in Washington. No thinking Redskins fan saw those teams as Super Bowl caliber.
Veterans are more expensive, too. To work them in, the Redskins did unnatural acts to the salary cap – extending player contracts that baked in dead cap money that crippled the future acquisition of talent. We thought Gibbs would change all that when he returned on that glorious 2004 day. Things did get better. Yet, Gibbs was as much affected by Snyderrato thinking as the other way around. In the end, it just wasn't enough.
It turns out that the painful rebuild Snyder sought to avoid really was the fastest way happiness. Washington won the division with a bunch of players Mike Shanahan signed or drafted in 2011 and 2012. Unlike those Gibbs II teams, these Redskins are built to sustain winning with legitimate Super Bowl runs to be expected in 2014 or 2015.
No. 2 – At least they aren't predicting a three-win season.
Sportswriter Pete Prisco famously predicted a three-win season for the 2012 Redskins. He acknowledged his error after the 'Skins won about six games. The early Vegas line pegs the Redskins at eight or nine wins.
Betting lines are not predictions; they just seem that way. Instead, lines are handicaps set by the house to draw an equal number of bettors on either side of the line. Gamblers are betting against other gamblers and not actually against the house. Handicappers project the future from the immediatel past.
The Redskins did well to overcome their weaknesses, find their true leaders to finish with 10 wins against a fourth-place schedule. Nobody saw that coming. This year they play a division first-place schedule. They trade the Carolina Panthers for the San Francisco 49ers, for example.
Washington lost at home to Carolina, even though the Panthers came to FedEx on a five game losing streak. Don't expect the 'Niners to come in on a losing streak when they arrive in November. The 'Skins play NFC North teams, which means they face the Minnesota Vikings for the fourth-straight year. The Redskins went 1-2 against the Vikings since 2010 when both were division fourth-place teams. Now, both are playoff teams.
I can buy into a line of eight or nine wins based on the schedule alone. If I were a betting man (I am not), I would take the over, barring injury to RGIII.
(My lawyer wants me to tell you that I'm no expert handicapper and that you'd have to be an idiot to place a wager on my say so. We aren't covering your gambling losses, folks.)
No. 3 – Robert Griffin III more popular than Sean Taylor?
In 50 years of watching football, I've never seen anyone like Robert Griffin III. RGIII has salved the psyche of Redskins fans in a way no player has, except perhaps Sammy Baugh, who I never saw in live action.
A newspaper publicized the gift registry for Griffin and his fiancée, Rebecca Liddicoat, and fans swamped it to buy it out completely … in gratitude for how RGIII has touched their lives. I've never seen anything like that in 50 years, either. A generation of fans identified with Taylor that got deeper with his tragic death. Griffin feels the same, only more so.
Can't believe there are people pissed off at the people who bought gifts for RG & Rebecca.. Who are you to tell people how to spend their $
— HTTR24-7.com (@HTTR24_7) May 20, 2013
Since I'm fresh from the latest Star Trek movie, I offer the Vulcan blessing on Mr. and future Mrs. Griffin III. Live long and prosper, on and off the field.
No. 4. – Offensive scheme changes are coming, but what?
Joe Gibbs once said teams change about 30 percent of its playbook every year. That's to stay ahead of rivals who have torn apart the schemes they saw the prior season. New and departed players are also a factor.
Griffin III did not have a playbook for the Baylor offense. The coaches Shanahan proved smarter than I expected them to be when they adapted their schemes to Griffin's unique talent. Griffin made them seem smarter than they might truly be. They must be just as nimble for an encore.
Everything depends on RGIII's mobility after reconstructive knee surgery. Hog Heaven hasn't allowed himself to believe in Griffin's return before October, but there are signs of a September return.
I do not expect the Shanahan's to dial back the read-option. Instead, they, and we, hope to see Griffin run differently, by sliding when he gets a first down and by running out of bounds more. By now, the coaches should have given Griffin video cut-ups of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick running on the option. Both finished the season upright. Griffin finishing the season upright is more important to the Redskins than rushing for an added extra 30-yard gain on a play.
Hog Heaven suspects the bigger changes are coming in the rest of the offense. Shanahan did not load up on new offensive talent, although I suspect he plans something "tricksy," to borrow Gollum's term, with Jordan Reed. The Redskins are going with the talent at hand. That means they have to be better at offense when RGIII is out.
The biggest criticism Shanahan faced last year was how poorly prepared he was for the loss of Griffin in the Seahawks game. Shanahan won't let that happen twice. There is more to the notion of Kirk Cousins taking all the practice snaps throughout off-season and preseason than simply to shield Griffin's injury.
Shanny is installing the Cousins offense, which is a conventional pro set, play action offense with rollouts. It will be run-heavy not unlike the Houston Texans, or Shanahan's teams in Denver. Both Griffin and Cousins will run that offense. Griffin can adapt to it better than Cousins can adapt to the read option, but this play-action offense will be tuned for Cousins.
Overreliance on Griffin running the read option clouded the coach's thinking when it came to protecting Griffin from himself. If Shanahan again has to dial back on read option because Griffin isn't in to run it, he needs better options to keep winning. And he needs more confidence in Cousins to run it. That means seeing Cousins in an offense where he excels.
5. – Rookie breakthrough at safety
Hog Heaven observes that perennial contenders are so talent-rich that they do not expect low Draft pick and UDFA rookies to break into the line-up until the year after they join the team. Washington's talent is not on par with Baltimore's, but it is good enough that they do not need all of the rookies to be starters in order to defend their title.
Of the Class of 2013, I expect safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo to have the cleanest shot to make starter this year. They can't be worse than Madieu Williams was. Reed Doughty is a career-backup, but one you want to keep around. Brandon Meriweather adds something, based in the two quarters of game action we saw of him. I do not expect Tanard Jackson to be on the roster in September.
Thomas is the player most likely to break through. However, if either Thomas or Rambo shows anything, they will start. There is no competition. There just isn't.