The Washington Redskins open their season in less than an hour, and there is hardly any time left to log any thoughts on this team that haven't been made by many others over the past eight months. This is the very last opportunity I have to violate common sense and make a bunch of predictions for the 2013 Redskins before moving into "in-season" mode where I basically spend 17 weeks tearing down the predictions made by myself and others in the offseason.
The upshot is this: by the time you read this article, it is already going to be out of date. And I am okay with that.
But at the top, a prediction for tonight: POINTS. Lots of them. Redskins win by 15 (42-27) in a game that features almost 70 total points, and makes a 15 pt margin of victory seem like a small one.
And really, that is going to be the tone setter for the season. For as long as I've been writing on this part of the internet (since 2007), the Redskins have played at a very slow offensive pace. The goal hasn't been to outscore the opponent, but to control time of possession, and possess the lead throughout the game, getting the defense onto the field in the final two minutes to win it. Sometimes (like 2007, 2012), this worked. More often (like 2008, 2010), it didn't work. But I think the Redskins changed their philosophy effective Week 7 of last year in New York — ironically, a game where the Redskins did not hold the lead at the end after Griffin brought the Redskins back to lead late. Now, the philosophy is all about scoring points.
Things are going to be noticibly different now when watching this team play in a way that wasn't the case the first three years Mike Shanahan was the head coach. I don't think the Redskins are going to open up in the hurry up or anything, but the fact that they've been running option tactics in the NFL for over a year makes them a prime candidate to go no huddle/hurry up at some point this season. It is just another way to constrain defenses and force them to make concessions to the offense. And it also results in more points.
I don't expect the Redskins to plan for this beginning tonight, I just expect it to be a response to the kind of adversity every team faces over the case of the NFL season.
Through two weeks of college football, it's apparent that no fewer than 40 division one college programs watched tape of our Washington offense over the offseason, and thought to themselves "there is no reason I can't incorporate this into our offense." The Redskins have now reached the point where they are the model that others copy, rather than being in an endless search for something they can copy from others and execute on the field.
And that is why the Redskins have taken the leap forward as a franchise, despite so much of the current organizational operations being unchanged since the Gibbs/Cerrato days. This redefinition of 'Redskins Football' colors so much of how we talk about the team, from how deep the roster is, to how good the offensive line is, to how successful our defense is with its consistent pressure tactics.
The Redskins return the best rushing offense in football this year, but this was also true in parts of the 2005 and 2008 seasons. The passing offense is still an inconsistent operation: play action passing is the base for which the entire passing game is built off of, so when the receivers are getting clean releases and are catching the football, it looks great. At other times, the passing offense struggles enough where the opponent can load up the box against the run.
It's the same story on the other side of the football. The Redskins defense is coming off three consecutive seasons where they have forced an above average amount of turnovers, following a six year span under Gregg Williams/Greg Blache where they forced a below average number of turnovers (and went 2.5 years from October 2007 through the 2009 season without scoring on defense). So in the turnover category, the Redskins have been consistently improved under new leadership.
But elsewhere the results have been more inconsistent. They've ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in yards against in both 2010 and 2012, and in points against in 2012. The defensive depth has taken a hit since Mike Shanahan took over in 2010. They have replenished the lost depth at the LB level and on the defensive line. The secondary remains a war zone.
Having Kai Forbath as the Redskins kicker going into this season may or may not represent a long term solution, but for a franchise that hasn't had a consistent kicker since the early nineties, this is about the most confident fans have been about their kicking game going into the season (informally collected information, of course). For such comfort, the Redskins are going to punt a bit (so to speak) of kickoff distance value, which is much more consistent year to year than field goal percentage. Thankfully, most people do seem to agree that field goal accuracy is a skill (and a very important one), even if field goal percentage does a poor job of measuring it.
The optmism about the 2013 is very justified. They have a legitimate chance to be improved on offense, on defense, and on special teams from last year, when the Redskins won the NFC East. I don't know how likely it is that the Redskins WILL be improved — for every potential upside, the downside is a lot larger when discussing a winning team — and results this year are likely to be inconsistent and streaky. But sitting here right before the opener, I think the Redskins will bank a lot of wins in September, and could get into October before they face their first loss.
Banking some wins early should make losing streaks and inconsistent performances a lot easier to swallow. Failing to get off to a great start puts the Redskins right back where they were last season. At least they know what it's like to dig out of a hole. But if everything goes according to plan, the Redskins 1) win tonight, and 2) never see .500 on the way to winning a second consecutive NFC East title. At which point, the Redskins will be taken more seriously by pudits as the perennial super bowl contender they aspire to be.