/logs into Redskins Hog Heaven…
Whoa? It's 2014?!
That's so weird. I fell into a coma in February and totally missed out on getting to watch Robert Griffin III become the second straight player to win the MVP off major knee surgery. I missed out on the Mike Shanahan contract extension. The second straight NFC East title. Brian Orakpo setting the single season sacks record. Looks like I missed wild card weekend too, but that's okay, we all knew the Redskins weren't playing that weekend anyway. I just feel fortunate to be up and ready for this weeks big playoff game against the Falc–
–I should probably catch up on the season to date. Can't belive I missed out on Hankerson's 1,000 yard season, the first of many, of course. Who could forget the formality that was Fred Davis' breakout year. Or the way that the Deadspin scandal helped drop Manti Te'o to the second round so that the Redskins could draft him. In fact, I just need to head over to Pro Football Reference to see how many tackles…
…wow. That didn't go as planned.
3-13? Hold on, this is a lot to stomach. Outscored by 144 points? I can't remember having a season like that. When was the last time the team got outscored by even 120 points in a season? Oh, that's right, 1961. The worst Redskins team in 50 years. At least offensively they're still…at 2009 levels. Good god. That may be the worst special teams until in modern memory. What a disgrace. Redskins defense…you're exonerated from this mess. Congrats on setting the bar low enough.
Good riddance, Mike Shanahan, you've left the place worse than you found it. And all it cost the organization was another Albert Haynesworth contract. Well, I'm not going to look it up now, but I'm sure they'll at least pick right at the top of the draft.
Time to build and move forward. The first question that needs to be asked before you start is: what pieces of value does the organization have? It doesn't have a first round draft pick in 2014. That's a Shanahan tax. It's strongest asset is Robert Griffin III's contract. Here's what Griffin did in 2013: he threw for a career high 3,203 yards on 456 attempts. Griffin completed 60.1% of those attempts. He failed to throw for 20 touchdowns, and set a career high in interceptions with 12. This is a mediocre year in a Shanahan offense (middle third, career wise, among seasons by Mike Shanahan QBs), and probably what you would expect from Kirk Cousins over a full season, but because NFL offensive averages have risen so much since 2009, Griffin's numbers actually rate on the wrong side of the league median.
Griffin had more or less the same season that Ryan Tannehill did in his second year, although Tannehill faced a stronger slate of defenses. That's not a great complement, and it makes the 2012 draft trade feel really Clownish, but it's to help keep perspective. Russell Wilson has enjoyed the best career to date of anyone from the 2012 QB draft class by a strong margin, but Griffin, Nick Foles, and Andrew Luck are already running pretty close to one another in terms of career value to date. It's silly to try to split a 32 game sample in any way to see how a player is progressing, and all you can do is take the career as a whole and look at the numbers. Griffin (62.7%, 7.5 YPA, 6.45 NYPA) and Foles (62.5%, 7.9 YPA, 6.80 NYPA) are pretty indistingulishable as passers, a point that I made before the 2012 draft. Luck is a lesser passer to date, but creates more big plays with his arm/legs than either Foles or Griffin. Many in the scouting community believe that the everydown consistency from Luck is only a matter of time.
Griffin has two well below market years remaining on his contract before an extension will be necessary, which creates a nice, soft, win now opportunity for a new coach. But that coach has to be capable of harnassing Griffin's talent, and bringing in enough talent from around the league to win in the short (but not immediate) term. A playoff appeareance should be the goal in 2013, but it's not like the Redskins should be expected to win 6 of their first 8 or something similar.
The new coach has to be new school enough to develop Griffin as a dual threat — not a run first threat that throws to the sticks on third down — but also old school enough to have a strong network of available talent with expiring contracts who will come play in Washington immediately. That's a tight line to walk and I believe Hue Jackson is the right coach for the Washington Redskins.
Jackson would have plenty of patience, but also little sympathy for Griffin as a 24 year old third year pro. The offense would be built around the quarterback's strengths. Jackson has not run an up-tempo offense in the past, but would certainly run one with Griffin. The foundation of Jackson's offense is in pro style running principles and the Air Coryell passing tree, but he's famous for being formation diverse to get the looks he wants to get from the defense. Jackson doesn't have a specific preference in the running game for the type of blocking he uses. He probably calls more inside zone plays than any other plays, but runs plenty of power and counter as well. His system is very RB friendly, without demanding a ton from the quarterback.
The foundation of Jackson's passing game is protecting the quarterback, by giving him enough options to get the ball out of his hands. You wouldn't see a ton of empty formations or spread-type option plays, but anything to get a player in space is something he may draw up. Most impressively, he understand's player tendencies very well, and since he knows Griffin will run the ball if the play breaks down, that takes away a lot of the necessity to draw up new opportunities for him to run.
I have found Hue Jackson's offense to be predictable in a good way. When he was running the Oakland offense in 2011, I could sometimes tell a few seconds before the snap based on alignment and tendency what mismatch Oakland was about to exploit. This is not because Jackson is some sort of genius, it's more because he has created an easily identifyable mismatch that the defense did not specifically prepare for that week. Then the ball is snapped and the play is executed as I imagined it would be. If the defensive coordinator is sitting in the box, he might realize what is about to happen, but it is already too late at that point. It's the opposite of the way Kyle Shanahan's offense was predictable, which is that you prepare all week to sit on the Redskins "money" routes and when you get an alignment you recognize, you don't bite on the route the receiver will show initially.
None of this is to disparage Jay Gruden as a Redskins head coach, but Gruden is going to have to swallow some lumps on the job, and the Redskins only have a couple of losses to give on their 2014 schedule before playoffs become a longshot. I believe Gruden would have no problem building an offense around Griffin's strengths — heck, he did that with Andy Dalton — but I also think Gruden would approach things much more conservatively in year one, and the the Super Bowl window that Washington opened last year with the Griffin trade is only going to last another two years.
I understand. The window doesn't feel open at all. Washington just had it's worst season since 1961. The talent on the roster is lacking at most critical positions. Everywhere except QB, RB, maybe OT and OLB (pending contractual situation) is a disaster zone. But it's not going to take the full $30 million dollars of cap space to replenish the talent on the roster. It's going to take an eye for talent. Not just offensive talent, which I think both Gruden and Jackson excel at identifying, but also DB talent, a position group Hue Jackson got to coach with Cincinnati in 2012 (and multiple members of that roster set to hit FA).
You upgrade the line with a couple of bigger guards, spend big on a receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Hakim Nicks, bring back Hankerson, Pierre Garcon, and Aldrick Robinson, then spend for two key pieces in the secondary, and the Redskins will enter 2014 not far from where they ended 2012. Then they still have additional cap space to improve the roster, although I'm not certain that they'll be able to go too far past that in a single offseason, and might be best saving that additional cap space. Improvement towards the top end of the league will require them to get some positive returns from the last three years of Mike Shanhan drafts, as well as instant contribution from the upcoming rookie class, and that's something I'm less optmistic about. Oh well.
I don't think Washington is a likely playoff contender in 2014, even though I think that should be the goal. More important than making the playoffs, Griffin needs to be in a system he has confidence in, and then needs to show the necessary improvement for the new coaches to have confidence in him. The roster should be built with the 2014 playoffs in mind, but towards the back of the mind. Same with the coaching hire. He needs to be mindful of reaching the playoffs with this roster, but not of single-mind focus, because player development over the next three seasons will be far more critical. That's why I believe Hue Jackson is the right hire for the Washington Redskins. If you get good people into the organization, the wins will come soon enough. And probably sooner than you anticipate.