July 14, 2010

2010 Redskins: Great Expectations?

T minus 14.

With training camp just two weeks away, focus is rapidly turning to the micro—can Donovan McNabb still move; who will start at free safety; how quickly can the offensive line gel and adjust to the new schemes, etc. The obvious macro question, of course, remains ...

How will the Washington Redskins do this year?

If you'll indulge me a minute, allow me to answer with a question:

What is a reasonable expectation?

Given their circumstances—coming off an ugly 4-12 season, replacement of their head coach, general manager and (apparently) entire modus operandi, installation of new systems on both sides of the ball, new quarterback and multiple additional new players—how exactly should one define “success” for the 2010 Redskins?

By wins alone? By some subjective assessment of "progress?"

Scenario 1: the Redskins start fast, say 5-3, stumble a bit down the stretch as the league gets a book on them, but claw out a tough win in the finale to go 9-7 and grab the final playoff spot. They then lose a lackluster road Wildcard game to the Eagles, 19-10.

Scenario 2: the Redskins start slow, say 3-5, struggling to find their new identity, but recover to go 4-4 over the tough second half of the season, including two solid wins against good teams to close out the year, and finish 7-9.

Sitting here today, which scenario would you define as more successful, hopeful, preferable?

I go in to each new season with relatively broad, preconceived notions and level of expectation about the Redskins and rest of the league. I have synthesized those expectations levels down to the four main categories below. Sometimes a given team will straddle the lines, true, but by and large it's a big-picture approach that has served me well ...

1. Championship Contender - All major parts in place; coming off a contending season. Barring catastrophic injury (Colts losing Peyton Manning for the year), no reason to expect a major fall.

2010 examples: Saints, Colts, Patriots

2. Expected Playoff Team - Coming off a playoff or competitive season with no new major question marks. Season would be considered disappointing if they failed to make the playoffs. Given relative health and a little luck, perhaps a breakthrough season and Super Bowl run.

2010 examples: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens

3. Hopeful Playoff Team - Coming off an average or even a little better season; solid in most areas and trending up. Given relative health and a little luck, perhaps a wildcard spot or even a title in a weak division. Season would be considered successful if they broke .500 or made the playoffs.

2010 examples: Texans, Panthers, 49ers

4. Also-Ran - You know one when you see one.

2010 examples: Rams, Lions, Raiders

To me the 2010 Redskins are a Hopeful Playoff Team.

There are simply too many variable and moving parts for me to put the weight of playoff expectations on them. To name just a few and most obvious ...

● Will the new culture of professionalism at Redskins Park under new head coach Mike Shanahan hold up under crisis? If the Redskins lose badly at home to Dallas in the opener, or find themselves at 2-4, will the warm fuzzy feeling of today be forgotten, replaced by the familiar "here we go again" mentality so prevalent among fans and, it is fair to assume, even in certain parts of the locker room?

● Will 32-year-old Donovan McNabb stay healthy and maintain close to the level of play he exhibited last season? If so, all other things being equal I translate that factor alone into anywhere from three to five more wins than the Redskins might have gotten this year were Jason Campbell still the starting quarterback.

Yes, I went there. No one single change can affect an NFL team more than the emergence of a legitimate, Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. If the Redskins suddenly have one ...

● Is new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan really as good as the buzz would have us believe? As good as his short resume with Houston would seem to indicate? No way to know until we see him tested under fire on the Redskins sideline.

● How long will it take rookie LT Trent Williams to not just start, but be effective protecting McNabb's blind side? Williams' predecessor at left tackle, recently retired Chris Samuels, started effectively from day one of his NFL career, but there is no guarantee Williams will be able to do the same. For the Redskins to be playoff contenders down the stretch, the big rookie will need to get it going sooner than later.

● Will new Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett’s revamped (reloaded?) 3-4 defense get itself synced up enough, early enough, to keep the Redskins in games while the offense works through its own growing pains?

We could do this all day, but you get the drift. And that's even without discussing the Diva Called Albert.

Hopeful Playoff Teams need two critical things to go right in order to meet or exceed expectations, regardless of how one defines them.

One, they need to stay relatively healthy. There's only so much a team can proactively do about that; building decent roster depth and having good trainers probably covers it. Beyond that, they need fate to smile.

Two, they need to stay afloat early. It's the rare team that can recover from a 3-5 or worse start and contend for a playoff spot at the end. It happens, but you wouldn't want to bet your own hard-earned money on it.

For those who will define success in 2010 as "X" Redskins wins or a playoff berth or bust, hope they get their collective act together early and strong enough to be no worse than 5-3 or 4-4 at midseason. Given the layout of the schedule and a string of tough games in the second half, it may be tough to get the 9 or 10 wins a playoff berth will require even if the team is considerably "better" than it was early.

My own expectations for the 2010 Redskins have less to do with the final record or playoff spot than they do with ending the season on a clear upward path. It's a new team. I never saddle a new team with that kind of expectations.

Here's what I do want.

I want to roll into the 2011 offseason having seen the Mike Shanahan/Bruce Allen Effect pay dividends in terms of professionalism on and off the field.

I want to see whether Donovan McNabb is The Man for another 3-4 seasons—long enough to continue the search for the home-grown "it" guy to take over when he's done.

I want to see if a) Jim Haslett is a better defensive coordinator than I gave him credit for when he was hired, and b) if a 3-4 defense can work in burgundy and gold. I mean, somewhere Diron Talbert is shaking his head.

And most of all, I want to see the Washington Redskins have begun the long climb back to NFL relevancy and respect.

Wins matter. Damn straight they do.

But at least for this year, seeing this storied-but-drifting franchise headed firmly back in the right direction matters more.

In fourteen days, the quest begins in earnest.

6 comments:

Shawn said...

I agree with many of the assessments and metrics used to define what would be success. I'm not sure I'm ready to put the Pats in as a Championship Contendor and though I'd agree that the Cowboys are expected to make the playoffs I do think that they've created a question mark on the left side of the line. Maybe not a danger sign, but a question mark nonetheless; though with Romo's ability to avoid the rush maybe not as big of a question mark as it might be for other teams.

Such high expectations in the first year could come back to haunt us. I think that the true test will be next year, whether this year is highly successful or a little closer to the dungeon. With the amount of turnover likely again after this year it could very well be more "building" than people are giving credit for.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Until I see Tom Brady NOT be the QB I expect he still is when healthy, I'm not prepared to dismiss the Pats. You may be right that it's over in NE, but I never bet against a team with one of the great QB's in NFL history. Just can't do it.

As to the Cowboys, 1) I hope you're right, and 2) possible OL questions notwithstanding, I still think failure to make the playoffs in 2010 would constitute a major surprise/disappointment based on the current Dallas arc.

As to the Redskins ... again, my expectations don't extend to wins totals or playoffs. I see this as a major transition year; one that will hopefully finally represent a firm course correction and return to NFL relevancy/respect.

Which I guess could be considered a pretty Great Expectation. :)

Anonymous said...

"3. Hopeful Playoff Team - Coming off an average or even a little better season

...

To me the 2010 Redskins are a Hopeful Playoff Team."

How do you square these two arguments? 4-12 is awful and that is what this team is coming off of.

This is probably the most difficult it has ever been for me to predict the Redskins. Too many variables.

It's 4-12 team. They aren't going to be worse than that.

So what's the upside?

How many games does Shannie add to the win column over Zorn? Shannie has been a great coach in the past. But his most recent campaigns have been pretty blah. How quickly does he get back to being a good coach?

How many games does McNabb add over JC? McNabb has been successful in Philly, but the question remains whether he is a system QB. Every qb has looked good in that Philly offense (remember how Garcia looked all-world there when McNabb went down? see how Philly thinks Kolb looks all world?). So there is a potential that McNabb is a system QB. And there is a potential that after another injury season and another year older (and learning a new offense for the first time in his career) that he is not as productive. In other words, the McNabb we are getting is not the McNabb that was a pro bowler (different offense, older, more injured). Still, one has to think he is going to be better than JC.

What's the Oline going to look like? Brown was a good add. Williams going to have rookie growing pains? What's going to happen at RG? Looks like we are going to try yet another conversion of a tackle to a guard which has failed miserably for us the last few times we have tried that. Can Rabach stop the continued decline he has been exhibiting and actually be solid this year as opposed to the garbage he has looked like the last few? Is Dockery a zone blocker? So many question marks on a unit that has been a real weakness.

Anonymous said...

{Con'td}

Now is the 3-4 conversion going to go? New system, new DC. And Haslett is not a great DC. He's actually fielded bad defenses most of the time (or at least worse defenses than his predecessors and successors were able to put on the field). And Haslett is not a 3-4 coach. So how is that going go? What happens if our defenses is worse than the one that led us to a 4-12 record?

Aged skilled players? How do the ancient plodders at RB perform? What's our WR corps going to look like? Our WR and RBs are based on a lot of hope that trends will reverse.

AH effect? How is he going to effect the locker room and disrupt training camp? Having such a distraction comes at the worse possible time as the team tries a complete makeover.

So, so many question marks. Not all of them are going to break in our favor... recent history has shown that when we rely on hopes, we end up with disappointments that lead to failed seasons. So figure that some of those are not going to go our way. Obviously if everything works out perfectly, we could be a legit contender. But that's ridiculously optimistic. Some are not going to go our way.

My best guess is that the offense improves and our defense hurts us. I think Shannie + McNabb are worth a +4 in the win column (+6 in absolute terms, but deflated by -2 as an offset for Oline issues, lame skilled players and McNabb's injuries). So our offense I'll give a +4 wins. I think our defense will struggle with the switch and be worse overall than Blatche's conservative and successful defenses. So I'm actually assessing a -2 to the win column based on the defense struggling.

That leaves me with a +2 in wins, so a 6-10 season. Then I'm going to add 1-2 on the theory that the newness and motivation of the players will be a little better than the beaten down players from last year which may have accounted for a deflation in wins.

So that gives me 7-9 or 8-8 record. Not good enough, but a 4 game improvement. I think a realistic view of the season is a .500 team that shows sign of improvement. Anything above that strikes me as foolishly optimistic.

The bigger concern for me is next year. We've given up draft picks, and some key players are another year older, another year more worn down, another year more injured. I honestly am worried about getting anything out of a lot of these guys this year, but relying on them for another season after that looks suicidal with players such as Portis, Galloway, McNabb, LJ, Moss, Rabach, LFB, and Daniels. And what happens if we have a salary cap back in place and lost draft picks? How are we going to replace these poeple if their skills diminish (like every other player has done in NFL history)?

I'm worried we only have a 1 year window, but that is not going to be enough.

Anonymous said...

I think we're almost certain to be in the playoff hunt. I expect us to win 9 or 10, perhaps 11 games in a best case scenario. Yes, I realize that's a bit crazy--but I did say "perhaps". :>)

However as Mark alluded to, a real franchise QB means almost everything in the NFL. While we are implementing a new offense, I think Shanny's system is probably similar enough to Philly's for McNabb to pick it up in time to be reasonably effective early in the season, if not right away. Moreover IMHO Shanny is a better playcaller/coach than Reid.

There are certainly some, OK a lot of question marks. However, if he can stay healthy for three or perhaps four years, I don't see McNabb being one of those question marks. If as many think a franchise QB is the key to NFL competitiveness, we're fine for a few years.

Yusuf

Anonymous said...

I'm sure many of the same questions were raised after the Falcons 4-12 2007 season. Their franchise QB is going to jail and the coach is quitting and going back to the college ranks. If someone had suggested during the offseason that the team would go 11-5 and make the playoffs, he would have looked silly. But a new coach was brought in and a new QB was drafted. (Think about that... they were able to turn the franchise around with 2 unknown quantities, we're trying to do it with a coach that has won 2 Super Bowls and a QB who had his ticket punched for Hawaii almost every year)
There's definitely reason for optimism in Washington. If Atlanta can do it, why can't we.