Oddsmakers pegged them as a six- or seven-win team. Media experts figured the Washington Redskins would finish third or fourth in the NFC East. “Lots of small moves don’t spell big improvement,” reported Pro Football Weekly’s season preview magazine.
While no one knew quite what to make of this Redskins team in the offseason, football analysts agreed they’ve impressed at times and are in good position to compete in a surprisingly wide-open division.
“There’s something about this team,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said. “I think you’re going to get a really good fight out of them every week. As a fan, that’s pretty good. You want that.”
The Redskins (2-2) face the winless San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and have a shot at a winning record and a jolt of confidence heading into a pair of pivotal games against division rivals. But already, coming off a loss and a bye week, there’s optimism in the locker room – and for good reason, analysts said. After all, their last time taking the field, the Redskins nearly stunned the host Chiefs, the league’s only undefeated team, on “Monday Night Football.”
“If Josh Doctson comes down with that catch, everyone has a totally different vibe about Washington,” NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara said of the possible game-winning catch that bounced out of the receiver’s grasp. “The game is crazy like that. One or two plays here or there can change things.”
Entering the season, O’Hara said he wanted to see how the Redskins would replace DeSean Jackson’s and Pierre Garcon’s production at wide receiver, if the running game could have a bigger impact and whether the linebackers and secondary might show improvement. The early signs in those areas are promising, he said.
“I think they’re sitting pretty good now at 2-2. If you start the year 4-0, people start changing expectations. Usually that first month, you’re still trying to figure things out, get in a rhythm,” said O’Hara, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman for the Giants. “The next stretch is when you really find out who you are.”
As the Redskins’ record suggests, they are not among the conference elite and not among the NFC’s bottom-dwellers. But it’s the next stretch of the schedule that could define them. Their next four opponents have a combined record of 9-11, skewed heavily by Sunday’s opponent, the 0-5 Niners.
Two of the next four opponents, the Eagles and Cowboys, happen to be division foes, which should provide some clarity in the NFC East hierarchy. While Philadelphia looks formidable, the Giants have imploded and the Cowboys already have as many losses through five games as they posted all of last season. Analysts see an opening for a team like the Redskins.
“It’s there; the potential is there,” said Fox analyst Chris Spielman, the four-time Pro Bowler who worked the Redskins’ Week 2 game at the Los Angeles Rams. “The quarterback continues to play at a high level and avoid some of the mistimed decision-making he’s made in the past. … It’s a quarterback-driven league, it’s a throwing league and if the quarterback play is consistent, they can be as explosive offensively as anybody in the league.”
While Kirk Cousins has topped 240 yards just once, he’s also thrown only one interception. His yards per game are down (307 last season to 251 through four games this year), but his yards per attempt are slightly up (8.3 yards this year, from 8.1 a season ago).
“Kirk Cousins hasn’t fundamentally changed,” said Collinsworth, who worked the Redskins’ Week 3 win over the Raiders on “Sunday Night Football.” “I think he still wants to get the ball down the field, and I think Jay Gruden still wants to get the ball down the field. I think they’re just working to that level — it takes time, it takes work.”
When the experts talk about improvement, they focus on defense. London Fletcher, the former Redskins linebacker who’s now an analyst for CBS Sports, liked some of the offseason additions and thought they’d be improved. “But even I didn’t think they’d be this good,” he said.
Analysts praised the additions of draft pick Jonathan Allen and free agent pickups D.J. Swearinger and Zach Brown but were quick to point out that new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky seems to have altered the unit’s personality.
“It all kind of starts with him,” Collinsworth said. “He makes you think of a Marine sergeant. It’s not all about X’s and O’s and the coverage and the schemes. For those guys, it’s about: Is he gonna kick our ass, or are we gonna go kick that team’s ass?”
Fletcher also noted that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has injected the same level of excitement up front, and the result is a group that’s both energetic and disciplined.
“Your culture is set in practice, from the defensive coordinator, from the position coach, from the leaders in each group,” Fletcher said. “And then it all trickles down.”
If the first quarter of the schedule was about finding out who they are, this next stretch could find the Redskins delving deeper, figuring out what they can be. Analysts agreed that the pieces seem to be in place, and Washington is poised to at least be competitive.
“I think they’re in a good position, sort of lurking in the weeds,” O’Hara said. “I think they’re under the radar a bit. They’re a team that’s been in this position before and realizes the big push has yet to come.”
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