WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Redskins fans have been drinking the Kool-Aid this offseason. Actually scratch that: they've been dumping it on their heads. They've been taking baths in it.
And who could blame Redskins fans? They haven't had this much faith in their team, since...well, the late 1980's.
Last season's stunning seven game winning streak brought Redskins fever back to the nation's capital and the surrounding area. And not the kind of fever sprung in the burgundy and gold nation following the Steve Spurrier hiring or the Albert Haynesworth signing. This fever had substance. This fever has a future.
What we learned from the 2012 season
1) Mike Shanahan's master plan is working faster than any of us thought
Fans and media around the NFL act like it was solely Robert Griffin who led the Redskins to the playoffs. And I mean, yeah, Griffin is so good that a few of his teammates call him Jesus. But it's the foundation of this Redskins team which has made them as rock solid as any team in the league. Alfred Morris, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan are perennial pro bowlers each season-- all Shanahan acquisitions. Handpicked unsung heroes like Kai Forbath, Richard Crawford, Kirk Cousins and Aldrick Robinson helped rescue the Redskins last season. Even with the most severe cap penalty in NFL history, Shanahan's personnel decision making is why the Redskins are now contenders.
2) RGIII's best trait isn't his athleticism; it's his smarts
We should rant and rave much more about Griffin's five interceptions last season. Some will say that number is an anomaly. Some, like me, say this number will be repeated several times in Griffin's career. Peyton Manning's career low INT number is nine and his rookie INT number was 28. Tony Romo threw 19 pickles last season alone. Sans the Steelers game from 2012, Washington was within eight points of their other six losses. Griffin's ability to keep the ball moving and in his possession was unlike any other rookie we've seen in eons.
3) Pierre Garcon is one of the most underrated players in the NFL
Because Garcon was being delivered passes like UPS mail in Indianapolis from Peyton Manning and because he was lined up with Reggie Wayne, I don't think many people knew exactly how fast Garcon really was. The Redskins went 9-1 when Garcon suited up. In seven of those games he had a catch for at least 20-yards. If his chemistry with Griffin progresses and he stays healthy, 10 touchdowns from Garcon is not out of the question.
4) The Redskins ignited an offensive revolution with the zone read
The astonishing part about the zone read was that it wasn't unveiled until week one in New Orleans. We didn't see a glimpse of it in the 2012 preseason. Kyle Shanahan doesn't get credit for creating it, but he should get credit for making it mainstream. The Seahawks and 49ers adopted principles of the offense which helped catapult both franchises deep into the playoffs. Additionally on the college level, schools like Texas recruited RGIII and Johnny Manziel as defensive backs, now must change the way they recruit quarterbacks. Expect the read option to become a staple like the shotgun and more athletic quarterbacks to be taken early on in NFL drafts.
What questions remain entering the 2013 season
1) How much -- if at all -- will RGIII alter his playing style?
Griffin is stubborn and believes his unique skill set could one day make him one of the NFL's most revered quarterbacks. He will say in press conferences that his job is to throw the football, but Griffin is a track athlete at heart: he loves galloping by defenders. Does a more tame RGIII make the zone read less effective? Probably. At the end of the day the Redskins wouldn't have traded three first round picks for Griffin if he didn't flash 4.3 speed. It'll be impossible to put a leash on possibly the best pound-for-pound athlete in the NFL. Be prepared to hold your breath all season long, Redskins fans.
2) Will Kyle Shanahan have wrinkles to add to the zone read option?
I'd expect Roy Helu in the backfield with Alfred Morris a good bit. I'd expect Niles Paul to be utilized in some type of hybrid role. And the obvious thought going through the minds of many: does Pat White line up in the read option next to RGIII? Defensive coordinators are salivating to throw their chess pieces against the zone read in 2013 after an entire offseason of watching film. There's only so much a scheme can do though. The read option freezes linebackers and linemen, making them pause and think. Ultimately, it'll be up to the defenders to start guessing correctly.
3) Just how bad will the secondary be?
The NFL is a passing league, meaning the Redskins will often have to trot out nickel and dime packages. An improved healthy pass rush will help the secondary. Do DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have stellar seasons left in the tank? How much will Reed Doughty be counted on? It's hard not to love Bacarri Rambo's potential, but there will 100 percent be some growing pains early on in the season. If the Redskins somehow miss the playoffs, it will be this unit's fault.
4) Can the Redskins make the playoffs without going on a crazy winning streak to the end the season?
For the first time since I was wearing diapers, the Redskins are the hunted and not the hunters. The Redskins haven't made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1991-1992. And their last three playoff appearances, whether you like to admit it or not, were somewhat lucky. In 2005 Washington reeled off five straight wins solely on the back of Clinton Portis. In 2007, Joe Gibbs rallied his troops behind the death of the beloved Sean Taylor and miraculous performance after performance from journeyman quarterback Todd Collins. And only Robert Griffin III himself thought it was possible to win seven straight games in 2012 to win the NFC East. In all likelihood, the Redskins need to make sure they play much better in October and November this season, so no ridiculous win streak is necessary.
Which players will exceed expectations?
1) Ryan Kerrigan
I think it's semi-realistic to think Kerrigan can play like he did in preseason game two against the Steelers. His weight doesn't show it, but Kerrigan is undeniably stronger and arguably quicker. He's a player who doesn't go missing in games and will greatly benefit from rushing the right tackle, where he won't see many double teams. Once London Fletcher retires, the rest of the NFL will associate Kerrigan with the Redskins defense.
2) Brandon Meriweather
He played in just one game last season, and there's a good chance you remember which one. The Eagles came to Fed Ex in late November and were throttled by Meriweather. His seven tackles, two pass deflections and 25-yard interception return might've been the most impactful game a Redskins safety has had since Sean Taylor. That's the Meriweather who made two Pro Bowls with the New England Patriots. If the Redskins get that Meriweather, and he can finally stay healthy, other deficiencies in the secondary will be partially masked.
3) Fred Davis
Davis looked like an absolute animal the first few days of training camp. He was making members of the secondary fall down like an AND-1 mixtape. Davis is nimble, he's hungry and he was Griffin's top target last season before his Achilles injury. Griffin is a master of spreading the ball around, so Davis' numbers may not be all that gaudy, but his significance will be heavily felt.
4) Roy Helu
There's no doubting Alfred Morris is stronger and has better vision than Helu. There's also little arguing who is more athletic. Helu's shifty moves show shades of division rival LeSean McCoy -- pun intended. His pass catching abilities will add anotherto the offense this season too. Remember Shanahan loves to ride the hot hand too. If for some reason Morris goes down with an injury, and Helu is reeling off 100-yard games, Shanny will be reluctant to pull Helu from the lineup.
5) Chris Thompson
I don't think his impact will be felt on the zone read side this season because we can't trust his pass blocking skills yet. Thompson seems ready to shine in the return game. From 2006-2012, the Redskins primary return men were Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Banks. The pair combined for a hideous two return touchdowns, and an uncountable amount of wrongly called fair catches. Thompson himself is raw -- hopefully the fumbling problem will be fixed -- but his talent is undeniable.
Which players won't meet their expectations?
1) Alfred Morris
Don't get me wrong, I'm the biggest Alfred Morris supporter you'll find. I rarely write about him without bragging about the fact that I discovered him last training camp. But check out some names of rookie running backs who totaled more than 1,400 yards rushing in their rookie seasons: Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Edgerrin James, Earl Campbell, Clinton Portis and Jerome Bettis. It's unfair to compare Morris to these NFL legends. Because he's set his standard so high, a 1,200 yard season will be viewed as a disappointment to many, including him. Helu WILL impede on some of the carries, and more short passing plays may be called this season to keep RGIII out of harms way. Morris is a vicious runner and he definitely has more monster seasons in him. I'm just having a tough time believing he can duplicate the franchise record again.
2) London Fletcher
Leadership wise, Fletcher always exceeds expectations. In the spring I wrote that it was Griffin's admiration for Fletcher which kept him on the field during the Seahawks playoff game. In coverage last season Fletcher boasted an NFL best five interceptions for linebackers. The Redskins captain has always been solid against the run, too. So what's the catch? Lying about injuries, which he apparently did about a concussion last season. Fletcher better not let his consecutive games played streak get in the way of what could be a deep playoff run. If he's hurt, there are several serviceable backup linebackers, notably Bryan Kehl, who can fill in.
3) Brian Orakpo
Let's hope Orakpo has matured enough on the field that he doesn't strictly bull rush opposing offensive tackles. Pass rushers who get a big day by NFL teams have an arsenal of moves. Additionally Orakpo will have to prove he's able to not only cover tight ends in space, but also make plays. Reserve linebacker Rob Jackson picked off four passes in Orakpo's absence and arguably forced a season saving fumble against the Ravens. Orakpo has posted quality numbers thus far during his four year career, but he must start making timely plays.
4) Josh Morgan
Morgan admits he played nicked up all of last season, and still managed to be productive -- 48 catches for 510 yards and two touchdowns. But he doesn't have Leonard Hankerson's strength, Aldrick Robinson's speed, or Santana Moss' reliability. At some point does Kyle Shanahan sacrifice Morgan's above average run blocking skills to try and give a jolt to the offense? It's something I would suggest.
5) David Amerson
I think David Amerson's junior year at NC State was more indicative of the type of cornerback he is, as opposed to his sophomore season -- a year filled with an unbelievable 12 interceptions. Burning Amerson in coverage was not a challenge for ACC receivers and it won't be difficult for NFL wide outs either. My guess is Amerson's rookie season is reminiscent to what DeAngelo Hall plays like: allowing many big plays, but making a few big ones himself.
Summing it up
As unpredictable as the NFL regular season can be, barring a catastrophic RGIII injury, I'll be stunned if the Redskins miss the playoffs. Washington's front seven -- spearheaded by Barry Cofield -- might be the most balanced in the NFC. And the competition in the NFC East on paper is at an all-time low. Outside of their defensive line, the Giants defense has swiss cheese holes and depth issues. This season's repulsive Cowboys offensive line will remind Redskins fans of the early 2000's, when Patrick Ramsey was being body slammed every other play. The Eagles have playmakers offensively, but the harsh reality of switching to a 3-4 defense will set in quickly for Philly fans.
As long as Washington finishes on the positive side of the turnover ratio, the sky is the limit. I even think this team will be okay if Griffin somehow hits a sophomore snag. One small thing to note is how healthy the Redskins offensive line was last season, a rarity in the NFL. Backups Tom Compton, Adam Gettis and especially Josh LeRibeus may be forced to grow up quickly. Regardless, the Redskins have the most complete team and the most upside in the NFC East. Keep filling that bathtub with Kool-Aid, burgundy and gold faithful.
Wild Card Round
Redskins over Panthers
49ers over Packers
Texans over Bengals
Steelers over Colts
Falcons over Redskins
Seahawks over 49ers
Steelers over Broncos
Texans over Patriots
Seahawks over Falcons
Texans over Steelers
Seahawks over Texans