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2008 Redskins: Stuck in the muddled middle

2008 Redskins: Stuck in the muddled middle

A lot of things about the Washington Redskins will be different in 2008. There is the new head coach in Jim Zorn and a new offensive coordinator in Sherman Smith bringing in a new offense. The West Coast scheme has a new approach, increasing the emphasis on passing and utilizing less of the power running game that Joe Gibbs preferred.

There is a new defensive coordinator in Greg Blache. By and large he will take the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, keeping the same basic scheme that Gregg Williams used to bring three top-10 performances in the last four years. But Blache is certain to put his own stamp on the defense and there will be differences, most of which will be unveiled starting Thursday night in the Meadowlands.

There are a lot of new players, 15 of them to be exact. Ten of them were drafted as 100% of the team's draft class made the final cut.

But for all the change, things will look very familiar when the team takes the field in Giants Stadium. Of all of those new players, only defensive end Jason Taylor is slated to start, and he might not due to a sprained knee. Rookie Durant Brooks will be handling the punting duties. Stephon Heyer will start at right tackle in place of Jon Jansen, but Heyer started there the last five games of 2007, so that's nothing new.

So what will all of this change add up to in 2008?

The best-case scenario has the team grasping the new offense quickly and getting up to a reasonable level of proficiency in a hurry. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts keep things rolling on the ground while Jason Campbell fine tunes his game. Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas get into the act by Halloween given the Redskins the deepest, most versatile receiving corps in the game.

The Taylor-Andre Carter defensive end tandem becomes one of the most feared in the league. The added pressure on the opposing quarterback leads to the defense getting takeaways by the bucket, setting up a lot of confidence-building short drives by the offense.

The Redskins stay reasonably healthy and Zorn is portrayed by the media as a quirky genius. They pull off a few upsets, win most of the games that they should win, and finish 10-6. They win a Wild Card playoff game and go into 2009 as a team on the rise.

The worst-case scenario has the team being out of synch offensively from the get-go. With little threat of the pass, opposing teams crowd the line of scrimmage and Portis and Betts can't get untracked. The defense holds its own early in most games but the same fourth-quarter collapses we have seen too many of over the past several years persist because the offense can't put away the opposition.

The Skins suffer a few key injuries and Zorn is portrayed by the media as being in over his head. They go 1-5 in the tough NFC East and stumble to a 6-10 record.

And so it goes. For all that is new and different about this team, the Redskins remain where they have been for the past 15 years. They are in the muddled middle of the NFL. They could have a few things go right and get a fifth or sixth playoff seed. Or some things could go wrong and they could be picking fifth or sixth in the '09 draft.

Given that, it says here that the Redskins will go 8-8 this year. They will start off reasonably well as opposing teams see Zorn's version of the WCO for the first time. Let's say 3-2 in the first five games, winning the home contests and pulling a road upset against one of the division foes.

Once the other teams have enough on film to counter Zorn's schemes things will get tougher. They stumble somewhat against what should be a soft spot in the schedule, going 1-2 against the Rams, Browns, and Lions.

Standing 4-4 at midseason, their play improves but the opposition gets tougher and they go 1-3 while facing four 2007 playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle and the Giants.

In a script familiar to Redskins fans, they have a good December, going 3-1 to finish off the season.

It's possible that 8-8 will get them into the playoffs in the NFC. The way things worked out last year, the Redskins could have lost to Dallas in that last game and they still would have been the sixth seed at 8-8.

Still, the playoffs are an unlikely destination for the 2008 Redskins. They will go into 2009 still in search of the keys to breaking out of the mediocre NFL pack.

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Need to Know: Quarterbacks win championships and other lessons for the Redskins

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Need to Know: Quarterbacks win championships and other lessons for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, January 22, 51 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL franchise tag deadline (3/6) 43
—NFL Draft (4/26) 94
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 230

Quarterbacks win championships and other lessons the Redskins can learn

Quarterback matters: We had the setup of the three castaway and ridiculed quarterbacks leading their teams into the NFL’s final four. But, the two who survived were one of the greatest of all time and one who found his groove and had 10.7 yards per attempt and a 141.4 passer rating. Yes, Tom Brady and Nick Foles had a lot of help and we’ll get into that in a minute. But, without excellent play from their quarterbacks, it may have been a different story for the Eagles and Patriots. This doesn’t mean that the Redskins need to send truckloads of money to Kirk Cousins’ house, but if they don’t, they do need a quality alternative. You won’t win with Bortles-level play.

Defense matters: The Vikings rolled right down the field on their first possession and it looked like the Eagles defense was going to have a long night. But then Chris Long got pressure on Case Keenum leading a pick six that apparently energized the Philly defense. Rookie Derek Barnett knocked the ball out of Keenum’s hand when the Vikings were threatening to make a game of it. Minnesota came up empty in its last eight possessions. As the Eagles offense started to build a lead, their defense played faster and more aggressively. At this point, the Redskins don’t have the personnel or the mindset to play that way on defense.

Does running really matter? It’s a small sample size here but in the two games yesterday it did not. The Patriots ran for all of 46 yards. The Eagles got 110, but at the point in the third quarter where they took a 31-7 lead, they had 202 yards passing and 40 yards rushing. Running the ball was not decisive in either game. Offensively, the games were won in the air. Jay Gruden’s “pass happy” approach can be a winning approach.

Stay aggressive: At times during the year, Cousins expressed some frustration in the Redskins’ inability or perhaps unwillingness to keep the pedal mashed to the floor when they had a lead. I hit on the Eagles’ aggressiveness on defense, but their offense didn’t slow down either. They were up 21-7 when they got the ball on their own 20 with 29 seconds left in the first half. In that situations, the Redskins—and, in fact, most other teams—would run a draw, throw a short pass, and let the clock run out. But Doug Pederson was having none of that. Passes for 11, 36, and 13 yards got them down to the Vikings 20 and they kicked a field goal to close out the half. If the game wasn’t over then, it was early in the third quarter when Pederson called a flea flicker and Foles hit Torrey Smith for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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What can the Redskins learn from the Eagles run to the Super Bowl?

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What can the Redskins learn from the Eagles run to the Super Bowl?

For Redskins fans, it's probably a tough pill to swallow that the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. Making matters worse, Philadelphia got to the championship game without their star quarterback Carson Wentz.

Beyond the feelings that fandom incites, which are real and severe, what does the Eagles' breakthrough season mean for Washington? Let's take a look. 

Perhaps the most incredible part of the Eagles' success is that wunderkind QB Wentz is not at the helm. The second-year player was an MVP candidate all season but got injured late in the year. Nick Foles, the Philly backup, took over and played well in both Eagles' playoff wins. 

Does that mean much, if anything, for the Redskins? 

Some will argue it means Washington should not look to invest top dollar in QB Kirk Cousins. Foles is not considered a top-flight quarterback and still was able to maneuver his squad to the Super Bowl.

Whether or not that argument makes sense, Redskins fans should prepare to hear a lot of it over the next two weeks. 

There is also a theory that the Redskins should eschew spending at QB in favor of spending on defense. 

That may very well be the right move, but don't look to the Eagles to support the theory. 

Philadelphia spent $47 million on the defensive side of the ball in 2017. On offense, they spent $56 million.

What is definitely true?

The Eagles played terrific football in the postseason, and catapulted through the NFC by playing the underdog role.

Redskins fans might hate it, but the Eagles absolutely earned their Super Bowl appearance. 

That doesn't mean Redskins fans have to like it. 

Philadelphia has never won a Super Bowl. 

Now, standing in the way of their first Lombardi Trophy: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. 

Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!