In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
El-Bashir: The Redskins laid a solid foundation in the second half of 2015, no doubt. They learned how to practice with focus and intensity. They learned how to win on the road. They also figured out what it takes to string together a few wins. As a result, Jay Gruden and Co. won five of their final six games en route to claiming the NFC East title.
But once they got into the playoffs, the Redskins learned the hardest lesson of them all: They’ve still got a ways to go before they’re ready to challenge the NFL’s elite. Which leads us to today’s question.
Here are the top three things that must occur for the Redskins to make it to the big game:
- Kirk Cousins must take his game to the next level. He was outstanding down the stretch, but next season is going to be more challenging. Expectations will be higher. Opponents will be better prepared for him. And the schedule will be harder, too.
- The defense must be, in a word, better. Each of this year’s final four—Denver, Carolina, New England and Arizona—finished among the top-10 in yards and points allowed. The Redskins, meantime, were 28th and 17th, respectively. Getting Junior Galette back will make the pass rush a lot more dynamic. But GM Scot McCloughan also must address a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns. Only eight teams allowed more and, of course, none of those teams sniffed the postseason.
- As good as the passing game proved to be from November on, the Redskins must acquire a reliable running game to complement Cousins and the air attack. Last season, the Alfred Morris and Matt Jones-led ground game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. As a result, McCloughan has some tough decisions to make. Is Jones ready to be the starter? Or does McCloughan need to make a bold move in free agency or the draft? Whatever he decides, it had better work because 30th in yards per attempt ain't going to cut it, obviously.
Are there other areas where the Redskins need to be better? Sure. But if they make significant strides in those three, I think they'll be in position to make a run.
Tandler: With the NFL operating under a hard salary cap it is difficult to piece together a team that is dominant on both sides of the ball like the 1991 Redskins did. So building a high-scoring offense and a punishing defense sounds like a good plan on paper but the difficulty of doing so is high.
The Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball but they are in the Super Bowl thanks to the generational talent they have under contract. Carolina has some very good players but wouldn’t be playing in the Super Bowl today if not for Cam Newton. Getting a franchise quarterback is an important part of the formula but unless you have the good fortune of holding the No. 1 pick in a year when a player like Newton is in the draft pool it’s not going to happen.
The Broncos are more like the unbalanced teams that we have seen a lot of in the big game lately. Their offense was pedestrian. Peyton Manning struggled mightily all year. But it’s arguable that due to their defense, first in the league in terms of yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, they could be playing today with just about anyone behind center.
Back to the Redskins and their Super Bowl drought of nearly a quarter of a century, McCloughan’s first task needs to be to get the Redskins to where they are competent on both sides of the ball and then pour resources into one side or the other. It appears that they are further ahead on offense right now so building up the running game and continuing to develop Cousins could be the ticket to bigger and better things.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- Today: How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Tomorrow: Who on offense will take the next step?