This time last year, the Redskins could not buy a mention about actual football play from a free coupon publisher. Unless it was about Albert Haynesworth or Donovan McNabb, the Redskins were apparently not worthy of national press. Now in 2011, the Redskins are in the news because of their on-field activities and their 3-1 start to the season.
With a winning record, most of the news is positive. Certainly the team has room for improvement but the reasons for how differently the team is perceived this season are plentiful. It has been nice reading such positive prose about the team. Even so, I think that there are a lot of surprised NFL fans and media around the country.
In a nutshell, some of the things that have (or haven’t) made national news are:
P1) six Washington Redskins (out of 25 NFC East players) made ESPN’s Dan Graziano’s ”NFC East’s rolling All-Division Team” this week. Seven Redskins made it last week.
The six players listed on this “team” this week are center Will Montgomery, outside LB Brian Orakpo, middle LB London Fletcher, safety LaRon Landry, punter Sav Rocca and punt returner Brandon Banks. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh almost made the team but Fletcher is just too much the heart and soul of the defense according to Graziano.
Last week fullback Darrel Young (he only lost his spot this week due to injury), left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, outside LB Ryan Kerrigan and safety O.J. Atogwe were selected. Additionally, all named to their first of two straight weeks were Fletcher, Rocca and Banks. This is all pretty cool, you have to admit.
This time last year Matt Mosley, writing for the same ESPN NFC East blog, wrote:
“The Redskins have been awful on defense the past two games.” Also mentioned was that former Redskins running back Clinton Portis had carried the ball minimally heading into the 2010 Eagles game because he had injured his wrist. Not real positive stuff.
P2) Not only did the team recently have the aforementioned honors, rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was the NFC’s Defensive Rookie of the Month in September. Add that he was nominated for a second Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honor (he won the same award in Week 1) for Week 4 and that’s good news. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton won the award in the end but that doesn’t reduce the honor of being nominated for a second time or the Rookie of the Month award.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and running back Ryan Torain was nominated for Fedex Ground Player of the Week as well. Like Kerrigan, Torain did not receive the award (Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears did) but the honor was there just the same.
P3) The Redskins’ offense moves the ball down the field regularly. After the first four games of 2010, the total yards gained by the offense was 1,313. The team had gotten 69 first downs and scored 73 points.
After the same amount of games this season, Washington has gained 111 more yards (1,424), gotten 16 more first downs (85) and scored 10 more points (83).
P4) Special teams coach Danny Smith is still the best in the business and his squad must be given some credit for the 3-1 start of the Redskins. Punter Sav Rocca is giving the Redskins excellent field position with his 44.2-yards-per-punt average and return specialist Brandon Banks is averaging 22.2-yards-per-return.
Graham Gano’s kicking percentage is 71.4 – he has not gotten any worse.
P5) The Redskins’ defense is one of the best in the league. They are third in the NFL in scoring defense, giving up only 15.3 points per game, and are tied with the Eagles for the league lead in sacks with 15. This is a defense that ranked close to last in 2010.
One national media personality, former Ravens’ head coach Brian Billick, has the Redskins ranked overall at number 10.
P6) This team expects to win… every game. I wrote recently about the many rookies and new guys now on the team vs. players held over from the Zorn era and last season. This – combined with the accomplishments of these new players and the teams from which they came; and the winning programs and accomplishments of the rookies - means that the winning attitudes of players on this team now outweighs any other attitude.
“We think that we are a team to reckon with. Regardless of what the score is at the end of the game, we’re coming out with a ‘W’,” Redskins receiver Terrence Austin said this past Monday during his show on SportsJourney about the pressure of being 3-1 and having an NFC East division foe coming up at Fedex Field. ”That’s the way we’ve been trying to look at the whole situation anyway. So when we go into the game next week against Philly, it’s going to be all about trying to win.
“However we win, we’re going to win. And that’s all we are worried about. And we’re not worried about putting up 500-600 yards of offense, know what I mean? Or having 30 sacks on defense in one game. It’s really all about trying to win. Whatever way we can do it, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
P7) There is not a lot of off-field drama on this team and when there is, it blows over quickly. Even news of cornerback DeAngelo Hall saying he was going to target Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo’s injuries during the game and then later blasting his coach’s play calling only lasted a few days. With the team itself proclaiming that they had no time to worry about the loss to Dallas because of their short work week before playing the St. Louis Rams, the public forgot about most of it as well. The day after the game, Hall held a press conference, apologized for everything and that was that.
The more recent news about tight end Chris Cooley and his glee at watching Romo “choke” during the Cowboys’ recent loss to the Detroit Lions is really a joke to all but Skip Bayliss on ESPN‘s “First Take” and the other national media who have recently all but sainted the Cowboys’ quarterback. But that is their problem and none of it has not distracted the players I’ve communicated with the way the Haynesworth issues did.
P8) The team is relatively healthy going into the bye. Neither safety LaRon Landry nor Cooley are likely 100% yet but they’ve played and played well. Even with Orakpo’s brief absence during the Dallas game due to body cramps and the minor problems of other players, head coach Mike Shanahan has not mentioned any other serious injuries.
As I said, most of the news about the Redskins is positive. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few wrinkles however and, for what it’s worth, there is less negative than positive news:
N1) The team is still being haunted by the Ghost of Red Zone Elusiveness. There were only eight touchdowns scored in the first four games of 2010. In 2011, even with more total offense, they’ve still only logged eight touchdowns.
Although it is gratifying to know that Washington is better than Dallas at scoring touchdowns (the Cowboys are the fourth worst red zone team in the league behind St. Louis, Indianapolis and Kansas City), comparing the Redskins to other more productive teams illustrates the Redskins’ problem clearly. The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots both have 17 offensive touchdowns in 2011. The Buffalo Bills have 14 and the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints both have 13 touchdowns. These are the top five teams in the league in offensive scoring. Washington has attempted 10 field goals, made seven of them and only two of those attempted were from the 40-yard line and out. When they get that close to the end zone, they need to start scoring six points, not three. But the good news is that they are moving the ball within the 20-yard lines and the red zone problems can be fixed.
N2) On special teams, Banks’ could get better blocks.
“How many times could Brandon have been sprung to run back a kick off or punt return?” Austin said about missed opportunities. “That’s deadly there.”
Banks has amazing field vision but he does need a little help. While special teams standouts like linebacker Lorenzo Alexander regularly deliver hits worthy of the highlight reel, Banks hasn’t been able to break out in a few weeks. The good news is that these guys are hungry for something big to happen with Banks and someone is going to spring him with a good block here… soon.
N3) Washington lost to Dallas. That said, the loss was not nearly as painful as some of the losses in previous years. As one player said afterward, there is certainly nothing wrong with a 15-1 record.
“I think it’s realistic to look at [the possibility of the final record] as 15-1,” Austin said when asked about the difficulty of the upcoming games and how the mentality of winning can affect your record. “The main thing is that we got off to a good start and, just like you said, the first quarter of the season, we’re 3-1. If we can continue to play well I think it’ll definitely carry us over.
“It’s hard for teams to continue to lose and then win that one game,” he went on when asked about the difference between this season and last. “Say you lose three, four straight… all you’re worried about is winning just one game. After you win that one game, you still have a whole string of [losses] behind you and you’re still trying to come up. So I think psychologically, as a team, when you continue to win it just helps you confidence-wise and helps you as a team unit-wise and you’re really just infected with a winning attitude, you know what I mean? So you know what it takes to win and that’s what you’re trying to do.”
N4) Quarterback Rex Grossman has made the types of mistakes in his play that are causing the press to question whether or not he will revert to “bad Rex.”
Actually, the media seems to have developed a split personality when it comes to the Redskins’ quarterback. While Hall of Fame signal-caller Steve Young thinks that Grossman may someday be a top-ten quarterback, there are others who think that Young has had too many concussions.
But that is the nature of the beast in the National Football League. You have your Kool-Aid drinkers and your pessimists and there will always be opinions on either side of the spectrum, no matter what or who they are talking about. The only time news about a team is objective is when plays and statistics are discussed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The best thing right now about Redskins news is that most of it is about or as a result of their play on the field. To be discussing the X’s and O’s of Washington Redskin football players and a winning record is as liberating for fans and local media as it is for the team. It is difficult to talk to the players when things are going badly. And who can blame them for not wanting to rehash a loss or a seriously bad decision of a teammate or coach that has blown up in the news?
This 2011 Redskins team is as serious about continuing to win as the fans are about wanting them to.
“I’m excited,” Terrence said. “I want to see this city light up. I mean everybody here is so loyal. We get back from St. Louis and get back from playing Dallas and we’ve got fans out at Redskins Park at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning when we get in… cheering us home.”
Can the second-year man imagine how maniacal the fans would be if the Redskins got to the post-season?
“And that’s what I’m talking about,” he said when asked that exact question. “I’m excited to see that, I really am. This city deserves what they’ve been missing for the last decade.
“I’m happy. I always felt like I was destined for greatness. I always felt that way. I feel like something good is going to come for the Redskins and me being here in D.C. is going to be great.”
See what I mean about the winning mentality? For Redskins fans, that is news.