Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evaluating The Redskins’ 2011 Season: Looking Back At The Team By Position
This is the second part of a four-part series looking back at the Washington Redskins’ 2011 season.
The Washington Redskins expected to make a leap forward this season after winning just six games a year ago, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, they finished 5-11, with plenty of reasons contributing to that step back.
After winning three of their first four games, the Redskins went on a six-game losing streak and had just two wins in their last 10 games. Turnovers were a large factor. Missed tackles were crucial. Miscues on special teams didn’t help. And having such a young team, while great for the future, is always an experience.
“I’m still disappointed we didn’t win 10 or 11 games,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “I really believe if we would have stayed healthy – that’s not using it as an excuse because we didn’t have a lot of depth – I think we could have gotten there. But you’ve got to go get it done.”
The Redskins improved greatly at some positions, whether it be through trades, free agency or the draft. Improvement at others is sure to come. But every personnel group played a role in Washington’s lack of success this season.
Quarterbacks: The Redskins will look to bring in a quarterback this offseason, likely through the draft, as they try to find a playmaker at the position. Rex Grossman completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards and 16 touchdowns, but his 20 interceptions and five fumbles derailed the offense too often. John Beck got an opportunity to start three games and finish another, and he was too conservative, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 858 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Regardless of where the Redskins turn to next season – Grossman is a free agent, Beck has a year left – the top priority of that quarterback will be to not turn the ball over.
Running Backs: A preseason trade for Tim Hightower was paying dividends throughout the first six games of the season before the Washington-area native tore the ACL in his left knee against Carolina on Oct. 23. Roy Helu then stepped up, becoming the first rookie running back in team history to rush for three consecutive 100-yard games, and he finished with a team-high 640 yards on 151 carries with two touchdowns. Fellow rookie Evan Royster finished the year with two 100-yard performances of his own and had 328 yards on 56 carries. The running game predictably carried the Redskins’ offense, as it often has for a Shanahan-coached team, and that is unlikely to change in the future.
Wide Receivers: Who knew that a preseason trade for Jabar Gaffney would be the best move Shanahan would make? Gaffney finished with 68 catches for 947 yards, both of which were team- and career-highs, and five touchdown receptions. Santana Moss, the leading receiver in each of his first six years in Washington, seems to have lost a step, but he still had 46 catches for 584 yards and four touchdowns despite missing a month with a broken left hand. Another veteran, Donte Stallworth, played well after he was cut and re-signed midseason, but the team needs to bring in a bona fide playmaker at this position.
Tight Ends: Fred Davis had his eye on 800 receiving yards and eight to 10 touchdown catches – a lofty goal for someone who was a backup his first three years – but nearly reached one of those marks, catching 59 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns, before being suspended the final four games because of multiple failed drug tests. Chris Cooley was out for the final 11 games because of inflammation in his left knee, leaving Logan Paulsen to man the position. Cooley will be back, but will Davis – or will he and the Redskins part ways as he enters free agency?
Offensive Line: The Redskins have some decisions to make here. Trent Williams was growing into a solid left tackle before joining Davis in suspension and Chris Chester was fine in his first season at right guard, but right tackle Jammal Brown needs to get healthy this offseason, center Will Montgomery is a free agent and starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger tore multiple ligaments in his right knee and his availability is questionable. This was, by far, the weakest offensive position on the team and will need to be addressed.
Defensive Line: Not much is expected of the defensive line in a 3-4 defense other than to eat up blockers, but this unit played significantly above all expectations. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, signed before the season to play a position he never had before, may be the best in the league next season. Defensive ends Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen, also a free agent signee, both set career highs in sacks. Carriker is a free agent, but rookie Jarvis Jenkins is waiting in the wings. This unit should be set for years.
Linebackers: The Redskins had a known commodity in outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was a pass-rush specialist but grew more comfortable in coverage in his third season. Opposite Orakpo was rookie Ryan Kerrigan, who defied all expectations by never missing a snap even while converting from collegiate defensive end. London Fletcher, an impending free agent but the rock of the defense at 36, led the league with 166 tackles, and Perry Riley did a solid job replacing Rocky McIntosh inside midway through the year. If Fletcher returns, the front seven is fine.
Secondary: DeAngelo Hall had his blowups, as he has in each of his previous three and a half seasons in Washington, and Josh Wilson got better as the season went on, leaving the cornerback situation set for a few years. But there was no weaker unit on defense than the safeties, with the preseason game plan of pairing a returning LaRon Landry with free agent Oshiomogho Atogwe to form a fearsome twosome. Both were limited by injury, and two players who were once amongst the best in the league at their positions in their prime may not even be back next season.
Specialists: The Redskins had five field goal attempts blocked – the most of the league and completely unacceptable. Sav Rocca finished among the all-time leaders in several punting categories and Shanahan joked at one point during the season he was the team’s “best offensive weapon.” Discounting the blocks, Graham Gano made 15 consecutive field goal tries to end the season. Brandon Banks, as a kick returner and punt returner, needs to use better judgment. In all, a down year for the units, but it’s on personnel more than anything.
Coaching: Jim Haslett led a renaissance on defense boosted mostly by the team’s new additions and fared well overseeing a complicated 3-4 scheme. Kyle Shanahan took his lumps, but the play of the quarterbacks should not fall entirely on the offensive coordinator’s shoulders, especially as he seemed just as bothered by the turnovers at the end of the season as anyone else. And for Mike Shanahan, who just finished a season with his fewest victories in 17 years as a head coach, next year will be absolutely crucial to see if he can stay in Washington or if he’s tarnished his legacy.