Mike Shanahan will be going into his second season as the head coach in Washington, a year when many teams take a step forward as the coach implements his system and gets rid of players that don’t fit. The team traded Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth, with the former falling out of favor with Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, even though he was their acquisition before the season, while the latter was just a complete pain inherited by Shanahan. The quarterback decision this offseason has drawn all the attention, and I will focus on it in a bit because it is the giant wildcard in the Redskins season. However, the bigger issue for Washington going 6-10 last year was the pass defense, which ranked 29th in defensive pass efficiency, as the defense switched to a 3-4 defense with coordinator Jim Haslett.
The team has turned over nearly half the defensive starting lineup entering 2011 in an attempt to address those issues and create better fits for the type of defense they will run. Washington brought in two linemen from division rivals, nose tackle Barry Cofield (Giants) and defensive end Stephen Bowen (Cowboys). Ryan Kerrigan was added in the first round of the draft to play rush outside linebacker opposite emerging star Brian Orakpo, while the secondary added Josh Wilson at cornerback and O.J. Atogwe at safety.
On offense, the team let veteran Casey Rabach go at center (presumably so he could pursue a career as a cook on board a ship or train), and will slide Will Montgomery, who started 6 games at guard, over to that position. Chris Chester, formerly of the Ravens, was signed to play right guard, and should upgrade the position. Chester’s signing was typical of the Redskins offseason, which was atypical for the Snyder era. Several other moves also upgraded the depth or starters on offense, while not making a splash nationally, including adding Tim Hightower at running back, who has looked really good in the preseason running in the Shanahan zone blocking scheme, along with signing Jabar Gaffney and adding Leonard Hankerson in the draft to play receiver.
I feel like this is a team that has upgraded its roster with a series of small steps, all of which should add up. The defense simply cannot be as bad as last year, and if Kerrigan can provide another pass rushing presence, could take a leap forward. The offensive line is upgraded, and left tackle Trent Williams looks like a keeper, entering his second year. The skill positions have improved quality and depth. The great unknown is the quarterback situation.
The Shanahans are gambling that the combination of John Beck and Rex Grossman will surprise. Beck is 30, and hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2007, when he failed to lead any touchdown drives in four starts. Grossman could have his picture listed under inconsistency, as you never know what you are going to get at any point, and at 31 years old, is unlikely to suddenly change. Between the two of them, they are both over 30 but have only 38 career starts in the NFL.
I tried to look up situations similiar to Washington this year, where a team is replacing an established veteran who is not on the roster at all, with players who were not hot draft picks and not established starters, but had been in the league for a while. I looked at all quarterbacks from age 27 to 32 since 1978. I acknowledge I may have missed something, but these are the situations that seem most similar on the surface based on age and experience of the replacement quarterbacks, and the identity of the veteran who left.
- 1992 Seahawks. Let veteran Dave Krieg go. Went with 30 year old Stan Gelbaugh (3 career starts) and 28 year old Kelly Stouffer (9 starts) along with Dan McGwire. The team went 2-14 despite a good defense and defensive MVP Cortez Kennedy.
- 1988 Chargers. Dan Fouts retired. Team signed Mark Malone (30 years old, 45 career starts) along with having Babe Laufenberg (29 years old, 0 starts). Team dropped from 8 to 6 wins.
- 1994 Oilers. Team traded Warren Moon to Vikings, went with 31-year old Cody Carlson (14 career starts) and 28-year old Billy Joe Tolliver (28 career starts), went from 12 wins to 2 wins.
- 1989 Cardinals. Neil Lomax retired. Signed Gary Hogeboom (31 years old, 24 career starts) to start, with Timm Rosenbach and Tom Tupa as backups. Dropped from 7 wins to 5 wins.
- 2000 Dolphins. Dan Marino retired. Went with an unknown 29-year old Jay Fiedler (1 career start) along with Damon Huard. Team returned to the playoffs, going from 9 to 11 wins with a still very good defense leading the way.
- 2001 Panthers. Let Steve Beuerlein go. Started 29 year old rookie Chris Weinke, with Rob Lytle and Dameyune Craig as the backups. Went 1-15.
- 2005 Bills. Let Drew Bledsoe leave as free agent. Signed 32-year old Kelly Holcomb (13 career starts) to compete with J.P. Losman. Not truly applicable because team wanted to go to Losman, but Holcomb played more. Dropped from 9 wins to 5 wins.
- 1994 Bears. Let Jim Harbaugh go in free agency. Went with 30-year old Eric Kramer (17 career starts) and 28-year old Steve Walsh (24 career starts). Improved from 7 to 9 wins.
- 1980 Cowboys. Roger Staubach retired, and long time backup Danny White (28 years old, 1 career start) became the starter. Team returned to the playoffs and won 12 games again.
- 1983 Buccaneers. Doug Williams left to play in USFL. In one of the worst moves ever, the Bucs traded a first round pick for Jack Thompson, who was 27, had 6 career starts, but had averaged about 5.5 yards per attempt and an interception 5% of the time on nearly 350 career passes. Backup was 29-year old Jerry Golsteyn. Team dipped from 5-4, to 2-14.
- 1999 Seahawks. Replaced Warren Moon with 27-year old Jon Kitna (6 career starts) and 29-year old Glenn Foley (8 career starts). Team went 9-7 and made the playoffs.
You can decide how many of those situations are truly similar to the Redskins in 2011, if any. I think we are getting a little further away toward the bottom, as Kitna was 3 years younger than Beck and flashed promise off the bench, and White was 2 years younger. I think the upside is something more along the lines of Erik Kramer. The average team on this list dropped 8.2 wins to 5.0 wins, so going with an inexperienced but not young group of replacements doesn’t tend to work out. Several of the teams on here were outright disasters.
Honestly, nothing would surprise me. Shanahan has turned guys like Brian Griese and Jake Plummer into productive starters, and his playcalling with rollouts and play action, along with what is usually a productive running game, puts the QB in positions to succeed. If this team was in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes because the Beck/Grossman tandem was awful, I could see that. If it surprised and approached 8-8 with quarterback play that at least approached competent while the rest of the team is improved, well, I suppose that wouldn’t shock me either. Shanahan has pushed his chips to the middle of the table and staked his reputation on the latter happening in 2011.
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Chicago Bears
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Indianapolis Colts
2011 NFL PREVIEW: New Orleans Saints
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Tennessee Titans
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2011 NFL PREVIEW: Buffalo Bills
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2011 NFL PREVIEW: Jacksonville Bengals
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Minnesota Vikings
2011 NFL PREVIEW: New York Giants
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 NFL PREVIEW: St. Louis Rams
2011 NFL PREVIEW: Miami Dolphins
2011 NFL PREVIEW: New England Patriots
2011 NFL PREVIEW: San Francisco 49ers
[photo via Getty]
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