December 27, 2010

The Backup Plan: The Redskins Receive Contributions From Some Unlikely Characters

A column for SB Nation DC
If Sunday's win over the Jaguars was any indication, then the Redskins might have had pieces for the future in reserve all season. Injuries paved the way for a winning combination on the field in an overtime win at Jacksonville and the performance of several unheralded players might have been enough to ensure them a shot at playing in Washington beyond this disappointment of a season. It's true: Give hungry players a chance and they will produce.
Mike Shanahan made the final three games an evaluation process after being eliminated from playoff contention. He wanted to see what his scrubs could do when thrust in a prominent role and based on what he's seen so far, he can't be too disappointed.
The poor play along the defensive line has been a major issue this year. It wasn't against the Jaguars though. Somehow the lineup of Adam CarrikerAnthony Bryant, and Vonnie Holliday won the battle at the point of attack, commanded extra blockers to deal with them, and also pressured Jags' quarterback David Garrard all game long.
The Redskins held the Jaguars to 78 yards rushing and 3.4 yards per carry. Granted, Jacksonville was without Maurice Jones-Drew, but they still boasted the third best rushing offense in the NFL matching up against a run defense giving up 4.8 YPC. No matter, the defensive line overpowered the Jaguars blockers, playing a vital factor in stopping Rashad Jennings. Carriker, Holliday and Bryant led the way with a combined ten tackles and a sack.
Their success made life easier for a linebacking corps, which has been unable to grasp the complex 3-4 scheme implemented by Jim Haslett all season. With the Jacksonville offensive line occupied with the resurgent Redskins front, London FletcherRocky McIntosh and Lorenzo Alexander all played markedly better. And I can't leave two of the lesser known entities at linebacker out either.
Rob Jackson, in his first game action of the year, filled in for Brian Orakpo and not only did a passable job, but was instrumental to a Washington win. Jackson had a sack and forced a fumble while also establishing himself as fixture in the Jaguars backfield. Fellow linebacker Chris Wilson didn't show up on the stat sheet, but in overtime he came surging through the middle to force an errant David Garrard pass that was picked off by another youngster in Kevin Barnes.
Barnes's interception capped a busy day in which the second-year pro played safety and cornerback after the Redskins were without three safeties and Carlos Rogers. He didn't stand out for much of the day, but his interception led to a winning field goal by none other than boy wonder Graham Gano.
While the embattled Redskins kicker won the day, wide receiver Terrence Austin finally recorded his first NFL catch, converting what was, at the time, a big third down late in the fourth quarter with the score tied. Of course, the Redskins might have avoided the tie game altogether had they simply entrusted more carries to next year's number one running back Ryan Torain, but when has Kyle Shanahan ever wanted to run the ball?
The bottom line is that we discovered the Redskins have some talent stashed behind what they considered to be their starting lineup heading into the season. Five of the starters on defense today differed from the opening day 11, while the offense trotted out Torain and Rex Grossman rather than Clinton Portis and Donovan McNabb. The 5-9 Redskins, on a four game losing streak, beat the 8-6 Jaguars who were scrambling for a playoff berth. Welcome to the NFL.
What does all this mean for the future? This season, Shanahan has dug up several core players for 2011 and beyond, but which ones represent that future?

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