January 31, 2011

2011 Pro Bowl: Hall, Orakpo, Fletcher Shine Bright

A column for SB Nation DC.
Glorified flag football game or not, the Washington Redskins ended their season on a positive note. It wasn't the ideal time to shine, but DeAngelo HallLondon Fletcher and Brian Orakpo silenced the critics who believed them ill-suited to play in the 2011 Pro Bowl at Honolulu Stadium on Sunday.
The voting process may be a farce, and the Redskins may have been undeserving of having three players participate (two made it as alternates for crying out loud), but trio made the most of their appearance, combining for 19 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown as the NFC romped to a 55-41 victory over the AFC.
Fletcher made it to his second straight Pro Bowl, replacing Brian Urlacher after he suffered an injury in the NFC Championship game. Until last season, Fletcher had never made the Pro Bowl despite being one of the top middle linebackers in the league. He brings stability, a vocal presence and other intangibles into the locker room that can‘t be measured by simply watching him play. He has played in 208 consecutive games, making 167 straight starts, more than any other linebacker in the NFL. If there's anyone more deserving of a trip to Hawaii, I can't think of him.
Fletcher, one of the leaders in the Redskins locker room, helped new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett begin Washington's transformation to a 3-4 unit. They finished second to last in the league in total defense, but Fletcher managed 136 tackles in another strong season for the ageless wonder.
He only added to his tackling prowess on Sunday, notching six stops and recording an interception. Strangely enough, he had just two picks in his previous three seasons. It is a travesty Fletcher has never been selected outright as a Pro Bowler, but given his performance in the NFC's domination of the AFC, he didn't seem to mind playing as an alternate.
Orakpo's spot on the NFC squad came at the expense of Clay Matthews. Green Bay's star pass rusher is obviously happier to be playing in the upcoming Super Bowl, but Orakpo can't be too upset over playing in two Pro Bowls during his first two years in the league. He led the NFC with seven tackles and also took an entertaining fishing trip with Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis.
Expectations for Orakpo to make the list as an alternate were few since his second half performance was so poor. The move to full-time outside linebacker was a rocky one as he struggled to stop the run and was inconsistent in pass coverage. Even his sack totals tailed off in the second half of the season. Seven of his 8.5 sacks came in the first eight games of the year, and somehow he managed to ride the early wave of fan votes to be named an alternate.
While Orakpo and Fletcher both had good games, it was Hall who stole the show. The one Redskin who was actually elected to the Pro Bowl, Hall stood out with six tackles, an interception, and a beautiful play where he stripped Patriots' receiver Wes Welker of the ball, recovered it, and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown to give the NFC a commanding 28-0 lead in the second quarter.
Hall's playmaking abilities were the reason he was invited to the Pro Bowl in the first place. He scored two touchdowns this season, both of which essentially won the Redskins a pair of games and his four interceptions of Jay Cutler tied an NFL record for most picks in a single game. Shockingly, all four came in the second half of that contest.
However, a look past Hall's interceptions revealed a corner who gave up the second most yards in the NFL only ahead of maligned Cowboys' CB Mike Jenkins. His measurables didn't add up to an All-Star worthy season, but perhaps a previous pair of Pro Bowl trips and a penchant for running his mouth helped land him in Honolulu. After all, Hall did make big news when he told reporters the Redskins were "his team" following a 30-27 loss to Houston in which Matt Schaub torched Washington's secondary for 497 yards.

January 28, 2011

More On Cam Newton And Drafting A Quarterback In The First Round

I know I've beaten the quarterback situation to death, but Jason Reid of the Washington Post was on 106.7 the Fan with LaVar and Dukes and he had some great insight on the rumors of Cam Newton going to the Redskins in the first round.

"As far as Cam Newton; you mention the word project. [He's] clearly a bigtime athlete, but in that offense he runs, it's one read and then run," Reid told Chad Dukes on Thursday afternoon. "He's not playing in a pro style offense and after this Donovan McNabb situation was such a colossal, spectacular failure, they can't take a project."

Mike Wise said the same thing last week and I completely agree. The last thing the Redskins need is another project. Newton may be the guy Shanahan covets, but I don't see him being a great passer and he has serious character flaws to boot. He has never particular impressed me with his accuracy and I doubt his ability to grasp an offense that requires multiple reads, option routes, and the like. He's a great athlete, but the quarterback position requires precision, rock solid decision-making, and an awareness of what opposing defenses are throwing at him. Athletic prowess is nice, but it doesn't guarantee those other things which make a quarterback successful.

Does anyone associated with the organization want to wait around for Newton to develop, knowing there's a good chance he may never transition smoothly to the NFL? Every draft pick is a calculated gamble, but Newton is even more so given the hype surrounding him. It would be wise for the franchise to avoid the excess scrutiny that comes with drafting him and settle for another need.

Which is exactly what Reid continues on to say.

"They are going to take a quarterback somewhere in the draft," he said. "They put themselves in a position unfortunately where they have to now take a quarterback somewhere in this draft. I personally am not convinced it will be with the tenth overall pick ... Based on people I've talked with who I trust, I don't think there's a quarterback worthy who will be available at that pick and when a team has as many major holes as they have on both sides of the ball, I don't think you can take a project with the tenth overall pick."

Reid also addressed the recent trend of mock drafts predicting the Redskins will select Newton. With the draft still in the distant future, he stated all of those rumors could be conjured up to distract the rest of the league from the players Washington is truly intrigued by.

"I think a lot of what's going on right now is a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of misdirection stuff, said Reid. "They don't have to make any decisions yet. We're months away from the draft. I would be shocked if they took Cam Newton."

Obviously Mel Kiper is a sharp evaluator of talent. He's been watching these prospects all season and not many possess the knowledge he has when grading these players. But no one can better predict what a team wants or needs than the beat reporters who cover them each and every day. I'll hang on every word of Kiper's analysis, but pass on his mock drafts. That being said, I'm glad my thoughts run parallel to the local reporter (who's now a columnist) rather than a national talking head.

January 27, 2011

Redskins Roundup: Carson Palmer, Senior Bowl, And More

Grant Paulsen takes a look at the Carson Palmer to the Redskins rumors. I'm of like mind. Palmer is a turnover prone quarterback whose best days left town after Kimo von Oelhoffen ran into his knee. He struggles mightily with his accuracy at times and he hasn't sustained much consistent success in Cincinnati.

Obviously all of that can't blamed on him. The Bengals have had their share of injuries and distractions, but Palmer turned the ball over 23 times last year and has experienced two major injuries (elbow and knee) in his career. Plus, is he mobile enough to fit Mike Shanahan's offense?

With the Redskins trying to get younger, how does acquiring a 31-year old quarterback aid that attempt? Consider also the fact that the Bengals will likely demand draft picks. The whole thing would be a big mistake.

Bold Prediction: Rex Grossman will be the short-term starter until the Redskins have their franchise QB in place. Some people have already mentioned this, but think about it. If the Redskins roll with Rex it means they are admitting this upcoming year is a transitional one. When has that ever happened?

I have begun a miniseries over at SB Nation DC focusing on prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. First up, Von Miller.

The Senior Bowl is this week. Here's an assortment of info and nuggets from TBD, Redskins Insider, National Football Post, National Football Post, Redskins Insider, Matt Bowen.

As for me, I'm not a wealth of knowledge on what goes on in Mobile, but I'm most interested to watch Alabama QB Greg McElroy. I think he could be a real sleeper and a solid late round pick. Whenever I watched him in college he had poise and was efficient while running an offense similar to some NFL systems. Here's a nice piece on how polished the kid is both on and off the field.

I don't think much of the top ranked QBs in the draft and if Shanahan doesn't either, then he should pass on the position in the first round. Too many needs for Washington to take a QB for the sake of taking one.

Rich Tandler has a great piece on the Redskins in their quest to get younger. A really interesting read which focuses on how the average age of the team can be lowered.

And another from Tandler grading the Redskins draft from 2006. By my judgement it's an incredibly poor class. Props to Rich as he's been on the ball with some great stuff this entire month.

Finally, Cam Newton isn't at the Senior Bowl, but he might as well be given all the buzz. John Keim talked to Mel Kiper and got the ESPN draft guru's thoughts on the controversial, yet immensely talented QB. If you didn't know, Kiper and many others are projecting the Redskins to scoop Newton up with the tenth pick.

January 21, 2011

Crunching Numbers: Season Ending Stats (Defense)

Last week, I had a Crunching Numbers piece focusing on the Redskins offensive performance in 2010. Now for your reading pleasure, I'll take a look at the defensive side of the ball, digging up some nuggets on what was a very disappointing first year in Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense.

The Redskins have long had trouble getting to the quarterback, but after last season when they finished tied for eighth in the NFL with 40 sacks, expectations were that it would be more of the same in 2010. Brian Orakpo was entering his second year and the 3-4 defense would give opposing offenses exotic looks to further complicate matters. However, the personnel on defense was lacking from the start and Orakpo struggled as a pass rusher for much of the second half of the year. The Redskins ended up with 29 sacks dropping them to 25th in the NFL.

Ironically, the Cleveland Browns also had 40 sacks in 2009 and then 29 in 2010. Neither team won more than six games either year.

The worst part was that over the final eight games, the Redskins had just 11 sacks. They hardly applied pressure on quarterbacks, giving them plenty of time to pick apart 31st ranked secondary in the league.

Just how ugly are the Redskins sack totals? Let's take a look:

2010: 29 sacks (25th in the NFL)
2009: 40 sacks (8th in the NFL)
2008: 24 sacks (28th in the NFL)
2007: 33 sacks (16th in the NFL)
2006: 19 sacks (32nd in the NFL)
2005: 35 sacks (20th in the NFL)

One year in the top ten and that's with the Redskins signing Cornelius Griffin, Albert Haynesworth, and Andre Carter to big contracts. They also had pass rush guru Gregg Williams coaching in 2005 and 2006, traded for Jason Taylor, and drafted Orakpo in 2009. All of that effort and the Redskins have had one season where they finished in the top ten in sacks since 2005.

A good pass rush cures a lot of ills, but so does a solid defensive line. The Redskins didn't have one in 2010 as they were consistently pushed around and beaten off the ball. The defensive line recorded 11.5 sacks as a unit and gave up 4.6 yards per carry. The run defense gave up 2,041 yards rushing; seventh most in the NFL and a big reason for that was the lack of a good nose tackle to keep blockers away from the linebackers.

The most interesting part about the huge totals? Opponents ran the ball 444 times against Washington. 11 other teams were run on more, but six of those teams allowed fewer yards than the Redskins.

The defensive line does have some pieces. Adam Carriker was playing very well by then end of the season. He was very disciplined in holding his gaps and by the end of the year, it was apparent he was accustomed to his role. He had 10 tackles and a sack in the final two games of the year.

Vonnie Holliday and Phillip Daniels are both older players, but each contributed. Daniels was valuable on the goal line while Holliday impressed in a pair of late season starts. He had 14 tackles and a sack in his final three games.

Holliday and Carriker are two guys you want to see back next year, but the Redskins should look long and hard at Wisconsin's JJ Watt, a 6-6, 292-pound DE who is projected to go in the first 15 picks of this year's NFL draft. They need a younger presence on the defensive line and Watt fits the mold of a 3-4 DE.

DeAngelo Hall has been a controversial selection in this year's one-again meaningless edition of the Pro Bowl. Hall is a playmaking corner who likes to gamble and his stats only further cement this fact. He had six interceptions on the season, including his four interception performance of Jay Cutler. He also had two defensive touchdowns, which proved to be the difference in two Redskin victories.

Yeah, yeah you know this. Here's the other side of the story which you may not know.

Pro Football Focus dished out this Hall-related information on Twitter the other day. Needless to say it isn't pretty. Hall gave up 420 YAC and 965 total yards receiving. Only Dallas CB Mike Jenkins gave up more yardage than Hall.

One final note on Hall is that his tackling was remarkably improved for the most part and he also forced two fumbles. Overall, he's a high-risk, high-reward player who tends to get exposed when the front seven can't apply pressure. He's not a shutdown CB, but he is an adequate number two.

Creating turnovers was the mantra around Redskins Park during training camp and the offseason. Haslett wanted to see more takeaways defensively especially given the varied looks he was concocting in the 3-4.

For the first half of the season, Washington had 19 takeaways. They had 17 in all of 2009. The turnovers were hugely vital in masking the defense's penchant for giving up more yards than 30 other teams in the league over the first eight games of the year.

Unfortunately, the defense retained its grip on the 31st overall ranking through the second half and the turnovers dried up. Washington managed eight of them and the defense's one support was knocked out from under them.

The absence of LaRon Landry was a key reason the defense worsened as the early front runner for the NFL's defensive player of the year missed the final seven games due to injury. Landry not only accounted for 85 tackles, eight passes defensed, one interception, and a forced fumble, he also brought a swagger to the defense, which it has lacked in previous years.

Had Landry kept up his pace, he would have had 151 tackles on the year. That's an enormous amount for a safety and would have tied him for the third most in the NFL. His role playing closer to the line of scrimmage was one of the best moves made by Haslett and the new coaching staff.

January 20, 2011

Kevin Barnes Is On The Rise In The Redskins Secondary

Kevin Barnes hasn't had much of a chance to display his talents on a football field since being drafted by the Redskins in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. The 24-year old defensive back played in four games his rookie year and until week 10 of this past season he had played in just three.

However, injuries to a plethora of defensive backs left the door open for the ex-Terp to play in the final seven games of 2010, including a pair of starts against Jacksonville and New York.

Finally given the opportunity to shine, Barnes didn't disappoint.

A cornerback by trade, Barnes lined up at strong safety for much of the final two contests and arguably distinguished himself more than any other player during Mike Shanahan's three week evaluation process. He intercepted Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard in overtime in week 16, setting Graham Gano's game-winning field goal and was the most aggressive defender on the field in the season finale against New York.

"I play behind three great corners [with] first-round pedigrees," Barnes told me after the Giants game. "So a young guy like me came in last year; [it wasn't that they] didn't really expect much from me, I think it was more so they wanted to give me time to develop and fortunately they saw an opportunity to slide me in there at safety and I made the most of it."

Barnes notched four tackles and broke up three passes against the Giants, leaving everyone believing he will be back to play a role next season. It's difficult for a corner to fill in at safety on the fly, but he did just that thanks to a work ethic that is widely praised in the locker room. But for Barnes, it's simply business as usual.

"At the end of the day it's football so I mean regardless of me playing corner or safety you have got to go out there and do what your assignment is and fortunately in the offseason I made an effort to learn as much of the defense as possible so making the transition to safety wasn't that hard," he said.

He certainly grew more comfortable because as the repetitions built up, so did his confidence.

"There was a couple plays [earlier in the season] where I could have got a piece of the tackle but I didn't," said Barnes. "Coach [Haslett] pointed it out during meetings [before the Giants game] and every time I had a chance I threw my body in there."

Against the Giants, Barnes found himself staring directly at an oncoming Eli Manning. Manning was scrambling out of the pocket in an effort to reach the the first down marker and for Barnes, it was a prime chance to once again show the world his hitstick ability.

However, the NFL's emphasis on limiting defender contact with the quarterback caused him to think twice before lowering his helmet and unleashing an all-out, bone jarring tackle. The half second of indecision was enough to ruin a highlight reel hit. Barnes didn't induce a Jahvid Best-like upheaval of Manning's insides, but he did make the stop and get a decent lick on the quarterback.

"I was expecting him to slide, that's why I didn't hit him as hard as I probably could have, but it was good," he said with a grin after the game. "I probably could have got a bigger hit, but I got him down."

Barnes is undoubtedly someone who knows a few things about big hits. He wrecked the aforementioned Best while the two were in college, and then fractured his shoulder while making a tackle against Wake Forest later that season. Fittingly, the receiver fumbled the ball.

Barnes has never been afraid to be physical so long as he can make an impact. "He's not permanently hurt, so I'm fine with that," he told the Washington Post following his shot on Best. "Had he died or something, I'd have felt bad, but he'll probably be playing next week."

After spending most of his time in the NFL on the pine his first two seasons, Barnes is a hungry player ready to prove he belongs in the Redskins' long-term plans. He proved it with a strong showing down the stretch and it became apparent he takes pride in being a versatile player who can succeed in every aspect of the game. With the possible departure of Carlos Rogers and with Washington looking to perhaps replace Kareem Moore at free safety, the future is bright for Kevin Barnes in the Redskin secondary.

January 17, 2011

An Interview with Ken Harvey: The 3-4 Defense, Brian Orakpo, Darrell Green And More

If you didn't catch the first part of my interview and subsequent column with former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey, check them out. Harvey talked with me a few weeks ago about his campaign against teen drinking, his involvement in the community, the state of the Redskins franchise, and gave me his thoughts on Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense after watching it for a full season.

Here's the full transcript of the interview:

What do the Redskins need to do in order to reestablish a culture of winning?

"Looking back at it, you got to realize one it's going to take time to produce any type of winning team. If you look at the history of what they've done over the years is that every other year there's been a turnover, there's been somebody new, there's been something else. So what [Snyder] has to do is give a person time to establish a team.

"Two, what I think they are doing now is they're establishing an attitude that if you're going to come to the team this is what you're going to need to expect. As much as you know [Shanahan] may have been back and forth on the Haynesworth thing, every guy coming into camp next year knows he needs to come in shape because if not he's going to be either on the bench or embarrassed and without a team. So now you're going to have guys not taking it for granted that they got a job. They're going to come here and say 'I better come in in tip-top shape' which is only going to make the team better.

"The third thing is the hiring of a new GM. It's to say 'OK we need you to identify what exactly out needs are and address those needs. In the years past you look back and you say 'well they need an O-line'. And the issue hasn't been totally addressed and so here in the end result you have a quarterback who may have been a  good quarterback, but if you're getting hit in the face every time, then it's hard to do anything.

"So now you have to address the issues. I think probably the best thing is hopefully it works well together [so] that you got a GM who can address both issues and then you got a head coach who can try and establish the new attitude.

"The biggest portion of the future is to make sure that the GM and the head coach are on the same page. If that works out I think over time you'll start seeing, hopefully you'll start seeing some results based off what they are doing."

Brian Orakpo became the first Redskins since yourself to record back-to-back seasons of 7.5 sacks or more. Do you see him as a guy the Redskins can build their defense around?

"In a 3-4 this is the reality: It's hard to build on an outside linebacker. He'll be a playmaker, he can make things happen. But when you have a [3-4] defense that defense is going to be built around guys who you don't know really that much about. It's being built around a strong nose tackle who's going to take up two or three people so the quarterback can't step up in the pocket. It's going to be built upon good [middle] linebackers who are dropping in the right coverage so that it's making the quarterback hesitate a little bit longer and then you have outside 'backers who can get to the the quarterback.

"So a 3-4 I think is going to be built up on more of team. You have some stars on the team and I think Orakpo will definitely be a star, but the D-line is going to be a huge component of how successful that team can be."

As you pointed out, a good nose tackle is critical to success in the 3-4. Is that a position the Redskins will look to upgrade this season do you think?

"I think that they will. You need to get hungry guys. I'd rather take a bunch of guys who may not be the biggest and best but that want to be the biggest and best than to take a few guys who maybe are the biggest and best, but think that they are and then don't perform like it.

"With that said yeah [nose tackle] should be an issue, but the bigger issue is you've got to start [number] one: building for the future a little bit, and [number] two: getting some offensive linemen who are going to be hungry because I think if you get an offense that can start throwing out points, then it gives the defense time to rest.

"The defense will be in the second year of this new system so they will start understanding and getting the feel for what they [need to] do a little bit more. And they [can] adjust off of that.

How long will this defensive transition take?

"It will take until halfway into next year. I mean guys will work into it. But you're still seeing that some guys are playing out of position. You've got some defensive linemen now playing linebacker. That itself takes a year to adjust to.

"Let me give you a brief [explanation] as to why. As [a linebacker] rushing now all of a sudden you have to get in a two-point stance, your take off is a little bit different than you would normally do. Now you also have to [play off the ball] where you're used to getting in somebody's

"And then you have to worry about those guys with the receivers. Who knows what [they are] doing and how [they] have to play off against [them]. Then you have to learn how to communicate to the other guys around you so that they understand [whether or not] to pick up on your guy when he comes across your field in the zone or if you're playing man to man.

"All those little things go into making something that seems like the simplest adjustment not as simple. And so you need at least a year because you can understand it on paper but in the heat of the game when everyone is going 100 percent and you're trying to figure out do I drop here, do I drop there? That split second can be the big difference between a touchdown or maybe a tackle."

Switching gears for a moment, do you still interact with former teammates you played with on the Redskins?

"I didn't play with these guys but I talked to Art Monk, Monte Coleman. He's not here but I talk to him. [Also] Charles Mann I talk to him a lot. Darrell Green I talk to him some. I go to some of the Redskins Alumni functions and so I see some of the guys who have been around.

"But I get a chance to talk to some of the guys here and there. The guys that I played with; every once in a while I've talked to Marvcus Patton. He's still looks like he can play (laughs). "You see guys and you're like 'man he has a body that looks better than mine when I played.'

"Rich [Owens], he's in Miami now. So he'll see everybody and obviously Facebook is a great tool to hang out with people and talk to people."

How close have you grown to the people through your work in the community? Do you feel as if you have a special bond with them due to your outstanding service?

"Well I mean obviously there are gifts and blessings. Sometimes you have the time to do things and as a father now you realize how valued you spending maybe an hour [with somebody] can mean. Because when my boys, when they see who they've looked up to, it definitely wasn't just me as a player because kids see other players and they are all happy to get their autographs and if that person says 'hey kid, you need to do well in school,' you can see how it can make a difference in their life.

"So little simple things even doing stuff with the military; I may go someplace and just shaking hands with the military you're like 'well yeah I'm just an average guy. You guys are sacrificing for your country,' but you realize that they are as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. So I try to do some, but at the end of the day there's only so much time in the day and you've got to allocate your time and all that, but you know. To whom much is given, much is required so I try to do a little more than I have to."

Ken Harvey Outlines A Defensive Blueprint For The Redskins

A Column for SB Nation DC

Surveying the final stats for the Washington Redskins defense this year, it was a struggle to take many positives from the NFL's 31st ranked unit. After finishing in the top 10 in total defense for three consecutive seasons, the Redskins ranked near the bottom of the league in every statistical category, far from a distinguished first effort from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
The defense initially masked their deficiencies by generating 18 sacks and 19 takeaways through the first half of the season. The second stanza was not so kind as they managed 11 sacks and a paltry eight turnovers while continuing to give up yards by the bushel basket. Brian Orakpo, perhaps the unit's brightest star, had 8.5 sacks on the year, but seven of those came in the first eight games. After an explosive start that left many believing he would be a defensive player of the year candidate, LaRon Landry missed the final seven games of the year with an Achilles injury.
Orakpo's drop-off in his second year as a pro is certainly a concern, as he has yet to blossom into the elite pass rusher Washington envisioned when they selected him in the first round in 2009. Obviously, he has plenty of time to bounce back from a miserable second half of 2010, but there are concerns about his compatibility in the 3-4 defense. He isn't strong against the run and wasn't nearly as effective as a pass rusher in a two-point stance than when he lined up as a defensive end in the 4-3.
I spoke with former Redskins standout linebacker Ken Harvey about Orakpo a few weeks ago. Would he be someone to build around defensively?
"In a 3-4 this is the reality: It's hard to build on an outside linebacker," Harvey said. "He'll be a playmaker, he can make things happen. But when you have a [3-4] defense, that defense is going to be built around guys who you don't know really that much about. It's being built around a strong nose tackle who's going to take up two or three people so the quarterback can't step up in the pocket. It's going to be built upon good [middle] linebackers who are dropping in the right coverage so that it's making the quarterback hesitate a little bit longer and then you have outside 'backers who can get to the quarterback.
"So a 3-4 I think is going to be built up on more of team," Harvey continued. "You have some stars on the team and I think Orakpo will definitely be a star, but the D-line is going to be a huge component of how successful that team can be."
I can stress enough how much I agree with this. The defensive line surrendered 2,041 yards rushing at 4.6 yards per carry while recording a measly 11.5 sacks. The lack of production up front made life miserable for the rest of the defense.
We saw firsthand how ineffective Haslett's unit was without a dominant nose tackle to absorb that extra lineman or to provide penetration up the middle. When Orakpo's speed rush did get to the quarterback he could simply step up in the pocket without having to worry about an interior pass rush. A top flight nose tackle will change the dynamic on defense and is the true cornerstone for success in this 3-4.
Harvey believes they Redskins will try to upgrade the nose tackle position since the position is, in his words, an "issue" He also emphasized the importance of acquiring highly motivated players rather than signing marquee talent to big contracts, leaving them with little incentive to produce.
"You need to get hungry guys," Harvey said. "I'd take a bunch of guys who may not be the biggest and best but that want to be the biggest and best [rather] than to take a few guys who maybe are the biggest and best, but think that they are and then don't perform like it."
The mentality of a football team is so important in factoring wins and losses. A cohesive locker room has been hard to find during these tumultuous times in D.C., but to attain one would drastically alter the atmosphere of a team still reeling from distractions courtesy of the Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. However, the only way to achieve that level of commitment in the locker room is to fill it with extraordinary individuals blessed with character and passion.
One of the players who brings that approach to the squad for next year is Landry. He improved his tackling fundamentals and embraced his role at the line of scrimmage while rediscovering his playmaking abilities. The Redskins numbers dropped significantly without one of the toughest players in the NFL, a further testament to just how crucial he is to the team in the future.
But aside from Orakpo, Landry, and a few others, the Redskins' personnel for the 3-4 has been questioned and rightfully so. Rocky McIntosh and Lorenzo Alexander seem to be poor fits as linebackers in the scheme. London Fletcher isn't getting any younger, and the free safety position next to Landry is a liability with Kareem Moore as a starter. Also, there's the aforementioned woes along the defensive line.

Clicker here for the full story.

January 13, 2011

Crunching Numbers: Season Ending Stats (Offense)

It was tough to dig up many positive numbers for the Redskins offense. Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and Ryan Torain are guys with some solid production, but overall the unit is a trainwreck. Donovan McNabb threw an interception in 10 straight games. Then when he snapped that streak and led what should have been a game-winning drive against Tampa but for a botched extra point, he was benched. Rex Grossman came in and turned the ball over eight times in three games. Not much improvement there.

The Redskins were 24th in the NFL in time of possession per game primarily because they were 30th in rushing offense and 31st in rushing attempts. The lack of emphasis on the run game equaled less time with the ball.

The funny thing was that the ‘Skins were tied for 15th in average yards per carry. Not the pinnacle of prowess, but solid enough to where there should have been a commitment to ground game. However, they failed to establish the run game all year, which was a mistake in light all the close contests and the fact they were picking up 4.2 YPC.

The Redskins played 12 games within a touchdown or less of their opponent. They ended up with a 3-4 record in the seven games where they ran the ball less than 25 times. In a pair of those matchups they attempted fewer than 20 carries and went 0-2 in those games. They were 3-2 in the five games where they called more than 25 runs. Sensing a pattern?

The margin for error in this league is slight and the Redskins were far too one-dimensional offensively to be a good team in 2010. 651 pass attempts (sacks included) to 351 rushing attempts. That's a run-pass ratio of approximately 65-35. That's about as lop-sided as it gets and Kyle Shanahan is to blame.

Individually, Ryan Torain, the bruising back from Arizona State, set a career high in rushing four separate times this season and rushed for 4.5 yards a carry. Eight starts and nearly 750 yards rushing for a back who battled injuries all season. Not to mention he was fantastic at breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact (couldn't find the stats on that).

The two concerns for next year? One is health. Torain is an upright runner who has already dealt with quite a few lower body injuries in his short career. The second is learning how to play according to his strengths. Torain is a one cut runner, but he attempted to do too much with a poor offensive line this season. He tried to stretch things east-west when the play broke down in front of him, but he lacked the lateral speed to get by defenders. The result was far too many negative runs. Only six backs were stopped behind the line of scrimmage more than Torain who had 30 carries stopped for a loss (and that was in just 10 games). A poor offensive line was partially to blame, but he made matters worse by persistently retracing his steps in the hole.

Santana Moss was tied for fifth in targets, and caught 64% of them. Brandon Marshall, considered one of the premiere possession WRs in the game had the same amount of targets but just 86 catches. For Moss to be in the same league as Marshall is a testament of his willingness to adapt to the life of a possession receiver and become less of a big play threat. He had a career high in catches and over 1,100 yards. The numbers are inflated due to the amount of passing done, but he still had a very productive season, which I said would be the case back in August. The Redskins must re-sign him.

Anthony Armstrong essentially finished third in average yards per catch with 19.8 YPR. Others finished above him but none of those players had over 20 receptions. Armstrong had 44 grabs, which was a solid amount as an undersized number two receiver in Washington. He and Brandon Banks joined forces to replace Antwaan Randle El at WR and punt returner and they ended up providing a significant upgrade.

51.9% of Chris Cooley’s 77 catches moved the chains. He caught 25 passes in the month of October. That was his best month in terms of receptions, but only 36 percent of those grabs were for first downs. His first down percentage was no less than 50 percent in any other month.

For all the talk of two tight end sets, the Redskins didn't seem to use them all that much. However, both Fred Davis and Cooley had good numbers. They combined for 1,165 yards and six touchdowns on 98 catches and it seemed the Shanahans gradually began to find ways to get both involved in the red zone later in the year.

Speaking of the red zone, the struggles there were quite horrific. Washington ranked 20th in red zone scoring percentage with a 51.16% success rate and they averaged 1.4 red zone scores per game good for 22nd in the NFL. Scoring in general was an issue as the 'Skins averaged 2.1 touchdowns per game, which was 26th in the entire NFL.

As a side note, all those aforementioned scoring numbers were higher in the final three weeks with Grossman quarterbacking. Also, the Redskins averaged 21.3 points per game under Grossman and 17 with McNabb at the helm. So you have the positive side of Grossman's game (more points) and the negative side (more turnovers).

However, the absolute worst offensive stat of the season was the team's third down conversion rate. The Redskins finished with a third down success rate of 29 percent, but avoided the basement thanks to the miserable Arizona Cardinals' rate of 28 percent. But considering the Cards were guided by Derek Anderson, Max Hall and whoever else they trotted out during the year, it isn't much of an accomplishment.

January 10, 2011

2011 Redskins Draft: Quarterbacks Will Be The Focus But Should They Be

A column for SB Nation DC

As Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan heads into the offseason, he will have some crucial decisions to make when it comes to remedying the inadequacies of his current roster. A quick fix is always desirable in D.C., but after applying that method for much of the past decade, the team is in need a steady approach which will focus on acquiring the right players rather than biggest names. It may be hard for some to fathom, but the Redskins won't be able to address all their needs in one fell swoop. Instead of slapping a band-aid on the sports hernia, they need to begin surgery.
The choices made by the front office in the next few months will shape the future of the franchise, and the quarterback position will unquestionably receive center stage as the general topic of conversation. Will the Redskins re-sign Rex Grossman? Will they draft a quarterback? What will happen with Donovan McNabb?
While subtly bashing McNabb and ultimately running him out of town (is anyone going to put money on him staying?), Shanahan constantly exonerated Grossman from his turnover-prone ways. From all appearances, it seems safe to predict he'll be re-signed to compete for a job as the starter next year. No one will ever be able to comprehend what it is Shanahan sees in the enigmatic Grossman, but he continued to support him all the way through his uneven three-week evaluation process.
It may be unfair, but Shanahan picks his favorites, and for some reason Grossman was at the top of the list. He threw McNabb under the bus on numerous occasions, but not his visibly-inferior backup for the same boneheaded mistakes. Certainly an outrage, but our indignation is completely unimportant when it comes to influencing Shanahan's decisions.
However, Grossman's body of work should be enough to convince anyone he isn't an NFL starter. His footwork and arm strength are average while his decision-making runs far below the mean. He turned the ball over eight times in three games (plus his brief cameo in Detroit) and went 1-2 in those games, hardly a strong case from a quarterback with little in terms of a successful track record. Grossman completed a paltry 55.6 percent of his passes, and that's an improvement upon his career mark of 54.2 percent. He has little pocket presence and his mental clock is non-existent, leading to issues regarding ball security (four fumbles lost in 2010).
In terms of positives, Grossman was able to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers during his three starts. Santana Moss and Chris Cooley combined for 37 receptions with the former Gator at QB the final three games. The Redskins finished the season with a red zone scoring efficiency of 51.16 percent, but with Grossman they scored in the red zone 63.64 percent of the time. Washington averaged 2.3 red zone scores per game under Grossman, but averaged just 1.4 on the year.
So it's not all bad when taking into account his numbers. But let's be real: Grossman is at best a short-term option for a team still light years away from winning anything. He has yet to distinguish himself after eight seasons in the NFL and with Washington this season, he did nothing to alter the perception that he is woefully inconsistent. The turnovers, the pocket presence, the completion percentage - all of it adds up to one mediocre quarterback.
I could name a few low profile free agents I would rather have to bridge the gap between next year and the future, but in all likelihood Sexy Rexy will be the guy come week one of the regular season. And in reality, it doesn't really matter if it's Grossman or Marc Bulger under center, because the Redskins are likely over a year away from being serious contenders anyways.
Nevertheless, the NFL draft is rapidly approaching and it's inevitable that the focus will come down to which quarterback may or may not become Shanahan's next chosen one in the long line of post-Elway disappointments. The Redskins lack a franchise signalcaller, and it's only a matter of time before he loses interest in Grossman for a shinier toy. Will this be the year when he makes the move to acquire his long-term starter, or will he determine quarterback is a luxury he can't yet afford given the team's needs elsewhere? Undoubtedly he will argue the benefits of Cam Newton's athleticism, Ryan Mallett's cannon-like arm and Jake Locker's pro-ready presence, but will any of them strike his fancy?

Click here to read the full article.

January 9, 2011

Hanburger Is A Hall Of Fame Finalist

Former Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger has been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections to be held on Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. Hanburger is a senior finalist along with Les Richter and they join 15 other nominees including Deion Sanders, Tim Brown, Chris Carter, Jerome Bettis, and Marshall Faulk.

I have long been a proponent of getting Hanburger into the Hall of Fame and have spoken about it on this blog. He may be a little known player, but in 14 season of pro football he went the Pro Bowl nine times and was selected as a first team All-Pro on four occasions. No Redskin has been named to as many Pro Bowls as Hanburger.

The Redskins took him in the 18th round of the 1965 NFL draft, meaning he played under six head coaches in Washington. He went to the Super Bowl with the team in 1972 where George Allen's team lost to the undefeated Dolphins. That season he intercepted four passes, returning one for a touchdown and was voted the NFC's defensive player of the year.

Hanburger would score five touchdowns in his career to go along with 19 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries in 187 games played. Three of his touchdowns were fumble returns, which puts him at third place all-time in that category. Sacks and tackles were not recorded during his career, but many hold Hanburger to be one of the more active linebackers of his era.

Special thanks to NFL historian JW Nix for some of this information which led me to recognize just how impressive Hanburger is.

January 6, 2011

New Skinscast: The Party's Over

The gang wrapped up the season with a special two hour episode recapping 2010 and previewing the offseason in what is sure to be another year where the Redskins make some big moves. We debate which players on the current roster make it back and also talk some draft possibilities. Needless to say we are all intrigued by the free agent class.

I'm very thankful to the guys for letting me join them this year and it looks like I'll rejoin them again next year for another season of Skinscast. It was a blast agreeing with Reffkin and taking crap from Murf and Pappas. Hope you all enjoyed it and make sure to give the finale a listen.

Click here to listen to Skinscast.

January 4, 2011

Redskins Roundup: Season's End

It's strange to see the season go by so quickly for the Redskins this year. I was fortunate enough to receive terrific access through SB Nation DC and met many members of the media who gave me a hand and made sure I learned the ropes. Thanks to all them and the players who took the time to talk football with me.

Also thanks very much to the readers here. I don't know who is regular and who isn't but I hope you were entertained by what I wrote this season. You guys gave me my best year in terms of readership and I was able to partner with Yardbarker to further increase my exposure. If you have any comments or criticism, please email me at jackfrom3@yahoo.com. I'd love to get your feedback.

So without further ado, I will now give you a batch of links as I prepare to hunker down into offseason mode and review the team, free agency, and the draft. Enjoy!

Dan Shiferaw has a nice column at SBNDC on the positives from the year. Keep the faith!

Is Ryan Mallett worth a look for the Redskins in the first round (they draft from the 10th spot)? Wes Bunting from the National Football Post says steer clear and I tend to agree.

Redskins Historian Mike Richmond will be hosting an episode of B&G Magazine tonight in Bethesda. Details here.

Barry Cofield doesn't particularly like Redskins fans.

The 3-4 was largely a flop, but it is only year one. Patience may be the key to success for Jim Haslett's schemes.

Homer McFanboy stirs the debate of who is the strongest Redskin in the weight room. (Hint: It's not Brandon Banks)

Redskins Gab wonders if things would be different if the Redskins had held on to Jason Campbell. Considering the way things went with Donovan McNabb it makes sense, but let's remember Campbell didn't want to play here after the way he had been treated by the organization so he probably wouldn't have stayed even if Mike Shanahan hadn't signed McNabb.

Everyone around the Redskins has stressed the need for stability. Well how's this for stability? Every coach on the staff will be retained by Shanahan so long as they want to stay (remember Jon Embree did take the head coaching job at the University of Colorado).

A trip to Ford Field in Detroit sunk the Redskins once again. Not many teams can say that.

The latest power rankings from ESPN are not kind to Washington as they are near the bottom feeders of the league at the end of the season.