WASHINGTON - As the Washington Redskins embark on the final seven games of their miserable 2013 season, it's important to temper expectations on where they'll finish.
Yes, it's wholly unusual to have to supply such a caveat for a 3-6 team. But this is the same record the 'Skins took into their bye week last season before coming out of their break with a seven-game tear that will go down as one of the most exciting finishes we've ever seen in Washington.
This ain't 2012, though.
This season, the Redskins don't have the phenomenal rookie tandem of RG3 and Alfred Morris. What they have is Robert Griffin III trying to work himself back from a devastating knee injury and an offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) who has mind-numbingly decided that passing with his ailing quarterback supersedes the need to pound the rock with one of the league's best young running backs.
Even still, the offense has gotten incrementally better -- they're ranked fifth in yardage and ninth in scoring. That's more than we can say for the special teams unit that is historically one of the worst in recent NFL history, both in returning kicks and covering them. I mean, they had two field goals blocked against the Chargers in succession. You can't even do that on a video game.
The defense has been just so-so this year. The 'Skins are again among the worst teams in yardage allowed (27th) and scoring (31st), but they've again made the most of their takeaways (their four defensive touchdowns is tied for the most in the league). They're middle-of-the-road in terms of getting off the field on third down (ranked 14th), but the pass rush is nowhere near as good as we thought it would be with Brian Orakpo back in the lineup (his four sacks have him light-years away from the league lead).
The Redskins also lack the appropriate trump cards. When you only win nine or 10 games, your ability to qualify for the postseason tends to come down to tiebreakers. Right now, the 'Skins are 1-5 in conference and 0-2 in the division, which won't get you anywhere. Yes, another seven-game winning streak to close out the season would remedy this (7-5 in conference, 4-2 in division would be fine finishes), but do you think they can hold it together long enough to pull that off? I sure don't.
The 'Skins are healthier than they were last season, play in a division that's easily the worst in football and have a comparable schedule to last year's. Yet they're right back at 3-6? Not a good sign.
Naturally, that begs the question: Is Mike Shanahan truly the right man for the job? He may not be concerned with his contract situation, but the rest of us sure are. It's hard to see him back as a lame- duck coach in 2014, and it's equally difficult seeing Dan Snyder give him an extension with the team in obvious regression. That means these last seven games will ultimately determine the long-term direction of the Redskins.
I don't think the 'Skins need to run the table like they did in 2012, but they certainly have to make things interesting down the stretch. If this team flames out at 5-11 or 6-10, the Shanahan Era could be a wrap. But a 5-2 finish to get to 8-8 would ensure meaningful football in December -- and given the way the NFC East has played out thus far, maybe even another division title.
The bottom line: Something intangible helped the Redskins to the NFC East title last season. With a lackluster defense, injuries and a void of talent because of salary cap penalties, this team had no business winning their division -- but they had a certain mojo that allowed it to happen.
Whatever secret sauce they had during the 2012 season dried up on the FedEx Field dirt last January, because ever since "RGKnee," it's been one setback after another. They don't have the key injuries they had last year, but there's more than enough self-inflicted wounds to negate that benefit.
So let's all hunker down and see how this thing plays out. Four or more wins, and we get to see at least another season of Shanny and Son. Crap the bed like Year 1 and Year 2, and we could see Chucky dolls in burgundy and gold in celebration of Jon Gruden's arrival.
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