Rob Woodfork, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - In the proverbial game that is an NFL season, the Washington Redskins have reached halftime. Eight games down, eight games to go before the end of the 16-game schedule, making this the perfect time to take inventory of what the Redskins actually are versus what we expected them to be.
(I'll have more on the NFL at the halfway point of the season on Tuesday in the Week 9 NFL Recap. Yes, I did just plug my own weekly column. Shamelessly, even.)
As I'm sure you know by now (and so kindly ridiculed me for at the time), I picked the 'Skins to go 9-7 before the season started. While they're currently two games off the pace I had set for them at this point in the season, they're still within reach of that mark even if it doesn't necessarily look like they'll get there.
Let's not forget, the primary objective of this season was to establish their prized rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, as the centerpiece of the offense and do whatever is necessary to help him realize his full potential. Mission accomplished. Even with top receiver Pierre Garcon out of the lineup for much of the season, RG3 has been even better than advertised -- something that was unthinkable given the immense hype surrounding his arrival in Washington.
His numbers have been nothing short of amazing for a 22-year-old rookie. He's completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,778 yards and 8 touchdowns, with only 3 interceptions. That adds up to a 97.3 QB rating, good for 7th in the league. Before that stinker in Pittsburgh, he was actually in the top three in passing efficiency for much of the season.
That's not to mention his rushing totals of 476 yards and 6 touchdowns. Coupled with the above passing numbers, he's actually a legitimate MVP candidate. If that's considered growing pains, then I can't wait till he's a seasoned veteran. Unfortunately, the defense has rapidly regressed. We already had questions about the secondary coming into this year, but those questions became exclamation points when the 'Skins opened the season without their projected starting safeties Tanard Jackson (suspended for the season) and Brandon Meriweather (injured knee).
The last thing the Redskins needed after that was to have to field a banged up front seven, which figured to be the strength of the defense. Yet that's exactly what happened, losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker to season-ending injuries. London Fletcher got banged up in New York, and wasn't the same player when he gutted it out for the Steelers game.
And thus the results for the 'Skins on defense have been mostly disasterous. For the record, firing defensive coordinator Jim Haslett won't help. Cutting guys like DeAngelo Hall won't send a message. This defense is simply undermanned, and there's nothing that can be done about that before the 2013 offseason.
As for special teams, it's pretty much what it's always been: good in coverage, and nothing special in the return game. The Redskins seldom give up special teams touchdowns (they were lucky to have the one in Pittsburgh called back), but even rarer still is their ability to actually score some of their own.
Brandon Banks has often looked like a shorter Antwaan Randle-El out there, which is to say he runs laterally too much and gets minimal gain for his effort. He's another guy who needs a strong second half of the season if he plans on keeping an Ashburn zip code.
Punter Sav Rocca has rarely been more than just decent, and now has an injured knee. Another lackluster showing like the one he had in Pittsburgh, and he's probably gone sooner rather than later.
On the bright side, in-season pickup Kai Forbath looks like he might actually be pretty good at kicker. If he continues to make tough kicks (he's 6-for-6 so far, including a 50-yarder in his Redskins debut Week 6), the 'Skins might actually have the good fortune of finding their franchise QB and a solid young kicker in the same season. Imagine that.
We'll find out what this team is made of in this stretch run. Five of their eight remaining games are against division opponents, and they also have five home games left. If they can't win at least four of those home games and three of those division games, they can basically forget about being within shouting distance of the playoff picture.
It'll be interesting to see if the defense can find a way to heal from within before the door slams shut on this season. Last season, the offensive line was decimated by injuries but found a way to steady itself late in the year. If the defense can forge a similar finish, there's hope for the Redskins' 2012 campaign yet.
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