Redskins confident as they set out to defend NFC East title

WASHINGTON — Nobody has won the NFC East in back-to-back seasons since 2004. Could that change this year?

If the Redskins have anything to say about it, it will. The team will take the field on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers knowing that last year’s playoff exit left a bad taste in their mouth. They will set out on a mission to repeat as division champs and maybe do some damage in the postseason.


Kirk Cousins still has a lot to prove, as he plays this season under the franchise tag. He is coming off his first full season and offseason as the starter. Also, he has a lot of weapons to choose from in this offense and looks to show he is more and more comfortable each week as he did a year ago. Will he have another record-setting year as he did in 2015, where he set the franchise record with 4,166 passing yards?

Will he throw another 29 touchdowns?

He doesn’t have to surpass last year’s numbers, he just has to make sure he takes command of the offense and uses his arsenal to win games. If he does that, maybe the Redskins lock him long-term after this season. If not, they will have the opportunity to franchise him again, or let him walk via free agency.

The running game has its question marks. Matt Jones takes over as the starter and still has a lot to prove. Head coach Jay Gruden is going with Chris Thompson and undrafted rookie Robert Kelley as his other two backs. A year older, the offensive line should show more and more consistency and not only help the run game, but help keep Cousins upright.

The strength of this offense comes from the passing attack, at both the wide receiver position and the tight ends. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon looked as focused as ever during training camp and both are entering contract years with something to prove. Rookie Josh Doctson has shown signs of late that he is ready to start ramping up his activity and getting to a point where he can possibly help this team this year. Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant return along with Rashad Ross return to round out the receiving corps.

Jordan Reed might be the most dangerous weapon in this offense. He’s coming off a year in which he had 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. There aren’t many linebackers or safeties in the NFL that can guard him one-on-one and he translated that into a very nice contract extension in the offseason. Niles Paul is also coming back from injury, and they added veteran Vernon Davis.


For the most part, the defense has greatly improved. They added All-Pro Josh Norman at cornerback to play opposite Bashaud Breeland, who covered many teams’ No. 1 wideout a year ago. At safety, there is plenty of flexibility with DeAngelo Hall making the switch from corner and free agent Super Bowl Champion David Bruton coming aboard. Veteran Will Blackmon will play safety this year as Duke Ihenacho returns from injury as well.

Rookie Su’a Cravens is working his way into the lineup very quickly and coaches love his knack for the football. Defensive boss Joe Barry can use him in a number of spots.

The linebacking corps took a hit when Junior Galette tore his Achilles a few days before the start of training camp. The emergence of Preston Smith was huge last year, and the second year linebacker is poised to make a giant leap this year. Ryan Kerrigan, Will Compton and Mason Foster all had solid years and bring consistency to the position.

Up front is an area that the team did not really address after the loss of Jason Hatcher and Terrance Knighton. Former Steeler Ziggy Hood emerged from training camp as a starter and joins Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois and 11-year vet Kedric Golston. Washington ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed per attempt a year ago and could have issues stopping the run this year as well.

Special Teams

The kicking game should once again be strong with Dustin Hopkins, who hit 25-28 field goals a year ago. Tress Way averaged 46 yards a punt last year and consistently forced teams to start deep in their own territory.

The return game will most likely fall on Ross. He was nothing spectacular last year, averaging 24 yards per kickoff return, with one touchdown. With the kickoff rules, there aren’t many returns anyway — that won’t change.


The Redskins are playing a first place schedule this year, but the early part sets up somewhat nicely for them. After the Steelers, the Cowboys come to town without Tony Romo. The Redskins then go to New York to face the Giants before returning home to face Robert Griffin III and the Browns.

The mid to late part of the schedule is a lot tougher, with matchups against the Vikings, Panthers, Packers and Cardinals. They also play three straight road games during a stretch after the bye week.

If they can take advantage and start strong, they can put themselves in a position to play meaningful games in December. The Giants come to FedEx Field on New Year’s Day for a game that very well could decide who plays the following week in the postseason.

Prediction: 9-7, winning the NFC East on a tiebreaker with the Giants

George Wallace

George Wallace is the WTOP sports director. He began at WTOP on Christmas Day of 2000.

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