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How Do the Redskins Bounce Back Next Season?

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There’s no sugar coating it: a 7-9 on season and a second consecutive failure to make the playoffs is not good enough for the Redskins faithful. Add to that, the final effort of the campaign – a tame 18-10 loss to the woeful Giants – was particularly disappointing. Yes, the season was over, but a good performance in that game would have been a much better way to sign off. 

If you were looking for mitigating factors, you could point to the injuries. Perhaps the biggest of them all was in the game against New Orleans when Chris Thompson broke his leg in the third quarter. With Thompson in the team, the Redskins averaged 359.4 yards and 23.1 points per game. Without him, those figures dropped to 267.5 and 17.3 respectively. Sure, you can’t pin the whole season on one injury, but if the Redskins were going to pick one player they could least afford to do without, it would have been Thompson.

 

Beside Thompson, the injury count was horrific. In fact, the squad ended the season with 20 players on the injury reserve list. Other notable injury problems were the nagging complaints that limited the effectiveness of Trent Williams and Jordan Reed, and the loss of Jonathan Allen after week five, which seriously weakened the defensive line, while the fact that the Redskins ended up using more than 26 different offensive-line combinations tells its own story.

 

Still, it wasn’t all about the injuries. The Redskins ended up with a middle-of-the-road record, and that’s how they played. They went 1-5 against division winners but were 5-1 against teams that had a losing record going into the final week. They could have won some key road games – at New Orleans and Kansas – but they blew both of them, and key players made mistakes at key times – not least quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw three interceptions.

 

Finally, defense continued to be a huge problem. The Redskins have ranked 17th or lower in points allowed for nine consecutive seasons now, and 16th or worse in yards allowed per game for the last six years. No matter how powerful your offense, if you’re giving up that much territory on defense, it’s next to impossible for the team to progress.

 

Despite the obvious need for a shake-up, Cousins’ departure, announced earlier this month, was something of a surprise, as was the identity of his replacement, not least because Alex Smith isn’t that much different, and not the kind of player considered able to carry an offense.

 

Certainly, the betting markets have not been impressed by the move. The Redskins remain low down in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl odds, but while the latter may prove beyond them, it’s actually not impossible to imagine things coming together for an inexperienced group. The focus on young talent will bear fruit at some point, and they could be a decent outside bet for the Division title, assuming they stay injury free.

 

For one thing, while Smith is not an exciting replacement for Cousins, he could be a good fit.

He’s more consistent, for one thing, and consistency will give the offense a little more confidence next time around. He’s a good fit with the passing game that Jay Gruden has developed, has more mobility than Cousins, throws fewer interceptions, and is adept at changing the launch angle on his throws. He could turn out to be a positive acquisition.

 

By resolving the quarterback issue at this relatively early stage, the Redskins are now free to address the squad overhaul that will be needed to get this group ready for next season.

 

The focus on developing young talent is the key to future success in the long term, but the team clearly needs strengthening in some areas, most notably at cornerback, having lost Kendal Fuller, one of their top three corners in the Smith-Cousins deal, and also at wide receiver, where they look in need of a strong and reliable playmaker while Terrelle Pryor develops his skills. In addition, while the defensive line improved in terms of yards allowed last season, they were still below average and a top defensive lineman has to be a priority.

 

If they can address those issues and add another dynamic, game-changing running back to compliment Thompson, and if they can stay clear of the injury problems that blighted the 2017 campaign, then next season’s projected steady improvement could be upgraded into something altogether more spectacular.

More By Mark Solway

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