We are halfway through yet another NFL season and needless to say it's been a roller coaster season for the Redskins following a whirlwind of change this past offseason. The jury is still out on whether or not the Shanaplan is making a positive impact, but eight weeks in, the Redskins are a much different team than the one that was 2-6 at the midpoint of 2009.
Standing at 4-4, Washington's stock was much higher a week ago before dropping a winnable game in Detroit. Not only were the Redskins thoroughly outplayed, but Mike Shanahan also benched Donovan McNabb, meaning the fizzling Albert Haynesworth saga will be replaced with a new drama for the rest of the year.
However, before we move on to the second half of the season here's a review of what the Redskins have shown us thus far. I give you the Redskins Report Card.
Quarterback: Donovan McNabb had a grace period which lasted about six weeks. After a 27-24 loss to Indianapolis, where he had a pair of opportunities to win the game in the final minutes, there were rumblings that McNabb wasn't the upgrade at the position the Redskins initially thought. In the next two games he went 34-62 for 410 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Throw in the benching this past Sunday and the oft-embattled McNabb is back in the hot seat.
Obviously, the Redskins don't have another viable option at quarterback, but if they did, the Shanahans might have already made the move to demote McNabb. They are not happy with his progress in the offense, and with good reason. McNabb has thrown at least one interception in six straight and has completed just 57.4 percent of his passes. The offense as a whole is scoring 19.4 points a game. That's 21st in the NFL. PPG might be a stat dependent on an entire offensive unit's effort, but there is more of an onus on McNabb to ensure the team is scoring enough.
As for the positives, McNabb has led Washington to wins over Green Bay and Philadelphia. The Philly game in particular was an emotional win which prompted Peter King to mention McNabb as a possible MVP candidate. McNabb has been more a presence in the locker room and the players respect him immensely. Given his history as a successful QB, it's only a matter of time before we see an improvement. Luckily, the Redskins already have a sparkling division record and a resilient group around him.
Overall Grade: C-
Running Backs: With Clinton Portis sidelined, it's been the Ryan Torain show since Week 5. Even before the game against the Packers, Torain had made strong showings against Philly and St. Louis. While Portis and Week 2 cast-off Larry Johnson failed to revert to their old form, Torain has put up several gritty performances and ran for 100 yards in back-to-back games against the Colts and Bears.
Portis is expected back at some point this year, but there's no reason to take the starting job away from Torain. He is averaging 4.3 yards a carry, and unlike Portis, he has zero issue with contact while carrying the ball. He is a physical runner who can break tackles effortlessly while shredding great run defenses like Chicago. Once he realizes he is a one cut runner who lacks the speed to bounce a run to the outside, he will be even better.
Keiland Williams isn't a full-time player, but he catches passes well and has often been used as a third down back. The Redskins have the 24th ranked run offense in the NFL, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. When Kyle Shanahan tries to establish the run, the Redskins have shown the ability to move the ball on the ground against some teams.
Overall Grade: C-
Wide Receivers: I don't know about the rest of you, but I would venture to say Joey Galloway has no business on this roster. Nine catches in eight games and he's the third receiver on the depth chart. That's inexcusable. Yet for some reason the coaching staff continues to defend him.
Galloway might be the nicest guy in the world. He might be a great mentor to Anthony Armstrong. He might bring a lot of experience and leadership to the offense. I don't really care though. We already have a receivers coach who goes by the name of Keenan McCardell, and he's been around the block a few times. Galloway is virtually a glorified Keenan McCardell in pads.
I hate to open with a merciless diatribe, because Santana Moss is quietly having a career year. He has 48 catches for 604 yards and has established himself as a top ten receiver in the league this season. He's more consistent this year as he has only had one game with less than six receptions. He's also 13th in the NFL with 75.5 receiving yards a game. Sure, you would like to see him with more than two touchdowns on the year, but the Redskins don't throw to him in the red zone and he isn't the deep threat on this team.
That role belongs to Armstrong who is averaging 21.6 yards a catch. He isn't a true number two receiver, but he has been a pleasant surprise through eight games. Still, he's the second receiver on the depth chart and has 17 receptions. Just goes to show the lack of a consistent secondary receiver behind Moss.
Overall Grade: C+
Tight Ends: Chris Cooley has improved by leaps and bounds as a blocker. He has to be extremely versatile in this offense and he's met the challenge thus far. He is sent in motion on a large percentage of plays, he has often helped chip in against the laundry list of elite pass rushers Washington has faced and still is expected to produce in the passing game.
And he's done just that. Cooley has caught 39 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns. He has experienced some mental lapses and dropped some balls this year, but considering the uneven play of the rest of offense, it's easy to excuse. The most disturbing stat I could dig up was that only 43.6 percent of Cooley's receptions were for first downs. He has never had under 50 percent of his catches go for first downs.
The other concern is he isn't used in the red zone. The Redskins have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league and yet they have failed to make an adjustment and find ways to get Cooley ball inside the twenty.
Meanwhile, Fred Davis has rarely seen the field in spite of the speculation that he would be used frequently in two tight end sets with Cooley. With the receiving corps struggling, the Redskins should consider using Davis' athleticism more often.
Overall Grade: B+
Offensive Line: This unit is a big reason why Washington's offense has been so spotty. The play of the line as a whole has been inconsistent and detrimental to the rhythm offensively.
The Redskins have given up 23 sacks this season; only the Bears have surrendered more. The interior of the offensive line is completely overmatched by any power fronts. Detroit, Dallas and Green Bay were able to penetrate at will against Casey Rabach, Artis Hicks and Kory Lichtensteiger. Shanahan has refused to go back to the stronger Derrick Dockery at left guard because he feels Lichtensteiger is a better fit in his zone blocking system.
The trade to acquire right tackle Jammal Brown might have been a bad move. Brown has talent, but the injuries he suffered in New Orleans have visibly eroded his skills. Plus, he is more used to playing left tackle. Still, I'd rather see Brown in the game than human turnstyle Stephon Heyer.
Rookie left tackle Trent Williams played very well initially, but he hasn't been as good in recent weeks as the play of the entire line has sunk. McNabb has been harassed too much and Torain isn't seeing holes consistently because the line is losing the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Without solid protection and run blocking, no offense can get in sync for a full 60 minutes. Poor offensive lines force coaches to alter play calling and adjust schemes, which limits what the offense can do. The inadequacies up front are why the McNabb and company can't get off the ground. The 2010 edition is a better line than the patchwork unit under Jim Zorn, but then again that's not saying much.
Overall Grade: D