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The Washington Redskins Are Bringing The Pain On Special Teams

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The Redskins' offense and defense have both been inconsistent, so what's been the most enjoyable aspect of the Washington Redskins' 2010 season? Watching the special teams unit lay people out.

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Even though the Washington Redskins are coming off of a 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on primetime television, the mood around the team these days is generally positive. 

Of course, after a disastrous 4-12 season in which all hope was lost, Redskins fans are just happy to have their favorite team be relevant once again. Bringing in Mike Shanahan as the new head coach and Donovan McNabb as the new quarterback instantly brought a certain level of credibility that appears to have the rest of Redskins Park (minus one disgruntled defensive lineman) completely buying in to the new regime.

The Redskins currently stand 3-3, with wins over Dallas, Philadelphia and Green Bay. All three of those teams were in the playoffs last year. Washington also remained respectable in close losses to Houston and Indianapolis, which only proves this team is going to be competitive week in and week out.

Here’s the kicker: the Redskins haven’t played a full 60 minutes of football yet in 2010. The offense has yet to truly fire on all cylinders yet this season, and the defense still suffers lapses in decision making and tackling abilities too often.


Taking a closer look at the Washington offense, I think it’s safe to suggest that the Redskins should feel fortunate to be in their current position. The offensive line appears to be a revolving door – with new players shuffled in and out of the rotation on a weekly basis. As a result, the ground game has struggled mightily this season.

Running back Clinton Portis hardly looked the part before a groin injury sidelined him for the foreseeable future, and while Ryan Torain has set his career-high for rushing yards in a game twice this season (with 70 yards against Philly and 100 yards against Indy), he’s got a little while to go before we should "crown his ass."

I’d mention the passing game, but it’s nowhere to be found. McNabb has done well throwing early and often at wide out Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley, but they’ve been the only two reliable options on a weekly basis. And, oh by the way, Cooley is now dealing with a concussion.

I like what receiver Anthony Armstrong and tight end Fred Davis bring to the table, but, statistically speaking, they’re both only good for one or two catches a game on average. And then there’s the Joey Galloway-Roydell Williams combo. Let’s just say I wasn’t stunned when a Colts defender intercepted McNabb’s final pass attempt of the evening Sunday night, because I didn’t think for a minute Galloway would end up with the ball. He hauled in one 62-yard pass while Houston was asleep at the wheel, and since then has five total catches for 51 yards over the last four weeks. But he keeps finding his way onto the field.

On the other side of the ball, it’s safe to say the switch to a 3-4 defense is still very much a work in progress. Players like linebacker Brian Orakpo and safety LaRon Landry have excelled in their new roles, but others are still struggling to find their groove in Jim Haslett’s defense.

And honestly, at times it still seems like Haslett is learning on the fly too. The first quarter of the Green Bay and Indianapolis games featured way too much read and react for my taste. It pained me to relive the Greg Blache era, as Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning systematically picked apart Washington’s passive defense with ease.

Luckily, just when all hope appeared to be lost, Haslett remembered he’s allowed to pressure the opposition. While they did a better job of getting to Rodgers than Manning, the defense at least began to once again resemble an NFL-caliber unit. Sure, running backs still gash this defense with 40- and 50-yard runs far too frequently, but in the instances when a Redskins defender actually stops the opposition, they’re bringing the pain. Bodies are dropping like a Carlos Rogers interception, as Andre Johnson, Steven Jackson, Michael Vick and half of the Packers roster can all tell you.

You’ve got to figure that if the first guy on the scene does a better job of making the play and limiting these backbreaking runs, then the defense will be in pretty solid shape. The Redskins will undoubtedly spend this offseason bringing in players they feel better fit this 3-4 scheme, but there’s enough in place now to keep the burgundy and gold in games.


But surprisingly, the most solid aspect of the 2010 Redskins is the special teams unit. Sure, kicker Graham Gano needs to do a better job of converting long-range field goal attempts, but otherwise, there’s a lot to like on teams.

Hunter "The Punter" Smith is back and is an instant upgrade to whatever it was Josh Bidwell allegedly contributed. Devin Thomas was excelling in kick return coverage before his release, but the Redskins feel Chad Simpson will be able to match his production. And on punt return, the Redskins finally have a dynamic playmaker in Brandon Banks.

For the first time since Brian Mitchell, the Redskins have a player who can finally tilt the field back in favor of the burgundy and gold. Every time he touches the ball, the crowd at FedEx Field begins to stir with excitement. You don’t know if he’s going to bust off a 40 yard return or get crushed into pieces. You don’t know if he’s going to fumble to ball or make multiple defenders look foolish in pursuit of the 5-foot-7 and 155-pound returner. You just don’t know.

Banks is a secret pleasure that Redskins fans can only hope to keep to themselves for a little while longer. Remember how quickly Chicago speedster Devin Hester became a household name? Well, it’s only a matter of time before the same is true of Banks (which is why this weekend’s matchup of Hester vs. Banks is my favorite subplot as the Redskins travel to Chicago).

And the absolute best aspect of the Redskins special teams unit is the hit stick. I’m not talking about video game jargon. It’s the totem pole looking thing guys like fullback Mike Sellers and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander can be seen with after delivering a TKO on special teams.

It’s the badge of pride special teamers strive for that can only be earned by annihilating the opposition like Chris Wilson did on the opening kickoff against the Colts this week. Or Sellers did against Green Bay. Or Alexander did in Philadelphia. Without question, once a week a Redskins special teamer can be seen crushing an opponent with a bone-rattling hit.

Maybe Steve Slaton was on to something earlier this season when he opted to step out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Maybe he knew it was safer to deal with his coach’s wrath rather than let Sellers, Alexander or Wilson line him up.

Sure, the offense and defense are still struggling with consistency, but the special teams guys are getting it done. You’ve got to figure it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the roster gets with the program.