The Washington Redskins are sitting in a spot where many NFL experts are surprised and fans are optimistic for a playoff season—at the top of the NFC East Division with 3-1 record.
Within the walls of Redskins Park, a solid start was expected, despite more work that needed to be done.
“I felt that from day one. I have a good feel for this group,” said Redskins head coach and executive vice president Mike Shanahan at his press conference Oct. 4. “I thought, when you take a look at the free agents, when you take a look at the draft choices, you really don’t know coming in. You think you have a feel for them, but, until you work with them, you don’t know for sure.
“It didn’t take long to feel that this is a very solid group both from a character standpoint as well as a playing standpoint.”
The Redskins started with an impressive victory over their division rival New York Giants (3-2), 28-14 at FedEx Field
in Week 1 on Sept. 11. Washington did not have an astonishing performance from all three phrases for one outing thus far.
However, they managed and sustained control over their opponents to stay in striking distance for a win—which they did.
Washington slowed down Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Week 2 for a 22-21 win.
Fell short in Dallas for a primetime Monday Night game. In a tight outing where field goals were paramount, the Redskins gave up a third-and-21 play late in the fourth quarter when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant for a huge completion. Tapped with a 15-yard personal foul by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall for his penalty on Bryant, the action set the Cowboys up with good field position to get a late field goal as the Redskins lost, 18-16.
After a short week, the Redskins bounced back for a 17-10 victory on the road in St. Louis, where their defense and running back Ryan Torain (in his first game of the season) dominated the contest.
The leadership displayed by the Redskins veterans has been the talk of the town and the family-type atmosphere around the locker rooms, practice field, the sideline and on the field of play during game day has made the difference. The Redskins defense has been their bread and butter during the first quarter of the 2011 season, as they are ranked sixth in the league overall, holding opponents to 296.5 yards per contest offensively.
“I feel very good. We’ve talked about defense—I think we have some natural leaders,” said Shanahan. “I think everyone looks at London [Fletcher] because he’s a veteran and been here for a while. I think we have a lot of people on defense that have a chance to be big-time leaders. [There’s] DeAngelo Hall, take a look at Rex [Grossman] starting to come on, took a look at a guy like [Stephen] Bowen, take a look at a guy like [Barry] Cofield, take a look at [LaRon] Landry and you took a look at a guy like Oshiomogho [Atogwe].
“We have some natural leaders out there,” he continued. “Even Josh Wilson has been in the league for a while. You’re hoping all of these guys start coming together. On offense, we have some guys besides Santana [Moss]. You want to say—who is going to take control of the football team?
“Who are our leaders going to be upfront?,” he added. “Right now, we have a number of guys and it’ll be interesting to see who takes the bull by the horns not only by the way they play, but the way they handle themselves throughout the year.”
Nevertheless, here’s where the fun begins.
Can the Redskins continue to display their dominance defensively? Is their three-headed monster backfield in Torain, Tim Hightower and rookie Roy Helu ready to take center stage? And can Grossman, who has thrown for 989 passing yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions with a 78.7 passer rating, continue to progress in the Redskins offense?
Well, these questions will be answered out the gate come Week 6 when the Redskins take the field in Washington against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins did not face an elite offense in the first quarter of the season and only faced one athletic defense in the Cowboys.
Quarterback Michael Vick and the Eagles (1-4) are desperate for a win and with their situations being solvable, they could be a handful for a Redskins team which is coming off a bye, attempting to catch its rhythm quickly.
After facing a mobile quarterback in Vick, the Redskins hit the road to Carolina (1-4) to face a huge, mobile signal caller who is on fire in Panthers rookie Cam Newton in Week 7. The Redskins should not have problems offensively, credited to their running game. Conversely, Newton has chemistry with wide receiver Steve Smith and the other pass catchers and the Redskins defense could have a long afternoon.
The Redskins will have two high-energy squads to compete against in the next two weeks, who have taken the NFL by storm this season. Washington will journey to Buffalo to battle against an opportunistic defense and an explosive offense in AFC East leading Bills (4-1), who play better at home, in Week 8.
Week 9, the burgundy and gold will host the San Francisco 49ers (4-1) and they will play for four quarters.
“I think they are averaging out a little more than you think,” said Shanahan when asked about the team performance during the first quarter of the season. “Things fluctuate and that’s the nature of this league. You just have to keep on working and try to get that balance and trying to put a complete game together.
“I think our defense in one week went from 16th in the NFL to fifth. That’s a big jump,” he continued. “We were 15th last week and we’re 15th this week [on offense]. You’re always looking to improve and that’s part of a long process. Guys playing together and having some high expectations, but knowing that, it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at it and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The second quarter for the Redskins will either make or damage their 2011 season. The Redskins’ 3-1 record is not viewed as a strong, solid Baltimore Ravens’ 3-1 record, where their abilities are clear and are loaded with talent. Washington’s 3-1 record is a little shakier, due to the questions on the offense side of the ball.
Clearly, the Redskins are a better team, better than anyone expected, and their opportunity to win the division is strongly possible. If the Redskins can hold up with a 4-0, 3-1 or a 2-2 record during the second quarter, they will be in the driver’s seat. Any record poorer than that will make the Redskins’ road rocky, but doable.
With one game ahead of the Giants, the Redskins have breathing room.
In order to gain more respect, nationally, the Redskins must keep their foot on the pedal.
2-2 for the Redskins’ second quarter—5-3 midway through the season.