The Washington Redskins are younger and deeper, but probably not better. With 19 fresh faces, just a few special teamers away from comprising half of the roster, the Redskins would like to think they’re reloading rather than rebuilding.
However, two key offseason moves may haunt Washington – changing their top two receivers and replacing the defensive line. The offense spent the preseason not scoring while the defense still doesn’t have an oversized nose tackle acting as the tip of the spear.
What can we expect? Probably another uneven season. The best scenario is 8-8; the more probable is 6-10.
It all starts Sunday against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, who the Redskins have beaten five straight games in a normally-wacky NFC East rivalry. The weirdest plays and biggest upsets of the season usually happen in this twice-annual series.
The Eagles have been talking trash for two weeks over beating the Redskins. They’re ready to maul. Meanwhile, the Redskins are 0-3 in season openers under coach Jay Gruden. Injuries prevented the passing game from working together much throughout the preseason and the offensive line started slowly.
Maybe Washington has regained its injured key playmakers like receiver Josh Doctson and tight end Jordan Reed in time. And perhaps Ziggy Hood can slide back from end to nose tackle once more while first-rounder Jonathan Allen starts outside.
But two things decide this season’s fate: Red zone passing and pass rush.
Snider: Redskins Red Zone Tells All
The Redskins let 1,000-yard receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson depart as free agents figuring they could plug in free agent Terrelle Pryor and Doctson. The key is the latter two should be better in the red zone than their predecessors. Maybe Gruden’s beloved fade pass will work with two tall receivers?
But who knows? Doctson wasn’t sure handed over the preseason while Doctson once more nursed an injury. Maybe they suddenly rise, but even quarterback Kirk Cousins admits it might be October before knowing the team’s true capabilities.
Meanwhile, the revamped defensive line merely looks younger and cheaper than last year. Allen earned his starting role after a solid preseason that was largely against opposing reserves while nose tackle Phil Taylor’s season-ending injury forced an undersized Hood to return inside.
While the team’s strength is linebackers, the line needs to clear space for the pass rush to work. Too bad the Redskins have already lost linebacker Trent Murphy to a season-ending injury while rookie Ryan Anderson’s recovery from a shoulder stringer has been slow.
It’s a long season ahead. A lot of peaks and valleys that have been Gruden’s trademark. But whenever things looked bad, Gruden usually found a way to revive the team. This season, it might be a little tougher unless red zone passing and pass rush excel.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.