Offense: Mike Shanahan went through the entire preseason without naming a starting quarterback, and that's not good. You should have a conviction about someone, but if Shanahan can't decide between John Beck or Rex Grossman it's troubling. But it's not the quarterback who makes the difference with Shanahan's teams. It's the running backs. In one stretch in Denver, Shanahan had a 1,000-yard rusher 11 of 12 seasons -- with relatively obscure draft picks like Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary and Terrell Davis. Heck, even Reuben Droughns was a 1,000-yard back under Shanahan. Anyway, that's just a way of saying Tim Hightower should be more valuable to the Redskins than Grossman or Beck. He and Ryan Torain will carry the ball, and their success -- or lack of it -- could determine how far the Redskins go. Yeah, quarterbacks make a difference, but remember this: Shanahan had John Elway in Denver but didn't win a Super Bowl until he paired him with Davis. And then he won two.
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Defense: The 3-4 is back, and it can only be better. Washington last season dropped to 31st overall from 10th in 2009. At least they were consistent. They were 26th vs. the run and 31st against the pass, and, yeah, that made a difference where this team finished. Not having Albert Haynesworth this time around is a plus. He was a distraction that had to go. Rookies Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins were supposed to make a difference, but Jenkins already has been lost for the season (torn ACL). Nevertheless, the Redskins added defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, both of whom should make them bigger and better on the defensive line. They believe their secondary is improved, too, with the additions of cornerback Josh Wilson and safety O.J. Atogwe, but safety LaRon Landry -- who hasn't played since last November -- is bothered by a sore hamstring, and that could be an issue. I mean, how do you step on a field Sept. 11 and expect to play? Landry does, and good luck.
Coaching and schemes: I like Shanahan as a head coach, and I like the way he runs his offenses. But I don't like him as a personnel guy. Few can handle both jobs well, and Shanahan hasn't joined that group. Mike Shanahan The Coach will keep the Redskins competitive, but I just don't see the talent here to take him beyond third place in the division. Jim Haslett's defense will be better, but a giant leap forward is what's necessary -- and I don't see that happening. The key on offense is Hightower. Arizona let him walk for a reason, and fumbling was part of it. If he can't clean that up, Shanahan might be forced to rely more on his quarterback ... and, given the choices, that may not be such a good idea.
Outlook: I have no doubt the defense improves, but this is what I don't like: Your offense is relying on backs and quarterbacks others didn't want to keep. Maybe Hightower becomes Shanahan's next 1,000-yard back. All I know is that Arizona -- a team that desperately wanted to build a running game -- gave up on him. Beck couldn't cut it with Miami and Baltimore. Grossman was out at Chicago and Houston. These, folks, are your Washington Redskins, and the reason I can't see the club going beyond third in the division.
Predicted finish: 7-9, last in NFC East.