2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff

By Mike Freeman | National NFL Insider


Over the past few years... putrid. The symbol of Washington's struggles recently was the chubby-wubby quarterback in Donovan McNabb, waddling out of the pocket, and throwing passes into the dirt. Billy Kilmer after a night out was more accurate. This led to Washington's big gamble and the drafting of Robert Griffin III.

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There are other key components to discuss with Washington's offense. Pierre Garcon will be the top wideout but don't rule out Santana Moss pushing him hard for that top spot, and pay attention to Leonard Hankerson becoming a pseudo-star.

But this season and many seasons to come are about Griffin, who has a chance to usurp President Obama as the most popular man in D.C. This is the interesting part. While the general consensus is that it will take Griffin several years to adjust to the professional game, many scouts privately say differently. They reiterate and reiterate some more that Griffin is an accurate passer (far more than generally appreciated) and they believe that accuracy will translate into the pros quickly.

Not three years from now. Not two. But next year.

This sounds extremely optimistic seeing as the Redskins don't have anything resembling a solid running back, but that belief is out there.


Any defense that has London Fletcher -- who possesses the biggest heart and toughest mind in football -- is going to be at least somewhat productive. The biggest problem with Washington's defense was its offense. But as the offense improves there's no question the biggest problem with the defense is a lack of talent. In fact, most of the talent on Washington's defense is on an incredibly crowded assistant coaching staff. Raheem Morris, fired as head coach in Tampa, is now the defensive backs coach in Washington. Jim Haslett is the defensive coordinator.

Despite Morris losing his job in Tampa, many in football feel he's a better coach than what was demonstrated in his final season there (despite Morris at times being a bully of the media and worrying too much about outside opinions of him). Haslett might want to watch his back if the defense continues to be mostly pedestrian.

How Morris and Haslett work together is the biggest key on this defense. Both men have tremendous egos and as one scout noted, the over/under in league circles for vocal disagreements during the season is a dozen. But if they can work together it could pay huge dividends. Despite his faults, Morris is technically brilliant, a young defensive savant, and Haslett is underrated as an assistant.

Key Changes

Roster Additions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, DB Brandon Meriweather, QB Robert Griffin III, OT Tom Compton, RB Alfred Morris.

Roster Departures: WR Jabar Gaffney, QB John Beck, S Oshiomogho Atogwe, FB Mike Sellers.

Staff: Morris added as defensive backs coach.

This was not exactly the greatest period in Redskins history for free agent signings. Washington clearly focused on the draft. And that's a good thing. The end of Danny Snyder's reign of bloated free agent signings of has-beens and once-weres may have finally fallen sloppy dead, replaced by logic and proportion. Well, mostly.

The Garcon signing is a huge risk. He's a solid receiver but the theory of some in the sport is that he's more of a Peyton Manning creation than anything else. He's a strong physical presence but an average route runner without blazing speed, and the Redskins gave him $20 million guaranteed. It was good to give RG3 a nice weapon, but that might be a tad much. Nonetheless, clearly, under a smart GM, the team is building, well, smartly. Build through the draft (mostly) and take some shots in free agency. This is what Washington's rivals -- mainly the Giants -- have done and the Giants have been to Super Bowls while Snyder watches on a big screen TV in an owner's box.

Washington actually had one of their best drafts in years so the strategy of free agent signing minimalism, if it holds for Washington, will pay big time down the road.

X-Factor: Robert Griffin III

There's truly only one choice: RG3. He's the X, the Y, the Z and the ABC factor. There's the potential for RG3 to drastically alter the franchise for the better the way other Washington quarterbacks in the past like Joe Theismann and Doug Williams once did. The difference is he will do it without a John Riggins in the backfield or Dexter Manley on the defense.

The most compelling story in the NFL won't be Peyton Manning in Denver. It will be watching Andrew Luck and RG3 attempt to learn the NFL's ways with moderate talent around them (or in Luck's case no talent). The greatest challenge for Washington's coaching staff is properly utilizing Griffin. That sounds obvious, but it's not as obvious as it seems. Griffin isn't Cam Newton; a better model would be Aaron Rodgers. Griffin is a pocket passer with escapability. If the offensive coaching staff (which can be arrogant and all-knowing) tries to make RG3 into something else then there will be problems. If not, RG3 could be the next Rodgers, and that's not an exaggeration.

Shanahan's tall order

In two seasons, Mike Shanahan has gone 11-21. He's looked a lot less the genius without John Elway. With a rookie quarterback, Shanahan deserves two more years to continue to straighten out a franchise that has been one of the most disappointing in the NFL. If the offense shows progress (and I think it will) then you know there's promise with the Shanahan regime. But if the team is stagnant again, the pressure will significantly increase on Shanahan.

Better off Fred?

Fred Davis is one of the more intriguing talents on the team. He signed his franchise-player tender of $5.4 million. Davis started in 12 games and finished with 59 catches for 796 yards. Not bad numbers at all on a mediocre offense. But there's a reason he played in 12 of 16 games -- he was suspended for four games after violating the league's substance abuse policy. If Davis can stay out of trouble he could develop into one of the better tight ends in football.

Tough schedule

I've gone back and forth over Washington's schedule. Sometimes it looks manageable and sometimes it looks brutal. I'm back to brutal. They open with the Saints who will likely be without key defensive contributors but will probably have Drew Brees. Then there are improving Rams and Bengals teams. You'd have to think Tampa would be better. The Falcons will be good and the Vikings likely bad, but then there's the Giants, Steelers and Panthers before the bye. After the bye come the Eagles twice, the Cowboys twice, the Giants, Ravens and Browns.

Yeah, kinda' brutal.

Insiders' Take

An AFC scout speaking on the Redskins: "I think this team could truly stun some people. Mainly because I believe so heavily in Robert. There are some pieces around him. You don't have to have this great running game. You can win without one in today's game. It can be done, and other than the Giants there is no great team in that division. I expect the usual from the Cowboys and the Eagles. Both of those teams don't have a lot of heart. The Giants win the division and the Redskins will shock and compete for second in the division."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

Mike Shanahan is 11-21 since taking over the Redskins, and the high-powered offense we were used to seeing from him in Denver haven't been what the Redksins' offense has looked like. But that's all about to change.

Redskins' Rivals: NFC East

2012 Preview • Schedule
Cowboys @ Redskins: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)
Redskins @ Cowboys: 11/22 (4:15 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Giants @ Redskins: 12/3 (8:30 p.m. ET)
Redskins @ Giants: 10/21 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Eagles @ Redskins: 11/18 (1 p.m. ET)
Redskins @ Eagles: 12/23 (1 p.m. ET)

Robert Griffin III takes over at QB and that means the bootlegs, sprint/dash pass, waggles, and shotgun quick game just came alive. Washington now has a playmaker at quarterback and defenses are going to have to count him in their scheme. Last year, the Skins ran for 118 yards a game and that number should shoot up to 135-140 with Griffin's escape skills.

The Redskins' run game is a zone run package, but with RG3 under center, the backside defender can no longer pursue the run away in fear of a contain break by Griffin. I really like the Washington offense in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). It spreads the defense out, creating escape lanes for the young QB. It still provides a good one-cut zone run play, and it puts Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan on the field.

Shanahan will incorporate some of the things RG3 did at Baylor, especially the smoke screens, and one-step quick game. Last year, the Redskins were 1-8 in games where they couldn't generate at least 21 points. RG3 has not called an offense from the line of scrimmage in a true audible system, so the Redskins will have to go slow in this area.

The Washington defense is an underrated group that was ranked 13th last year and held the world champion Giants to 24 points in eight quarters. Jim Haslett is from the Dick LeBeau school of 3-4 pressure defense and he has two very good pass rushers at OLB in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. He got 23 sacks from players not at the outside linebacker position, which tells you he schemes protections well.

I have some concerns about the safeties. Bruce Allen brought in veteran safeties Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams to fill the void left by the departure of LaRon Landry but match up problems against vertical tight ends could surface.

Last year, the Skins held Jason Witten to nine receptions and one touchdown in two games and Vernon Davis to four receptions and zero TDs. The defense can't take a step backwards in this area. Saints TE Jimmy Graham is first up on the schedule.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

Subpar play at quarterback has been a significant reason why the Redskins have finished last in the NFC East four consecutive years, which is why Washington was so willing to forfeit the bounty of picks (including first-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts) necessary to swap spots with the St. Louis Rams and assure that they'd land Robert Griffin III.

Redskins Draft Analysis

The Heisman Trophy-winning Griffin is an ideal fit for the West Coast Offense preferred by coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, Washington's offensive coordinator. Griffin possesses the intelligence, quick release and accuracy on short to intermediate routes that are critical to the scheme. Griffin's two most unique traits -- his straight-line speed and touch on the deep ball -- are not required in the West Coast Offense but are elements that can be easily incorporated into the attack.

The fact that Kevin Kolb produced eerily similar numbers in his final season under head coach Art Briles at Houston (completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,809 yards and 30 TDs/4 INTs) as Griffin did under Briles at Baylor (72.4 percent completions for 4,293 yards and 37 TDs/6 INTs) should serve as a warning that Griffin's ascent to NFL superstardom is not guaranteed.

The Redskins made a wise choice in hedging their bet on Griffin when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was staring at them at in the fourth round. Cousins, who a team source tells me the Redskins had as the No. 3 quarterback in the draft behind Andrew Luck and Griffin and a second-round value, is also an ideal fit in the Shanahans' scheme.

Because of his off-the-chart intangibles, Cousins might be the perfect backup quarterback for the Redskins. Having achieved great success in Denver with a superstar in John Elway being backed up by the selfless Gary Kubiak, it isn't surprising at all to see Mike Shanahan attempt to repeat history with Griffin and Cousins a few decades later.

The rest of the Redskins' picks:

1st Round - No. 2 overall - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3rd Round - No. 71 overall - Josh LeRibeus, OG, Southern Methodist
4th Round - No. 102 overall - Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
4th Round - No. 119 overall - Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
5th Round - No. 141 overall - Adam Gettis, OG, Iowa
6th Round - No. 173 overall - Alfred Morris, RB, Florida Atlantic
6th Round - No. 193 overall - Tom Compton, OT, South Dakota
7th Round - No. 213 overall - Richard Crawford, CB, Southern Methodist
7th Round - No. 217 overall - Jordan Bernstine, SS, Iowa

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