To beat the Giants, Washington will need Tim Hightower to run hard and avoid fumbles. Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI
The great thing about week 1 is that all hopes and dreams are still possible. No matter how good or bad the offseason was reputed to be, everyone's record is the same and everyone can still tell themselves they're Super Bowl contenders. After week 1...stuff can change.
The Redskins under the ownership of Dan Snyder have traditionally been Kings of the Offseason. This year, Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen eschewed the big ticket, high-profile free agent signing, instead focusing on younger veterans who fill specific needs -- guys like Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Chris Chester. They had a productive draft, moving down several times to make multiple picks. Eight of their 12 draft picks made the 53-man roster; it would be 9 if Jarvis Jenkins hadn't torn his ACL. The other three draftees are stashed on the practice squad and could contribute in the future.
While the revamped roster is encouraging, Shanahan made some roster puzzling roster decisions that could end up biting the Redskins if they aren't addressed in the coming weeks. Specifically, the Skins chose to carry 7 wide receivers and 9 defensive backs, but just 8 offensive linemen and 6 defensive linemen.
Reportedly, the coaching staff would be comfortable with just 5 active defensive linemen for the Giants game. Even if Brian Orakpo and/or Ryan Kerrigan become defensive ends on passing downs, I'm concerned that the team has too few big bodies to be successful.
Even with those roster concerns, there's no question the roster has been significantly improved. Wide receiver has been a weakness for years -- now there's quality depth. Running back has been iffy as Clinton Portis slowed (and succumbed to injuries), but is 4-deep with NFL-caliber ball carriers. The defensive line has improved with the additions of Cofield and Bowen. The secondary should be better when Laron Landry returns to health.
The big question mark is at quarterback. Rex Grossman won the job, but has been thoroughly average (or worse) throughout his career. The Skins will need him to play better than he ever has -- a tall order for a 31-year old entering his 9th season.
First up for the SKins is a home game against the New York Giants. The Giants are a perennial force, but have been wrecked by injury (5 defensive starters are likely to miss Sunday's game) and appear to be primed for a down year. They're still likely to be a good opponent, however. And it's not like the Skins can afford to take anyone lightly.
In week 1, the Skins win if...
Their defense/special teams can force 2 turnovers.
Grossman can avoid committing turnovers -- no more than 1 interception or fumble.
They protect the passer. Grossman can make throws if he has time. Pressure him, and he'll fumble or put the ball up for grabs.
Tim Hightower can perform in the regular season like he did in the preseason. That means decisive, powerful runs and hanging on to the football. As I wrote during the preseason, Hightower has been one of the league's most fumble-prone runners during his three seasons. That has to be fixed for the Skins to have a chance to win.
They can stay out of third and long, AND convert on third and short. The Redskins QB isn't good enough to consistently get a first down on third and long so the team must be efficient on 1st and 2nd down so they're facing 3rd and 3 instead of 3rd and 8.
They've ironed out their preseason red zone woes.
Graham Gano has truly turned the corner. Once the offense has cracked the opponent 35, they need to come away with points. Touchdowns are ideal, but Gano needs to be a reliable fallback. He was perfect in preseason -- they need him to be excellent this season.
They can limit the Giants ground attack without giving up long passing plays. Hakeem Nix and Mario Manningham are an outstanding duo at WR. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are a formidable running threat. While the Giants offensive line is in some flux, they've traditionally had success running the ball against the Skins. Washington's defense must be able to stifle the ground attack with their front 7.
They pressure Eli Manning. The Giants QB may think of himself as a top 10 QB, but he was mistake prone when under pressure last season. Expect Skins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to attack Manning early and often. Manning will make mistakes again, which may lead to interceptions.