Jay Gruden and the Washington Redskins enjoyed a 9-7 campaign, one that came along with an NFC East title. This off-season was a fantastic one that saw the Redskins grab a top college receiver, an All-Pro cornerback, and some quality players back from injury. The Redskins can definitely win the NFC East, as the players know it, the staff knows it, and hopefully by the end of this, you will know it too. I’ve broken down five reasons why the Redskins can repeat as NFC East champions, which is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 2003-2005 Eagles.
Why the Redskins Can Win the NFC East
1) The Firepower on Offense
The Redskins have an array of weapons at their disposal on offense, the most they’ve had in quite some time. Jordan Reed is a mismatch nightmare who made plays left and right. DeSean Jackson is a speedy burner who could take it to the house on any given play. Pierre Garcon is a nasty, physical, sure-handed stud who is very reliable on third downs. Rookie Jamison Crowder is very smart and reliable in the slot as well. Throw in vertically-gifted Josh Doctson, one of the best college football receivers in the country, and there is a recipe for a juggernaut offense. NFL Network’s Charley Casserly summed it up well. Opposing defenses have to respect the weapons present in the nation’s capital. Kirk’s growing confidence and Matt Jones‘ development are the key questions that, if answered in a good way, can turn this into a top 5 offense that defensive coordinators will be scratching their heads at.
2) Rare Stability at the Quarterback Position
For the first time in what seems like forever, Washington will be going into the off-season confident with who they have at quarterback. Kirk Cousins is the future at the position, and that’s something all Washington fans should be happy about. Cousins got slapped with a franchise tag after a breakout season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards (Redskins franchise record) and 29 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. Furthermore, he posted an impressive 101.6 quarterback rating. While these stats are solid, with all the weapons on offense and the fact that Captain Kirk will be playing for a contract this season, expect Cousins to improve on his numbers substantially this season. No matter what, Cousins is a quality quarterback who is getting better and better as the days go by. This is something that fans haven’t seen in a Redskins quarterback in quite some time. The Redskins can win the NFC East if Cousins at least mimics last year’s performance.
3) A Rejuvenated Secondary
The secondary was a huge weak spot for the Redskins last year, as it was ranked 25th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. However, expect that number to change in a positive way. Maybe the best corner in football last season, All-Pro Josh Norman had a breakout season which saw him rack up 48 tackles, 19 passes defended, four interceptions and three forced fumbles. Norman is an excellent zone corner, which is a perfect situation for him due to the heavy amounts of zone implemented in the Redskins defensive scheme. Expect Norman to back up that contract and play like the Pro Bowler he is and bring his nasty attitude to the Redskins defense. Norman’s addition will also help Bashaud Breeland see easier matchups with second tier receivers. Additionally, the Redskins drafted Kendall Fuller in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. NFL.com’s Charles Davis had high praise for Fuller. “Without the knee injury, we’re probably calling his name a little earlier. His NFL comparison is his brother, Kyle Fuller, who plays for the Bears. You talk about family, the Fullers know football and they know it well,” Davis said about the new member of the Redskins secondary. Fuller will most likely be plugged in at slot corner initially. As far as the safety position goes, DeAngelo Hall was adjusting to the safety position last season and still had a good season, so expect him to improve on last year and be one of the biggest leaders on the team. The second safety position is probably going to see the most competition for a starting job on the roster, but no matter who is at this spot, expect to see big improvement from the secondary as a whole.
4) Players Returning from Injury
Last season, many key players suffered season-ending injuries that left the Redskins desperately plugging in players with little experience to play in their place. Luckily, all of these players will be returning this season. Linebacker Junior Galette didn’t play at all last season due to an Achilles injury, but he is now healthy and ready to terrorize opposing quarterbacks like he did in his time with the New Orleans Saints. Both 2013 and 2014 campaigns saw him acquire 10 or more sacks. A good pass rusher opposite star linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is exactly what Galette can be with his quick twitch and relentless pursuit. “There’s a lot of motivation built in, but I was motivated regardless. It’s just this extra juice I’ve got that I think I’ve found all over again,” Galette told redskins.com.
Shawn Lauvao was playing at a very high level until he sprained his ankle and missed the rest of the season. After that loss at left guard, the running game took a major hit. In the first two weeks with Lauvao in the lineup, the Redskins averaged 171.5 yards per game. By the end of the season, they only averaged 97.9 per game, which was 20th in the league. Do with that statistic what you will, but Lauvao seems to be a difference maker when he’s in the lineup.
Duke Ihenacho was slated to be the Redskins starting safety Week 1 until he suffered a season-ending wrist injury. His return will make the competition for the starting safety spot opposite DeAngelo Hall very intense.
Niles Paul will be returning at tight end and will bring a boost to run blocking and special teams. He could fill the fullback role as well.
5) The Culture Change Implemented by Scot McCloughan
Since the hiring of general manager Scot McCloughan, the overall attitude and work ethic he brought to the table has rubbed off on the entire staff and players. Whether it be the Robert Griffin III dilemma or the consistent losing seasons, the locker room was usually divided into small cliques of players who were friends, and there wasn’t any type of camaraderie. A year later and that has completely changed. The benching of RG3 showed that nobody was favoring certain players and that whoever was best for the job would be put in. Scot McCloughan brought a sort of family-like personality to the team and was very hands on with the players, giving them hugs when they made plays, or picking them up when they made a mistake. It builds a sense of brotherhood that spread like wildfire around Redskins Park. Instead of making plays on the field for themselves, the players were doing it for the people around them. This sense of brotherhood sparked the Redskins to their first division title since 2012. Former Redskin Jason Hatcher clearly noticed the culture change. “Absolutely, camaraderie is the key. I kind of harped on it when I got here, I was like ‘guys, we gotta hang out, we gotta do more together.’ That kind of defines a team. When everybody is just playing for one another as brothers, everybody in the locker room knows one another, everybody fighting for each other, man, it’s just a great thing,” Hatcher said. This brotherhood will only boost the Redskins momentum heading into the 2016 season. The franchise is trending upward for the future, and that’s why the Redskins can win the NFC East.