Goodness that was a big Week 1 win by the Washington Redskins. The W helped validate new head coach Mike Shanahan, new QB Donovan McNabb and even new left tackle Trent Williams. The Washington D was dominant too, subduing a vaunted Dallas offense and limiting Jerry Jones’ squad to a single touchdown.
Add all that up and it doesn’t seem that outlandish to think the Redskins could conceivably win the NFC East. But …
Let’s face it, Dallas could have easily won the game Sunday night if not for the unceasing ineptitude of tackle Alex Barron, culminating in his game-winning-TD-nullifying holding penalty. If not for Tony Romo doing what he does best, making ill-advised decisions under pressure, the ‘Skins don’t even sniff the end zone. When you get right down to it, the Cowboys did just about everything they could to help Washington win (12 penalties for 91 yards, a fumble returned for a TD). And you just don’t win divisional titles in the NFL by getting games gift-wrapped for you. Eventually the ‘Skins are going to have to win on their own. And they don’t look nearly good enough to do that right now.
What? You didn’t think all the news was good out of FedEx Field, did you? No, there’s always a rain cloud that’s more noticeable than any silver lining associated with the ‘Skins. While it was a great win, Washington still has a long way to go before they can consider themselves a legitimate contender for the division crown.
First, they still need to find a receiver not named Santana Moss or Chris Cooley. Those two combined for 12 receptions Sunday. The rest of the team? Three catches for a total of 14 yards. And that was against a rather mediocre Dallas secondary (225.4 passing yards per game allowed in 2009). The Redskins didn’t get close to that total either, totaling just 160 passing yards Sunday.
A limited passing game isn’t a killer (see: New York Jets, The) as long as you can rely on a tremendous defense and a running game that can control the clock. While Washington might have that defense, the Redskin ground game still needs to gain some traction. Washington averaged 3.9 yards per carry Sunday, which incidentally was their same average as last season. Problem is, that average was the fourth-worst in the league.
But enough of the negative, let’s get to the silver lining. McNabb may not have been the same QB he was on some of those Eagles Super Bowl teams, and statistically he wasn’t even better than Jason Campbell, last year’s oft-derided QB. But there were two key areas where the ‘Skins showed huge improvements and allowed them to hang tough while the Cowboys choked the game away.
The Redskins gave up just a single sack Sunday. One. Uno. Last season the Skins were allowing 2.7 per game, and on average were giving back 17.8 yards per game because of it. That can make a huge difference, particularly when your team depends on field position to win.
Credit the offensive line, particularly the rookie Williams for weathering the storm of sack-artist DeMarcus Ware. And also give a hand to McNabb for using his combination of agility and decision-making to avoid pass rushers … and a fatal turnover.
The Skins averaged almost an interception per game last season. Though pressured, McNabb’s disciplined approach kept the ball in Redskin hands (one pick was overturned by a defensive penalty) and the Cowboys in their own end of the field.
On nine of their 10 drives, Dallas started at no better than its own 33 yard line. That other lone possession? The Boys started on the Washington 34 following a lousy, 27-yard punt from the 7 yard line. Oh, and they scored a touchdown.
It was a dramatic victory to be sure, and in these past few areas we’ve seen how Washington should take some pride in its Sunday night win. But if Washington wants to consider itself a playoff contender (and that’s always the goal, right?) it needs to continue to improve. Because when you study some of the early stats, it’s clear that Dallas did a lot more to lose that game than Washington did to win it.