When Mike Shanahan took over the reigns of the Washington Redskins, you can bet he had reason to believe the team could be competitive sooner than later. He is, after all, very competitive. And, he’s also a meticulous planner. The man hates to lose and loves to scheme. Besides, he stated publicly that he expected the ‘Skins to avoid being a rebuilding project.
When Coach Mike brought in his son Kyle to coordinate the offense, he must have believed the Redskins had enough essential parts on offense to at least be more efficient on third downs than their conversion rate of 29%. They ranked 31 out of 32 teams. Their fourth down conversion rate was 50%, which equated to a ranking of 12th. Surely he thought the ‘Skins would score at least 20 point-per-game. Unless you’re the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, you simply can’t make the playoffs by averaging 19 points.
As I analyzed the Redskins’ 2010 record, a decade-old refrain stood out once again. Washington likely would have won three more games if they had averaged just one more point-per-game. At week 10, their record was 5 and 5. They went on to win just one game the rest of the season, beating the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars. During their last six games, commonly referred to as the ‘stretch run’, they lost all three division games and all five conference games they played. After having amassed a 4 - 3 conference record and 2 – 1 division record, they ended the season 4 – 8 in the NFC and 2 – 4 in the East. The bottom clearly fell out, even though they played half of their final six games at home.
Injuries accounted for a lot of the Redskins’ performance issues the last six weeks of the season. Several factors killed the ‘Skins in their close late-season losses. Their offensive line was so depleted a Tight End was told he’d have to play Tackle against Tampa. Graham Gano was a major factor in the Tampa Bay game, missing 2 of 3 field goal attempts. Four fumbles killed them in their finale against the Giants. Rex Grossman performed admirably against Dallas overall, but he turned the ball over three times.
What I’m saying here is that the Washington Redskins club which ended up in the cellar of the NFC East in 2010 could have easily achieved a record of 9 and 7. Instead of a two game improvement over 2009, the ‘Skins would have lodged a five game improvement. Consequently, they would have placed 2nd in the division ahead of the Giants due to tie breakers, and would have tied the Giants and Buccaneers for 7th place in the conference. That wouldn’t have been good enough to make the playoffs, but would have come dangerously close. What a difference three more wins in very close games would have made.
Of course, this is all woulda, shoulda, coulda. However, it illustrates the fact the Redskins are not as far off from being competitive as their 2010 record implies. In spite of their numerous injuries, instability at quarterback, and having the statistically worst placekicker in the league, the oldest team in the league at the beginning of the season came within a handful of plays of returning to respectability in Mike Shanahan’s first year as Head Coach.
There’s no doubt in my mind both Shanahan coaches realize this. Maybe that’s a secondary reason they cut Clinton Portis. (The first reason, of course, was his salary versus his expected level of productivity.) They know adding several future starters during this year’s draft, and then adding several productive Free Agents once the lock-out is over, will go a long way in making the 2011 edition of the Redskins more competitive than many of their fans would dare hope for at this point. Whether that actually happens or not, the facts support the notion that it can.