The Washington Redskins made their fans happy for a short time this season. No, they didn’t get rid of Dan Snyder, nor did they decide to fill FedEx Field with tolerable people. Instead, they did what they hadn’t done since 2008: they won six out of their first nine games.
At first glance, the figure is unimpressive. A good start, yes, but plenty of teams had better records through their first nine games. However, the Redskins have had to surmount a great amount of obstacles to get to that point.
Their division is home to some of the best talents in the NFL, including the Philadelphia Eagles, who won last year’s Super Bowl a powerful and dynamic top-5 running back in Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and a fearsome duo in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants.
On the Redskins side of the ball, talent is hard to come by. LSU phenom Derrius Guice was expected to be the workhorse running back for the Skins until he tore his ACL during the preseason. This prompted the Redskins to sign Adrian Peterson, 33-year-old convicted child abuser, who became the oldest starting running back in the NFL this season. The veteran emerged as the unlikely star of Washington’s offensive crew, scoring 5 touchdowns in team’s first eight games. But, as the injuries to Washington’s offensive line have piled up, Peterson’s production has fallen. Excluding his recent scored 90-yard touchdown run, the longest in franchise history, he has only averaged around two and a half yards per carry on his other rushing attempts since week 8 through week 14 of the season. Peterson’s early-season resurgence and subsequent failures, following the many injuries to the offensive linemen, highlights the importance of having depth at the offensive line position.
Another area in need of depth is at quarterback. The Redskins opted not to hand Kirk Cousins a big contract over the offseason, instead signing Alex Smith for 94 million dollars. Smith suffered a gruesome injury in week 11, when he fractured his tibia and fibula. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy proceeded to break his fibula just two weeks later, forcing the Redskins to start Mark Sanchez in week 14. Sanchez, who was signed after Smith broke his leg, had not started an NFL game at QB since he was with the New York Jets in 2016, and it showed. Sanchez, who is infamous for fumbling the football in after running into the buttocks of his offensive lineman (on primetime television), managed just 38 yards on 14 throws, picking up two interceptions before being benched for Josh Johnson in the third quarter. Johnson, who had 5 career touchdowns going into week 14 and has only started in one game since 2009, was signed after McCoy broke his leg.
Notice a pattern?
Johnson played decently well and came up with two touchdown drives to turn a 40-0 deficit against the Giants into a riveting 40-16 final score. He has been named the starter for Washington’s week 15 matchup against a talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
Still a free agent is Colin Kaepernick, who is universally considered more talented than both Sanchez and Johnson. When asked about signing the Kaepernick, who is famous for kneeling during the national anthem, owner Dan Snyder responded that “there’s not a lot of time to get a brand-new quarterback and system installed in a couple of days,” a statement that stands in grotesque irony in the context of their current quarterback situation. Consider also that Kaepernick last started an NFL game in 2016, which is 7 years after Johnson’s last start. Johnson said he used Madden NFL, a video game, to learn the names of his new teammates before he came in just four days after he was signed.
And so a team which at first looked promising now seems destined for long-term failure. Smith’s surgery led to an infection in his leg, and the team has announced that Smith may not be ready at the beginning of the 2019 season, meaning that McCoy will be the likely starting QB as Johnson and Sanchez’s contracts expire. Even if Alex Smith comes back next season, he has shown himself to be consistently mediocre. That mediocrity is likely to continue as he turns 35 in May and has his mobility reduced by his injury. Even Peterson, who has become a fan-favorite because of his explosive potential and advanced age, will have his contract expire at the end of the year.
While the Redskins are technically still in playoff contention at the time of this writing (just after week 14), the future is grim. The problems are simply too systematic, their offense too depleted, and their defense too inconsistent to expect any kind of turn around this season, and probably not even in the next. For Washington football fans, the future is grim.
By Theo Hockstader ’19