Sure, the season started, but we’ve yet to conclude FY’s 2016 NFL team previews! Don’t appreciate Washington’s offensive team name? (Neither do we.) Jump to Arizona; Atlanta; Baltimore; Buffalo; Carolina; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Green Bay; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Minnesota; New England; New Orleans; New York Giants; New York Jets; Oakland; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; Tampa Bay; Tennessee.
Where They’re Coming From
Taking Ricky Bobby’s motto to heart.
You may have noticed that FY refrains from making any mention of the racial slur Washington employs as its team name. That’s not going to change, unlike Washington’s fortunes.
The Stink Bugs won their final four games of 2015 to take the NFC East with an underwhelming 9-7 record. Since 2008, Washington has managed to win the division twice, but the other six seasons have resulted in last-place finishes.
Led by Kirk Cousins, their offense possessed a potent aerial attack, ranking 11th in passing yards and tenth in points scored. They did, however, struggle mightily running the ball, only averaging 3.7 yards per carry (30th).
Their defense followed the “bend but don’t break” philosophy, allowing teams to put up plenty of yards (28th in total defense), but stiffening up in the redzone (17th in scoring).
No coach can be happy watching his defense allow 4.8 yards per carry (31st). But, hey, they won the division, right?
Where They’re Going
Hopefully, towards a more competitive division race.
Ok, maybe “competitive” isn’t the right word, since the division was still up for grabs until Week 16. But I think I’m safe in assuming that we would all prefer that a 6-8 team not be in the running for a division title.
A lot of changes were made by opposing teams in the division: Dallas is starting Dak Prescott at quarterback for an injured Tony Romo; the Eagles are starting their own rookie, Carson Wentz, after dealing Sam Bradford, and the Giants put a lot of money into improving their defense.
Washington was far from a great team last season, and they may be able to win the division again without being “great,” but they’ll certainly need to be a little closer to it.
Key Offseason Moves
Additions: CB Josh Norman, SS David Bruton, WR Josh Doctson (drafted), TE Vernon Davis
Losses: DT Terrance Knighton, RB Alfred Morris, QB Robert Griffin III
What to Watch For
How they’ll run the ball.
According to Pro Football Focus, Washington’s offensive line graded out as the 11th best unit overall in 2015. Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, and Morgan Moses are all very good players at their respective positions, and Kory Lichtensteiger is a more than serviceable center. However, as mentioned, this did not lead to success in terms of rushing yards.
In the offseason, Washington allowed Alfred Morris, who averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2015, to head to Dallas, and opted to turn the lead duties over to Matt Jones, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season and caught a serious case of fumble-itis.
Joining Jones in the backfield will be third-down back Chris Thompson, who was the most effective of the bunch, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
If Jones can’t provide Washington’s backfield with the burst it needs, head coach Jay Gruden will have to get very creative in order to ensure his offense has some balance.
Who to Watch For
Josh Norman, CB
When the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they had placed on Josh Norman in the offseason, it shocked the football world. Norman was coming off his best season as a pro and was jockeying to be considered one of the few shutdown corners in the league.
Washington quickly took advantage of the opportunity, signing Norman to help fix a secondary that allowed 4,128 yards (25th) and 30 touchdowns (22nd) through the air.
But is Norman really a shutdown corner? In Carolina, he rarely had to play man-coverage, and when he did, he didn’t follow the opposing team’s best receiver.
It remains to be seen how he’ll be used in Washington. If Gruden uses him man-to-man, we’ll find out pretty quickly whether he’s a true shutdown corner, as he’ll do battle with Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant twice each this season. If Norman is a fake, Washington better be ready to score a lot of points.
What Could Go Wrong
Kirk Cousins caught lightning in a bottle in 2015.
I’m not saying this is what happened, just that it’s a possibility.
In 2015, Kirk Cousins completed 69.8-percent of his passes and threw for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions – good for a 101.6 passer rating. Prior to last season, Cousins had thrown 18 career touchdown passes to 19 interceptions. Safe to say it was by far his best season to date. But looking a little closer, it was actually only his best half season: Cousins had six TDs and eight picks through the first six games. Then he caught fire and left us all “liking that.”
It was Cousins’ conflagration that sparked this team to win its last four games and claim the division crown. If he can’t duplicate those late-season numbers, Washington will be just another sad team in the NFC East.
Where They’ll End Up
Back where they belong: sitting at home in January.
There is no way that the East is as bad as it was in 2015, and thanks to their first-place finish, Washington draws Arizona and Carolina in 2016.
Washington has way too many weapons on the outside – DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, and Josh Doctson – to fade quietly. But their defensive issues won’t be solved by Josh Norman. Both the Cowboys and the Giants are better teams all-around, and one of them will take the division back.