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Dan Daly: Some answers, more questions
The Redskins are officially halfway through the season - OK, the regular season. They’re 6-2 and tied for the second-best record in the conference. There are questions that have been answered about them and questions that haven’t been answered. Why don’t we run through the two lists this morning, just for the exercise?
Questions that have been answered about the 2008 Redskins:
Is Jim Zorn head coach material?
Actually, here’s an even better question: Can you believe this guy was still a position coach at the age of 54? How did he remain a secret for so long? Except for the first-half hiccup in the opener against the Giants, you couldn’t ask for a smoother transition from one era to another. What Joe Gibbs started, Zorn is building on. We don’t know everything about him yet, but we do know this: He can lead men, he can call plays and he can develop quarterbacks. A coach can go a long way with qualities like that. Should Jason Campbell be quarterbacking this club, or should Todd Collins, last season’s savior, have kept the job?
Well, there isn’t much doubt about this one, is there? Campbell has played at a higher level than anybody - except maybe his coach - ever imagined. He has a passer rating over 100, he has been terrific at the end of halves and games (as he was again in Sunday’s 25-17 win over the Lions) and, most remarkable of all, he has yet to throw an interception this season. He’s ice to Zorn’s fire, which might explain why they mesh so well.
How much does Clinton Portis have much left?
It certainly weighed on people’s minds, inasmuch as Portis had already carried the ball 1,700 times in his six-year career. He also had taken a beating in Gibbs’ power system - as all of Gibbs’ backs did. But guess what? Clinton, thanks in part to some dedicated offseason work, is off to his best start ever. Suddenly, the question has changed to: Are we looking at a Hall of Famer here? Or: Is a 2,000-yard season possible for him?
Will the Redskins’ biggest draft class in years, 10 strong, help fill in the gaps and make a significant contribution?
Uh, no. The only one playing much is safety Chris Horton, whose familiarity with the defense gave him a head start. Meanwhile, the club gave up on punter Durant Brooks, and the three heralded second-round pass catchers - Devin Thomas, Fred Davis and Malcolm Kelly - have combined for a grand total of seven receptions. The players doing the heavy lifting, in other words, are the holdovers, not the newcomers.
Will the defense miss Gregg Williams and - two-part question - can it generate enough of a pass rush to keep quarterbacks from picking apart the secondary?
Williams’ successor, Greg Blache, has been as big a revelation as Zorn. Under his direction, the DBs are challenging more passes and the unit as a whole is playing with greater ferocity. As for the pass rush, it has been surprisingly effective, even with Jason Taylor playing on one leg. There haven’t been a ton of sacks, but there’s been enough pressure on QBs to keep them from getting too comfortable.
After barely sneaking into the postseason two of the past three years, are the Redskins merely a fringe playoff team, a smidgen above mediocre?
Not any more. Put it this way: In their last 12 regular-season games, the Redskins are 10-2 with losses by two and nine points. Included are a pair of victories over the Cowboys, one in Dallas, and road wins over the Giants and Eagles. In those same 12 games, their quarterbacks haven’t thrown a single pick. That’s practically impossible. With Campbell’s flowering, the club has clearly crossed a threshold. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Redskins beat anybody anywhere.
Questions that have yet to be answered about the 2008 Redskins:
Will the veteran offensive line hold up for 16 games?
It’s only natural to wonder when the starters are, from left to right, 31, 35, 31, 32 and 32 years old. In recent years, after all, injuries to the O-line often crippled the unit. But there’s better depth now than there used to be. When Chris Samuels suddenly couldn’t play Sunday against the Lions, Stephon Heyer jumped in and kept things working smoothly - just as Jon Jansen had done at right tackle when Heyer got hurt. That said, there’s still much football to be played, and if Samuels’ knee problem turns out to be a long-term deal …
Can Taylor be the force he was in Miami playing on the left side of the line instead of the right?
We still don’t know, because, given his knee and calf issues, he hasn’t been close to 100 percent. If he can give the defense a boost in the second half of the season, though, the Redskins could go deep into the playoffs. Gut feeling: He just isn’t as effective on the left, where strength is more of a prerequisite than speed (because most offenses are right-handed).
Turnovers - or the lack thereof - have been such a big part of the Redskins’ success so far. What are the odds they will turn the ball over only six times in the next eight games (as was the case in the first eight)?
Considering the competition ahead (Steelers, Cowboys, Giants et al.), it’s unrealistic to think the Redskins will finish with 12 turnovers, which would break the record for a 16-game season. Then again, who thought the 1990 Giants would set the mark with 14? Their quarterback, Phil Simms, was usually good for that many interceptions a year, never mind the fumbles. As previously stated, these Redskins have been awfully good at taking care of the football.
At some point, doesn’t Zorn’s playcalling become less mysterious to opponents? The Redskins have won the yardage battle in their last four games by 134, 162, 115 and 165 yards. How long can that keep up?
That’s one of the biggest keys the rest of the way: How does their unpredictable coach do against the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles the second time around? Can he keep them guessing, or do they figure him out a little?
Could it happen this quickly for the Redskins? Could they go from 5-11 to 9-7 to the Super Bowl?
The funny thing is it happens quickly for a lot of teams. Didn’t it happen quickly for the Giants last season? Who saw that coming? Didn’t the Patriots’ dynasty pop up out of nowhere? The Panthers’ progression might have been the most startling of all: 1-15, 7-9, Super Bowl. You get the feeling the Redskins will go as far as Campbell takes them. Is he ready to be an elite quarterback? Heck, does he even have it in him to be an elite quarterback? If he does, then the Redskins can be an elite team. The defense isn’t the Steel Curtain, but it’s good enough. It’s up to the QB, as it almost always is.
About the Author
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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