Sixteen weeks into the season, we still don’t know how good the Washington Redskins are. It’s one of the reasons there’s such salivating over Sunday night’s potential elimination game against the Dallas Cowboys. When the hostilities are over, we’ll have a better feel for where the Redskins fit in the football universe, whether they’re ready to contend or need more time in the oven.
Not that we don’t have an inkling. We know, for instance, that they’re capable running off six wins in a row to fight their way back into the playoff picture. Most clubs don’t have the talent, the will or the collective attention span to accomplish that. Indeed, the only ones who’ve done it this season are the Broncos (10), Falcons (eight), Patriots (seven), Texans (six) and Bears (six). Pretty good company.
We know that Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris arguably have brought more to the Redskins than any rookie duo in franchise history. Let me throw a few numbers at you:
• During their six-game streak, the Redskins’ passer rating has topped 100 every week (Griffin five starts, Kirk Cousins one). The team never has had a stretch like that. Ever.
• For the season, the Redskins’ passer rating is 103.6. The club record is 98 by the Super Bowl-winning ‘91 Redskins (quarterbacked by Mark Rypien). Only three other Washington teams — ‘83 (97), ‘70 (90.5) and ‘74 (90) — have even had a rating as high as 90.
• The Redskins’ running attack has been nearly as sensational. Morris needs 104 yards Sunday to break Clinton Portis’ franchise mark for a season (1,516 in 2005). And with RG3 adding 752 on his planned keepers and unplanned scrambles, the offense is averaging 162.3 rushing yards a game — fifth-best in team history.
To summarize, this isn’t just the highest-rated passing team the Redskins have ever had (so far), it’s also one of their most productive running teams. In a single season, thanks largely to two rookies, they’ve been transformed from a bottom-of-the-pack offense to one of the most dangerous and best-balanced units in the NFL. (FYI: A year ago, their passer rating was 73.3 and they averaged 100.9 rushing yards.)
As if that weren’t enough, the Redskins have dramatically increased their offensive output while dramatically decreasing their number of turnovers. They’ve committed just 14 through 15 games (eight interceptions, six lost fumbles). Their all-time low for a full season: 17 (2006).
Anyway, that’s some of what we know about the Redskins — enough, certainly, to excite anyone’s imagination. We also know this: If they take care of business against Dallas, it’s entirely possible they’ll reach the postseason without beating anybody in the NFC playoff field. (All it would take, in case you’re wondering, is a Bears win over the 4-11 Lions and a Vikings loss to the 11-4 Packers.)
Right now, the Redskins’ most impressive victory is against the Ravens — in overtime, at FedEx Field. That was the game that saw Griffin injured in the late going, Cousins come off the sideline to throw the tying touchdown pass and Richard Crawford set up the winning score in OT with a long punt return. In other words, it was the most miraculous game of the season.
In their only other matchups against playoff-bound teams, both early on, the Redskins dropped close ones at home to the Bengals (38-31) and Falcons (24-17, another game RG3 was knocked out of). That’s why they remain, in many respects, an unknown quantity. Mike Shanahan’s players will tell you they can beat any club in the league, but until they do it it’s just talk. I mean, look at Atlanta, which is 0-3 in the postseason under Mike Smith (despite a 56-23 regular-season mark). If the Falcons flame out again this year as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, Smith will be a candidate for the Jim Mora Lifetime Achievement Award.
So here we go. This is when we really start finding out about this Redskins team. Up to now, they’ve been a feel-good/against-all-odds/a-rookie-shall-lead-them story. But the game changes a bit in a setting like Sunday’s, when the season might be over for the losing club.
The Cowboys have had some trouble in these situations in recent years. The Redskins, on the other hand, are essentially a blank slate. We don’t know what their ceiling is. We don’t know how much better Griffin is capable of playing. We don’t know whether Morris can take the pounding over the long haul. It’s only their first season.
That’s the fun part. That’s what’s exciting about this Dallas game — and beyond. Are the Redskins the kind of rocket ship that fizzles on the launch pad, the kind that orbits the earth or the kind that goes to the moon? 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …