What the Redskins need more (and less) of next season

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In recent weeks, I’ve covered the biggest disappointments and biggest surprises of 2013. This time around, and with a new head coach in the building, here are a few things I’d like to see more of, and a few I’d like to see less of:

Want to see more of . . .

1. A healthy Robert Griffin III: No-brainer. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s 100%. Now, with a chance to get healthy, a full pre-season, and a chance to get a fresh start with a new, offensive-minded coach, I think RG3 is poised to get back to 2012 form.

2. The version of the defense we saw in the second half of the season: Lost in an 0-8 second half plagued by constant speculation on the future of the coaching staff was a remarkable turnaround by Washington’s defense. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Redskins had a legitimate top-ten defense over the last eight games of the year. With Jim Haslett retained, it seems like the organization took notice of that. The fly in the ointment is the abundance of free agents who may wind up elsewhere, with Brian Orakpo chief among them.

3. Free agent spending: Speaking of free agents, this is an area where the Redskins must improve over the past two years. But there’s good news. With the (absolutely unjust) cap penalties now expiring, we can be assured there will be more cap space freed up for just this purpose. The Redskins were handicapped in terms of depth and roster moves by the penalties, and that won’t be the case in 2014. It’s not even that Washington has to make some huge “splash” with a big signing. They just need to be able to keep their best players (see above) while also having the flexibility to beef up shallow spots on the roster.

Want to see less of . . .

1. Futility against the NFC East: Even if your team isn’t a Super Bowl contender, one of the things that makes rooting for an NFL club so enjoyable is the opportunity to see victories over bitter rivals. For Redskins fans, such a win hasn’t happened since December 30, 2012 (note: a quick glance at a calendar indicates that it is now 2014). Even if Washington improves its win total but misses the playoffs next year, a major mitigating factor against fan frustration would be wins against the Giants, Eagles, and, especially, the Cowboys. Gruden must improve the team’s performance in this area more than any other.

2. Poor clock management: The Shanaclan strugged with this in 2013 in particular, often seeming to save timeouts they would never need, or fail to use a tempo at the end of halves that would maximize the number of snaps. To be fair, this is a common criticism that plagues elite head coaches (Jim Harbaugh, for example, took some heat after the NFC title game last week) and non-elite head coaches (recall Leslie Frazier and company giving the Redskins two free timeouts) alike. Andy Reid has been a largely successful head coach in the NFL, but he could teach a master’s class on shaky, end-of-half sequences. Where Jay Gruden will stack up in this aspect of the game remains to be seen, but my money would be on there being a sharp improvement.

3. Inability to put games away: The NFL is, by its very nature, a league with a lot of parity. That means that, more weeks than not, your team is going to have at least a fighting chance of winning. There will be a few weeks when an average team gets beaten soundly, and there will be a few win an average team wins handily, but, for the most part, NFL games will come down to the fourth quarter. Even a team as bad as Washington this year had an opportunity to win or tie in the late stages of several games it lost (both Philadelphia games, Detroit, Minnesota, the first Giants game, Atlanta, the second Dallas game). You could even make a case for the second Giants game and the Denver game being on that list, although the final scores didn’t represent that. If the Redskins had gone even 4-3 or 5-2 in those close games, a horrible season is merely mediocre, and a lot of people probably hang on to their jobs. Finding ways to pull out games like those, or to cement wins when the team has a second-half lead, mean the difference between a below-average team and a playoff team. The 2014 Redskins will need to divine that distinction.

It’s all simple enough, right? But, as we know, easier said than done. If we can start with the first thing I mentioned, a healthy Griffin, plus add in that additional cap space the team has back, there’s reason to believe 2014 could be a big step back in the right direction.

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