Washington’s NFL team won the NFC East in 2015, so expectations are high heading into the 2016-17 season. If Washington wants to win the division again, however, the key is starting strong, because the second half of the season will be brutal.
A detail view as a Washington Redskins football player touches his helmet prior to an NFL preseason football game against the New England Patriots at FedEx Field on Thursday August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. Washington won 23-6. (AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)
Their playoff appearance last season earned Washington a tougher out-of-division schedule this year, including matchups against the Packers, Cardinals and Panthers. With the addition of rookie running back sensation Ezekiel Elliot, and all-around better health, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to significantly improve, which leaves Washington with little room for error.
Washington’s biggest offseason move was signing free agent cornerback Josh Norman to a five-year, $75 million deal. There’s no doubt that Norman was an elite player in Carolina last year, and with Bashaud Breeland, the new Washington secondary will give opposing quarterbacks a tougher time.
Although Washington’s secondary improved, defensive coordinator Joe Barry has his work cut out for him with the defensive line. In 2015, opponents seemed to run freely against Washington, and there aren’t any major changes to the lineup heading into this season. To be successful against the elite out-of-division teams this year, Washington must stop the run. If the defensive line can improve, the rest of the defense will fall into line.
After drafting Josh Doctson with the No. 22 pick, Washington has what some may consider the best receiving corps in the NFL. Doctson joins fellow wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder—along with tight end Jordan Reed—as quarterback Kirk Cousins’ options in the passing game. With the addition of tight end Vernon Davis, it is expected that Reed will have less blocking duties, freeing him up as an option on passing plays. With a healthy Jackson, more opportunities for Reed and the addition of Doctson, Washington’s receivers could be a problem for opposing defenses.
In 2015, Washington averaged 3.7 yards per carry, but stayed committed to the run despite the poor results. With Alfred Morris gone, running back Matt Jones takes over as the starter, and he has a lot to prove. Last year, Jones’ potential was overshadowed by his inability to handle the ball, evidenced by five fumbles. Whether the sophomore running back has improved his ball-handling skills—and his level of consistency—remains to be seen.
Washington’s training camp commences on July 28, and most of their key players are returning for the 2016 season. Will they repeat as the NFC East champion, and return to the playoffs? It depends on if Washington can put up big performances against the league’s best, and if Cousins can prove his worth.