As the lead up to training camp begins, we’re going to preview the opponents on the 2018 New York Giants schedule. We’ll look at how 2017 played out and what 2018 might look like to get everyone ready for the season to come.
We’ll finish up the divisional opponents with the new-look Washington Redskins.
When will they play?
Week 8 at home
Week 14 at Washington
2017 in review
Record: 7-9 (third in NFC East)
Expected W-L (Pythagorean Expectation): 6.8-9.2
DVOA rankings: 16th overall, 20th offense, 11th defense, 22nd special teams
Washington made a bet on a quarterback and offensive system that gamble didn’t pay off. The Redskins lost DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, replaced them with Terrelle Pryor and a second-year Josh Doctson. In turn, the team dropped from fifth in offensive DVOA and second in yards per drive in 2016 to 16th in offensive DVOA and 20th in yards per drive last season. Meanwhile, the defense played better than expectations, finishing first in defensive pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions, and 10th in yards allowed per drive. There will again be a fair amount of roster turnover on both sides of the ball for 2018.
1 (13) Da’Ron Payne, ID, Alabama
2 (59) Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
3 (74) Geron Christian, OT, Louisville
4 (109) Troy Apke, S, Penn State
5 (163) Tom Settle, ID, Virginia Tech
6 (197) Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama
7 (241) Greg Stroman, CB, Virginia Tech
7 (256) Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
Kirk Cousins, Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Ryan Grant, Terrelle Pryor, Junior Galette, Terrell McClain, Su’a Cravens
Alex Smith, Paul Richardson, Orlando Scandrick, Pernell McPhee
There was quite a shakeup, especially on the offensive side of the ball in Washington. It was basically assured the team and Kirk Cousins would part ways after years of franchise tag noncommittal, but Washington was aggressive finding a successor, agreeing to a trade for Alex Smith in January, even though it couldn’t be processed until March. Washington will hope Smith’s deep ball production can carry over from 2017. Smith wasn’t necessarily more aggressive with the Chiefs last season. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Smith still only threw into tight coverage on 12.7 percent of attempts (40th of 41 qualified quarterbacks) and his average pass was 1.4 yards short of the first down marker (tied for 33rd). Jamison Crowder will be a reliable slot target for Smith, but Washington’s outside receivers in Doctson and free agent signing Paul Richardson are built to take advantage of the deep ball and contested catches.
The running game should be improved when second-round pick Derrius Guice takes over as the lead back and Chris Thompson returns to 100 percent from a fractured fibula he suffered in November. Before his injury, Thompson was one of the best receiving backs in the league — first in DVOA among 62 backs with at least 25 targets. Guice also has better receiving ability than was showcased at LSU — the case for almost anyone’s receiving ability in Baton Rouge — which could help him stay on the field longer, especially early in the season.
While the roster movement on offense can be argued one way or another, it’s hard to frame defensive changes as anything but a step back. Included in the Alex Smith trade was Kendall Fuller, who might have been the league’s best slot cornerback last season. Among 81 qualified cornerbacks in 2017, Fuller ranked second in Success Rate and seventh in yards allowed per pass, per SIS charting from Football Outsiders. He’ll be manning the slot for Kansas City this year. Washington also allowed Bashaud Breeland to hit free agency after he finished 15th in Success Rate and 20th in yards allowed per pass. Breeland has an injury that caused a contract with the Carolina Panthers to void and keeps him currently unsigned, but either way his loss will be felt opposite Josh Norman. The only addition at corner in the offseason was Orlando Scandrick, who was 51st in Success Rate and 64th in yards allowed per pass last season with the Cowboys. Washington might need to rely on the pass rush to help out the secondary, a tough ask for a unit that already led the league in pressure rate last season.
Numbers to know
4: Per Sports Info Solutions, Washington led the league in defensive pressure rate in 2017 (36.7 percent). They were one of five teams to have four players with at least 20 individual pressures. Those players were Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Junior Galette, and Matt Ioannidis.
8.7: Washington had the fourth-highest yards per attempt on play-action passes (8.7) last season. Meanwhile, the Kansas CIty Chiefs were one of six teams to have a higher yards per attempt on normal drop back passes (7.6) than play-action (7.2).
20 percent: Red zone production is highly variant from year-to-year, but over the past three seasons Alex Smith has the third lowest touchdown rate in the red zone (20 percent of attempts) among 28 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.
10.9: Per Next Gen Stats, only Rob Gronkowski (11.2) was targeted deeper down the field on average among tight ends than Vernon Davis (10.9).
Bill Horgan of Hogs Haven answered a few questions to get deeper into what is expected in Washington for 2018.
Q: Are all the changes on offense a net positive or net negative from what the unit was in 2017?
A: While the Redskins didn’t improve everything that needed fixing on offense, I think the net changes were positive.
First and foremost, the team improved the situation at quarterback by finally letting go of Kirk Cousins and bringing in Alex Smith, who brings leadership, experience, mobility and stability to the Redskins.
At wide receiver, the 2017 Terrelle Pryor experiment was a miserable failure, so the 2018 Paul Richardson signing should work out much better. A lot of questions remain at wide receiver. Will Josh Doctson finally put it all together? Will Richardson be able to restore some of the deep threat capability that left with Desean Jackson? Was Jamison Crowder’s uneven 2017 an abberation, or a harbinger of things to come? Also, situation with the depth players behind the three clear starters is as clear as Mississippi mud.
The team has the same offensive line group as it did at the end of last season, so nothing was done to address the weakness at left guard.
We still don’t know if Jordan Reed will finally start the season healthy and stay that way for most or all of the games. Without him, the ‘Skins offense isn’t the same, and the team was without him for 10 games in 2017. We’re hoping for better in ‘18, but no Redskin fan is holding his breath.
Aside from QB, the big leap forward comes at the running back position. The Redskins drafted Derrius Guice, and we all believe that he is going to provide the spark that’s been missing in the run game for a few years now.
Q: This defense led the league in pressure rate last season per Sports Info Solutions. Is that something the unit is built to come close to repeating?
A: I believe so. The outside linebackers played very well last year, but the pressure was also generated largely through interior defensive pressure.
The interior line play should be much improved in 2018, first, because Jonathan Allen will return from his Lisfranc injury that put him on IR following Week 5 last season. Secondly, because the Redskins used their first round pick to select Allen’s Crimson Tide teammate, Daron Payne to bolster the middle of the line. He should help the unit take the next step.
The OLB group lost Junior Galette, a good speed rusher who was among the NFL leaders in pressure per rush last season, but the team signed Pernell McPhee, formerly of the Ravens and Bears, who should contribute to both the pass rush and run defense.
Ryan Kerrigan is probably one of the most criminally underrated players in the NFL, and Preston Smith on the other side has played well since the middle of his rookie season.
A lot of it seems to be driven by the firey Jim Tomsula, who coaches the defensive line, and is a big favorite among Redskin fans.
Q: What is the most underrated aspect of this team heading into 2018?
A: I think that because the team was so bad against the run last season (the ‘Skins were last or next to last in just about every measure) that people assume that run defense will again be a weakness in 2018.
Matt Ioannidis is an underrated and largely unknown DT who plays most games at a pro-bowl level. He broke his hand in the middle of the season last year and played with a club for several weeks. He was extremely effective when he played beside Jonathan Allen prior to Allen’s injury. With Allen back healthy, Daron Payne added to the line, and the run stopping abilities of Pernell McPhee, I beieve the Redskins abiliity to play the run will be dramatically improved versus last year’s dismal performance.
Q: If you had to pick a regular season record, what would it be?
The Redskins have a new QB, new RB, new WR, and an untested CB group. Third party observers who comment on such things rate Washington’s schedule as being among the toughest in the league. I see a Redskins team that (like the Giants) will be less injured than last year, playing at a higher level, but seeing only a 2-game swing in the final record.