The arrival of offensive guru Al Saunders and a few other key high-profile
additions will take the Skins deep into the playoffs.
Coach Joe Gibbs showed that reports of his irrelevance were greatly exaggerated
last year when he rallied Washington to six consecutive victories, including a
wild-card playoff win, before losing to the Seahawks in the divisional round.
The Redskins have their share of issues, most significantly at quarterback,
where Mark Brunell, who turns 36 in September, has to prove that his
inconsistency late in the season wasn't a sign that he's finished. But if any
group of coaches can figure out a way to make it work, it's this one, and there
are enough big-time performers--including star safety Sean Taylor--to transform
this team into a serious contender.
After his unit's
stellar performance in 2005, assistant head coach--defense Gregg Williams could
have become the head man somewhere else, but a bump in salary from owner Dan
Snyder, reportedly to more than $2.6 million a year (believed to be the most
ever for an NFL assistant), persuaded him to stay. His blitz-happy, swarming
schemes work best with an elite pass rusher at defensive end, a do-it-all
outside linebacker and a rangy, physical safety, and Williams believes he has
all three of those pieces in '06.
signee Andre Carter, a 265-pound defensive end, was swallowed up in San
Francisco's 3--4 scheme, but Williams thinks Carter can apply the same pressure
on the passer for Washington that Jevon Kearse did for Tennessee when the
Titans went to the Super Bowl with Williams as defensive coordinator. Plus,
Williams expects seventh-year outside linebacker Marcus Washington, who's
reaching his prime, to have "a huge year. He can do everything you want a
linebacker to do from coverage, rush and run-front alignments." Then
there's Taylor, who has a chance to become one of the NFL's best players.
Disruptive in coverage and run support, and able to blitz from anywhere,
Taylor, says Williams, "is the best player I've ever coached, and I expect
a breakout season."
halfback Clinton Portis teamed with another former Miami Hurricane, wideout
Santana Moss, to key an offense that improved to 11th in the league after
ranking 30th in 2004, amid whispers that Gibbs, 65, was out of touch with
For all of his
credentials as an offensive mastermind, Gibbs didn't let his ego get in the way
of bringing in Saunders, who over the past five seasons in Kansas City directed
the NFL's most productive offense. For the first time in his Hall of Fame
career Gibbs will relinquish play-calling responsibilities; look for Saunders
to run fewer two-tight-end sets and more two-back and multiple-receiver
alignments, and to feature the deep ball prominently. In addition to Moss, who
made his first Pro Bowl in '05, Saunders's new toys include wideouts Brandon
Lloyd (acquired in a trade with the 49ers) and Antwaan Randle El (a free agent
from the Steelers).
"If you take
what we did last year and add what Al brings," Gibbs says, "we could
really take a step up."
11 MINNESOTA (M)
17 at Dallas
24 at Houston
8 at N.Y. Giants
22 at Indianapolis