Consistency Is The Key To Success For The Redskins
By Ronald Guy
Eighteen and 27.2 are the points per game statistics for the Washington Redskins in 2011 and 2012, respectively. It sure felt like the offense was more potent last year, but admittedly, the delta between those numbers — enough for the team to jump from 26th to fourth in points scored — was still surprising. With the offseason additions of Robert Griffin III (slightly more dynamic behind center than Rex Grossman or John Beck) and free agent wide receivers Pierre Garcon (a tad bit more explosive than 2011’s leading receiver Jabar Gaffney) and Josh Wilson, the offense figured to be better, but if you assumed 27.2 points per game, you were probably in violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The top five scoring offenses in 2012 were the Patriots, Broncos, Saints, Redskins and Packers. You tell me who unexpectedly crashed last season’s offensive party? Hold those thoughts for a few paragraphs.
At the highest levels of athletic competition, the difference between victory and defeat is routinely a half of a step, a couple inches and a few plays. Talent, of course, is still the top difference-maker, but repetition and continuity are often touted as significant contributing factors of success. It’s why Peyton Manning threw “route trees” to Marvin Harrison until both of them could do it in their sleep, Tom Brady was so annoyed that long-time teammate Wes Welker got away and Aaron Rodgers’ back-shoulder throws to his wide receivers are so unstoppable. Practice improves timing, obsessive preparation calms nerves in critical moments and stability breeds success. Do the same thing enough times with the same people and quarterbacks become single-minded with their offensive coordinators and receivers become extensions of their quarterback’s arm.
It is the court, not the gridiron, though, that offers the best example of continuity’s returns. Regardless of whether Indiana or Miami wins the NBA’s Eastern Conference, they’ll meet the very symbol of organizational same-ness — the San Antonio Spurs — in the Finals. The core of the Spurs — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and head coach Gregg Popovich — have been together for 12 seasons. Poppovich and Duncan, with a 16-year relationship, are essentially professional spouses. Duncan has never played for another coach, and “Pop” has never known another power forward of any consequence. It’s a full-on bromance between the future Hall-of-Fame coach and player. Collectively, this group is probably finishing each other’s sentences now and laughs at the same jokes (rookie PG Nando de Colo must find it thoroughly disgusting).
Okay, okay, so the tired, old, boring Spurs are easy to poke fun at. What you can’t laugh at are the results. During the Popovich-Duncan tenure, the Spurs have won four NBA Championships and “failed” to win 50 games only once (during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season). The resume aside, the eye test is the best proof of the proficiency the Spurs have achieved after over a decade together. Spurs basketball is a time-capsule back to the Showtime Lakers or Larry Bird’s Celtics: a period when five players functioned as one as opposed to the lazy, isolation basketball dominating the NBA today. It is simply gorgeous, and the product of a team whose core could likely order dinner for each other (okay, I’ll stop now).
Getting back to football, what makes those 27.2 PPG scored by the ‘Skins in 2012 even more surprising is that the offensive unit achieved its lofty results with virtually no consistency during the season or continuity from the prior year. The ‘Skins, anti-Spurs that they were, started the season with a rookie quarterback (RGIII), a rookie running back (Alfred Morris) and two brand new wide receivers (Garcon and Morgan). Nametags were likely distributed during early offensive meetings. They ran a new offensive scheme — the pistol or zone-read option — that wasn’t unfurled in game-action until the season opener. Before they even flirted with any sort of offensive rhythm, Garcon got hurt early in the opener and RB Roy Helu went on injured reserve. TE Fred Davis tore his Achilles in Week 7, and RGIII went down in Week 14 against the Ravens, missed a start and was never the same.
If the ‘Skins are going to flirt with that 27.2 PPG figure this season, the relatively quiet 2013 offseason might be exactly what was in order. The team did add a few intriguing offensive prospects via the draft — TE Jordan Reed and RB Chris Thompson — but assuming good health through the preseason and RGIII’s timely return for Week 1, it is entirely possible that the ‘Skins (yes, the Washington Redskins, the one-time symbol of organizational chaos) will open the 2013 season with exactly the same 11 starters on offense that opened the 2012 season in New Orleans. In fact, as we sit here in early June, the ‘Skins actually have less offensive question marks than the New England Patriots. What strange new world is this?
A single season’s worth of coaching, system and roster calm doesn’t make the ‘Skins the equivalent of the Spurs or predict The Greatest Show on Turf’s reincarnation in our nation’s capital this fall, but it is an undersold component of Washington’s 2013 prognosis. Could the offense be better in 2013? If RGIII and Garcon can put together full seasons, it absolutely could be. Of course, this is the NFL, and injuries are as faithful as that old geyser in Yellowstone. At least no introductions will be required when training camp starts this summer.