5. Special teams
Redskins special teams were woeful last season. The many injuries certainly had something to do with this, but you can’t just excuse what we saw to that. The Redskins ranked just no. 22 in the NFL in special-teams DVOA per Football Outsiders. Jamison Crowder struggled big time on punt returns for a second time in three seasons, as he was no. 23 out of 25 players in the NFL in yards per punt return off being fourth in 2016 but also dead last in 2015. Tress Way was just no. 28 in the NFL in net yards per punt off being just no. 26 in 2016. Games like the 38-14 loss at Dallas in Week 13 and the 30-13 loss at the Chargers in Week 14 featured a truckload of special-teams gaffes. The Redskins’ special-teams coordinator is Ben Kotwica, who led units that were pretty good in 2015 and 2016. But his special teams were bad in 2014 and bad again last season. The Redskins have got to get this stuff cleaned up.
4. Drops by receivers
One of the more maddening aspects of last Redskins season was the frequency with which the Redskins dropped catchable passes. Per Pro Football Focus, Redskins receivers dropped 30 of Kirk Cousins’ passes last season, which was tied for the seventh-most in the NFL. Think back to some of what went on with Jamison Crowder. He had as many as four drops in the loss to Minnesota in Week 10 and had two drops, including one that resulted in an interception, in his first half from hell in the loss at Dallas in Week 13. But Crowder was far from the only culprit. Josh Doctson, Terrelle Pryor Sr. and even Ryan Grant were guilty of drops. Alex Smith benefited from a terrific cast of offensive weapons in his career-best season with Kansas City in 2017. Redskins receivers have got to be better at making catches this coming season, in addition to doing a better job of winning on routes and generating YAC.
3. Preparation and/or motivation
This is tricky, because this is not a topic that we have all of the information on. But something that’s undeniable about the Redskins is that they have suffered some very disturbing losses over the last two seasons: the home losses to Carolina and the Giants in two of the final three games of the 2016 season, the road losses at Dallas, the Chargers and the Giants in three of the final five games last season. Throw in the Redskins being 0-4 in Week 1 games during Jay Gruden’s tenure and defensive captain D.J. Swearinger not once but twice ripping the Redskins’ practicing and preparation last season, and you’re not paying attention if you’re not at least wondering whether the Redskins need to be better in the department of preparation and/or motivation.
2. Rushing offense
The Redskins’ running game has been terrible in two of the last three seasons, and the team’s 2016 rushing attack, while statistically good, came up horrifically small in two of the final three games of that season (home losses to Carolina and the Giants). If you go by the Football Outsiders DVOA metric, the Redskins’ rushing offense was no. 19 in the NFL in 2014, dead last in 2015, believe it or not no. 4 in 2016 and no. 28 last season. And the Redskins were particularly bad last season on first-down runs and in short-yardage situations. The Redskins traded down in the second round in the 2018 draft and took Derrius Guice, who has generated more excitement than any Skins draft choice since RGIII. Is Guice the yardage-after-contact and vision-possessing running back the Redskins have been searching for? Will the Redskins’ run blocking, particularly from tight ends, be better (the Skins were tied for fourth worst in the NFL last season at 2.0 yards per carry before contact per ESPN)? The Redskins brought in Bill Callahan as their offensive line coach in Jan. 2015 and promoted him to assistant head coach/offensive line coach in March 2017. The running game is believed to be largely his responsibility. It has not been good during his time here, and the running game has been very underwhelming over Jay Gruden’s four seasons as Redskins head coach.
1. Run defense
There has been no greater consistent weakness for the Redskins over the last three seasons than run defense. There have been greater individual-season weaknesses, like, say, third-down defense in 2016. But the run defense has been a major problem each of the least three years. If you go by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, here are the Redskins’ rankings in run defense over the last three seasons: 2015 – no. 22, 2016 – no. 24, 2017 – no. 29. Not only are all of those rankings approaching the bottom of the NFL, they are trending downward. The Redskins spent the no. 13 overall pick in the 2018 draft on Da’Ron Payne, who was a run-stuffing machine at Alabama (he ranked no. 19 in run-stop percentage among draft-eligible interior defenders in 2017 (9.2) according to Pro Football Focus). The Redskins have the no. 17 overall pick in the 2017 draft, another Alabama defensive lineman in Jonathan Allen, who was good against the run when healthy last season. The Redskins re-signed Mason Foster on Jan. 25; his absence for much of last season due to a torn labrum suffered in the win at the Rams in Week 2 was mentioned multiple times by coaches as a major reason for the run defense being bad. Bottom line, the Redskins have a path to being better against the run this season. They better be.