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Shutdown Countdown: Washington hopes to erase 2013 memories

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(Yahoo Sports)

(Yahoo Sports)

Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order or our initial 2014 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the preseason begins with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.

It wasn't even fair to call the Washington Redskins a football team by the end of last year.

A sideshow? Yep. A circus? It fits. More infighting than the best written soap opera still on television? For sure.

By the end of last year, wins and losses weren't the most important thing in the organization. The main focus seemed to be each side of the Robert Griffin III-Mike Shanahan war making the other look bad in the media ... oh wait, that was "anonymous sources" telling those stories. Right.

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Jay Gruden (USA Today Sports Images)

Jay Gruden (USA Today Sports Images)

That chapter is over. Shanahan is gone, Griffin is still around, and the franchise quarterback needs to get back on track this year. He has a new coach in Jay Gruden, who turned Andy Dalton into one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL when he was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator. There's a new star, receiver DeSean Jackson, dumped by Philadelphia after a great season due to some of the "anonymous source" stuff that became the norm in Washington last year.

This team is intriguing. Griffin still has the ability to carry a team, assuming 2013 was just a lost year because he was still not right from a knee injury suffered in the 2012 playoffs. Also, the 2012 NFC East title didn't happen that long ago. It's hard to rank them much higher just because 2013 was so bad, but at least this year should contain a little less drama.

2013 review in less than 25 words: The Redskins lost their last eight games, finished 3-13 and to nobody's surprise, coach Mike Shanahan was fired.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: It's better, mostly because of Jackson. We'll get to him in the next segment. The other interesting pickup was defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, coming off a huge season in Dallas. The concern has to be that Hatcher never approached great production in his first seven seasons before breaking out at age 31. And Hatcher has been set back a bit by knee surgery, but should be ready to go by training camp. The good news for the Redskins is their only major loss this offseason was linebacker London Fletcher. While his production had been dipping, Fletcher was still a solid linebacker and his leadership can't be replaced.

Best offseason acquisition: Let's not get too much into the reasons the Eagles cut Jackson in his prime, coming off a great season, and why no team would trade Philadelphia anything of value before the Eagles moved on. On the field Jackson is a delight, the kind of receiver who will transform Washington's offense. He's still perhaps the best deep threat in the game, and he'll open things up for Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed underneath. Jackson will also loosen up the defense for Alfred Morris and the running game. He's a true game-changer, and Griffin has the big arm to get him the ball.

Achilles heel: Washington's pass defense is still very thin. This may be the area most neglected over the last couple years, as the Redskins paid a stiff price for the draft-day trade to get Griffin and the horribly unfair salary-cap penalties given by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in 2012. They were one of four teams to allow 8 yards per passing attempt last season. Washington didn't add a ton to the secondary, although it needed to. Veteran safety Ryan Clark might help some, but this group needs some young talent in a big way. Maybe next year.

Position in flux: Tight end isn't in flux in the normal way, because Reed is the clear No. 1. What makes this spot a bit scary is Reed's concussion issues last year. Reed missed Washington's final six games with a concussion, and admits he hid another from the team to keep playing. After the second concussion, he shut it down. It has been reported he suffered two concussions in college, so there has to be some worry going forward. If Reed is healthy he's a dangerous player. He had 45 catches and 499 yards in just nine games as a rookie last year, a pace that would have made him one of the most productive rookie tight ends of all time. But if he goes down again, Washington will have a severe drop at that position.

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Perry Riley (Getty Images)

Perry Riley (Getty Images)

Ready to break out: Perry Riley has been a productive player ever since breaking into Washington's lineup his second season, in 2011. He's a tackle-heavy inside linebacker who can stay on the field all three downs and still hold his own in coverage. The Redskins signed him to a three-year, $13 million contract this offseason, and that might be a pretty nice bargain. Riley will become Washington's top inside linebacker now that Fletcher is retired, and he could have a huge season not having to share tackles with an all-time great. Washington will be happy it locked Riley up to the fairly modest contract it did.

Stat fact: Which Griffin 2012 vs. 2013 stat do you want? Yards per attempt? Down from 8.1 to 7.0. Interceptions? Up from 5 to 12. Touchdown passes? Down from 20 to 16. Completion percentage? Down from 65.6 to 60.1. Rushing yards? Down from 815 to 489. Yards per rushing attempt? Down from 6.8 to 5.7.

You get it. It was a horrendous season for Griffin. His intense desire to get back for Week 1 after tearing his ACL in the playoffs was noble, but probably not the best idea. He wasn't a good quarterback in 2013. A lot of garbage-time stats, especially early on, propped up his middling numbers. The talent is there. Not only RG3's talent, but there is talent around him. It wouldn't be a surprise if by the end of this season, 2013 looks like a total aberration in Griffin's career path. But, there has to be some nerves over what happens if last season repeats itself. Washington mortgaged the franchise for him. After year one, it looked brilliant. We'll see how it looks after year three.

Schedule degree of difficulty: Washington has a middle-of-the-road schedule, so it should be manageable. The first two games are at Houston and vs. Jacksonville, so it's crucial to get off to a good start. Three of the final four games come at home, so the Redskins will feel good if they're still in it come December.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: For a team that was so bad in 2013, you can see it having a quick turnaround. Griffin is still the same guy many liked more than Andrew Luck coming out of college. Garcon and Jackson have an argument for being best receiving duo in the NFL. Washington should still be able to run the ball. The defense is nothing great, but maybe the offense can carry the team to another NFC East run, especially if the Eagles falter.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: Let's get to the point, all Washington fans are holding their breath to see what Griffin does this year. If i had to bet, I'd wager on Griffin returning to his rookie of the year-No. 2 pick-Heisman form. He's supremely talented. But it would be foolish to completely ignore the holes Griffin showed in his game last year. He needs to diagnose better and become a better progression passer. (For a good read on the subject, NFL Films' Greg Cosell broke it down here last year.) It isn't unusual for any second-year quarterback to go through that, much less one who missed an entire offseason. If I offered Redskins fans the scenario of Griffin looking like a Pro Bowl quarterback but the team finishing with double-digit losses, I assume most would sign up for that in a heartbeat. A ton rides on Griffin this year.

The crystal ball says: Griffin and the offense should be good, and they should be fun to watch with all those weapons, but it'll take some time for Gruden and the new staff. The defense still needs a ton of work. Even the offense is no sure thing. I'd guess that Griffin plays very well but Washington has a losing record, which isn't that bad of a result.

Previous previews:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Oakland Raiders

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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