COMMENTARY | Next Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens will battle for the Super Bowl XLVII trophy, and the Washington Redskins and their fans will be watching, and knowing that they notched a 31-28 win over the eventual AFC champions in Week 14 less than two months ago.
The question for the Redskins is where they truly stand heading into the offseason, and what the team will need in the next few months to put themselves in the NFL's showcase event next season.
Certainly, the Redskins' rise from a 3-6 mark at the bye to an improbable seven-game win streak and their first NFC East title since 1999 was fueled by the strong rookie performances of both quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. The presence of a mobile quarterback after employing a more stationary Rex Grossman the year before helped diminish some of the deficiencies in Washington's offensive line. Being able to overcome that certainly helped propel the franchise to its best season in a dozen years, as both rookies played well under Mike Shanahan's system that allowed them to run the football where needed to keep defenses honest.
The big unknown for Washington heading into 2013 is the health of Griffin, who underwent surgery to repair an ACL and LCL tear in his right knee earlier this month. While Griffin recovered from a similar procedure while at Baylor in 2009, it certainly begs the question how he will play after another surgery.
Griffin's mobility is one of his biggest assets, a threat who can run and can throw. In his first year with Washington, however, he took a number of hits over the course of the campaign that eventually led up to his breakdown in the playoff loss to the Seahawks. His unique style was a dangerous threat to opponents, but also a danger to to his own health. For his long-term health, certainly some of that part of his game will have to change.
Kirk Cousins played well in the Week 16 win at Cleveland in Griffin's stead, and probably the Michigan State product would have given the Redskins a better chance to advance deeper in the playoffs over a hobbling RG3 had Shanahan switched quarterbacks sooner against Seattle. Despite the question over Griffin's health, Washington is in an unusual spot with two good young quarterbacks, and they will need to take care of both of them.
With Alfred Morris rushing for 1,613 yards and breaking the franchise record for rushing yards in a single season, Washington is mostly set in the backfield, although a solid backup would help since Morris and Griffin accounted for nearly 90 percent of the Redskins' yards on the ground. Roy Helu, who was expected to compete for the team's starting spot, was put on injured reserve in September and was a non-factor.
Should RG3 need to modify his style and rely more on his arm instead of his feet, having no other 100-yard rushers on the roster is an issue the team needs to address.
Probably key to Washington's offense is upgrading the wide receiver position, as while Washington spread the ball around well, a true threat would do a lot to open up the field for the quarterback and make them a much more dangerous opponent.
Defensively, despite numerous injuries to Washington's secondary, the team did get better as the season wore on, coming up with some big stops when the team needed. Ryan Kerrigan contributed 8.5 sacks on the year, including 4 during the win streak, along with a pair of forced fumbles.
The Redskins used a bend-but-don't break defense in 2012, allowing the fifth-most yardage in the NFL, but were middle of the pack in points allowed. Unlike recent years where Washington had to rely on its defense to prop up an anemic offense, the added breathing room a functional offense allowed the defense a bit more leeway and they did their share in getting the Redskins back to the postseason.
Washington certainly is in good position in the NFC East, although the division figures to be improved over last year's performance. In recent years, the Redskins have flirted with playoff berths, only to regress the next year, but this edition figures to be a more consistent squad next season.
In the division, the Eagles will undergo a major facelift this offseason with Chip Kelly in charge in Philadelphia, and the Giants and Cowboys figure to look to make their own move after missing the playoffs after stumbling down the stretch -- particularly New York since they will look to be the first team to win the Super Bowl on their home field.
But with an upgrade at wide receiver, improving the defensive side of the ball and adding some improvement to the lines, the Redskins certainly have the core to compete at the NFL's top level.
So, while the Redskins watch the team they beat in Week 14 battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the team is only a couple of moves away from getting a real chance to battle for it themselves next year at the Meadowlands. In the NFL, it doesn't take long for teams to turn their fortunes around, and Washington is in good shape to build on this year's turnaround if they upgrade well.
Ted Starkey has written for The Washington Times, AOL Sports and BuffaloBills.com, helping to cover the NFL for over a decade.
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