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Top 5 Reasons for Optimism

After the heartening victory in Philadelphia, I looked over the complete game statistics to find exactly where the Redskins made improvements. Though the game was hard fought and we did not score during the second half, Washington made the plays necessary to secure a win. We have gone from 0-6 in the division last year to 2-0 atop the NFC East to start the season. And we have other big reasons to feel good:

5. We’re not beating ourselves.

That’s right, for the first time in recent memory, the Redskins haven’t hobbled themselves with penalties. In fact, the ‘Skins had only 5 penalties for 30 yards through the entire game in Philadelphia. For Washington fans who are too familiar with the agony of self-defeat, this season represents an encouraging turnaround. Looks like Shanahan’s no-nonsense coaching style has brought some much needed discipline to Landover.

4. We’re converting on third down.

One of the most telling stats from last week’s loss to the Rams was the Redskins’ third down efficiency (or lack thereof). The ‘Skins found themselves in third down situations 10 times and converted only once. After week 3, we were last in the league in third down efficiency. Against the Eagles, Washington converted 5 of 11. We went from converting 10% of third downs last week to 45% this week. I’d say that’s cause for optimism.

3. Our running game is picking up steam.

Despite being led by a coach known for establishing fierce rushing offenses, the Washington Redskins produced next to nothing on the ground to start the season. In the opener versus Dallas, the ‘Skins rushed for 89 total yards. That modest number plummeted to 18 total rushing yards against the Houston Texans in week 2. After considerable criticism of the team’s ground game, the Redskins promoted RB Ryan Torain from the practice squad to compete with perennial starter Clinton Portis. Washington rebounded to 116 yards rushing last week in St. Louis. We rushed for a season high 169 yards in week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles and ran more rushing plays than passing plays for the first time this year. Ryan Torain led the team in carries with 18 for 70 yards and a touchdown. Portis, who left the game with a groin injury and could miss next game, is looking at sharing the running duties with Torain, which could lead to further improvement.

2. We’re containing the top 2 receivers.

The Redskins’ much maligned pass-defense came through when it counted in Philly. After switching to a 3-4 scheme this season, Washington’s defense fell from top 10 to last in the league. Our secondary seemed unable to cover the opponent’s most obvious receiving threats, allowing the best 2 receivers to rack up yards and points against us at a frightening pace. For example, Dallas’ Miles Austin and Dez Bryant combined for 18 catches for 202 yards and 1 TD; Houston’s Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter combined for 23 catches for 302 yards and 2 TDs; and St. Louis’ Mark Clayton and Danny Amendola combined for 11 catches for 141 yards without a TD. On average, the Redskins’ secondary was giving up 17 catches for 215 yards and 1 TD to their opponent’s top 2 receivers alone. Washington’s defense broke their woeful pattern this week against the Eagles star wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, holding them to a combined 4 catches for 34 yards and no TDs. In fact, the Redskins’ defenders rendered the Eagles offense one-dimensional, allowing only a single player (LaSean McCoy) to gain over 50 yards. If Washington’s defense maintains the level of play they showed this week, Jim Haslett won’t seem so crazy after all.

1. We have Donovan McNabb.

I can’t emphasize enough how much Donovan McNabb improves the Redskins. I could devote an entire article to the topic, especially after his victorious return to Philly. We all know about his impressive career achievements as an Eagle, but he has already proved what he can do as a Redskin. McNabb’s best performance came in week 2 against the Houston Texans when he completed 28 of 38 passes for 426 yards, 1 TD, and no interceptions. Though his week 4 stats were less impressive (8 of 19 passes for 125 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception), he still led Washington to an important win against a division rival. The victory also took on symbolic meaning for a team that drew heavy criticism in recent weeks. Donovan McNabb’s maturity and class in the days leading up to the much publicized “homecoming” game clearly inspired his new ‘Skins teammates. They rallied around No. 5 and played hard to give him the win he deserved in a game that had the potential for disaster. Even in a situation that could have become all about him, McNabb’s locker room speech showed that he kept the team in the forefront of his mind. He took ownership of the offensive struggles in the second half and vowed to make improvements. Donovan McNabb’s actions reflect core values of accountability, teamwork, patience, and humility. I firmly believe that he fills the leadership gap that plagued Washington in seasons past and gives the Redskins the best chance to win going forward.  Right now we’re unbeaten in the division and McNabb intends to keep it that way.

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