Following a dysfunctional season in 2014 that saw them finish with a 4-12 record in Jay Gruden’s first year as Head Coach, little was expected from the Redskins this season. Even though Gruden was only entering his second season as HC his decision to anoint Kirk Cousins his starter for 2015 over ‘franchise’ QB and ownership favourite Robert Griffin III, many felt his seat was among the hottest in the NFL. Results, however, left Gruden vindicated, Griffin III on his way out the door and Cousins headed for a big payday as the new face of the franchise.
Record 9-7, NFC East Division Champions. Lost 35-18 to the Green Bay Packers
It was an up and down season for Washington, particularly early on as they struggled for consistency across the board. Most notable was their struggles on the road, where they failed to notch a victory until they squeaked past the Chicago Bears 24-21 in Week 14. Fortunately for them they played in the woeful NFC East which meant that even at 5-7 following a week 13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys as strong final quarter would see them crowned division champions. Finish strongly they did, reeling off 4 straight victories (3 of which were on the road) to enter the postseason on a high. Unfortunately, they fell flat in the playoffs, unable to suppress an Aaron Rodgers inspired Green Bay Packers team who capitalised on early Redskins errors to dump them out of the postseason in the first round.
It transpires that the Washington Redskins may well have found their franchise Quarterback in the 2012 draft – it just wasn’t the one they expected. Having better acclimated to coach Jay Gruden’s playbook, Kirk Cousins outperformed incumbent Robert Griffin III throughout the offseason and training camp leading to his being named the starter prior to the start of the season. Despite early struggles that led to some in the media and among the fanbase calling for his benching Cousins responded with a Pro Bowl calibre season (the fact he wasn’t selected when 11 other QBs were is an example of how ridiculous the selection process is) throwing for 4166 yards, 29TDs and a 101.6 QB rating. This was despite DeSean Jackson missing much of the the season through injury and Jordan Reed also missing time. When healthy, the receiving core of the Redskins was a major headache for opposing defenses with Jackson able to take the top off the defense, Pierre Garcon a reliable intermediate target and Reed a matchup nightmare. The running game was also pretty effective with Alfred Morris ably supplemented by Matt Jones. The team will be pleased with the progress this year and looking forward to even greater success next year, particularly if they can keep their stars healthy.
Washington’s defense struggled for effectiveness this season, ranking in the middle of the pack or lower in all defensive categories. The unit lacks for star players and should be a heavy focus for Scott McCloughan in free agency and the draft this season. The defense was more effective under the leadership of Joe Barry, however, than in 2014 under Jim Haslett and will look to continue to build for 2016 as they look to defend their division title. The lack of star power on the defense means Washington has few pressing free agents they will look to re-sign but should look to try an keep Terrence Knighton who provided a solid anchor in the middle of the Defensive Line.
After years of trying to make a splash through the free agent market, often at the expense of solid drafting, Washington finally hit some home runs in the 2015 draft, setting them up for future success. First round Offensive Lineman Brandon Scherff was a solid contributor from day 1 and got better as the year went on and he adjusted to playing Guard having been a Tackle in college. Preston Smith quietly put himself in the defensive rookie of the year conversation, leading all rookies with 8 sacks on the year. Matt Jones provided solid relief to starter Alfred Morris in the backfield and they got solid contributions from WR/KR Jamison Crowder and SS Kyshoen Jarrett.
A playoff appearance,potentially finding your franchise QB, a draft class full or contributors, and escape from salary cap purgatory – there is a lot to like about this past season from a Washington perspective. For the first time, perhaps in a long time, Redskins fans can genuinely look forward to 2016 with expectations of a deep playoff run.