During the first decade of Dan Snyder’s ownership of this team, members of the media and fans began preaching that the Redskins would not succeed until they were able to benefit from stability and continuity. It was nice to say, but proved tougher to accomplish. For one reason or another, something was always changing:
Charlie Casserly was fired as general mananger. Norv Turner was fired as head coach. Marty Schottenheimer was hired, then fired, as both. Steve Spurrier was hired as head coach and Vinny Cerrato was hired as the personnel man. Joe Gibbs was brought in to coach after Spurrier quit. Even within the short-term stability of Coach Gibbs’ second tenure here, the offense was completely changed after two years. Cerrato stuck around to lead the personnel decisions and Jim Zorn became the head coach. During those two seasons he was ineffective and, at times, undermined by the front office.
Finally, near the end of the 2009 season, Snyder hired Bruce Allen as the general manager and then, once the season ended, they hired Mike Shanahan as the head coach. Shanahan proceeded to hire Kyle Shanahan to run the offense and Jim Haslett to run the defense. Why have I spent two paragraphs covering something that we all know? Because, lost in the hype of some exciting new players and events on the field, what has been overshadowed is that the Redskins are now entering their fourth year with that exact same structure: Allen/Shanahan/Shanahan/Haslett.
The continuity of a franchise is important from the top all the way down. The top layers are able to work with the coaching staff to define an organizational philosophy. This allows for much easier personnel decisions. Allen knows during the draft and free agency periods what types of players fit the schemes and the goals of the offensive and defensive coordinators. No longer is Schottenheimer trying to run a conservative offense with a roster full of players who were acquired to excel in Turner’s aerial offense. When a franchise changes its identity every couple of years, it’s stuck having to try to fit square pegs into round holes.
That leads to the second advantage. Over four off-seasons, the roster is now completely filled with players that Allen and Shanahan want here. We’ve gone through the roster growing pains (having to purge the bad fits, aging veterans, malcontents, etc.) and now there is a distinct purpose for every player. No longer is Haslett being asked to play Albert Haynesworth out of position because we just cannot afford to cut him. Our current team is no longer attempting to win with someone else’s players. Everyone who makes the 53-man roster is a fit for some aspect of our offensive or defensive goals. This depth is also important since most teams lose important players during the year due to injury. The quality of your backups (Rob Jackson seamlessly filling in for Brian Orakpo, for example) can be the difference between 8-8 and 11-5.
Lastly, the schemes can evolve and become more intricate. After four off-seasons of establishing the fundamentals of what offenses and defenses are designed to do, coordinators can now start to innovate. They can begin adding wrinkles to base packages to put the best players in ideal situations. When a team is learning a new offense, coaches must devote most of their practice time to pure X’s and O’s. The players need to learn the basics so there is less time to advance to the next level. Currently, the Redskin staff can spend more time analyzing the strengths of the players and drawing up new ways to highlight them. Maybe it’s getting Fred Davis down the seam against a linebacker or making sure that Aldrick Robinson has single coverage on the outside. The point is, instead of simply executing basic plays, coaches and players are free to continue to grow and expand the sophistication of the playbook.
Both the continuity and depth were very much on display to me this past Monday night. The Redskins seemed to outplay the Steelers in all aspects of the game. Washington had the look of a relatively deep team which was firing on all cylinders. The fact that the Redskins acquitted themselves so favorably against a team like Pittsburgh is that much more encouraging. For years the Steelers have been the example of stability and continuity. It appears that the Redskins are intent upon following that example to re-establish themselves as a perennial contender under this current regime. Coming off of a division title, having a stable front office and coaching staff, and boasting an increasingly deep and talented roster, the Redskins seemed poise to take another step toward a NFL championship.