By dint of either injury, suspension or coach's decision, the Redskins were without 13 of their 22 opening day starters yesterday in the 20-17 win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville. That the 'Skins were able to pull out a victory on the road against a team still fighting for its playoff life despite being shorthanded augurs some positives for the future, even if the win might damage their immediate draft prospects.
By winning against Jacksonville, the Redskins dropped their draft order to 14th. Should the Vikings prevail over the Eagles on Tuesday night, Washington would move to the 13th slot in the first round. Had the Redskins lost to Jacksonville, the team would be essentially tied with Dallas for the rights to the seventh pick in the first round. While there's still one game to go and the order is subject to change, the move should quell any lingering talk of the Redskins tanking games to improve their draft order.
It being Mike Shanahan's stated plan for the final weeks of the season that he evaluate the more obscure players on the roster for consideration for future playing time (or even spots on the team), yesterday proved to be an instructive and even auspicious exercise. Look no further than the last defensive snap for the Redskins, where reserve linebacker Chris Wilson broke through the middle of the Jaguars line to force a pass that was intercepted by Kevin Barnes, a second-year safety starting in place of Reed Doughty, who missed the game Sunday because of lingering effects of a concussion suffered the week before in the loss to Dallas.
Matters got worse for the secondary early in the game when Carlos Rogers went down in the first half with a sore calf. Veteran Phillip Buchanon played ably in his absence. Not quite the positive sign for the future that Barnes making a critical play to win the game, as Buchanon is 30 years old, but shows the vet might be able to provide needed depth for at least a few more seasons.
Running back Ryan Torain had one of his less impressive running performances of the season, finishing with 65 yards on 20 carries. He was able to plunge into the end zone on a 4th down in the second half to give the Redskins the 17-10 lead that they couldn't hold in regulation.
Nevertheless, the Washington defense should be commended for a patchwork front holding the third-ranked Jacksonville running attack to only 78 yards, albeit without the services of feature back Maurice Jones-Drew. The pass rush didn't take a step back either, even with linebacker Brian Orakpo being inactive. Rob Jackson, playing in place of Orakpo, probably had the best outing of any of the young players yesterday, with a sack, a forced fumble and a critical pressure that ended a Jacksonville drive midway through the fourth quarter.
Jackson could potentially be an intriguing candidate to play the other outside linebacker spot across from Orakpo, but at this point, playing on the right side is his natural position. Seeing if they can convert Jackson to play on the left should be one of many projects for Redskins coaches in the offseason. Having a formidable tandem of pass rushers on the edge, a la James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in Pittsburgh, could make the front seven an intimidating force for years to come.