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Redskins at the bye week: special teams

By Rick Maese

The Redskins reached the midway point of their first season under Mike Shanahan at 4-4 - matching their win total from a year ago but knowing they might have won each of the games they lost. This we're looking at each element of the team - defense, offense and special teams - analyzing what happened, and what might come next.

Today, special teams.

What went right: Because the offense is inconsistent and the defense has at times hemorrhaged yards, perhaps the Redskins' biggest gains from last season have come on special teams.

The Redskins' average starting field position is 29.5-yard line, which is ranked No. 17 in the NFL, but they've forced two turnovers and committed none through the first eight games of the season. They've forced four fumbles total, have blocked two field goal attempts, returned one kick for a touchdown and have produced some of the team's most thunderous hits.

The biggest upgrade thus far has come on returns. A season ago, the Redskins ranked No. 30 in the league in punt return average. They didn't have the answer at the outset of the season but they now appear to have someone in Brandon Banks who can change the course of a game returning both punts and kickoffs. Replacing Phillip Buchanon as the team's punt returner and Devin Thomas as the kick returner, Banks fills one of the biggest voids.

"He's a beast," said cornerback Byron Westbrook. "Any time we give him space, he's going to get some yards."

With 15 field goals and 14 extra points, Graham Gano is tied for fifth in the league in scoring. In just his second season, he has a strong leg and doesn't lack for confidence. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith has noticed huge improvement from last season and is convinced Gano will be in the league for years to come.

Lorenzo Alexander and Mike Sellers have led the coverage units and seem to earn their way onto highlight reels each week with their vicious hits. According to Stats Inc., Sellers leads the Redskins with 10 total special teams tackles. Alexander, the special teams captain, is credited with playing a role in seven. According to the team's numbers, though, which are compiled from coaches' film, Alexander has 15 tackles and Sellers 12. Chris Wilson and Reed Doughty have both been huge contributors, as well.

Taking over after four games, punter Hunter Smith has been reliable, but facing skilled returners such as Devin Hester and Stefan Logan, he hasn't had much opportunity to showcase his leg. He's placed 10 of his 30 punts, though, inside the 20-yard line.

Averaging nearly seven punts a game, Smith has been busier than most punters ought to be on Sundays.

What went wrong: The Redskins took too long to settle on Banks as their top returner. Thomas performed well at the start of the season, but he was released because coaches didn't feel he could contribute as a wide receiver. Then coaches allowed Chad Simpson to return kicks, though Banks has shown the ability to weave his tiny frame through traffic.

They also began the year with Buchanon returning punts, but after the cornerback made three fair catches and only two small returns, the Redskins promptly and wisely made the switch to Banks, who showed in the preseason his big potential on returns.

Gano hasn't been as consistent as coaches would prefer. He's 15-of-20 on field-goal attempts, tied for 24th in the league.

When Washington placed Josh Bidwell on injured reserves, it signed Smith, who punted for the Redskins last season. In four games, though, Smith's 40.9 yards per punt ranks him No. 32 in the league. His net average of 33.4 yards is No. 33.

MVP: Among regular returners, Banks is ranked No. 2 in the NFL in punt-return yards, No. 3 in punt-return average and No. 2 in kick return average -- and he only appeared in five the Redskins' eight games. He's shown that any time he touches the ball, he's capable of making something happen, a game-changer the Redskins have been sorely lacking for several years.

"He's like our DeSean Jackson," said Alexander, comparing Banks to Philadelphia's talented returner. "He has that type of athleticism. He can stop and go. He's a big-play threat at any time."

An undrafted rookie out of Kansas State, Banks is the roster's hidden gem. The Redskins actually released him from the roster early in the season, and when they re-signed him, coaches put Banks on the practice squad.

He was added permanently to the 53-man roster on Oct. 2, though, and quickly showed he could be the type of player the team has spent several years looking for.

"You always want those kind of guys," said Smith, the special teams coordinator. "He's got the speed and the quickness to do that. He can fly. He's got a lot of stuff to work on, obviously, but he's a talented player."

Highlight: While Gano won the Week 5 game against Green Bay with an overtime field goal, it's Banks again who turned in the biggest special-teams play of the season thus far. In the team's Week 8 loss at Detroit, he had an impressive 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It was the Redskins first kick return for a touchdown in 70 games. In the game, Banks totaled 271 return yards against the Lions, setting a franchise record, and his returns set the stage for 22 of his team's 25 points.

Lowlight: In the Redskins' Week 2 overtime loss to the Houston Texans, the team's field-goal unit failed on attempts that could have changed the result of the game. The first was a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter than was blocked. Then in overtime, Gano actually nailed a 52-yarder that would've won the game. But the Texans called a timeout just before the snap. Gano's second try sailed wide right and the Texans won the game on their ensuing possession.

Looking ahead: In the first half of the season, the Redskins changed a handful of specialists: punter, kick returner and punt returner. As a unit, the Redskins are just now hitting their stride on special teams. As with the other facets of the game, success hinges on all 11 players doing their specific jobs on each play, and now that they're more comfortable playing alongside one another, they should be able to build on their strong first half.

As long as he can handle the ball, Banks should continue to be the team's most exciting player outside of the defense.

If there's any player who enters the second half of the season with something to prove, it might be Gano. He feels he's kicking the ball better than ever, but the Redskins play too many close games to suffer from missed field goals.

There's a slim margin for error with this team and Gano plays a position that often allows no margin for error. He needs to come out of the bye week strong, making certain coaches' confidence in him doesn't waver.

By Rick Maese  | November 5, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Special teams  
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Next: Poll: Redskins' MVP on special teams

Comments

stu, coach said Kory is playing very, very well.....on the heels of giving up 7 sacks by the oline...

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | November 5, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Thats the worst part of it. I didnt hear him say this but it wouldnt surprise me in the least. Shanny is all over this dude for some reason. isnt he our backup center too... If shanny has to have this chump on the field at least replace Rabach w him. That way you get rid of one of the problems, put dock in at guard. BUt then again Casey is so intelligent he would probably talk coach out of it in line shift terminology that only he knows. ...

Posted by: Stu27 | November 5, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse


stu, coach said Kory is playing very, very well.....on the heels of giving up 7 sacks by the oline...

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | November 5, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Thats the worst part of it. I didnt hear him say this but it wouldnt surprise me in the least. Shanny is all over this dude for some reason. isnt he our backup center too... If shanny has to have this chump on the field at least replace Rabach w him. That way you get rid of one of the problems, put dock in at guard. BUt then again Casey is so intelligent he would probably talk coach out of it in line shift terminology that only he knows. ...

Posted by: Stu27 | November 5, 2010 10:48 AM

Maybe Shanny accidentally sent him a pic of his ding dong? Outside of that I just don't get it.

Posted by: PlayAction | November 5, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Rabach should get into coaching and off the field. Licht... is awful. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where our greatest weakness is.

The more important question, IMHO, is can we be successful even with good lineman with a zone blocking philosophy. I know it worked for Shanny in Denver, but can it work in the NFC East, where guards average close to 3 bills, and raw power is the name of the game? I fear not, which is really depressing for the future of this franchise. If Shanny doesn't work out we are stuck with undersized, speedy lineman.
Ugh, please let me be wrong.

Posted by: cosmofla | November 5, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The more important question, IMHO, is can we be successful even with good lineman with a zone blocking philosophy. I know it worked for Shanny in Denver, but can it work in the NFC East, where guards average close to 3 bills, and raw power is the name of the game? I fear not, which is really depressing for the future of this franchise. If Shanny doesn't work out we are stuck with undersized, speedy lineman.
Ugh, please let me be wrong.

Posted by: cosmofla | November 5, 2010 11:04 AM |

Check out Shanny's record against NFC east teams over the years, and how many rushing yards they had I think you will be surprised.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 5, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

If Shanny doesn't work out we are stuck with undersized, speedy lineman.
Ugh, please let me be wrong.

Posted by: cosmofla | November 5, 2010 11:04 AM |

Check out Shanny's record against NFC east teams over the years, and how many rushing yards they had I think you will be surprised.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 5, 2010 11:08 AM

Right...but I was thinking the same thing...if Shanny gets canned for whatever reason...we are stuck with his style of lineman.

Posted by: PlayAction | November 5, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"....Carter could have been traded away to a 4-3 team. I think there was interest but the Redskins just wanted too much for him."

Posted by RSH

Nope. Carter had a no trade clause coming into the 2010 season. It was up to him whether or not he wanted to be traded, and he knew he wouldn't make near as much going to another team. So, the problem was allowing him to get the no trade clause in the first place under the old regime, not that the new management wanted too much for him.

Posted by: swowra | November 5, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Yeah the zone philosophy dosent really bother me, and I think it can work just the same in the Beast. Really if i could take one teams run game it would be Houstons. Theyve been the team cranking out yards from diffrent back and they run all zone.
What bothers me is that we have personnel that dosent fit the scheme but are better then the scheme players and we refuse to play them. Its Greg Blache on offense... Schemes are great if you have the personnel, if not its the best 11 guys.

Posted by: Stu27 | November 5, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

why hasn't galloway been cut yet...just curious....

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | November 5, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Check out Shanny's record against NFC east teams over the years, and how many rushing yards they had I think you will be surprised.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 5, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't be surprised. I'm sure he was successful.

Most analysts agree that teams often struggle with opponents outside of their own division, partially because they're not accustomed to a different style of play. Facing division foes 2-3x every season gives teams a better chance of understanding their trends, tendencies, and overall philosophy.

I guess in the end, do you believe a zone scheme can be successful regularly against a smash mouth scheme? Maybe I'm just partial to that style given the Skins past success with it, but I think power beats finesse in the NFC East.

Posted by: cosmofla | November 5, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Alan4,

I think this is one of the big questions out there that fans have, but I don't think the proper answer is very popular:

There really isn't much they can do about it.

They could put in Dockery, but he doesn't exactly blow my doors off either, and was part of last year's O-line, which in my mind was worse than this one's.

I think they addressed both tackle positions, one successfully and the other not so much (so far), and one guard position (unsuccesfully, IMO) in the offseason. Quite honestly, the O-line was in such bad shape coming in that there wasn't any way to fix it all in just a year. I also believe that there are no secret fix-it lineman out there to be had - at this point everyone that is worth anything is locked up as the injuries mount.

Next year will be the year to do something about it. They HAVE to draft a C and at least one G, and another T somewhere wouldn't hurt. It's bad enough that I'd forgo drafting darn near anything else. It's ALSO the reason why they need McNabb back here at least next season: they can't afford to waste a high pick on a QB next year.

Posted by: shaunsherman12 | November 5, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: shaunsherman12 | November 5, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

F, Marry, Kill

Nancy Pelosi
Hillary Clinton
Sarah Palin

Posted by: Diesel44 | November 5, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

F, Marry, Kill

Nancy Pelosi
Hillary Clinton
Sarah Palin

Posted by: Diesel44 | November 5, 2010 12:25 PM |

F Sarah
M Hillary she is the oldest and should die in a few years.
K Pelosi

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 5, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

"....Carter could have been traded away to a 4-3 team. I think there was interest but the Redskins just wanted too much for him."

Posted by RSH

Nope. Carter had a no trade clause coming into the 2010 season. It was up to him whether or not he wanted to be traded, and he knew he wouldn't make near as much going to another team. So, the problem was allowing him to get the no trade clause in the first place under the old regime, not that the new management wanted too much for him.

Posted by: swowra | November 5, 2010 11:25 AM
------------------------------------------
Everyone keeps bringing this up when it comes to Carter, but the clause actually says Carter gets the final say as to whether or not he is traded, which is something different. Believe me, if it came to being a backup with the Redskins or a starter with someone like Tennessee, he would agree to the trade in a heart beat.

Posted by: RedSkinHead | November 5, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

F, Marry, Kill

Nancy Pelosi
Hillary Clinton
Sarah Palin

Posted by: Diesel44 | November 5, 2010 12:25 PM


I think we all know this question is right up my alley.

Kill Pelosi...she's halfway there anyway.

F Palin...I'm already used to uttering that phrase, she's a totally bangable MILF, and she looks like she knows her way around a cock.

Mary Clinton...she's shown she can turn the other cheek for cheating, plus she's probably the richest of the 3.

Child's play, Diesel. Child's play, my man...

Posted by: brownwood26 | November 5, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Check out Shanny's record against NFC east teams over the years, and how many rushing yards they had I think you will be surprised.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 5, 2010 11:08 AM

Agreed, but there is a difference between facing these guys every couple of years and trying to make a living inside the division.

Posted by: edvar | November 5, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

why hasn't galloway been cut yet...just curious....

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | November 5, 2010 11:30 AM
------------------------------------------
Redskins are worried about an age discrimination lawsuit.

BTW, shouldn't Williams go first? I mean, I am with you that Galloway should be gone, but Galloway is just pathetic and Williams is pathetic minus.

Posted by: RedSkinHead | November 5, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

No one beeped!

Posted by: Personal_Fowl | November 5, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Mary Clinton...she's shown she can turn the other cheek for cheating, plus she's probably the richest of the 3.

Child's play, Diesel. Child's play, my man...

Posted by: brownwood26 | November 5, 2010 12:31 PM

Pelosi and the unfortunate, castrated flying monkey she's married to are worth $60 million. I don't think the Clintons can sell enough crappy books and speeches to ever move on up to that neighborhood.

Posted by: MColeman51 | November 5, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

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