If Washington can make a second half run and reach the playoffs, rookie Robert Griffin III could be a candidate for league MVP. Getty Images
The season is half over, so it's time for a first semester report card on the 2012 Washington Redskins. The record stands at 3-5, one game behind what I predicted in my season preview at the old blog. The team has at least been exciting to watch for the first time in years, primarily thanks to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III who has the potential to be the game's most dynamic and dangerous offensive player.
On offense, the team continues to move the ball and score against virtually everyone despite injuries to key performers and inconsistency in the receiving corps. Defensively, the team has been a disaster. They've struggled most against the pass, but got thumped in the running game by a Steelers team that hadn't run successfully all season.
At any rate, here are individual first semester grades for key Redskins:
Robert Griffin III -- A -- I sorta gave away my thunder on this one given that I wrote a few weeks ago that Griffin might be having the best season for a rookie QB, well, ever. How good has Griffin been? His first "bad" game of the season was last week against Pittsburgh, and his receivers had to drop 7 passes for it to happen. Even after that drop-filled game, Griffin ranks 5th in completion percentage, 7th in passer rating, and 4th in yards per passing attempt. I anticipate the coaching staff asking him to do even more in the passing game the rest of the way. If the Skins could somehow cobble together a winning streak and reach the playoffs, Griffin could receive league MVP consideration. Yes, I'm serious.
Alfred Morris -- A- -- The rookie, not selected until the 6th round (overlooked because of concerns about his size, speed and fumbling in college), is tied (with Adrian Peterson) for 3rd most carries in the NFL, ranks 3rd in rushing yards, 8th in yards per attempt, and 5th in rushing TDs. Why the "minus" on his grade? Research by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats indicate that the most important rushing stat is "success rate" -- a measure of how often a runner improves the team's odds of scoring or earning a first down. Morris ranks just 26th in this stat -- a below average 40.1%. Even so, he's having an impressive rookie season.
Santana Moss -- B -- Coaches envisioned the veteran in the role of a 3rd receiver this season, but Pierre Garcon's foot injury has thrust Moss into a bigger role. He's tied for the team lead as Washington's most targeted receiver, and he has come through with some important plays. He's also let them down with some important drops.
Josh Morgan -- B- -- Morgan is turning in his most productive NFL season, despite the atrocious unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he took early in the season. The physical, athletic receiver is an effective blocker, and he has the league's 3rd best "catch rate" (catches / times targeted).
Leonard Hankerson -- C -- Hankerson is tied with Moss in targets and receptions, and has gained just 18 fewer yards. Why the lower grade? Hankerson has produced four fewer TDs and half a yard less per target despite the fact that 30% of his targets have been deep (20+ yards from scrimmage), while just 14% of Moss's targets have been deep balls. In other words, Washington is trying to get the ball deep to Hankerson, but he isn't producing big plays on those longer attempts. And he's had drop problems.
Fred Davis -- A- -- After a slow start, Davis was putting together a productive season before he tore his Achilles. He led the team in catch rate (77.4%) and was producing the highest yards per target on the team despite seldom being targeted downfield. The Skins miss him.
Logan Paulsen -- B -- Paulsen is a blocker, who has seen more action in the passing game since Davis went out. The B is primarily for the blocking, because his receiver skills are...unspectacular.
Niles Paul -- D -- In my book, Paul is the most disappointing player on offense this season. Perhaps I had my expectations set too high considering he was being shifted from WR to TE. Still, I thought his speed and agility would prove to be tough matchups for opposing defenses. Instead, he's rarely open and has contributed little this year.
Trent Williams -- A- -- Williams had a couple iffy performances, which appear to be mostly injury related. As his health improved, so did his play. He's been at an All-Pro level the past few weeks.
Kory Lichtensteiger -- B -- His first couple weeks this season weren't very good, but he's on the team because he's a whacko competitor who's willing to do nearly anything to win. And he's been more than solid in run and pass blocking this year.
Will Montgomery -- D -- I thought Washington needed to replace him last season when he was often overwhelmed at the point of attack and struggled to hold off pass rushers. The Skins gave him a multi-year contract. His play this season has done nothing to change my impressions -- he still gets overpowered far too often.
Chris Chester -- B -- He's been solid throughout his brief tenure with the Skins despite the revolving door at right tackle. His play has been steady again this season -- his ability to get downfield on running plays to make multiple blocks (on the defensive tackle and then on a linebacker, for example), has been a valuable part of the Skins rushing attack.
Tyler Polumbus -- D -- If I was grading on trend, he'd score higher. However, his solid play in recent weeks doesn't offset his atrocious play the first month of the season. If Polumbus can maintain the improved performance, he could earn a return engagement at right tackle next season.
Stephen Bowen -- C+ -- It's tough to give anyone on defense a good grade considering how bad the defense has been, but Bowen has battled in the trenches all season and helped with a decent run defense. He's not much of a pass rusher, and the Skins could use help in that area.
Jarvis Jenkins -- C -- Thrust into a starting role because of an injury to Adam Carriker, Jenkins has contributed against the run. He doesn't pressure the passer, however (just 2 QB hits this year), which is a problem.
Barry Cofield -- B- -- A good guy who plays hard every snap. He's not spectacular, but he holds the middle on most plays and forces runners into tacklers. He also contributes some in the pass rush, generating a pair of sacks and 5 QB hits from the nose tackle position.
London Fletcher -- C+ -- Whether it's due to age, a troublesome hamstring, or that balance issue, Fletcher's play has declined this season. He's already missed as many tackles through 8 games as he did in 16 last year. He's still the team's leading tackler and cover linebacker. It would help the Skins if he could return to his usual Pro Bowl form.
Perry Riley -- C+ -- Last offseason, I wrote that Riley had played like an emerging star after becoming the starter next to Fletcher halfway through the season. This season, he hasn't been quite as good, but he's still be pretty doggone solid. He leads the team's linebackers in passes defended.
Ryan Kerrigan -- C -- If I was grading on trend, it would be lower. Since Brian Orakpo got hurt, Kerrigan's production -- especially in pass rushing -- has declined precipitously. He still leads the team in sacks, QB hits and tackles for a loss, but the second-year man needs to learn how to counter the chip blocks and double teams he's encountering with Orakpo out.
Rob Jackson -- C- -- Jackson has actually been reasonably solid filling in for Orakpo, although he doesn't bring Orakpo's dynamic pass-rushing ability. Teams feel safe letting him go one-on-one with a blocker, which frees up resources they can use to limit Kerrigan.
Lorenzo Alexander -- C- -- If the grade was strictly for special teams, it would be an A. As a linebacker, Alexander leaves a fair amount to be desired -- whether he's playing on the inside or outside.
Josh Wilson -- D- -- The Redskins' single biggest defensive problem is the fact that they can't cover. Wilson's job: to cover.
DeAngelo Hall -- F -- His play has been bad enough, but the two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, followed by his self-justifying comments put him squarely into F territory. The bright side is that Hall's contract for next season (and the following year) are not guaranteed.
Reed Doughty -- C- -- The Redskins have spent years trying to replace Doughty, yet he's still here and (because of injury) still in a starting role. While they still need to replace him because he weak in coverage, he's been a solid tackler who actually solidified the secondary when the team promoted him to the starting lineup.
Madieu Williams -- C- -- Williams hasn't been as bad as many fans might think, which isn't the same as saying he's been good. He was burned badly on that touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, but most of the time he does an acceptable job. Like Doughty, he'd be better in a reserve role.
DeJon Gomes -- F -- Gomes is really more of a way undersized linebacker than a safety. He's not bad as the 8th man in the box, but he simply doesn't cover well. And he's been missing tackles.
Sav Rocca -- B -- Mike Shanhan says Rocca is the best punter he's been around. He often does a nice job of pinning opponents inside their own 20, and it's actually fun to see the former Australian rules football star -- standing 6-2 and 250 -- make a tackle.
Kai Forbath -- B -- He's only been on the job a couple weeks, but he's made all his field goal attempts, including a 50 yarder. He gets a B because of that missed extra point -- those need to be automatic.
Billy Cundiff -- F -- Kinda self evident given that he got cut after the 5th game. I never saw the point in dumping incumbent Graham Gano for Cundiff, who seemed like an older version of Gano. Maybe there was a reason Baltimore released him in the preseason. Either way, 5 missed field goals in 12 attempts earned Cundiff a well-deserved release.
Mike Shanahan -- C -- The team seems well-prepared each week, and the effort is constant. The team still needs to add talent, although it's been hampered in that regard by the cap penalty -- which ESPN's Adam Schefter says may get overturned for next season. Worrisome signs that could be addressed by the coach include their high penalty rate (2nd worst in the league), and penchant for late-game meltdowns (Josh Morgan, Kyle Shanahan, DeAngelo Hall).
Kyle Shanahan -- B+ -- Finally armed with a dynamic QB, the offensive coordinator continues to come up with inventive ways of doing the same ol' same ol'. They're still running stretch plays, but out of pistol and shotgun sets instead of I formations or other conventional pro formations. Their passing attack is basically the same stuff he's been running since his Houston days (not that there's anything wrong with that), but he's doing a great job of using Griffin's running ability to freeze linebackers with activity in the backfield. I'm hoping to see Washington begin letting Griffin attack downfield a bit more frequently -- 29 QBs have thrown deep more frequently so far this season.
Jim Haslett -- D -- This is a results-based grade. Haslett has tried every strategy available from zero-coverage blitzes to extreme coverage to everything in between. Nothing has worked because -- to be blunt -- the players just aren't good enough.
Danny Smith -- C- -- The well-respected special teams coordinator saw his unit have a rough beginning with blocked punts in back-to-back games. They've tightened things up in punt protection, and they're solid in coverage. Forbath seems to have stabilized the kicking.
These are the grades at the halfway point in the season. Who's too high? Who's too low? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @broom_kevin.