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Redskins turnaround: Reasons for hope

And by hope, that means for improved play. It’s a mighty big leap to go from there to playoff contention, so the goal must be to finish strong and let that take you where it does. When the Washington Redskins went from 3-6 to the playoffs in 2012, they were only the fifth team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 -- and the first since 1996 -- to accomplish such a feat.

But a strong finish? That should be the goal.

Robert Griffin III

He still has a lot to prove, even to the coaches, but Griffin has shown if he plays well he provides a massive spark. That’s true, of course, of any quarterback. There’s some doubt about how well he can play or what sort of quarterback he’ll become. But he showed two years ago that he can make plays and, despite two leg injuries, Griffin still has talent. If he matures in the pocket, he can be an effective weapon for Washington. In his first game back, Griffin played well enough to lead the Redskins to 26 points. He made mistakes, but he also made plays and had an impact. If -- and I stress if -- the Vikings’ game was a starting point, then Griffin could have a good finish.

The run game

Ever since Silas Redd received a carry against Dallas, Alfred Morris has run better. Coincidence? Maybe. Morris always runs hard; he’s just been more effective. In his last six quarters, Morris has carried the ball 32 times for 154 yards, with three runs for 10-plus yards (he had 10 such runs in the first seven combined). That’s why in the last two games Morris averaged 4.46 yards per carry (compared to 3.98 for the season).

If the Redskins want to do anything, it must start with the run game. Griffin can help create running lanes with his presence, whether it’s by freezing backside defenders with fakes or by keeping them guessing on the zone read. That happened on a couple runs against Minnesota. If Morris and the run game become consistent, it should -- I emphasize should -- make the receivers more dangerous.

Good health

Yes, the Redskins are still playing without two defensive starters in DeAngelo Hall and Brian Orakpo. But all things considered they’re in good shape entering the final seven games with the return of nose tackle Barry Cofield and receiver Leonard Hankerson. They still have young starters defensively, and while that means growing pains at times, it should also mean they will improve the more they play. If not, then the coaches aren’t doing their jobs -- or they drafted the wrong players.

Regardless, Cofield’s return should help, allowing Chris Baker to return to end and giving the Redskins the line they envisioned, and liked, at the start of the season. There aren’t a lot of game-changers on this defense, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t expect better play. Other teams overcome injuries every year. Now, whether you get it? Well ...

The schedule

A few games on the schedule, that is. Washington plays home games against Tampa Bay (1-8) and St. Louis (3-6), as well as a road game at the New York Giants (3-6). Naturally, those teams are saying they have a game left against 3-6 Washington, so these games aren’t gimmes. (This is also a good time to remind you that the Giants won the first meeting by 31 points.) But it’s not like going to, say, San Francisco and Indianapolis in consecutive weeks. Oops. The Redskins also have Philadelphia and Dallas at home; they lost by three to the former and beat the latter. Are they good enough to win all of them? They haven't shown that, no. But do they have a shot? Yes.

Special teams

Yes, special teams, mainly because they haven’t messed up lately. Hey, it’s a start. Punter Tress Way has been terrific -- his 41.5 net yards per punt ranks sixth in the NFL. He still at times out-punts his coverage, leading to longer returns, but overall he’s been fine. Kai Forbath has made 15 of 16 field goals. The Redskins still allow bad field position after kickoffs, but he does have 12 touchbacks in 27 kickoffs (he had 14 touchbacks in 57 attempts last season). In the last four games, Washington has allowed only 21.20 yards per kick return -- only five teams have fared better during that stretch. The Redskins have allowed 9.0 yards per punt return during that time; 19 teams are better.