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Need to Know: The running game is the key to the Redskins getting back on track

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Need to Know: The running game is the key to the Redskins getting back on track

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, November 1, four days before the Washington Redskins go to Seattle to play the Seahawks.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 1 p.m.; Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins news conferences, open locker room after practice, approx. 3 p.m.

Days until:

—Vikings @ Redskins (11/12) 11
—Redskins @ Saints (11/9) 18
—Giants @ Redskins Thanksgiving (11/23) 22

Ground game needs to get going for the Redskins to win

Against the Cowboys, for the second straight game, the Redskins made their ground game an afterthought. And for the second straight game, they lost.

Against the Eagles last week, they had 18 rushing attempts for 75 yards. And on Sunday against the Cowboys, they ran the ball just 15 times for 49 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per carry. Starting running back Rob Kelley had eight carries for 19 yards while Chris Thompson had four for 18.

Doing the math, that is a total of 33 rushing attempts in two weeks. In perhaps their best game of the season, against the Rams in Week 2, they ran 39 times. If the win in LA wasn’t their best of the season, then it was the following week against the Raiders when they ran 34 times.

Neither of the last two games ever got to the point where the run game had to be abandoned except for a few stretches here and there. To be sure, there were some reasons in each game for the Redskins to not try to hand the ball off 30 times. The Eagles run a Wide 9 defensive set that is hard to run against; they are the NFL’s leading rushing defense. And against the Cowboys the Redskins were working without three of their five starting offensive linemen, making it difficult to do much in the way of intricate run blocking.

That’s all well and good. But under Jay Gruden, the Redskins are now 3-21 in games where the run for fewer than 90 yards. Until they find a way to run when other teams are lined up to stop it or learn to win games when they can’t run the ball, the Redskins will continue to struggle to become a consistent playoff contender.

The Redskins may have an opportunity to run the ball this week in Seattle. Their defense is not as stout as it once was. They are 20th in rushing yards allowed per game. They have allowed over 80 yards on the ground in six of their seven games and 140 or more three times.

To be sure, the success of the running game may hinge on the health of the offensive line. But dropping back to pass 42 times like the Redskins did against Dallas isn’t exactly a formula for success

Note: I tweeted out the 3-21 stat a couple of days ago. I got some pushback saying that the stat is often misleading because it can confuse cause and effect. Teams with the lead late in the game will run the ball to try to kill the clock. Yes, that dynamic may be in effect for the Redskins sometimes. But it helps a lot for the Redskins to get started on the ground early. Since the start of the 2015 season, they are 7-13 in games where they don’t have at least 45 yards rushing by halftime. In that time span, they are 7-2 in games where they have at least 75 yards rushing at halftime. So, getting the rushing game going early and often is their recipe for success.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Everybody thinks the intentional grounding call against Kirk Cousins was wrong, except Troy Aikman

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Everybody thinks the intentional grounding call against Kirk Cousins was wrong, except Troy Aikman

The referees made a fairly obvious mistake last week in the Redskins loss to the Saints when they flagged Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for intentional grounding late in the game. 

Let's be honest: the call was terrible.

Cousins never felt a pass rush on the play, and was very obviously throwing the ball away. Jay Gruden talked about the play on Monday, and could not figure out how a flag came out in that situation. 

We had two receivers in the area. Quarterbacks throws it away all the time that are uncatchable balls whether they are in the pocket or not. As long as there is a receiver in the area, you can throw it whether they are looking or not. Guys run bad routes – one guy runs a hitch and he’s supposed to run a go and the quarterback throws the go ball, it’s not grounding. So I don’t know why the confusion.

The NFL even reached out and apologized to Redskins team president Bruce Allen for the blown call, a hollow gesture that did not generate much excitement from Cousins (via 106.7 the Fan). 

Whatever they do to say, ‘we’re sorry, wrong call,’ it’s tough because there’s nobody bringing that up in February or March when we're making decisions about which direction to go with the organization. We appreciate the clarification but you know it really doesn’t do much.

If you're keeping score, the NFL, the Redskins head coach and the Redskins quarterback all know the call was wrong. 

You know who doesn't think the call was wrong? Fox analyst, and former Cowboys Hall of Fame QB, Troy Aikman.

Grounding? Free rusher? Decide for yourself below.

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Fantasy Football -- Thanksgiving Day plan

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Fantasy Football -- Thanksgiving Day plan

The Week 12 fantasy football rankings are out -- but when it comes to Thanksgiving Day, everyone wants some player regardless of where they slot overall. Don't overthink it and take a lesser player, but for those on the fence or simply looking for Thursday action, here are some recommendations for all three games.

Vikings @ Lions

Obvious: Vikings -- Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs... running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are in the RB2/Flex discussion for most, but good luck picking between them; Lions -- Wide receiver Golden Tate and ... wide receiver Marvin Jones works in three-WR formats while quarterback Matthew Stafford is No. 14 among passers this week.

Start: Case Keenum averaged 19.3 points over the last four games while the Lions have allowed ample points to fantasy quarterbacks in that stretch, though only three touchdown passes. Having Thielen and Diggs up the potential for Keenum, who is QB17 in the Week 12 rankings. That's comparable with Matthew Stafford (QB14), Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and ahead of Derek Carr.

Add: Not sure there's any fringe skill player worth taking a flyer on so take a look at Vikings kicker Kai Forbath. He's attempted at least three field goals in four of his last five games and he kicked five extra points in the lone exception. ... Some will start Ameer Abdullah based on their options, but just know the Vikings allow the second fewest points to fantasy tight ends this season.

Chargers @ Cowboys

Obvious: Chargers -- running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Keenan Allen; Cowboys -- Wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Alfred Morris and... quarterback Dak Prescott, though his production is down without running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith.

Start: This hasn't been a vintage Philip Rivers season, but he's coming off his best performance (251 yards, two touchdown passes) since Week 5. The Cowboys aren't that special in the secondary and have surrendered two touchdown passes in three consecutive games. At QB13, he's on the cusp of QB1 status in 12-team leagues. 

Add: Kickers Nick Novak (Chargers) and Mike Nugent (Cowboys) are 15th and 16th respectively. So, there's that. 

Giants @ Redskins

The obvious: Giants -- tight end Evan Engram and... running back Orleans Darkwa is a viable RB2 option against a Redskins defense giving up gobs of yards on the ground; Redskins -- quarterback Kirk Cousins, tight Vernon Davis and...running back Samaje Perine is RB12 this week, though listed as questionable on the injury report with a finger issue.

Start: Jordan Reed is out for a fourth consecutive game, meaning Vernon Davis once again is Washington's main tight end. While he hasn't provided wow performances like Reed at his Pro Bowl best, Davis has been good for a solid 8-11 since taking on a larger role starting in Week 3. This could be his best statistical week of the season. The Giants allow the most points to fantasy tight ends on the season. Opposing tight ends scored a touchdown in each of the first 10 games before the streak snapped Sunday.

RELATED: NEW AND IMPROVED WEEK 12 FANTASY RANKINGS

Add: Josh Doctson is only owned in 55 percent of leagues on CBS even though he's moved into the role of Washington's top outside receiver. The second-year player had four receptions for 81 yards in Sunday's overtime loss, though all the production came in the first half. Consistency is the next step, but Kirk Cousins is showing more and more confidence in the 6'3" target especially on 50-50 balls. Doctson is WR36 in my Week 12 rankings, meaning he's worth starting consideration in three-WR formats regardless.