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Why can't the Redskins hold onto their early leads or momentum in second halves?

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Why can't the Redskins hold onto their early leads or momentum in second halves?

The Redskins barely survived their game against the 49ers on Sunday for a third win in their pockets. Based on the first half, it should have been a relatively clear path to victory. But it also could have easily gone the other way, like their almost-win against the Chiefs two weeks ago, which ultimately became their second loss. 

If there was a pattern in the two games, it was the Redskins’ inability to build on early success. Against the Chiefs, they led 10-0 in the first quarter and were outscored 29-10 the rest of the way. Sunday, the lead was 17-0 with 1:51 left in the first half. but after that, they were outscored 24-9.

In fact, the Redskins have built up double-digit leads before the other team got on the scoreboard in each of their last four games. They led the Rams 13-0 and the Raiders 21-0. In three of those four games — every one except for the Raiders game — the Redskins let the opposition move into at least a tie.

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I’m old enough to remember the preseason, when there was much handwringing over the offense getting off to slow starts. In five regular season games, the Redskins have outscored the opposition by 27-7 in the first quarter and 75-40 in the first half. (Everyone should now nod and say the preseason means nothing, and everyone will remember that right up until the first preseason game of 2018 kicks off).

But the Redskins apparently can’t stand the prosperity. They have been outscored 73-42 in the second half.

If you look at the numbers, a lot of the second-half drop off is about the running game. In the first half, the Redskins have rushed for 375 yards with a strong average of 4.8 yards per carry. After intermission, they have 237 yards and an average of 3.4 per attempt. It should be noted that Jay Gruden is not abandoning the run. They have run 79 times in the first half and 70 in the second — hardly a statistically significant difference on a fairly small sample size.

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The Redskins also become easier to run against in the second half. Opponents have 162 yards rushing with a 3.2 average in the first half and 237 with a 4.0 average after that.

It’s not as simple as that, of course. There are moments of defensive lapses — like when coverage broke down and former Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson was able to get wide open to catch a 45-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling C.J. Beathard, and when Alex Smith scrambled to his right and completed a pass that set up the winning field goal. The Redskins defense needs to play better in those moments.

The offense needs to perform better in the second half. That’s when the defense is supposed to be wearing down. The rushing average should go up, not down. The 49ers defense had been on the field for 68 plays when the Redskins recovered that onside kick. They should do better than three runs for six yards and a punt that gave San Francisco a last chance.

There is talk that the Redskins are a better team this year, and there are signs that they are. But if they don’t learn how to finish off their hot starts their record won’t show much improvement.

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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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins fans want Zach Brown back. Bad. And for weeks there had been no news about contract talks between Washington and Brown. 

Now that's changed.

"We've been talking to his agent," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. 

Gruden, speaking from the Senior Bowl, explained that the team would like Brown back in 2018 but Washington also understands that the linebacker might want to explore the free agent market. 

"It’s a process," Gruden said (full video above). "These guys have a chance to be a free agent, they had a good year and they want to check what the market is sometimes. If we can get them before they get to free agency, great, but if not, the bidding wars will begin."

For Brown, free agency will look different in 2018 than it did last season when he signed a one-year. bargain deal with the Redskins. 

Prior to injuries forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, Brown led the NFL in tackles. For two straight years, 2016 in Buffalo and 2017 in Washington, Brown has proved to be a tackling machine and arguably the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Brown also signed new representation last offseason, Jason and Michael Katz of CSE Football, and should Brown hit the free agent market the Katz brothers will aggresively market their client. 

Washington Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaeffer will handle the contract discussions for Washington, and is known as a shrewd negotiator. 

Like many business deals, this will come down to money. Brown established himself as a fit in Washington, both on the field and in the locker room. Interior linebackers do not command top dollar like pass rushers do, but Brown will still expect to be compensated appropriately. 

Further complicating matters for Washington, the Redskins only have Josh Harvery-Clemmons, Zach Vigil and Martrell Speight under contract for 2018. 

It's too early to predict what "it's a process" means from Jay Gruden, but Redskins fans should draw some encouragement that talks have begun with Brown. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!