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Need to Know: Redskins' offense is having third-down issues

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Need to Know: Redskins' offense is having third-down issues

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, December 13, four days before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Timeline

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

Days until:

—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 11
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 18
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 134

Redskins trade one problem for another

Just when it seems the Redskins have a handle on one problem on offense, they have lost their grip on another.

Last year, their red zone offense left a lot to be desired. They scored touchdowns 45.9% of the time they had possession inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. That was 29th in the NFL. This year they have solved that problem, scoring touchdowns on 57.9% of their red zone trips, a respectable 11th in the league.

But now, they have another, perhaps more serious problem. Last year, the Redskins converted 45.2% of their third-downs. This year, that is down to 34.9%, 27th in the league.

If you take a closer look you will find that, as is often the case, problems on third down stem from issues on first and second down. When the Redskins were humming along on third down last year their average distance to go for a first was 6.4 yards. This year they average 7.3 yards to go. That extra yard to go makes a difference.

On third down the focus usually goes to the quarterback. This year, Kirk Cousins’ performance hasn’t been significantly different this year from what it was last year. On third down in 2016, he completed 61 percent of this passes with 9 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.0. This year the line is 60.6/9/4/93.5. He was a little better last year but that doesn’t account for the drop.

One area that has hurt the Redskins is that their third-down rushing effectiveness has dropped. Last year they got first downs on 74% of their third-down runs. This year that has plummeted to 46.7%.

It might be easy to point the finger at the injuries on the offensive line to explain this, but they only converted on 50% of their third-down rushing attempts in the first five games of the season, when the line was mostly healthy.

One area that has not hurt them directly is third-downs sacks. The Redskins gave up 12 of them last year and they are on pace to give up the same number in 2017. That doesn't mean that pass protection is not an issue. In 13 games this year they have given up 14 more sacks (37) than they did in all of 2016 (23). That certainly contributes to the offensive have further to go on average third down plays this year. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s been a problem all year and it has gotten worse lately. As they have lost five of their last six games, they have gone 21 of 67 on third downs, a 31.3% conversion rate.

To put the Redskins’ season in perspective, they have only converted at a rate of 45%, their success rate for all of 2016, in two games this year.

This past offseason the Redskins organization set out to try to fix the red zone problem and even though they could do better they have made a lot of progress. They will need place similar attention to third downs this year (and hope that they can maintain the progress they made in the red zone.

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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Need to Know: How hot are seats getting at Redskins Park?

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Need to Know: How hot are seats getting at Redskins Park?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, December 12, five days before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: No media availability

Days until:

—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 12
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 19
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 135

Four Downs

First down

In their last two games, both blowout losses, the Redskins have had one play that went for 30 yards or more. They are not that different from most other NFL teams in that they aren’t going to consistently grind out touchdown drives; there are too many chances for errors. “We’re not making any plays,” said Jay Gruden when asked why the team has struggled. “Offensively we made a couple of plays to get six points on the board but after that we missed throws, we didn’t target some runs right, we didn’t block at the point of attack correctly, we didn’t tackle, we didn’t make any spectacular plays, athletic plays like you are used to seeing this team make. When that happens, your offense is going to sputter.”

Second down

How hot are seats getting at Redskins Park? While it’s difficult to read the tea leaves there, I don’t think that we are looking at wholesale changes in coaches or upper management. Jay Gruden just signed an extension. Greg Manusky has only been on the job for a year. Doug Williams hasn’t even been through a draft or free agency cycle in his new personnel job. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica’s changes have played well the last two years and certainly, injuries played a key role in the struggles there this year. While it might be tempting to do some house cleaning after a disappointing season, the likely outcome is that the injuries give everyone a pass and we see what happens next year.

Third down

Bashaud Breeland didn’t exactly get benched against the Chargers but Quinton Dunbar did play more as the No. 2 cornerback. Dunbar played 47 of the 72 snaps and Breeland played 28. This could be one of the first moves we’ve seen with an eye on 2018. Breeland will be an unrestricted free agent and Dunbar will remain under team control as a restricted free agent. The conventional wisdom is that Breeland will be gone next year as he will command a contract in the $8 million to $10 million range. Dunbar has played plenty of snaps and has been in games during many key situations during his three years here so the move wasn’t that eye-opening. Putting in Dunbar was not as risky a move as putting in, say, Fabian Moreau would have been. The rookie has played just 54 defensive snaps all year.

Fourth down

Kirk Cousins’ 151 yards passing were the fewest he has had in a game that he started and finished in his NFL career. It was as unproductive a game as we’ve seen from him. After scoring a touchdown and then losing the ball on downs in Chargers territory in the second quarter, the Redskins had seven straight drives that ended with punts from their own territory. Of course, the problem wasn’t just the offense. As Dan Steinberg pointed out, this was the first game since 1978 that the Redskins allowed more than 480 yards while gaining less than 210. This team isn’t tanking to try to get a better draft pick but if they were, the Chargers game is what it would look like.

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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Need to Know: Five key moments from Redskins vs. Chargers

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Need to Know: Five key moments from Redskins vs. Chargers

CARSON, CA—Here is what you need to know on this Monday, December 11, six days before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Jay Gruden conference call 3 p.m.

Days until:

—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 13
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 20
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 136

Five key plays from Redskins vs. Chargers

Here are the five key plays in the Redskins’ loss to the Chargers:

Philip Rivers 20-yard pass to Hunter Henry on third and nine—It was a 3-0 game and the Chargers were backed up at their own nine. But the tight end Henry got separation from safety Deshazor Everett and Rivers’ pass was on the money. Instead of having to punt from deep in their own territory the Chargers were in business. They didn’t face another third down while completing the 10-play drive for a touchdown.

Kirk Cousins pass intercepted by Kyle Emanuel—It was 10-0 after that TD drive and Cousins wanted to get it back in a hurry. He tried to hit Vernon Davis on a deep out pattern but Cousins said that it was a play that was just installed and he wasn’t really comfortable with it. In any case, the ball was long and after a defensive back tipped it, Emanuel picked it off and returned it to the Washington 29. The Chargers scored a field goal to make it 13-0.

Cousins TD pass to Davis—This gave the Redskins momentum in the game for 11 seconds. The drive itself was impressive, highlighted by a fourth and two completion to Niles Paul. On third and 11 at the 23, Cousins bought time by rolling to his right and he found Davis just in the end zone to make the score 13-6.

Rivers TD bomb to Tyrell Williams—The lift the Redskins got from the score was very short-lived. On the first play after the kickoff, Rivers launched a bomb to Williams, who had beaten Josh Norman (although it’s entirely possible that Norman thought he had some deep and/or inside help). Williams hauled in the pass and easily scored to snatch the momentum back from the Redskins.

Cousins’ fourth-down pass for Davis incomplete—Attempting to respond to the Chargers’ quick-strike TD, the Redskins drove into Chargers territory. They faced fourth and four at the LA 37. The call was to go for it and after seeing that a couple of safer options were covered, Cousins arched one to Davis about 20 yards downfield. Davis had a step on his defender but the pass was a shade too long and it was incomplete. The Chargers drove to a field goal to make it 23-6. The competitive phase of the game essentially was over.

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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