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20 questions in 20 days: 4 Is the defense ready to carry the load?

20 questions in 20 days: 4 Is the defense ready to carry the load?

By Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler
CSNwashington.com20 questions in 20 daysAs we count down to the first game of the Redskins season, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to be looking at some of the big questions facing the team and attempting to look into their crystal balls and answer them.Question 5:Is the defense ready to carry the load?The background:The preseason focus has been on Robert Griffin III and rightfully so. Although expectations are high for Griffin, he is still a rookie quarterback and it is unreasonable to expect the offense to light up the scoreboard right away. If the Redskins are going to be successful the defense will have to keep the other team out of the end zone and do a better job of taking the ball away than it did last year (21 takeaways, 24thin the league).Tandler:The conventional wisdom is that the front seven, one of the best in the NFL, will have to cover for deficiencies in the secondary. And in this rare case the conventional wisdom is right. Any secondary is vulnerable if the quarterback has all day to throw and it could get ugly if the likes of Eli Manning and Drew Brees have the time to pick apart the shaky back end of Washingtons defense. Brian Orakpo needs to reach his potential as a pass rusher and Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley need to take steps forward in their second seasons as starters. But the front seven cant do it all. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall will need to make plays when they have opportunities and Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams have be solid as the last line of defense. It seems to be a tall order.El-Bashir:When the Steelers switched to a 3-4 scheme under Bill Cowher in 1992, their defense jumped from 22nd to 13th to 3rd in the NFL in a span of three seasons. The Redskins made a similar switch two years ago under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and last season improved to 13th, up from 31st. But can the Redskins make a Steelers-like leap in 2012? The players are familiar enough. But are they talented enough? The concern is a secondary that recently lost hard-hitting safety Tanard Jackson to suspension. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall needs to bounce back from a subpar 2011 season, while his counterpart, Josh Wilson, needs to find consistency. Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams, meantime, need to be better than they were in the preseason. A unit, after all, is only a strong as its weakest link.20 questions in 20 days20 Aug.20Will Jammal Brown play this year?
19 Aug.21Will Chris Cooley make the team?
18 Aug. 22Can Brandon Meriweather get he job done at safety?
17 Aug. 23Is Garon a No. 1 receiver?
16 Aug. 24Can Trent Williams go from good to great?
15 Aug. 25Can DeAngelo Hall be a defensive playmaker?
14 Aug. 26Can Santana Moss regain his old form?
13 Aug. 27Can Orakpo post 15 sacks?
12 Aug. 28Will Leonard Hankerson break out?
11 Aug. 29Can the Redskins flip their turnover ratio?
10 Aug. 30How much can Hightower contribute this year?
9 Aug. 31Was making Billy Cundiff the kicker a good move?
8 Sept. 1Will Josh Morgan be worth the investment?
7 Sept. 2What can Jarvis Jenkins contribute?
6 Sept 3Is the offensive line depth good enough?
5 YesterdayWill a running back by committee work?
4 TodayIs the defense ready to carry the load?
3 TomorrowHow many wins is enough?
2 FridayHow much should RG3 run?
1 SaturdayCan RG3 . . . ?

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Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Those who doubted the wisdom of the Redskins drafting a guard with the fifth overall pick in 2015 (yes, I was one of them) should be preparing to eat their words.

On draft day and during the two and a half years since then, there has been plenty of talk that the Redskins would regret taking Brandon Scherff, who played tackle in college but seemed destined to play guard in the NFL, so early. Not that anyone thought that Scherff would be a bad NFL player but given that they left DL Leonard Williams and edge rusher Vic Beasley on the board, he needed to develop into an All-Pro caliber guard to justify such a high pick.

Well, don’t look now but Scherff is making his way towards becoming one of the best guards in the game. Not just Pro Bowl good; he checked that box last year. Scherff could become the first Redskins position player to be named a first-team All-Pro since Darrell Green and Jim Lachey earned the honors in 1991.

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS 26, 49ERS 24

Asked about Scherff’s play this year, Jay Gruden was effusive in his praise.

He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.

You can listen to Gruden’s full comments on Scherff in the video above.

Gruden is not exactly an unbiased observer. But other, more neutral analysts also have been heaping praise on Scherff.

An article on Pro Football Focus said that Scherff had an “elite” game against the 49ers, not allowing any pass rush pressures and dominating as a run blocker.

RELATED: IN A MUDDLED NFC WHY NOT THE REDSKINS?

Two other analysts clipped some plays from the 49ers game to illustrate just how well he was playing.

This one from Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network shows one play, the 49-yard screen pass to Chris Thompson on which Scherff threw a key block.

I’m not sure what the scouting credentials Brandon Thorn has but he did put together a nice collection of clips of Scherff making quality blocks both in space and in the interior vs. the 49ers.

Will Scherff earn All-Pro honors? That could depend on how well the team does. While the All-Pro teams are supposed to be individual honors, it’s tough for an offensive lineman to get many votes if he’s not on a winning team, especially one like Scherff who would be trying to break into the club for the first time.

But the Redskins are not really worried about All-Pro votes. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing and he gets no such consideration it will be fine with them.

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: Redskins to face Eagles’ clutch Carson Wentz, productive Zach Ertz

ertz_vs_redskins_usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: Redskins to face Eagles’ clutch Carson Wentz, productive Zach Ertz

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, October 20, three days before the Washington Redskins visit the Philadelphia Eagles for Monday night football.

Timeline

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

Days until:

—Cowboys @ Redskins (10/29) 9
—Redskins @ Seahawks (11/5) 16
—Giants @ Redskins Thanksgiving (11/23) 34

Injuries of note:
Not practicing
: OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Ty Nsekhe (core muscle)
Limited: CB Josh Norman (rib), CB Bashaud Breeland (knee), S Deshazor Everett (hamstring), RB Rob Kelley (ankle), OLB Ryan Anderson (back), S Stefan McClure (knee). OL Tyler Catalina (concussion protocol).
It was encouraging that Breeland and Norman practiced although Jay Gruden noted that they both took place only in individual drills. See the full injury report here.  

First look at Redskins vs Eagles

Number that pops out—LeGarrette Blount, who had a career average of 4.4 yards per carry coming into the year, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, fourth in the NFL. Not bad for a guy who is supposed to be a lumbering power back. The key to stopping him is the same as it always has been, getting the north-south runner to go east-west. The Redskins did a solid job against him in Week 1, limiting him to a 3.3-yard average on his 14 carries.

The clutch gene?—Carson Wentz is the MVP favorite right now and the thing is that his stats are very good but not very impressive. He ranks 10th in net yards per attempt, 25th in completion percentage, eighth in yards per game, and seventh in passer rating. But he gets it done when it counts. Seven of his 16 touchdown passes have come on third down. His passer rating of 130 on third down is 10 points better than the second-best in that category, a guy named Tom Brady. As a result, the Eagles get first downs on 53 percent of their third-down passes, also best in the league.

Third down passing the key—The Redskins allow conversions on 35.7 percent of third-down passes, 16th in the NFL. If this game ends up with third downs near the Redskins’ season performance they will be in good shape. If the Eagles convert half of their third downs or more, the visitors will be in trouble.

Protecting Kirk Cousins—The Eagles have 14 sacks on the year. They got four against the Redskins in the season opener so they have 10 in their five games since. Their leading sacker is Brandon Graham, who has four on the season. Two of those came in the opener so he has two in the other five games. He will again be lined up against Morgan Moses, who had one of his worst games since becoming a starter against Philly. If Moses plays as well as he has since Week 1 Cousins could have time to have one of his usual big games against the Eagles.

Yes, Ertz is a pain— This is kind of hard to believe but Zach Ertz, who has been in the league since 2013, is third all-time in tight end receptions against the Redskins with 54. He’s behind only Jason Witten and Jackie Smith and ahead of Jeremy Shockey, Mark Bavaro, and Jay Novaeck. Ertz has played nine games against Washington; Witten has played 28 and Smith played 27. So if it seems like Ertz is always a thorn in the Redskins’ side, it’s because he is.

Potpourri: Wentz is the Eagles’ second-leading rusher with 133 yards on 32 carries . . . The Eagles have the third-best special teams DVOA in the league. On punt returns, they are averaging 16 yards per and giving up an average of 5.6 yards. That’s a lot of hidden field position.

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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From the locker room

Josh Norman talking about how it felt when he put some stress on his broken rib during practice on Thursday.

Posted by Rich Tandler on Thursday, October 19, 2017

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