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El-Bashir and Zangaro share keys to Redskins-Eagles

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El-Bashir and Zangaro share keys to Redskins-Eagles

The Redskins travel to Philadelphia Saturday for a showdown with the Eagles. The NFC East matchup has major playoff implications -- if Washington wins, they're in. If the Eagles win Saturday and win their final game against the Giants, they'll be the ones representing the division in the postseason. 

For an expert preview of Saturday's action, our Redskins Insider Tarik El-Bashir compares notes with CSNPhilly.com's Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro. Here are their keys to the game:

EL-BASHIR

1. Put the ball in DeSean Jackson’s hands. All of the Redskins are going to be super motivated given what’s at stake, but no one will be more amped up than Jackson, who can help lift Washington into the playoffs while simultaneously sticking a fork in Chip Kelly and Philadelphia. Jackson is healthy, in sync with quarterback Kirk Cousins and on a roll, having hauled in four touchdown passes in the past five games, including a scintillating 77-yarder last week against Buffalo. Philly’s pass defense, meanwhile, has allowed 30 touchdowns (T-29th) and has some injury concerns at corner. Indeed, all signs point to another big game for Jackson against his former team. (He’s averaged 122 yards in two prior meetings vs. the Eagles.)

2. If the Eagles do manage to blunt Jackson’s impact, the Redskins could find an opportunity on the ground. Philly’s 30th-ranked run defense yielded a combined 382 rushing yards to the Bills and Cardinals the past two weeks. But to take advantage of that vulnerability, the Redskins will need a strong performance from Alfred Morris and/or Matt Jones—something they haven’t gotten on a consistent basis this season. Overall, though, the Redskins’ ground attack has been trending in the right direction. In fact, after mustering a season-low 14 yards at Carolina, it’s averaged a 100 yards per game over the past four contests. Not great, obviously, but much better.

3. Ryan Kerrigan and Co. must get after Sam Bradford. In the teams’ first meeting—a 23-20 Redskins’ victory in Week 4—Washington’s pass rush sacked Bradford five times for a combined loss of 37 yards. The Redskins also pressured Bradford 15 times, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The result? Bradford had a mixed afternoon, tossing three touchdown passes while completing only 53.6-percent of his 28 pass attempts. The Eagles’ signal caller has been more consistent of late as his comfort level in Chip Kelly’s offense has grown. The Redskins’ pass rush, meanwhile, has also shown signs of improved consistency, and it had another big game last week, sacking Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor five times. If the Redskins make Bradford uncomfortable, it could be a long day for the Eagles, who haven’t won a game in which Bradford was sacked multiple times.

ZANGARO

1. Stop DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed. The Redskins' two biggest weapons have been dynamic recently. Together, they form such a dynamic duo because safeties have to make sure Jackson doesn't blow the top off (among players with 20 catches, Jackson is third in the league with an 18.8 yards per catch average), which means they can't help as much on Reed, who has become nearly as deadly as any tight end in the league. Byron Maxwell is a question mark coming into the game because of injury, which means the Eagles are light in the secondary. And who's gonna cover Reed? Kiko Alonso? Mychal Kendricks?

2. Sam Bradford needs to play better. Bradford, statistically speaking, had one of his best games of the year the last time these two teams played. He threw for 270 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. But Bradford's problem all season has been inconsistency. He made some great throws last week against Arizona but was responsible for three turnovers. During his career, Bradford hasn't been involved in very many big games, so this is something relatively new for the 28-year-old. This game won't just determine the NFC East; it could also determine his future in Philadelphia.

3. The Eagles' special teams needs to make an impact. At times this season, the Eagles' special teams, in general, have been dynamic. At other times, they haven't played up to the high level we've all seen since Chip Kelly took over in 2013. They have to make at least a couple plays against the Redskins on Saturday in a game that should be close. It could really end up being the difference. Darren Sproles is someone to keep an eye on. The recently name Pro Bowler is the best return man the Eagles have had since … DeSean Jackson. If he breaks off a punt return Saturday, it could be the difference in the game and the division.

MORE REDSKINS: 'What a baller!': Kirk Cousins shows hilarious side while mic'd up

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 19, 23 days before NFL free agency starts.

Monday musings

—One possible solution to the left guard spot is perhaps being overlooked. Ty Nsekhe played there some last year, starting the game in Dallas and playing there until Morgan Moses got injured, forcing him to move to right tackle. Nsekhe is slated to be a restricted free agent but his return is likely. In December I asked Jay Gruden if Nsekhe might move to guard in 2018. “I think Ty is a big man and a very good tackle, but in the offseason when we have more time, maybe we can feature him at some guard when we’ve got all our guys back,” he said. “Feature him some” doesn’t mean that they will make him a starter; perhaps they want him to be the top option to fill in at four of the five OL positions. But it’s something to keep an eye on if they don’t land a left guard solution in free agency or the draft.

—When I posted about Albert Breer’s report that Kirk Cousins would file a grievance if the Redskins put the franchise tag on him in an effort to trade him, I pulled up a copy of the CBA to see the language on which Cousins could base his case. I read through the Article 10, which deals with the franchise tag twice and I saw nothing of it. But Mike Florio found it in Article 4, the one that deals with player contracts. “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” Since the Redskins clearly have no intention of employing Cousins after the Alex Smith trade, this seems to be a fairly simple case. In reality, it never is.

—I tweeted this last week:

However, possible cap casualties from other teams are not included in that group. That won’t turn the pool of players who will become available to sign into a bunch of potential franchise changers. Still, there could be a number of players in whom the Redskins could be interested in like RB DeMarco Murray, WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Torrey Smith, edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, and DL Brandon Mebane. A plus to signing players who have been waived is that they don’t count in the formula that determines compensatory draft picks. The Redskins have never really paid attention to that in the past but with potential high comp picks at stake if they lose both Kirk Cousins and Bashaud Breeland, this could be a good year to start.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 10
—NFL Draft (4/26) 66
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 202

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

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.