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Forces and objects

Forces and objects

The Washington Redskins game against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight will be decided largely by strength against strength and weakness against weakness.

The battle of strengths, the unstoppable force against the immovable object, is the Redskins' running game against the Steelers' rush defense. We all know that Clinton Portis has rushed for 120 yards or more in each of his last five games and that he leads the NFL in rushing yards. Overall the Redskins are third in the NFL is rushing, averaging 155 yards per game. Jim Zorn has been rewarded for his willingness to stick with the run even when the Skins have been behind in games.

Pittsburgh has best overall defense in the NFL (236 yards per game) and the Steelers rank third against the run (72 YPG). Last week they held the Giants to 83 yards rushing, about half of New York's season average.

The Giants, however, were able to pull out that game thanks in large part to their ability to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and sack him five times. This was not a surprising development as the Steelers have allowed 24 sacks this year. Only five teams have allowed more.

But the Redskins are ill suited to take advantage of this chink in the steel armor. They have just 10 sacks all year; only the Bengals and Chiefs have fewer.

This paucity of sacks is due in part to Greg Blache's decision to refrain from blitzing in favor of keeping more defenders back in coverage. It's hard to argue with the results as the Redskins are a respectable 11th in pass defense.

Another reason why the Redskins have such a low sack total is that most of their games have been close. They have yet to build a substantial lead that would allow them to fluff up their sack stats.

And there is every reason to believe that this will be another down-to-the-wire affair. Both teams have significant injuries. Pittsburgh will be without two defensive starters in cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Ryan Clark. Cornerback Shawn Springs and defensive end Jason Taylor are out for the Redskins.

The key to this game may well be two Redskins who are game time decisions. If Santana Moss' hamstring is well enough to allow him to play, Washington will better be able to exploit the Steelers' issues in the secondary. If Chris Samuels can go on his sore knee, the Redskins will better be able to combat the fierce Pittsburgh pass rush (25 sacks, 5th in NFL).

I've been thinking that the Redskins were in trouble in this game all week. The matchups, as outlined above, just don't seem to spell success. It's not good when you can't take advantage of the opposition's big soft spot and the other guys are well equipped to take away your major strength.

Maybe Portis will be able to break loose like he did against the Eagles, another team that you're not supposed to be able to run against. You know that Zorn will stick with the run as long as the game is competitive. He doesn't have to rush for a buck-twenty again. Even 80 or 90 yards on the ground will establish the threat of the run and allow Jason Campbell a little more freedom to pass to Moss.

It may come down to the kickers. Shaun Suisham has been pretty good, but he has missed a few that he should have made. Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed is a perfect 10 for 10 this year.

That, it says here, will be the difference.

Steelers 20, Redskins 17

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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!