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Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams

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Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams

By Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir
CSNwashington.com

How have the Redskins done this year going into the bye? Over the next three days Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir grade the team's performance unit by unit. Yesterday we looked at the offense, today it's the special teams.

El-Bashir's grade: C

A strong argument could be made for a lower mark given the occasional misadventures through the season's first nine games. But I've chosen to focus on the improvement Danny Smith's unit has shown in recent weeks.

And by improvement, I'm mostly referring to the signing of unproven Kai Forbath. Nothing turns around a struggling special teams unit like a competent, confident place kicker.

With the exception of a blocked extra point, Forbath has been exceptional, converting all eight of his field goal attempts, of which five have come from between 40-49 yards. He acknowledges that his kickoffs need improvement - and he's right. Of his 21 kickoffs, only 38 percent have been touchbacks. The player Forbath replaced, Billy Cundiff, couldn't make a field goal but sent 62 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks.

The unit has been good on punt coverage and adequate on punt and kick coverage, while returner Brandon Banks is averaging 6.2 yards per punt return (25th) and 24.6 yards per kick return (21st.)

Two areas to monitor in the second half are the health of Sav Rocca, whose bum right knee has led to one shanked punt, and the return of long snapper Nick Sundberg from a broken left arm. Timing is everything in the field goal operation and now Rocca and Forbath must adapt again.

Tandler's grade: C-

The Redskins have rallied to achieve this mediocre mark. They started off horribly with two blocked punts in their first two games and Billy Cundiff working his way to the waiver wire by missing some very makeable field goals.

The punt protection has been solid since the rocky start and Kai Forbath is perfect on eight field goal attempts (although his grade gets dinged a bit for booting a low extra point).

Sav Rocca, who consistently boomed punts last year, is 29th in the NFL in net average at 37.1 yards. Yes, his average did suffer from the two blocks and he has been playing with a torn meniscus the last few weeks. But there is no grading on the curve here, it's a performance business.

The return game has been good news/bad news. The good news is that they have allowed any long returns that either scored or set up touchdowns. The bad news is that Brandon Banks has been unable to shake free to make a game changing kick or punt return.

Besides Forbath, individuals receiving high marks are Lorenzo Alexander and Niles Paul who have been consistently solid and at time spectacular in coverage.

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Need to Know: Key for the Redskins—No mistakes

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USA TODAY Sports

Need to Know: Key for the Redskins—No mistakes

NEW ORLEANS—Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, November 19, four days before the Washington Redskins play the New York Giants on Thanksgiving Day at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Redskins kickoff, noon, NBC Sports Washington; Redskins @ Saints, 1 p.m., FOX

Days until:

—Redskins @ Cowboys Thursday night (11/30) 11
—Redskins @ Chargers (12/10) 21
—Cardinals @ Redskins (12/17) 28

Final thoughts on Redskins vs. Saints

Will the Redskins commit to running the ball? Some of you will answer with a kneejerk “no” because they don’t think that Jay Gruden will do that. But just look back at the Rams and Raiders games, when they ran 39 and 34 times, respectively. If running is even moderately effective and if the score remains in a range where the Redskins can play ball control, Gruden is more than happy to let Kirk Cousins had the ball off. The Saints defense allows 4.7 yards per carry, 30th in the NFL so the effectiveness aspect should allow for running. Can the Redskins defense keep a cap on Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram long enough for Gruden to be able to stick with the run?

The Chris Thompson factor—Whether he is taking handoffs or catching passes, Thompson’s productivity has been a key for the Redskins. He averages 61 yards from scrimmage in their losses and 116 yards in their wins. Earlier in the season it was Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff getting out in front of Thompson on outside zone runs and screen passes. While they were out of the lineup, Thompson was largely stuck in the mud. With both back, maybe he can get some traction in the Superdome.

Can’t afford mistakes—Like most teams who lead their divisions, the Saints are very opportunistic when it comes to takeaways. They don’t have a large number of them, 13 (13th in the NFL), but they are taking advantage. They have scored eight touchdowns after turnovers, with two pick-sixes, a scoop and score after a fumble, and five TD drives. Kirk Cousins can’t afford to make a mistake, especially in his own territory.

Prediction—It’s not impossible to paint a picture where the Redskins win this game. But it would take something like we saw in Seattle, with some mistakes by the Saints (equivalent to the three missed Seahawks field goals) combined with a dash of late magic could get them past the Saints. The Redskins are 7-1 in the Superdome and Drew Brees has a career passer rating of 70.5 with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions against Washington. Of course, many of the players responsible for those numbers have long since retired. But the reality is that the Saints are playing better than the Redskins and they’re at home. That means that the home team is likely to win.

Saints 31, Redskins 21

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: The Redskins week that was—Where's Galette, Cousins' future

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Where's Galette, Cousins' future

NEW ORLEANS—Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, November 18, one day before the Washington Redskins play the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: AM walkthrough and then travel to New Orleans. No media availability.

Days until:

—Giants @ Redskins Thanksgiving (11/23) 6
—Redskins @ Cowboys Thursday night (11/30) 13
—Redskins @ Chargers (12/19) 23

Quick Redskins news hits

C Spencer Long tried to play last week and he couldn’t make it more than a dozen snaps before sitting down for the rest of the day. He is out against the Seahawks tomorrow.

With Brian Quick and Ryan Grant questionable with concussions and Terrelle Pryor out with an ankle injury, the Redskins are down to three healthy wide receivers. While Quick and Grant might play, the depth chart could have Doctson, Crowder, and Harris on it.

The Redskins week that was

2 reasons Redskins didn't trade Terrelle Pryor—If you want to know why the deal with the Browns didn’t happen, follow the money. Between his signing bonus and the half of the year’s salary, the Redskins have already paid $4.5 million. Although he hasn’t been nearly as productive as they hoped he would be, there was no point in letting him go to save $1.5 million unless they got a second-day draft pick, or maybe a fourth, in return. See that Jay Gruden said that he didn’t hear of the proposed trade, talks must not have become too serious.

Remember Junior Galette? The Redskins don't seem to—As with Pryor, everyone is waiting for Galette to break out. But unlike Pryor, he’s not an expensive unproductive player. He’s making the veteran minimum. Against the Vikings, he played just 19 snaps. Perhaps a return to New Orleans for a game against his old team will spark a sack or two.

Recent comments from Cousins may hint at future in D.C.—Cousins has been big on making statements about the long-term future with the Redskins (read the post for specifics). That doesn’t mean that it’s a lock that he stays in town. But it should give some pause to those who believe that it is a lock that he will be in another uniform when 2018 or, at the latest, 2019 rolls around. He has never been inclined to go to the highest bidder and if the Redskins make a competitive offer that delivers what he wants he could well stick around.

How the Vikings scored 21 unanswered points against the Redskins—The 21-0 run in about seven minutes of game time that the Vikings used to make a competitive game at FedEx Field a rout was a combination of good offense by the Vikings and bad defense and offense by the Redskins. They couldn’t cover Adam Thielen on either drive. Cousins threw an interception off of his back foot and that set up the middle of the three touchdowns. If the Redskins end the season a game out of a playoff spot that seven-minute stretch will be one of the big reasons why they failed to make it.

Player one-liners, defense— Usually, the offensive edition of the player one-liners tends to be the most popular but this week it was the defense that drew the most interest. The defensive player I’m going to keep an eye on the most in the last seven games is rookie safety Montae Nicholson. He has the speed and hard hitting ability that the secondary needs. When asked what will happen when Nicholson is healthy, Jay Gruden said without hesitation that he is the starter. Nicholson’s health will be important for the defense down the stretch. DeAngelo Hall is better suited to a part-time role at this stage of his career.

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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