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How to beat the Saints

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How to beat the Saints

The Saints are a very good team but they are not unbeatable. They lost three times during the 2011 regular season and once in the playoffs. Can the Redskins learn anything from those games?Perhaps they can. It would help if they were playing the Saints at FedEx Field. Not that Washington has demonstrated much of an ability to defend its home turf in recent years but all four of New Orleans losses last year were on the road. They were a perfect 8-0 in the Superdome.But the schedule is what it is and the Redskins cant do anything about the venue. They also probably cant get to be as good as the Packers or 49ers, the teams that dealt the Saints their first loss of the year and their last loss, respectively. So lets focus on the Rams and Bucs, two teams that finished with worse records than the Redskins last year but still managed to beat New Orleans.On Oct. 16, the 3-2 Bucs scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter and took a 20-10 lead into the locker room. The Saints eventually pulled to within three at 23-20 in the fourth quarter but the Bucs held on for a 26-20 win.Tampa Bay had both a 300-yard passer (Josh Freeman, 303) and a 100-yard rusher (Earnest Graham 109). Still, the Saints outgained them 453 yards to 420 but they didnt have much balance. Drew Brees passed for 383 yards but his 21 yards rushing nearly led the team (Mark Ingram rushed for 22).Brees threw three interceptions and the Saints lost a fumble. The Bucs didnt turn the ball over at all.That game was a surprise; the Saints next loss was a stunner. Two weeks after losing in Tampa the Saints visited the 0-6 Rams. Quarterback Sam Bradford was sidelined with an injury and A. J. Feeley was at the helm for the home team.The identity of the quarterback didnt matter much as the Saints were fed a steady diet of Steven Jackson. The Rams running back carried 25 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams outgained the Saints on the ground 183 yards to 56.Turnovers again were an issue for the Saints as Brees threw two interceptions. The Rams did not commit any turnovers.One Brees interception sealed the deal for the Rams. The Saints had started to mount a comeback from a 24-0 third-quarter deficit. With the score 24-14, Brees threw a pick six to safety Darian Stewart and that was that.So what are the common themes here? Getting some turnovers, running the ball, and building a big enough lead to survive a Saints run. That sounds like a recipe for success in most games.

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Is the Redskins’ starter at left guard already on the roster?

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USA Today Sports Images

Is the Redskins’ starter at left guard already on the roster?

The Redskins have checked off a number of their “needs” boxes that they had when the season began. But there are two holes that remain. 

One is nose tackle. Of course, that has been an issue since 2010. The Redskins may have obtained part of the solution when the brought back Phil Taylor last week and most believe that more help will come in the draft. 

The other need, the one at left guard, also may be a work in progress. Or, perhaps they think they have the solution on the depth chart. 

The team does not put out a depth chart before training camp but if they did distribute one right now they would have Arie Kouandjio as the starting left guard. That is cause for consternation among many Redskins fans and based on some of his past play the low confidence level is justified. 

Kouandjio was a fourth-round pick in 2015. He played sparingly his first two years in the league, getting two fill-in starts in 2016. In training camp last year, he spent a lot of time playing with the third team and it was no surprise when he was one of the final cuts. The team kept undrafted rookie Tyler Catalina instead. 

Kouandjio caught on with the Ravens’ practice squad but when injuries started to pile upon the O-line in Week 8, the Redskins brought him back. Two days after he was signed he played 22 snaps at left guard against the Cowboys. 

In all, he played in eight games, starting six of them. He allowed three sacks, which is the same number that Brandon Scherff gave up, but Scherff played about twice as many snaps. 

What about 2018? Word from John Keim is that Kouandjio has changed his training to focus on lower-body strength and agility. He knows that he has a chance to establish himself in the NFL and he’s doing what he can to take advantage of it. 

Another option at left guard is 31-year-old Tony Bergstrom, who was re-signed earlier this week. He has played for four teams in six years in the league and has started seven games including three at center for the Redskins. Like Kouandjio, he may not be the ideal solution but perhaps a passable option. 

The whole picture here could up be upended in the draft if the Redskins use one of their top picks on a guard. There has been plenty of chatter about Ohio State center Billy Price going to the Redskins in the second round. He may not last that long. If he’s there, however, the Redskins have to seriously consider him. 

The team may go through the draft and perhaps OTAs and minicamp with what they have now. If it doesn’t look like they have a starting caliber player in place they then could reach out to the free agent market and bring in someone like Alex Boone

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

 

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Redskins have invested in running backs, but the investments haven't paid off

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USA TODAY Sports

Redskins have invested in running backs, but the investments haven't paid off

The Redskins brass believes they need to upgrade the running back position. Jay Gruden and Doug Williams said so this offseason. 

That’s all well and good, but it’s time to dispel some myths regarding the run game. A popular misconception exists that the Redskins need to invest in the running back position to run the ball better. It's not correct. Washington has invested plenty at the position, it just hasn't worked.

Plenty of teams run the ball well without investing top draft picks in a running back. 

Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie in Kansas City. Surely he was a Top 10 pick to make that kind of impact?

Nope. Hunt went in the 3rd round.

Nine players rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Of that group, less than half were first round draft picks. Two of the nine players went in the second round (Steelers' RB LeVeon Bell and Bills' RB LeSean McCoy), Hunt went in the 3rd, Chicago's Jordan Howard was a 5th-round pick and Denver's C.J. Anderson wasn't even drafted.

In 2016, four of the top five rushers in the league weren't first round picks. Yardage leader Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys was a first-rounder. After that it was Howard, 3rd-round pick DeMarco Murray (Titans), 5th-round pick Jay Ajayi (Dolphins) and Bell. David Johnson of the Cardinals compiled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage that season, and he was a 3rd-round pick too.  

The point is running back talent lasts deep in the draft, and Redskins fans need to be aware of that. 

The ‘Skins' problem hasn’t been a lack of investment at running back either.

In the last three drafts, the team has taken a running back each year. Samaje Perine in 2017, Keith Marshall in 2016 and Matt Jones in 2015. 

While Marshall was a late-round flyer, Jones was a third-rounder and Perine selected in the fourth. The team has invested in running backs, but those investments haven’t paid off. 

It’s premature to dismiss Perine. He led the team in rushing last season, and showed improvement in spots. Could he make a jump in his second year? Sure. Also don't forget Robert Kelley, an undrafted running back that emerged in 2016 only to lose most of the 2017 season to injury. There's also Chris Thompson, an elite talent, though he's not a traditional running back.

The pick that really hurt the Redskins was Matt Jones. Drafted in the third round, higher than many expected for the former Florida Gator, he showed glimpses of playmaking ability as a rookie in 2015. 

Jones' emergence expedited the exit of Alfred Morris, the last consistent runner on a Redskins roster. But Jones' career went backwards in his second season with Washington. Fumbling and lack of willingness to play special teams forced Jones to the bench, and he was cut in 2017. He signed on with the Colts, but got five carries in five games, and was inactive much of the year. 

Morris, meanwhile, had a solid 2017 season playing for the Cowboys. When Cowboys star RB Elliott served his six-game suspension, Morris stepped in well. He averaged nearly 5 yards-per-carry for the season and torched the Redskins for 127 yards and a touchdown in a late November blowout. 

The point here isn't that the Redskins cannot or should not invest in a running back in next week's NFL Draft. 

It is important to point out that the team has, however, made investments in the last three drafts. And though Washington's attempt at finding a good running back in the third or fourth round hasn't paid off, that's not because it can't. Plenty of good running backs get drafted in the later rounds of the draft. 

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