Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, December 13, four days before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.
Today’s schedule: Practice 1 p.m.; Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins news conferences and open locker room after practice, approx. 3 p.m.
—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 11
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 18
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 134
Redskins trade one problem for another
Just when it seems the Redskins have a handle on one problem on offense, they have lost their grip on another.
Last year, their red zone offense left a lot to be desired. They scored touchdowns 45.9 percent of the time they had possession inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. That was 29th in the NFL. This year they have solved that problem, scoring touchdowns on 57.9 percent of their red zone trips, a respectable 11th in the league.
But now, they have another, perhaps more serious problem. Last year, the Redskins converted 45.2 percent of their third-downs. This year, that is down to 34.9 percent, 27th in the league.
If you take a closer look you will find that, as is often the case, problems on third down stem from issues on first and second down. When the Redskins were humming along on third down last year their average distance to go for a first was 6.4 yards. This year they average 7.3 yards to go. That extra yard to go makes a difference.
On third down the focus usually goes to the quarterback. This year, Kirk Cousins’ performance hasn’t been significantly different this year from what it was last year. On third down in 2016, he completed 61 percent of this passes with 9 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.0. This year the line is 60.6/9/4/93.5. He was a little better last year but that doesn’t account for the drop.
One area that has hurt the Redskins is that their third-down rushing effectiveness has dropped. Last year they got first downs on 74 percent of their third-down runs. This year that has plummeted to 46.7 percent.
It might be easy to point the finger at the injuries on the offensive line to explain this but they only converted on 50 percent of their third-down rushing attempts in the first five games of the season, when the line was mostly healthy.
One area that has not hurt them directly is third-downs sacks. The Redskins gave up 12 of them last year and they are on pace to give up the same number in 2017. That doesn't mean that pass protection is not an issue. In 13 games this year they have given up 14 more sacks (37) than they did in all of 2016 (23). That certainly contributes to the offensive have further to go on average third down plays this year.
Regardless of the reason, it’s been a problem all year and it has gotten worse lately. As they have lost five of their last six games, they have gone 21 of 67 on third downs, a 31.3 percent conversion rate.
To put the Redskins’ season in perspective, they have only converted at a rate of 45 percent, their success rate for all of 2016, in two games this year.
This past offseason the Redskins organization set out to try to fix the red zone problem and even though they could do better they have made a lot of progress. They will need place similar attention to third downs this year (and hope that they can maintain the progress they made in the red zone.
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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