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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Raiders

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USA Today Sport Images

Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Raiders

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, September 20, four days before the Washington Redskins play the Raiders at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 1:45; Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins press conferences, open locker room after practice, approx. 3:30

Days until:

—Monday night Redskins @ Chiefs (10/2) 12
—Monday night Redskins @ Eagles (11/23) 23
—Cowboys @ Redskins (10/29) 39

First look at Redskins vs. Raiders

—This tweet seems a bit audacious. It’s from Vic Tafur, who writes about the Raiders for the pay site The Athletic.

They are second in the NFL in offensive yards and first in points scored. Oakland is fourth in rushing yards and 13th in passing yards. QB Derek Carr is third in the NFL with a stellar 126.5 passer rating and Marshawn Lynch has a bruising 121 yards rushing. They’re good but I would reserve phrases like “doing whatever they want” for teams like the Greatest Show on Turf or the ’07 Patriots. The Raiders aren’t there yet.

—Defensively, the Raiders are just OK, especially considering they have played a Titans team that is solid but not an offensive juggernaut and the putrid Jets. They are 17th in yards given up and tied for 11th in points allowed. They haven’t intercepted a pass although they have two fumble recoveries. They have five sacks, one more than a Redskins team that talks a lot about a need to get to the quarterback. Khalil Mack has one sack and Bruce Irvin hasn't tallied one yet. But they could explode at any time and the Redskins' pass protection will need to be on point. 

—Carr and Kirk Cousins have very similar numbers in the two seasons plus two games that they both have been starters. One area where Carr has an edge is in the touchdown passes column. Carr has 65 while Cousins has just 46. The Raiders have some quality receivers in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. But Cousins could throw to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon up until this season and Washington also has tight end Jordan Reed. It’s at least a wash in terms of quality of targets if not an advantage to the Redskins. It is something that Carr has solved that Cousins has not. Carr’s ability to get the ball into the end zone helped him become the NFL’s highest-paid player, albeit temporarily.

—Although the Raiders’ offense is not going to make history, the Redskins still need to be prepared to be in a shootout on Sunday night. To be sure, the Redskins defense has improved but it’s hard to see the Raiders scoring less than somewhere in the mid to upper twenties. That means that the Redskins will have to score at least as many points as they did against the Rams, maybe more. They started and ended well in LA; to win next Sunday they probably won’t be able to get away with zero second-half points until after the two-minute warning.

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

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5 stats that will make Redskins fans go, 'Huh?!'

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5 stats that will make Redskins fans go, 'Huh?!'

The 2017 Redskins appear to be playing at a much higher level than the 2016 Redskins, but the reality remains, through five games, the two teams have the exact same 3-2 record. 

Sure, this year's defense seems to be playing much better. The Redskins rank 12th in yards allowed-per-game and 19th in points allowed-per-game. Want to hear something weird though? The 2016 defense ranked 19th in points allowed-per-game too.

There are plenty more statistical anomalies like that, perhaps enough to give Redskins fans pause. Or maybe trends that will work back closer to the norm as the season progresses. Here are five weird ones:

  1. End zone problems continue - The New York Giants are off to an awful start at 1-5. Big Blue has a -27 point differential on the year, and the team has scored just 12 touchdowns. The Redskins have been much better than the Giants, own a 3-2 record, and a +4 point differential. Washington, however, has just 13 TDs, or one more than the lowly Giants. In the NFC, along with the Giants, only the Niners, Seahawks and Panthers have less TDs than the 'Skins. 
  2. Unexpected weapon - Through five games, the Redskins are getting excellent production out of the tight end position. It just might not be the player many expected doing the producing. Pro Bowler Jordan Reed is off to a fine start, 18 catches for 142 yards in just four games, but Vernon Davis is the tight end providing big plays. On just 11 catches, Davis has 225 receiving yards, good for a 20.5 yards-per-catch average. Last season, Davis caught 44 balls for 543 yards. He's nearly halfway to that total in just five games this season. 
  3. Easily the most valuable - Chris Thompson's productivity through five games is on a historic pace. With 515 total yards from scrimmage, he currently accounts for nearly 30 percent of the Redskins 1,871 total yards. For Kirk Cousins, Thompson is nearly as important. The quarterback has thrown for 1,334 yards so far this year. Of that yardage, more than 25 percent belongs to Thompson. Think about that: 1 out of every 4 yards Cousins throws for goes to Thompson. And the bulk of that comes on short throws, where Thompson then takes off and piles up yards after the catch. In fact, Thompson leads the NFL in yards-after-catch, per ESPN. 
  4. Snap out of it - Preston Smith showed tremendous talent as a rookie in 2015, logging eight sacks and coming on strong late in the Redskins NFC East title run. As a second-year player in 2016, the sacks didn't pile up so easy. He finished the year with 4.5, a disappointing step back for Smith. In 2017, the slump is over. Smith has at least a half sack in every game this season, and has been a force on the outside for the Redskins. 
  5. Don't count the wideouts - Much talk this offseason centered on losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon and replacing them with Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor. The results through five games have been underwhelming. Of the Redskins top five receiving yard leaders, only two are receivers, and Doctson isn't even over 100 yards receiving for the year. Further, Jamison Crowder, a player expected by many to have a breakout season, has 121 yards through five games. Eventually, Cousins can't keep relying on Thompson so much, and the team will need more out of the wideouts. 

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In a muddled NFC, why not the Redskins?

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

In a muddled NFC, why not the Redskins?

That sound you hear could be a door opening for the 2017 Redskins.  

Aaron Rodgers is injured. The Cowboys were struggling with Zeke Elliott in the lineup and he may not play until after Thanksgiving. Seattle’s defense has been strong but their success could be limited by a weak offensive line. The Falcons are still haunted by blowing a huge lead in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles, who are the only one-loss team in the NFL, currently have the best record in the NFC and they are playing well. The Redskins get a shot at them Monday night. A win would put them in excellent shape.

The Redskins are one of eight NFC teams that have two losses. Of the others, the Packers could well be heading south without Rodgers behind center. The Redskins have beaten the Rams and they will get their shot at the Seahawks, Vikings, and Saints in the coming weeks. The other teams with two losses are the Falcons and Panthers. And the Redskins will get a chance to make the Eagles a two-loss team on Monday.

It is early in the season but not too early for the Redskins to take a look around and think about not only getting into the playoffs but doing some damage when they get there.

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS 26, 49ERS 24

They are a well-balanced and effective team on offense. This stat will shock many—The Redskins have just about as many rushing attempts as pass attempts. The play selection is 158 passes and 149 runs, a pass-run ratio of 51 percent to 49. Washington is sixth in the NFL in total offense and 11th in offensive DVOA.

Their defense is not dominant but it has improved. They have been fighting injuries; just when it looks like they may get Josh Norman back from a broken rib, Jonathan Allen goes out with a Lisfranc injury. They are 12th in total defense in terms of yards but they are fourth in defensive DVOA.

That doesn’t look like it adds up to a Super Bowl team but, as noted, it’s still early. The Redskins still have time to improve. Here is some low-hanging fruit they could grab over the next month.

Get another receiver or two involved in the offense—It’s kind of cool that running back Chris Thompson is leading the team in receiving yards with 340 and that 33-year-old tight end Vernon Davis is second with 225. But the Redskins’ offense could be much more productive if another pass-catcher can string together some big games. Between Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, and Jordan Reed, one or two could be on the verge of breaking out.

Get Rob Kelley healthy and rolling—The Redskins are continuing to run the ball despite the production not being where it needs to be. Kelley is averaging 4.5 yards per carry while replacement Samaje Perine is averaging just 3.0. If they can get the extra yard and a half per carry they get from Kelley for the rest of the season their offense will be very tough to stop.

RELATED: COUSINS' STRONG GAME GOES UNDER THE RADAR

Make some plays on special teams—Jamison Crowder is 24th among the 26 qualifying punt returners with an average of 5.0 yards. His longest return was 12 yards, the shortest longest return among qualifiers (if you can follow along with that). Tress Way is 25th in net punting average. He had a chance to make life very difficult on a rookie QB on Sunday but his punt with a minute left landed five yards deep in the end zone. Dustin Hopkins, who will be out Sunday, has missed both of his field goals from beyond 50 yards and he missed a PAT against the 49ers. Add it all up and their special teams DVOA is 24th in the league. They need to make something happen.

Shut down something—The Redskins are in the middle of the pack in both opponent net yards passing attempt with 5.9 and in opponent yards per rushing attempt at 4.0. Most good defenses take away one aspect of the offense and make the other team beat them with a predictable attack. I think that the Redskins can improve their passing defense when they get Josh Norman back.

Certainly, there are some other “ifs” involved for the Redskins to become legitimate NFC title game contenders. They start on Monday in Philadelphia. If they can go in and get a win, they would be no worse than tied in the loss column for the best record in the NFC. If they lose, they fall 2.5 games behind the Eagles with Philly holding the head-to-head sweep.

It's too early to start sorting out tiebreakins scenarios but it's clear that the opportunity is there for the Redskins’ taking, we’ll see if they can step up and grab it.

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.