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Need to Know: Five things we've learned about the Redskins so far

Need to Know: Five things we've learned about the Redskins so far

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, August 22, 12 days before the Washington Redskins cut their roster to 53 players.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 1:10; Player availability and Jay Gruden press conference after practice, approx. 3:15

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 225 days ago. It will be 21 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 27; Browns @ Redskins 41; Redskins @ Ravens 48

Five things we have learned about the Redskins so far

The Redskins have been through two and a half weeks of training camp and they have played two preseason games. While we have no definitive answers about the team yet, there are some things that we have learned:

The running game still needs work—Perhaps a lot of it. Matt Jones had a solid camp but two of his big issues, fumbling and injury, sprang up against the Jets. Rookies Keith Marshall and Robert Kelley haven’t done much yet and the team has an average of 3.3 yards per carry so far.

DeSean Jackson is ready for a big year—The veteran is entering a contract year and he is ready for it. Jackson has been one of the stars of camp, hauling in deep passes from Kirk Cousins on multiple occasions. He did not miss a practice or even take a traditional veteran’s da off, a very good sign for a player who struggled to stay healthy last year.

The defense could be improved—During the preseason last year the Redskins had trouble when the other team’s No. 1 quarterback was in the game. Not so this year. Against the Falcons and Matt Ryan the defense forced two three and outs. The Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to generate two three and outs and then six plays and a punt. Ryan and Fitzpatrick combined to complete 4 of 13 passes for 43 yards. That comes to a combined passer rating of 30.8. There is a small sample size warning here but it is an improvement.

Josh Norman could be worth the money—All big-money free agents say they are going to work to show that they deserved their mega paydays but Norman is putting his work ethic where his mouth is. He stays at least 30 minutes after practice working on his game. After one practice in Richmond he caught 500 passes from the JUGS machine. Then after working overtime in training camp he spent more time with the fans signing autographs and posing for pictures than just about any other player. All of that is no guarantee of success on the field but it does show that, unlike many other Redskins free agents, he is doing all he can to be successful.

There is a real competition at left guard—Many thought that Spencer Long was just a placeholder for Shawn Lauvao at left guard. But with just one preseason game to go to decide (the fourth one doesn’t count) Long pulls the duties most often associated with being the starter. He has had the majority of the first-team reps and he has started both preseason games. Lauvao may end up with the job but he still has some work to do to get it.

Su’a Cravens will be well worth the draft pick—The Redskins’ second-round pick has made some plays in practice and he was all over the field in Atlanta. He’s going to make some mistakes but he will more than make up for them with some big plays.

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE WIN

Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”

RELATED: FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN RESKINS VS GIANTS

Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

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.