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Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

ATLANTA—Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, August 11, the day the Washington Redskins open their preseason in Atlanta against the Falcons.

Timeline
Today's schedule: Redskins @ Falcons 7 p.m., Georgia Dome, telecast on CSN Mid Atlantic

—The Redskins last played a game 214 days ago. It will be 32 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason vs. Jets @FedEx Field 8; Final roster cut 23; Cowboys @ Redskins 38
Focus on running backs in Atlanta

For the first time this decade, the focus of the Redskins’ preseason will be not on the quarterback but the player to whom he will be handing the ball off.

To refresh your memories on the quarterback circuses situations:

—In 2010 there was the arrival of Donovan McNabb.

—The next year we had the John Beck-Rex Grossman competition with Mike Shanahan staking his reputation on the success of the duo.

—Then in 2012 there was RG3 mania and every move of the second overall draft pick was under the microscope.

—The drama of Griffin’s recovery from a knee injury consumed the next year.

—Then in 2014 it was the arrival of Jay Gruden and questions over weather Griffin could be the answer in a West Coast offense.

—Finally, last year we had an unannounced QB competition, Griffin’s ugly performance against the Lions and Kirk Cousins getting elevated into the top spot.

This year, it’s the steady Cousins as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. His $20 million contract is enough to guarantee that nothing he does during the preseason will cause him to lose that job.

But there is plenty of mystery at the running back position:

—Second-year player Matt Jones is the starter and he probably won’t lose that job in August. But he needs to protect the football and improve on the 3.4-yard per carry average he had last year if he is going to sell Gruden and the fan base on his ability to hold the job the while season.

Chris Thompson is No. 2 on the depth chart but he is more the third down back than he is an alternative should Jones get injured or falter. It will be interesting to see what happens if they feed him the ball several times in a row to see if he can take some pounding.

Keith Marshall is where we get to the real mystery. He is a rare combination of size and speed but he lasted until the seventh round of the draft because he was unable to stay healthy at Georgia. He should see considerable action against the Falcons tonight and we’ll see about his ability and his durability. They want to know if he can be the No. 2 running back.

—Mack Brown should also get some carries. He seems to be a long shot after spending some of last year on the practice squad.

—The mystery man is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie. He looks good in no pads in the spring. But he has struggled in pads in Richmond. Kelley at least has to present a case to be able to make the practice squad. But it’s clear that his star, such as it was, has faded and he need to have a good game in order to become relevant in the running back conversation.

So there you have it. Five players, probably three jobs a stake and another one or two on the practice squad. It starts tonight in Atlanta.

Tandler on Twitter

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Everybody thinks the intentional grounding call against Kirk Cousins was wrong, except Troy Aikman

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Everybody thinks the intentional grounding call against Kirk Cousins was wrong, except Troy Aikman

The referees made a fairly obvious mistake last week in the Redskins loss to the Saints when they flagged Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for intentional grounding late in the game. 

Let's be honest: the call was terrible.

Cousins never felt a pass rush on the play, and was very obviously throwing the ball away. Jay Gruden talked about the play on Monday, and could not figure out how a flag came out in that situation. 

We had two receivers in the area. Quarterbacks throws it away all the time that are uncatchable balls whether they are in the pocket or not. As long as there is a receiver in the area, you can throw it whether they are looking or not. Guys run bad routes – one guy runs a hitch and he’s supposed to run a go and the quarterback throws the go ball, it’s not grounding. So I don’t know why the confusion.

The NFL even reached out and apologized to Redskins team president Bruce Allen for the blown call, a hollow gesture that did not generate much excitement from Cousins (via 106.7 the Fan). 

Whatever they do to say, ‘we’re sorry, wrong call,’ it’s tough because there’s nobody bringing that up in February or March when we're making decisions about which direction to go with the organization. We appreciate the clarification but you know it really doesn’t do much.

If you're keeping score, the NFL, the Redskins head coach and the Redskins quarterback all know the call was wrong. 

You know who doesn't think the call was wrong? Fox analyst, and former Cowboys Hall of Fame QB, Troy Aikman.

Grounding? Free rusher? Decide for yourself below.

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Fantasy Football -- Thanksgiving Day plan

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Fantasy Football -- Thanksgiving Day plan

The Week 12 fantasy football rankings are out -- but when it comes to Thanksgiving Day, everyone wants some player regardless of where they slot overall. Don't overthink it and take a lesser player, but for those on the fence or simply looking for Thursday action, here are some recommendations for all three games.

Vikings @ Lions

Obvious: Vikings -- Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs... running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are in the RB2/Flex discussion for most, but good luck picking between them; Lions -- Wide receiver Golden Tate and ... wide receiver Marvin Jones works in three-WR formats while quarterback Matthew Stafford is No. 14 among passers this week.

Start: Case Keenum averaged 19.3 points over the last four games while the Lions have allowed ample points to fantasy quarterbacks in that stretch, though only three touchdown passes. Having Thielen and Diggs up the potential for Keenum, who is QB17 in the Week 12 rankings. That's comparable with Matthew Stafford (QB14), Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and ahead of Derek Carr.

Add: Not sure there's any fringe skill player worth taking a flyer on so take a look at Vikings kicker Kai Forbath. He's attempted at least three field goals in four of his last five games and he kicked five extra points in the lone exception. ... Some will start Ameer Abdullah based on their options, but just know the Vikings allow the second fewest points to fantasy tight ends this season.

Chargers @ Cowboys

Obvious: Chargers -- running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Keenan Allen; Cowboys -- Wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Alfred Morris and... quarterback Dak Prescott, though his production is down without running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith.

Start: This hasn't been a vintage Philip Rivers season, but he's coming off his best performance (251 yards, two touchdown passes) since Week 5. The Cowboys aren't that special in the secondary and have surrendered two touchdown passes in three consecutive games. At QB13, he's on the cusp of QB1 status in 12-team leagues. 

Add: Kickers Nick Novak (Chargers) and Mike Nugent (Cowboys) are 15th and 16th respectively. So, there's that. 

Giants @ Redskins

The obvious: Giants -- tight end Evan Engram and... running back Orleans Darkwa is a viable RB2 option against a Redskins defense giving up gobs of yards on the ground; Redskins -- quarterback Kirk Cousins, tight Vernon Davis and...running back Samaje Perine is RB12 this week, though listed as questionable on the injury report with a finger issue.

Start: Jordan Reed is out for a fourth consecutive game, meaning Vernon Davis once again is Washington's main tight end. While he hasn't provided wow performances like Reed at his Pro Bowl best, Davis has been good for a solid 8-11 since taking on a larger role starting in Week 3. This could be his best statistical week of the season. The Giants allow the most points to fantasy tight ends on the season. Opposing tight ends scored a touchdown in each of the first 10 games before the streak snapped Sunday.

RELATED: NEW AND IMPROVED WEEK 12 FANTASY RANKINGS

Add: Josh Doctson is only owned in 55 percent of leagues on CBS even though he's moved into the role of Washington's top outside receiver. The second-year player had four receptions for 81 yards in Sunday's overtime loss, though all the production came in the first half. Consistency is the next step, but Kirk Cousins is showing more and more confidence in the 6'3" target especially on 50-50 balls. Doctson is WR36 in my Week 12 rankings, meaning he's worth starting consideration in three-WR formats regardless.