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Need to Know: Has Redskins QB Cousins shaken the turnover bug?

Need to Know: Has Redskins QB Cousins shaken the turnover bug?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, November 11, four days before the Washington Redskins host the New Orleans Saints.

Five early thoughts on Redskins vs. Saints

—Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL but the Redskins are getting him where he plays his worst—outside. In his career Brees has played 107 games outdoors and 104 in a domed or retractable roof stadium (remember his first five years in the league he played in an outdoor stadium in San Diego). His teams posted a winning percentage of .606 in domes and .542 outside. As far as his personal stats, his completion percentage is 5 points lower outside, his passer rating is 12 points lower, his passing yards per attempt drop 10 percent, and his passing yards per game drop 19 percent.

—The Redskins have had problems running the ball the last four games, as you well know. But in those four games they have faced the top three rushing defenses in the NFL in terms of yards given up per game. The Jets are first, the Falcons second and the Patriots third. Their other opponent in that stretch was the Bucs, who are right in the middle of the pack at 16th. A strong defense will not be a factor this week. The Saints give up an average of 122.6 yards per game, 25th in the NFL. If they can’t get a running game going this week they might want to look at going with the Run and Shoot attack on offense.

—There is some buzz that Jeron Johnson may replace Trenton Robinson at strong safety and that Will Compton could take Perry Riley’s place at inside linebacker. Johnson could help against the run and Compton could provide better pass coverage. The possible return for DeAngelo Hall, who has missed the last five games with a toe injury, could help, too. They will need all the help they can get as the Saints are the top-ranked offense in the NFL, gaining an average of 422 yards per game.

—Has Kirk Cousins broken out of his propensity to throw the ball to the other team? He has just one pick in his last nine quarters of play and even the most ardent Cousins skeptics admit that that one was on Pierre Garçon for having a very catchable pass go through his hands. The Bucs and Patriots aren’t among the league leaders in interceptions; New England is 11th with 2.9 percent of the opponents’ passes picked off and Tampa Bay is 21st with 2.2 percent. So it’s not like Cousins has been facing a group of ball hawks. The Saints are even worse at interceptions with 1.2 percent of opponents’ pass attempts, 28th in the league.

—Most figured the Redskins would have to score in the 30’s to beat the Patriots. That turned out to be true, at least in theory. Using static analysis, they would have won if they had scored 30 points, although in reality Tom Brady and the Patriots probably could have cranked it up and scored another touchdown or two if they had needed to. The Redskins will probably need to be somewhere close to 30 to win this one. The Saints have scored 26 points or more in five of their last six games. It’s notable, though, that the only game where they failed to score that many points was the only game in that stretch that was played outdoors; they scored 17 in their loss at Philadelphia in Week 5.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:35; Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Saints @ Redskins 4; Redskins @ Panthers 11; Giants @ Redskins 18

In case you missed it

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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.