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Need to Know: How much will Redskins' rushing game improve in 2016?

Need to Know: How much will Redskins' rushing game improve in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 20, four days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 131 days ago. It will be 115 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: OTAs start 4; Redskins training camp starts 69; Preseason opener @ Falcons 83

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—The Redskins were 20th in rushing yards last year and 29th in yards per rushing attempt last year. But to me the most damning stat was their No. 32 ranking in rushing DVOA. The rating takes the strength of the opponents into consideration so the ranking indicates that nobody did worse running the ball than the Redskins in terms of the quality of the rushing defenses they faced.

—But it is possible to make big jumps in this category. In 2011 the Redskins were 20th in rushing DVOA; in 2012 they were second. Now, it should be noted that the Redskins aren’t likely to have two dynamic additions to the rushing game like they did in 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris coming on board. But the Raiders were 32nd in rushing DVOA in 2014 and improved to 24th last year. That’s still not where you want to be but it’s a step in the right direction. The Bucs improved from 31st in 2014 to 11th last year. I’d look for the Redskins’ 2016 improvement to be something in between that of last year’s Bucs and Raiders.

—When you stop and count heads at inside linebacker you’re looking at quite a logjam. You have holdovers Perry Riley, Will Compton and Mason Foster. Then there is rookie Steven Daniels and first-year player Martrell Spaight. They signed Terence Garvin as a free agent. And Adam Hayward, a veteran leader who has a relatively light $985,000 cap hit, is still on the roster. If Hayward is healthy that means seven players will be competing for a maximum of five spots. That will be interesting to watch.

—As for Daniels and Keith Marshall, his fellow seventh-round pick, perhaps fans should tap the brakes on their expectations of them. There were 39 seventh-round picks last year. Of those, 20, just over half, did not play in a single game. Only seven even appeared in as many as half of their teams’ games. Six players had at least one start and they started a combined 12 games. That doesn’t mean that Marshall and Daniels will not contribute; Scot McCloughan is certainly capable of finding a late-round gem. But seventh-round picks do face long odds and if they are able to contribute at all it should be viewed as a pleasant surprise and not something that should be expected.

—Many were concerned about Trent Murphy's ability to gain enough weight to be able to survive on the defensive line. Maybe he's not there yet but he's working on 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.