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Need to Know: Position coach hires add gravitas to Redskins' staff

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Need to Know: Position coach hires add gravitas to Redskins' staff

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, January 29, 40 days before NFL free agency starts for the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL.

Question of the day

We’re changing up the format of Need to Know for the offseason. Every day I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today’s question is from Twitter:

I asked Gruden in early December if they were planning to hire a quarterbacks coach for 2015. After reiterating the reason why he decided not to bring one in originally, that he and offensive coordinator Sean McVay both would work with the QB’s a lot and he was concerned about too many voices getting into their heads, Gruden said that it was very much a possibility. So the decision to get a coach specifically in charge of quarterbacks was made about 12 games into the season and we saw it finalized yesterday when they signed Matt Cavanaugh to coach the quarterbacks.

It’s not unusual for a first-year NFL head coach to underestimate the workload that is added when making the step from coordinator to the top job. And while they routinely get warned about how big the leap is it’s not uncommon for rookie coaches to take on more than they can handle. Gruden did that here and in bringing in a quarterbacks coach he clearly learned a lesson.

But I think that in the bigger picture, looking at both sides of the ball, Gruden learned another lesson. Given his relatively light NFL resume, he needed some experienced help, some gravitas on his staff. He brought in Cavanaugh, who has 17 years of NFL coaching experience including winning a Super Bowl ring as the offensive coordinator of the 2000 Ravens. To coach the defensive backs he brought in Perry Fewell, who was the defensive coordinator of the 2011 Super Bowl champion Giants. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan has experience as a head coach with the Raiders and at Nebraska.

You could argue that all three of the position coaches are overqualified for their current jobs. It appears that Gruden knew that he needed help and brought in some heavyweights. The head scratching exception here is at defensive coordinator, where he decided on Joe Barry, with just two unsuccessful years as an NFL defensive coordinator on his resume, instead of Wade Phillips, who virtually defines gravitas as a defensive coordinator.

But Barry was his guy from early on in the hiring process. Gruden knew it was an important hire because a first-time head coach rarely gets a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator (Gruden essentially hired Jim Haslett last year when he made the call to let him stay on). If Barry is not successful Gruden likely will go down with him.

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Timeline

—It’s been 32 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 227 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 20; NFL free agency starts 40; 2015 NFL Draft 91

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

After five straight defeats, the Eagles decided enough was enough and beat the Redskins on their home field in Week 1. In a bizarre turn of scheduling, Washington will face Philadelphia for the second time this season before playing any other NFC East opponent. 

For the Redskins, that means the time for a win is now. Behind the arm of Carson Wentz, the Eagles have streaked out to a 5-1 record, not to mention 2-0 in the division. Jay Gruden's squad sits at 3-2 and 0-1 in the division. Another loss to the Eagles, even though it's still early in the year, would put a major dent in the Redskins hopes of a NFC East title. 

"It’s a big game. The NFC East, they’re in the lead. They’re 5-1 and we’re 3-2. I mean, just do the math," Gruden explained this week. "If you look at 3-3 and 6-1 and we’ve lost twice to them, that’s a big difference. 4-2 and 5-2 and we’re right there in the thick of things as far as the NFC East is concerned."

MORE: TEN TIMES PHILADELPHIA FANS WERE THE WORST

The coach knows the stakes. Redskins fans certainly do, too. All the coverage starts at 7:30 on NBC Sports Washington with Redskins Kickoff, and here are three storylines to watch for the game:

  1. Blount force - In the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, the Redskins defense did a fine job of stopping the Eagles rush attack. Zach Brown and the 'Skins held Philly to just 58 yards rushing. In that game, LeGarrette Blount rushed 14 times for only 46 yards, averaging less than 3.5 yards-per-carry. Well, Blount and the Eagles run game looks mighty different now. In their last four games, Blount is averaging more than 6 yards-per-carry and posted more than 330 yards. Known for his strength between the tackles, Blount will present a problem for the Burgundy and Gold playing their first game without rookie star defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. The challenge will be real, and D-coordinator Greg Manusky knows it: "He does a great job of making people miss at the hole, in the hole. So we have got to make sure we get in his face and be able to get him down. He is a big-body guy." 
  2. No wiggle room - For the most part, the Redskins defense did a solid job against Carson Wentz in the first matchup against the Eagles. Unfortunately, with a mobile QB like the 6-foot-5, 240 lb. Wentz, a few broken plays can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the game. Think back to early in Week 1, the Redskins forced Wentz from the pocket and as he scrambled, he kept his eyes downfield and connected with WR Nelson Agholor for a long touchdown. On that play, two different 'Skins defenders nearly brought Wentz down in the backfield. But they didn't. And the 'Skins secondary did a good job in coverage for more than eight seconds. In that ninth second, however, Wentz struck. He's been doing it each game since, as he's emerged as an NFL MVP candidate with more than 1,300 pass yards to go with 13 TDs against just 3 INTs through six games. His ability to escape trouble must be incredibly frustrating for defenders, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson explained his passer's skill, saying, "He is strong in the pocket and usually the first guy, an arm-tackle guy, can’t bring him down. He usually sheds that block and can escape."
  3. 8 or more - Throughout the 2016 season, the Redskins frustrated their fans by getting out to slow starts. In 2017, the opposite has been true. In four straight games, Kirk Cousins and the 'Skins offense have scored a first quarter touchdown and taken early leads. In the second half, however, the offense has stagnated. While the Redskins average about 23 points-per-game, the team is only scoring about 8 points-per-game in the second half. Against a Philly team capable of scoring every time they touch the ball, Washington will likely have to score more in the second half to get a victory.

News & Notes

  • This will mark the Redskins 70th game on Monday Night Football, and their ninth MNF matchup against Philadelphia.
  • Kirk Cousins enters the game 3rd in NFL history in completion percentage (65.9) among players with at least 1,500 career attempts.
  • With 100 yards receiving, Chris Thompson could break a tie with Dick James, Craig McEwen and Larry Brown (two each) for the most career 100-yard receiving games by a Redskins running back in records dating back to 1960.
  • A win would snap a four game losing streak on Monday Night Football for the Redskins and give the Redskins their first Monday win since a 20-17 overtime win at Dallas on Oct. 27, 2014.
  • The Redskins rank first in the NFL and the NFC in fewest penalty yards (204).

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Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Those who doubted the wisdom of the Redskins drafting a guard with the fifth overall pick in 2015 (yes, I was one of them) should be preparing to eat their words.

On draft day and during the two and a half years since then, there has been plenty of talk that the Redskins would regret taking Brandon Scherff, who played tackle in college but seemed destined to play guard in the NFL, so early. Not that anyone thought that Scherff would be a bad NFL player but given that they left DL Leonard Williams and edge rusher Vic Beasley on the board, he needed to develop into an All-Pro caliber guard to justify such a high pick.

Well, don’t look now but Scherff is making his way towards becoming one of the best guards in the game. Not just Pro Bowl good; he checked that box last year. Scherff could become the first Redskins position player to be named a first-team All-Pro since Darrell Green and Jim Lachey earned the honors in 1991.

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Asked about Scherff’s play this year, Jay Gruden was effusive in his praise.

He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.

You can listen to Gruden’s full comments on Scherff in the video above.

Gruden is not exactly an unbiased observer. But other, more neutral analysts also have been heaping praise on Scherff.

An article on Pro Football Focus said that Scherff had an “elite” game against the 49ers, not allowing any pass rush pressures and dominating as a run blocker.

RELATED: IN A MUDDLED NFC WHY NOT THE REDSKINS?

Two other analysts clipped some plays from the 49ers game to illustrate just how well he was playing.

This one from Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network shows one play, the 49-yard screen pass to Chris Thompson on which Scherff threw a key block.

I’m not sure what the scouting credentials Brandon Thorn has but he did put together a nice collection of clips of Scherff making quality blocks both in space and in the interior vs. the 49ers.

Will Scherff earn All-Pro honors? That could depend on how well the team does. While the All-Pro teams are supposed to be individual honors, it’s tough for an offensive lineman to get many votes if he’s not on a winning team, especially one like Scherff who would be trying to break into the club for the first time.

But the Redskins are not really worried about All-Pro votes. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing and he gets no such consideration it will be fine with them.

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.