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Need to Know: Redskins have a big mountain to climb to improve their record

Need to Know: Redskins have a big mountain to climb to improve their record

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 6, 24 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

A big mountain to climb

A few weeks ago here I looked at some reasons why the Redskins could be better than we think. If you’ve been looking for the other side of that coin, reasons why the Redskins might not have a record much better than the 4-12 they posted last year, here it is.

If they do again end up with double-digit losses it won’t necessarily be due to not having improved personnel or the coaching staff. Scot McCloughan has done a good job of shoring up the team’s major weaknesses (and the hiring of McCloughan filled a major weak spot in the front office).

But the Redskins have a big mountain to climb. As Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post pointed out, the Redskins weren’t just bad last year. They were really bad.

They were outscored by 137 points, an average of 8.6 per game. Only three other teams had a worse point differential. If you look at the 15 games they played against teams not named the Jacksonville Jaguars that per-game deficit increases to 10.5 points per game. Their 12 losses came by an average of over two touchdowns (14.6 points).

The Redskins did not lose many games that they were in late. Only in the losses to the Eagles, Vikings and 49ers were they truly competitive throughout. If you want to say that they “shoulda” won those games, that’s fine. But they also “coulda” lost to the Titans, Cowboys, and Eagles.

In short, they were what their record said they were.

A tremendous improvement for the 2015 Redskins would be to cut the scoring deficit by about six points per game. If they can do that, they would be around -40 in scoring. What kind of record could that get them?

Last year the Browns were outscored by 38 and went 7-9. The Falcons were -36 in net points and went 6-10. The Panthers won the NFC South at 7-8-1 while going -35 in net points. Going back to 2013 the Bills were -49 in points and 6-10 in the standings.

So we could expect some modest improvement in their record if they can shave that scoring deficit down to a few points per game. How likely is such an improvement? It would be unusual but not unheard of. Since Joe Gibbs’ first departure from the Redskins head coaching job in 1992, they have improved by at least 85 net points from one season to the next five times. The most recent was from 2011-2012 when they went from -79 to +48, a 127-point swing in the positive direction.

That improvement lifted the Redskins from 5-11 in last place to 10-6 and the NFC East title. Rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris got the team’s offense rolling and led the turnaround. Is there a similar transformational force this time around?

Perhaps at least a partial return to form by Griffin, a revitalized rushing game featuring Morris and rookie Matt Jones and a solid defensive improvement will spur some solid improvement.

It’s possible but far from certain that they will experience the type of turnaround they have seen once every four years or so in the past 20 years. They also could be better, maybe substantially better, and still not have it show up in the "W" column. We will see if they can take a giant leap forward or if any progress is more in the form of baby steps.

Timeline

—It’s been 190 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 69 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 24; Preseason opener @ Browns 38; final cuts 61

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins fans want Zach Brown back. Bad. And for weeks there had been no news about contract talks between Washington and Brown. 

Now that's changed.

"We've been talking to his agent," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. 

Gruden, speaking from the Senior Bowl, explained that the team would like Brown back in 2018 but Washington also understands that the linebacker might want to explore the free agent market. 

"It’s a process," Gruden said (full video above). "These guys have a chance to be a free agent, they had a good year and they want to check what the market is sometimes. If we can get them before they get to free agency, great, but if not, the bidding wars will begin."

For Brown, free agency will look different in 2018 than it did last season when he signed a one-year. bargain deal with the Redskins. 

Prior to injuries forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, Brown led the NFL in tackles. For two straight years, 2016 in Buffalo and 2017 in Washington, Brown has proved to be a tackling machine and arguably the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Brown also signed new representation last offseason, Jason and Michael Katz of CSE Football, and should Brown hit the free agent market the Katz brothers will aggresively market their client. 

Washington Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaeffer will handle the contract discussions for Washington, and is known as a shrewd negotiator. 

Like many business deals, this will come down to money. Brown established himself as a fit in Washington, both on the field and in the locker room. Interior linebackers do not command top dollar like pass rushers do, but Brown will still expect to be compensated appropriately. 

Further complicating matters for Washington, the Redskins only have Josh Harvery-Clemmons, Zach Vigil and Martrell Speight under contract for 2018. 

It's too early to predict what "it's a process" means from Jay Gruden, but Redskins fans should draw some encouragement that talks have begun with Brown. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!