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Need to Know: Redskins' running game caught in a bad cycle

Need to Know: Redskins' running game caught in a bad cycle

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, October 23, two days before the Washington Redskins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Read and react

Some quotes from around Redskins Park on Thursday and my comments on them.

Jay Gruden on the Redskins’ approach to the third quarter, where they have been outscored 78-3 (counting points scored on drives that started in the third):
I think the big thing is awareness. I think awareness is letting them know that this is what the last six games have been like in the third quarter. We have had the lead five of six times and here are stats and we have to do something about it . . . then we get to halftime against Tampa Bay, hopefully it’ll be with a lead and we’ll make some, hopefully, some positive adjustments and the guys will come out ready to play.
Reaction: There is no magic wand to wave to fix the team’s third-down problems. Part of the fix would be to hold on to the ball; five of their 15 turnovers have come during the third quarter. And the defense stiffening up after a turnover would help, too; All five of the times the offense has given the ball away, the other team has turned the possession into a touchdown.

Joe Barry on one concrete step that has been taken to try to improve the third-quarter performance:
It’s been addressed, it’s been talked about. It’s been kind of a theme on the practice field. Halfway through practice, kind of cranking it up so I think it’s just one of those things. I think the worst think you can ever do anytime something is not going right is to ignore it and not talk about it. We’ve talked about it. We’ve addressed it. Now, we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to coach better.
Reaction: Cranking up the intensity halfway through practice is a good thought. It may not be a stroke of genius and it may or may not have an effect. But since there is no one thing that will cure all of the ills, it’s worth trying. I think that at some point the odds will catch up to the Redskins, they will outscore their opponents in the third quarter over the course of a few games, and everyone will declare that the problem was solved.

Gruden on the team’s running game over the last few weeks:
Yeah, it’s hard. I think the big thing in the running game, it’s OK to get one or two years every now and then. We’re not going to hit all our runs, but it’s important for us to get some hits – some 15-yarders, some 20-yarders – which we haven’t had. We haven’t had any long runs. I don’t know what our longest run is the last couple of weeks but it hasn’t been very long. It’d be nice to get a couple of those which opens up your play-action.
Reaction: For Gruden’s information, the Redskins’ longest run in the last two weeks has been nine yards, by Chris Thompson early in the third quarter of the Atlanta. Their longest run against the Jets was an eight-yard gain by Thompson just before halftime. So not only have they not broken 15 or 20 yards, they haven’t even hit double digits. The Redskins are stuck in the vicious cycle where they can’t run the ball because they can’t run the ball. An inability to gain more than a couple of yards on first down means that running on second down is not a viable option.

Barry evaluating Perry Riley’s performance since missing two games due to a calf injury:
“The thing that was a bummer was when he got hurt, he played lights out against the St. Louis Rams. He really did. I think that’s a little —  when a guy misses some time, especially with a lower extremity injury, he comes back, you’ve got to knock a little bit of rust off, so I don’t think Perry has played poorly. And we’ve had the conversation, ‘Get back to how you played against the St. Louis Rams.’ I think he had a great week of practice this week. So, I think it’s part of the deal sometimes when a guy misses time and then comes back, it takes him a little bit of time to knock some rust off… Perry has played physical. I don’t think by any means — don’t pinpoint anything on Perry Riley. We’ve all got to play better, we’ve all got to coach better, bottom line.”
Reaction: That’s kind of a long passage to plough through so let me shorten it for you—Riley has not been playing well. OK, there might be some “rust” after the injury (he missed the Giants game and the Eagles game) but he’s been back for two games and there is no reason for a guy who has been starting for coming up on four years should not be able to come back without missing a beat. In answer to a follow up question, Barry said that they were not considering moving Will Compton into the starting job. But if accountability means anything, they can’t go for too much longer without considering making a move if Riley continues to play as poorly has he has the last two games.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:55; Jay Gruden and Sean McVay news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Bucs @ Redskins 2; Redskins @ Patriots 16; Saints @ Redskins 22

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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.